A great post from Reddit — when I read something I like, I try to pass it on. The author focuses on talking to new people, but you can take his technique and apply it to almost any activity you find difficult to master.
“So lately I’ve been having crises about not being able to socialize to the best of my ability.”
About a month or two ago, I reached a breaking point — and now I’ve finally become desperate to want to do something about it. It’s been really bothering me about how I’m not living life to the fullest, maximizing the amount of people I talk to, going on dates, etc. (for my anxiety is related to ‘cold’ approaching people). I’ve definitely improved socially over the last few years and can engage in conversations to a much greater extent (going to the gym and getting a job in retail loosened me up a bit); I would literally refuse to speak to anyone who wasn’t my close friends and would be quite monosyllabic.
As much as I’ve improved, there’s still much more progress to be made. After another mini crisis, I thought “screw it”, and made a vow to speak to random people. Thought I’d start off small for now – I’d simply ask them for the time.
I got myself into a frame of mind where I’d literally force myself to ask the next stranger I see for the time, so I did. And it wasn’t that bad. And then I did it with the next stranger, 30 seconds later. And again. After I did it I felt absolutely amazing, however small of a victory it may be, and it made me realise that even after doing something so trivial, we have some warped misconceptions of people and this makes us irrationally fear social encounters. Feel free to discredit what I’m about to say on the basis that I’ve approached a few people, but I don’t think what I am saying is invalid.
I’ve created a list of “challenges” that I’m going to complete.
It’s going to be really tough, but I’ve made a vow to (in this order):
- Ask 50 people for the time (in progress).
- Ask 30 people for directions.
- Go into 30 shops and speak to employees about random things related to the store and company etc.
- Smile at 20 women.
- Say something along the lines of “hey how’s it going” or “good afternoon” to 30 people.
- Make conversation with 20 people.
- And then finally, talk to women and ask them for numbers and dates.
I’ve never realized how true the “social skills are like a muscle” analogy is.
It really felt like I’d been in the gym to lift weights, you get that confidence boost (i.e. the “high” you feel lifting weights), and this morning when I woke up, I realised how exhausting it would be to start again today and approach people again, much how like you need the drive to go to the gym.
It is really easy to tell yourself . . .
It is really easy to tell yourself “I don’t need to approach people to get over my anxiety” or “I will eventually stop worrying about my fears in the future and will improve socially with age” and just not do it, when in reality, exposing yourself to the fear (gradually, of course, all-out exposure from my experience has made me worse) will SHOW your brain that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sure, it is true that people become better socially with age, but it doesn’t solve the problem completely in some circumstances.
The stranger might be horrible to me.
Additionally, I don’t think it’s possible to use logic to get out of anxiety, or to convince yourself that there’s nothing to be afraid of on a cognitive level, because your brain will still have the same response to a perceived threat unless you actually show it that there’s nothing to fear by doing it. If you try to convince your way out of it, you’re showing your brain a potential outcome instead of an actual outcome, the latter of which you will see by doing whatever frightens you.
A potential outcome relies on chance, e.g. “the stranger might be horrible to me”, and this will lead your brain to go into panic mode again. You accept the potential outcome instead of being consumed by it, approach the person, and then the consequences turn into an actual outcome.
Lack of motivation is also a factor in facing your fears.
As I’ve said you might feel no need to talk to people (or do whatever is best for you socially) but it will help you out a lot. I don’t want to sound like I’m some expert (I’m really not, take this post as you will) as I’m still early into the approaching game, but this is from what I’ve gathered after years of pre-improving my social skills (like getting over things that made me anxious previously, like ordering at a restaurant, group work in school and delivering presentations) and doing what I’ve just done now.
How badly do I want this?
To those who want to really get better from social anxiety or improve your social skills, ask yourself this: “how badly do I want this?” It’s not a quick fix as I’ve realised and you will hurt like hell sometimes, but unfortunately you do have to make some effort if you want to improve. It’s not something you like hearing, but it is the truth. As I’ve said it’s very easy to delude yourself into thinking you don’t need to approach people (or do whatever makes you scared) to improve, but you do.
One thing to remember is that you are all very capable of facing your fears, and that your anxiety to not do something is not as strong as you think it is. Hell, it’s very hard and draining, but with an end goal in sight and a will to reach it, it is attainable.
No matter how much you may beat yourselves up.
Lastly, do not for a second think it makes you inferior for being socially anxious or feeling like you lack some social skills. You’re awesome people, no matter how much you may beat yourselves up. I even fall into this trap and I have to snap myself out of it, whatever it takes.
I’m also convinced that a large portion of human beings consider themselves “socially awkward”, for the lack of a better term, and crave social interactions.
People should approach one another all the time.
Being at University, people are mainly in their own social groups now and I’ve realised very few people approach one another while they’re waiting outside for classes and very few people raise their hand to contribute in classes, out of fear I presume.
I simply refuse to believe that, in my circumstances at least, no one speaks to one another (including myself, I’ve only ever been approached once or twice at University for meeting friends/conversation, I’ve had to do most of the work to make friends) due to everyone hating one another; I genuinely believe that everyone (if not, most people) wants to initiate conversation, but are too afraid to do so. If only the world were simple (where this logic would be prevalent and would override anxiety completely), people would approach one another all the time, yet anxiety is so strong it stops us from being rational about it. And it sucks. A lot.
Keep doing whatever makes you awesome.
Feel free to join me on this endeavour, it’s hard to say if I’ll make it, but I’ll give it my best shot. I’ll leave you on one last note, which is basically a summary of what I’ve just said – ABANDON LOGIC AS YOUR MEANS OF FIGHTING THIS.
Use it loosely and to motivate, but don’t make it your main weapon to fight anxiety or whatever as you will lose every time. You can read all you want about how humanity is on a small rock in a seemingly infinite cosmos where all of our problems will cease to exist upon death, about how that girl you want to talk to was born in the same way you were; through cell division, being cast into a meaningless world without choice, but that will not cure your anxiety forever. Even my advice won’t cure you forever, I concede – but what WILL work, as I’ve started to realise, is giving anxiety the middle finger and motivating yourself (disciplining, rather) enough to improve socially.
Great rewards require great sacrifices, and I wish I’d seen this earlier. You are no exception.