5 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Facing My Fears And Practising My Social Skills
Having poor social skills sucks. It’s even worse when it stems from social anxiety.
Take it from someone who has struggled with this their entire life.
From not knowing what to say during conversations to missing social cues, I’m familiar with all the ways in which poor social skills can affect one’s ability to communicate.
I’m also familiar with how poor social skills lead to missed opportunities and limit one’s quality of life.
This was why I resolved to take steps to improve my social skills this year. Despite some failed attempts in the past, I was motivated to stay the course and learn what works and what doesn’t in regards to social skills.
So far, that has turned out better than I expected. I’ve made some progress to the extent that I can share some lessons I’ve learnt along the way.
While these lessons apply to anyone who wants to improve their social skills, you should know that they stem from the perspective of someone who has struggled with social anxiety.
The Importance Of Seeking More Experiences
Feeling like my mind had gone blank during conversations was one of the first signs that made me realise I had social anxiety.
I would often start a conversation well but become unsure of what to say due to overthinking.
Although this results from the fear of being judged or wanting to impress others, I’ve also realized it could be compounded by a lack of life experiences.
When you have many experiences to draw from, you can easily tell great stories, interest others, and have a sense of humor about life.
I realized the solution to this was to start saying yes to more experiences. Love to learn how to swim? Take up a swimming class. Do you yearn to make an impact in society? Volunteer. Would you love to see the world? Travel.
Start saying yes to any experience that will let you learn more about yourself and the world around you.
A lack of life experiences does not make you an inadequate individual.
However, it can help you acquire qualities that will make you interesting to others. Experiences give you topics to talks about, which is essential for connecting with others.
The Importance Of Making An Effort
Social skills require confidence. That’s why people that have social anxiety often feel they’re incapable of thriving in social situations.
Indeed, they may not be used to social situations, or miss some social cues here and there, but that doesn’t make them socially inept.
The mind has a way of making us feel inadequate even in situations where we may have shown competence before.
For instance, a talented musician that has social anxiety may fear that they might be judged the next time they step on stage even though they’ve been applauded for their stellar performances in the past.
Psychologists refer to this kind of thinking as mental filter - a cognitive distortion that leads one to focus on the negative aspects of a situation and filter out all the positive ones.
I was able to get rid of this distortion by exposing myself to more situations and making an effort to engage irrespective of how I felt. This made me realize that I had been going about things the wrong way.
I was in search of a solution even though I had the answer right in front of me.
Instead of avoiding situations that made me anxious, all I had to do was face the situations and make an effort to engage irrespective of how I felt.
You may wonder how it makes sense to persevere in a social situation even when you feel anxious.
The answer lies in the fact that, irrespective of the negative thoughts your mind feeds you, you know how to socialize. You can be shy and still make an effort to engage.
Run into an old friend? Show genuine interest and ask them how they are faring. Someone compliments you? Show enthusiasm and appreciate them.
This might be uncomfortable at first. But if you keep making the conscious effort to engage, you’ll start to see that conversations are largely about making the other person feel special.
This removes a lot of pressure from you when you realize this.
The moment you put yourself out there, start taking note of how people socialize.
Observe the dynamics at play when someone initiates a conversation with another person, cracks a joke, or tells an intriguing story.
Hang out with with social people and observe the qualities that make them charming.
As you observe them, their mannerisms might rub off on you and you’ll get familiar with different social cues.
Another great tip is to watch videos of charismatic talk show hosts and celebrities having conversations.
Although these shows are often scripted and tend to be superficial, you can learn a thing or two about conversations from them.
I still watch videos of charismatic celebs and I’ve found it extremely helpful in getting familiar with social cues and knowing when to apply them.
It’s effective because it is an easy and low-pressure way to learn social skills.
However, it should be seen as a supplement and not a replacement to social interactions.
Seeing The Bigger Picture
One liberating perspective to have about social interactions is that while you can’t control how another person reacts, you can control how you react.
Regard each time you spend meeting people as a time to learn and build your social skills.
It doesn’t matter if you feel awkward or someone ignores you.
What matters is that, with each social interaction, you recognize what works and what doesn’t and can apply this knowledge to your next interaction.
This doesn’t mean you should become an insensitive jerk who is inconsiderate of other people’s feelings.
Instead, see their reactions as feedback, but don’t take responsibility for how they react.
The next time you feel like giving up due to feelings of inadequacy about your social skills, pause and see the bigger picture.
The Road Is Not As Long As You Think
If you’re reading this, then you’re willing to change.
That in itself is a strength. This means you’re much better off than you would be if you were not making any effort at all.
The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll be fascinated by the qualities you didn’t know you had.
I used to think I was boring and could never make anyone laugh. However, after I started making the conscious effort to engage in conversations, I was amazed by how well people reacted to my jokes
You must realize you have a quality that would be of value to others. If you’re unsure what that is, the only way to find out is by putting yourself out there.
Granted, you may never be as charismatic as Oprah or as innovative as Elon Musk, but you can be your own person who others rely on and always look forward to seeing.
Let the possibilities that could arise from socializing spur you to come out of your shell and face your fears.