The notable Nike ad says “Just do it.” Sounds great, yet easier said than done, right? I mean, what does “just do it” mean really?
Especially when it comes to social anxiety, we need something more to help us take a leap. The leap is, of course, starting a conversation.
What’s the Problem?
Obviously, starting conversations and getting acquainted with new people isn’t a natural or automatic thing to do if someone has social anxiety.
Even if one has already prepared oneself and is therefore no longer very self-conscious, and has an idea of something to talk about and basically knows what to say (when with a store cashier, co-worker, classmate, or whoever), there may still be reluctance to just start a conversation. The problem is it just feels too weird.
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The first step is always the hardest
Get It Rolling!
Indeed, it takes initiative in order to get the ball rolling. As Napoleon Hill says, “initiative” means “doing the thing that needs to be done without being told to do it.”
Let’s explore how to do the thing that needs to be done (start a conversation with someone new), even though no one is putting a gun to your head.
Strategy #1–Goal First
If you’re committed to your goal (of being socially confident), you’ll put your goal rather than your feelings first. So even if you don’t really feel like starting a conversation, you’ll do it because in the end, what you feel like doesn’t really matter.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, PH.D., author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, says, “If you are sitting there, putting something off because you don’t feel like it, remember that you don’t actually need to feel like it.”
As Denzel Washington put it, “You have to do what you gotta do in this life in order to do what you wanna do.”
Consider whether the goal of being socially confident is extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not that important to you. Since as human beings we’re all social animals, it’s fundamentally an extremely or very important goal. However, sometimes one can lose track of what’s really important in terms of contributing to quality of life.
Strategy #2–Consider Pleasure Versus Pain
Making your goal a priority over your feelings is one way to get yourself to do what you need to do. But there’s another way that’s the opposite, and that is to really consider your feelings. Humans instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain. So if there’s a reluctance to take action, i.e. start a conversation, it must be at least partly because it seems more rewarding not to start a conversation than to start a conversation.
Yet, if we really consider it, there’s more pleasure than pain in regards to starting a conversation–not just in terms of long-term but also in terms of immediate gratification. That’s because taking a risk by starting a conversation will likely make us feel on top of the world when we take that risk, even if the conversation turns out awkward. There may be some uncomfortable feelings, but overall the pleasure is greater than the pain.
Starting a conversation feels great because it’s taking the right action. And the right action is whatever moves us forward to our goal.
Strategy #3–Don’t Even Think About It
It’s difficult if not impossible to take action if we’re overthinking and in our heads. As Robert Herjavec, author of Driven: How To Succeed In Business and In Life, says, “Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It’s important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
So after you’ve decided who to talk to and what you’ll talk about and maybe rehearsed or visualized the scenario the way you want it to go, just let go of it in your mind. If you stop thinking, it will be easier to just do it or take action. As Napolean Bonaparte put it in a nutshell, “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.”
Even if you haven’t prepared what to say to start a conversation, perhaps you suddenly want to say something when you’re in a social situation, yet hesitate. Again, a good way to get over this hurdle and just say what you want to say is to stop all thinking, since overthinking is generally the cause of hesitation in the first place. It will be easier to just say whatever if the mind is quiet and not overthinking.
Strategy #4–Habit Stacking For Conversation
What is habit stacking? Well, consider how most people get up in the morning, then follow with washing their face, and then brushing their teeth. The way brushing teeth immediately follows washing face is habit stacking. Now consider if one wanted to add teeth flossing as a daily habit. It would be easier to make teeth flossing a new habit by stacking it to immediately follow teeth brushing.
Now suppose you want to take up a new habit of daily walking. Instead of trying to add walking at any time during the day, you make a point of taking this walk in the morning immediately after you brush your teeth, floss your teeth, wash your face, eat breakfast, and change out of your pajamas. Making the new activity–walking–immediately follow other habits is habit stacking. This makes it more likely that you do take a walk consistently.
Likewise, habit stacking can be used to make starting conversation a habit. For instance, using the hypothetical situation of adding a daily walking habit, you can then stack on a daily conversation habit. This means that when you go for a walk, you might stop by a park or a store, etc. to start a conversation. You could also just start a conversation with a fellow pedestrian on the street or whoever else you by chance come across during your walk.
Another example of using habit stacking for making starting conversation a habit would be, say, if you’re in an office working environment, you would start a conversation with someone every time immediately after you pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea in the break room during a break.
Strategy #5–Extend But Don’t Overextend
Although starting a conversation will inevitably be somewhat of a stretch (if it’s a new behavior), it shouldn’t be out of this world uncomfortable to do. If it feels like too much of a stretch, then you need to prepare your mind more by visualizing or doing something to get over self-consciousness.
Take it one small step at a time. While you shouldn’t force yourself to do something that’s too hard to do, you shouldn’t wait to do something that you’re capable of doing either. As the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu said, “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
Just as an apple a day keeps the doctor away, one small social action a day keeps the psychotherapist away. You don’t necessarily have to start a conversation every single day (though the more often the speedier the progress). There may be days, however, you just want to stay home, which is quite all right. But even on those days when you don’t have the opportunity to start a conversation with a new person in order to practice mingling, you can still do something to improve your social skills, such as visualizing future conversations.
A good way to make sure you’re on track with doing something every day towards being socially confident is to keep track that you’re taking action by use a tracker. I like this simple online tracker.
Once the ball gets rolling, then taking the “initiative” will no longer be an issue because it will be more or less natural to do what you need to do. But until then, it can be tricky to take action on something new.
When it comes down to it, hesitancy to take action is tied to fear of making mistakes. But making mistakes is inevitable when we start doing something new to us. To be free, let go of concern about making mistakes. Philosopher Alan Watts said, “Freedom means, basically, the freedom to make mistakes, the freedom to be a damn fool and then not to recriminate yourself.”
All the above methods may be used or just one method to focus on. Personally, since I’m an overthinker, I find the stopping thinking method works particularly well for me. Maybe there is another trick you use to get yourself to just do it?