They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Does this mean if you suffer from social anxiety, or simply feel awkward in social settings, that you are stuck with those character traits? Must you simply accept the lot you have been given in life, or is there something you can do to improve your social skills?
Building the social skills needed to overcome social awkwardness and anxiety is the focus of this Positivity Guide.
There are several different types of social anxiety. You may have a clinically diagnosed social anxiety disorder. On the other end of the spectrum, you may just feel slightly uncomfortable coming out of your shell and talking with strangers, especially in an unfamiliar environment.
In the middle of those two extremes is where most people find themselves if they struggle to thrive in social settings. You don’t suffer a full-blown panic attack if forced to socialise. However, there is some level of anxiety involved. For these people, waving at the mailman or sharing a few words with a next-door neighbour of 25 years is not that difficult.
On the other hand, socialising in large groups of people where there are strangers involved can be very hard. In many cases, even if a person is familiar with the people he or she has to interact with, if it is in a social setting, anxiety, frustration and self-doubt can lead to that individual withdrawing rather than engaging.
Identifying Your “Big Why?”
You have probably heard the stories. A frail, weak, tiny elderly person is caring for a grandchild. Something happens, and an extremely heavy object weighing hundreds of pounds falls on the child. There are documented cases of this happening where a child was playing around a car that was up on blocks.
Without thinking twice, the grandparent very easily lifts this object off of the grandchild. How can this happen? Specialists in human physiology have studied these types of events for decades. They find that a rush of adrenaline in the older person’s body was so empowering that it made the impossible possible.
The grandchild was saved because the grandparent had a very clear “Big Why” at work. Why could that elderly person do the seemingly impossible? Because there their reasons for doing so, their motivation, was so large that it overtook physical probabilities. That person so cared for his or her grandchild, and recognized that child as a helpless, special, precious, wonderful gift that virtually nothing would stand in the grandparent’s way of providing safety and love for the child.
What does this have to do with becoming more socially capable?
It is very applicable. You are reading this report right now because you are not happy with your level of social ability. You are probably very determined to improve your social skills. Up till now though, you haven’t been able to. The reason may be because you have not identified a sufficiently important enough reason to do so.
What this means is you need to discover the underlying reason “why” you desire to be more sociable. Is it so you can succeed in a business setting and get your dream job? Perhaps you are tired of being alone and lonely, staring out your window as the world passes you by. Whatever the reason, you need to take some time to really look inside yourself and discover your “Big Why”.
Once you do, keep that idea at the front of your mind. The reason why there is that saying (keep something in the front of your mind) is because that is where your brain’s goal pursuing region is physically located, in the front of your skull. By constantly focusing on the core reason why you want to build strong social skills, you will not let anything get in your way on your path to creating the social skills that you desire.
Are You Too Old for Change?
Adults can create incredible change in their lives. Just because you’re not a toddler or young child whose mind and emotions are clean slates upon which to write does not mean that you can’t create whatever reality you desire. Actually, the opposite is probably true. As an adult, you have plenty of life experiences to draw from that a younger person does not have access to. Here is how to use your past experiences, failures and successes to become more sociable.
Look back upon times when you created significant and positive change in your life. Then rewind the tape even further. What was your mindset when you desired some type of change? You were probably scared, had a lot of self-doubt, and were really uncertain if you could make a particular set of results your new reality.
However, that is exactly what you made happen.
Now roll the tape just a little bit forward. Get to the point where you have just achieved this big change. It feels great, doesn’t it? However, looking back, you realize that all of your worrying and the creating of nightmare scenarios of failure in your mind were just wastes of time. Nothing ever turns out as dark and abysmal as we dream it in our mind, and a failure is simply an event, not who you are.
Write down on a piece of paper exactly what you want out of your new social skills.
This relates to your big reason “why” you want to be more socially adept. Read what you wrote out loud. Honestly, do it. Keep this note with you at all times. Read it in the morning when you wake up, and before you go to bed. What you are doing is giving your subconsciousness a set of marching orders, instructing it to change your physiological and neurological makeup so that achieving social skills is virtually guaranteed.
Many studies have shown that this is a process which actually changes the makeup of the human brain. By constantly telling your subconscious that you desire a certain set of results (to develop social abilities and skills), even when you are not consciously thinking about being more successful socially, your brain is working on doing exactly that.
This process is perfect for adults who have life experiences to draw on. Remember when you have achieved significant change in the past, remind yourself that this is doable in the future since you have seen yourself achieve this type of result, and then put your subconscious to work to eliminate your social anxiety.
The Benefits of Being Social
Estimates show that roughly 2 in 3 people in modern nations and countries live in cities. Incredibly, all of these people live on less than 10% of the available land. This means that odds are very good that there is no way for you to avoid certain social settings.
That means you should give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back. You know you have difficulties interacting with other people. But since you see this interaction as unavoidable, you have decided to make it a positive situation in your life, rather than a frustrating and anxiety-filled negative situation. You are to be commended for that.
You have your own personal reasons for wanting to remove social anxiety from your life. As it turns out, your desire to be more social was handed down to you from your cave-dwelling ancestors. Early man lived in an incredibly dangerous environment. If someone decided to “rough it” and go it alone, the chance of survival dropped drastically. However, when groups of men and women came together, they were able to forage, hunt and defend themselves more effectively. Survivals much easier in groups.
Fast-forward thousands of years and you still have that mental and emotional desire to form social groups. Even if you are anxious doing so, once you begin working at building social skills, your natural predilection to being around others kicks in. As it turns out, you are hardwired for socialization because of the following benefits men and women receive from being social.
- Your immune system is strengthened. This makes you naturally less susceptible to any disease, infection or illness.
- The chance that you will contract cancer, diabetes or mental disorders drops considerably.
- You have less stress and anxiety in your life. This means less inflammation, which is caused by stress-related hormones. Inflammation leads to multiple health problems throughout the body.
- You smile more often. The simple act of smiling has been shown to relieve stress and build trust in both the person who is smiling, and anyone who sees that person smiling.
- Women that have frequent contact with family and friends have lower rates of breast cancer.
- People who are social animals are depressed less frequently, and recover quickly from depression.
- You sleep better.
- People that are sociable are usually more productive and efficient at their jobs, and at personal tasks and responsibilities.
- Your brain stays sharper longer.
- You live longer, and healthier. A Brigham Young University found that people with healthy, social relationships lived an incredible 50% longer than people who are socially isolated.
Of course, you can add career advancement and healthy, beneficial personal relationships to that long list of benefits derived from improving your social skills.
The Difference Between Being Shy, an Introvert, or Having Social Anxiety
There are 3 different ways human beings draw energy from their social environments. A person is either an extrovert, an introvert, or an ambivert. Extroverts are usually talkative and outgoing, and prefer social settings. An introvert is the opposite in most ways, preferring to spend time alone, and drawing energy from being quiet and private. An ambivert displays traits of both introverts and extroverts.
If you are an introvert, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy. It also doesn’t automatically assume you have social anxieties. Many introverts do just fine in social settings, they would just not prefer this setting to the cozy, comfortable confines of their home. Some shy people don’t have a social anxiety disorder. And some social anxieties are situation-specific, not all-encompassing.
How Your Negative Thinking Patterns Are Holding You Back
People that lack confidence in social settings often think the following thoughts many times throughout the day:
“I’m going to look stupid.”
“Everyone” will laugh at me.”
“It’s my fault if someone rejects my social advances.”
“That person is too outgoing and popular, she won’t want to have anything to do with me.”
“I always fail in social situations.”
“I have nothing to offer the conversation.”
These types of thoughts happen because some people tend to dwell on and criticize their “performance” in social situations. This keeps that person from growing from rejections and successes that they experience while attempting to build social skills.
On the other hand, positive self-talk can be incredibly empowering. Instead of saying to yourself, “It’s my fault if someone rejects my social advances,” say “I can’t control how someone reacts to me. I am proud of myself for making the effort, and I’m going to keep trying until I succeed.”
As opposed to positively encouraging yourself with your inner voice, negative self-talk can be incredibly damaging, emotionally and physically. When your mind detects stress and anxiety, it releases hormones and other chemicals which can create inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation leads to physical health problems. In this way, mental stress from negative self-talk can cause severe and even debilitating physical problems.
What is the answer?
Stop assuming the worst in every situation. Quit looking into the future, trying to determine the results of some social interaction. Build up the ability to laugh at yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Understand that your inner voice chatters endlessly, and does not require you to respond.
Learn to listen to what others say when they are giving you positive reinforcement. If the majority of people are telling you some positive thing about yourself, but your inner voice says something different, you have to believe that the majority is correct. The next time your inner voice begins bringing you down, say “Stop!” out loud. Then look at the situation objectively, as if you were viewing it from the outside.
This keeps your negative self-talk from leading to negative behaviour.
How to Start Building Your Social Skills and Facing Your Fears
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” If you have social anxiety and fear social situations, the smallest step towards building your social skills may seem to be a task as large as eating an elephant. However, just like consuming an elephant, building social skills is incredibly easy when you break down the process into small bite-sized pieces.
Imagine that your comfortable surroundings, whatever they are, are a circle. Inside the circle you are fearless and stress-free. Now look just outside that circle. What do you see? If the place where you feel most energized and safe is inside your physical home, then your front porch, patio, driveway or yard represents a short step outside of your comfort zone.
Start spending more time there.
Eventually, you will realise that you have expanded your comfort zone. Continue to do this until your outreach involves having to talk to a neighbour, a stranger or someone that provides a service to your home. This “baby step” process has been proved time and again to help in building social skills while facing fears and anxieties.
The following 5 step process can also help you become more comfortable and outgoing in social situations while eliminating irrational fears that are holding you back from living a full and rewarding life.
- Face your fears. If you fear social settings, use the above “baby step” process to expose yourself to opportunities for socialising.
- Realise that you are going to mess things up. Since you may lack
social skills at this time, realise that you are going to experience failure and face rejection. Failure is actually a part of the socializing process and is absolutely normal.
- Study the situation objectively, and find out what went wrong. Look at what you did and the results as an impartial observer. Learn from your behaviour. Many times you will find that your behaviour was not inappropriate or awkward, and sometimes you will be able to spot areas for improvement.
- Try again. Everyone falls. Determined people get up, brush themselves off, and try again. Continue this process and you will find yourself improving your social skills over time. As this happens your anxiety will decrease substantially, and your self-esteem, confidence and ability in social situations will improve.
Tips for Making Conversation When Meeting New People
Stick to something simple when first starting out. Don’t approach “hot topics” like politics or religion. Sports is out of the question as well, unless you notice a person wearing clothing that identifies that individual is a fan of a particular team. When meeting new people and trying conversation on the first time, here are a few more proven pointers for building your social skills.
- Begin by assuming that people enjoy talking to you, and that the conversation will be a success.
- Smile before you say a word. Smiles are disarming, and unconsciously build trust between two parties.
- Maintain strong but not overly aggressive eye contact.
- Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.
- Avoid generic or one-word responses.
- Bring up the weather. Everyone has a view of the weather, and there is weather everywhere.
- Pay the person a compliment. Beginning a conversation by complimenting a person in some way greatly improves the chance your attempt at socialization will be a success.
- Begin by asking a person’s opinion about something.
- People love to talk about themselves. Ask an engaging question about the person that he or she will be happy to answer.
- Be expressive, but not overly so.
How to Make Friends When You Are Shy
Shy people don’t necessarily suffer from social anxiety. They just prefer to stay in the background, and don’t like being the centre of attention. If you are a shy person who longs for deep friendships and quality social interaction, here are a few tips that will help improve your social skill set.
- Join physical groups with similar interests. In most cities, there are opportunities for joining a group or community that likes the same things you do.
- If you are going to a party, get there early. This allows you to slowly get used to an increasing number of people. You also learn the environment and can begin feeling comfortable as people show up. A smart tip here is to ask the host if you can help out in any way.
- Accept invitations, but have a backup plan. You may feel uncomfortable attending some type of event you are invited to. If you have a backup plan, you can tell your host that you don’t know how long you can stay, but you would be glad to attend. This means you can stay for just a few minutes if you feel uncomfortable, and all night long if you meet a friend.
- Talk about the other person, not yourself. When meeting someone who is a potential friend, make sure the focus is on them and not you. This takes the pressure off of yourself and allows you to learn more about the person at the same time.
- Visualize a positive outcome rather than a negative one when you are attempting to meet someone new.
- Avoid negative self-talk and engage in positive inner conversations.
- Control the environment if possible, sticking to places you feel safe and comfortable.
- Learn to step outside your comfort zone regularly, starting with baby steps. If you think about walking a mile, that may sound impossible. But if you simply take one step at a time, in roughly 2,000 steps you have accomplished the task.
- Remind yourself of your strengths and positive character traits that could make someone else want to be your friend.
- Ask someone about their favourite movie, food, restaurant, holiday destination, music, etc. Eventually, you will find some common ground for conversation.
- Stop worrying about what other people think. Those people that do not find you fun, engaging and worth spending time with are not worth worrying over. Those that do, are.
How to Deal with Social Setbacks and Rejection
Zig Ziglar was a successful salesman, best-selling author and motivational speaker. Unfortunately, the world lost Zig in 2012. We do have, however, all his incredible insights into the human condition, one of which has to do with failure. Here is what Ziglar had to say about failure …
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person.”
You are going to experience setbacks on your path to building your social skill set. It is just normal for this to happen. Human beings are so incredibly imperfect. Do not expect yourself to go from a socially anxious person to the life of the party overnight. People will reject your attempts to socialize with them. Not everyone is meant to be attracted to everyone else.
You will experience rejection and failure in social settings, and other people will see you fail. This is what being a part of a society or a group is all about. You let down your guard to experience the incredible rewards of socializing with other human beings, and this includes realizing that from time to time you will experience some type of setback.
What you need to remember is that in almost every situation, your fear of a potential setback or failure before it even occurs is usually blown way out of proportion.
In a social setting, you are spending time with other people who are sociable. They understand that failure is a normal part of the human process. This is why, when you do encounter some setback on your way to becoming better skilled socially, other people almost never react in the nightmare scenario that you think they will.
The Setback Recognition Process
You have built up your courage. You decided to approach someone in a social setting. This may be a coworker you barely know or a total stranger. You are doing this in an attempt to prove to yourself that your fears and anxieties of social interaction are incorrect.
You approach that person, you greet them, and they reject your attempt at socializing.
For some, this can be seen as a huge setback. Your initial step at trying to conquer your social anxiety is squashed like a bug. It is extremely important at this time that you immediately realize this is simply a one-time occasion. It is an event, it is not who you are. You should be focusing on your effort rather than the outcome.
Be proud of yourself for making the effort to socialize. Realize that the people who made you feel awkward or uncomfortable may have socially anxious issues themselves. You cannot control other people or their actions. All you can control is what you do, and how you behave.
The Importance of Rejection and Acceptance for Human Beings
Turn on your favourite reality show. What you see is a cycle of rejection, exclusion and acceptance. Though these types of shows are far from normal reality, they do remind us that rejection, acceptance and human growth from either of those situations is at the cornerstone of being fundamentally human.
When you get back on the horse after being unsaddled, and try again, you will eventually experience success in your efforts.
Your socializing efforts will pay off. You will feel great about yourself for attempting to improve your social skills. This helps you get over any rejections or failures you had in the past. It also fills your mind and your emotions with positive motivations to keep working on expanding your social exposure.
As you begin to reach out socially more and more frequently, you will naturally experience more positive outcomes. When your social success builds and you gain experience dealing with rejection, your attitude towards it will change. You will see rejection as nothing more than normal human experience, just like tying your shoes or getting dressed for work. It does not define who you are unless you let it.