“After any social event, I harshly interrogate myself…I replay the event and conversations in my head over and over again, looking for things I did and said wrong.” –A comment from a social anxiety forum
I can definitely relate to that social anxiety forum comment. That’s because I used to do that all the time.
It’s no wonder negative emotions became associated with any kind of socializing or just being around others.
However, replaying events that didn’t go the way we want doesn’t necessarily have to be problematic. On the contrary, we can use those seemingly unwanted memories to improve social skills.
Whether looking back hinders or helps us depends on how we look at things.
Ruminating makes things worse. On the other hand, visualizing makes things better.
What Is Ruminating?
Basically, ruminating is being hung up on something negative and going over and over it again in our minds. It’s having a broken record that replays which disturbs us.
Here’s how Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. aptly defines ruminating, “It’s retracing past mistakes.”
Besides having repetitive thoughts of behaving in a socially inept way, we might also obsessively replay being disrespected or rejected.
It’s no surprise that research studies have linked ruminating to social phobia.
As Lauren Feiner, Psy.D. says, “Reflecting on past experiences can be helpful in problem-solving and overcoming dilemmas, but brooding rumination takes this to the next level. It offers few new insights and often serves to intensify our negative feelings.”
Rethinking the Negative
The good news is we don’t have to forget about our perceived past social mistakes. We just need to put a new spin on how we think about it.
You may have seen instant replays during sports games on television. During a live game, another video replays some action that already happened, close-up and in slow motion. This provides a clear look at the situation in terms of what happened.
Similarly, we can replay a past social situation in our minds to get a clearer look at what happened, including how we “fumbled the ball.” But instead of replaying over and over the “fumble” and feeling more negative about it, we can “edit the film” in order to make improvement. When we edit the replay, we make corrections and see ourselves behaving in a way that leads to a touchdown rather than fumbling.
Visualize For Social Improvement
The following is an effective method to take something from the past that didn’t go the way you wanted it to go and rethink it in a positive way to improve social skills.
It’s an excerpt from the book Creative Visualization For Beginners by Richard Webster.
- Visualize yourself in a situation that would be difficult for you. This might be a scene from your past, or you might choose to imagine a situation that would be hard for you to handle.
- Observe the scene for several seconds, and then allow all the color to fade away from your mental picture until you are looking at the scene in black and white.
- Allow this black-and-white picture to gradually become smaller and smaller, as if it is receding into the distance. When it is little more than a dot in your mind’s eye, visualize the scene again the way you would like it to be. Allow this scene to be in glorious color, and see, hear, feel, taste, and smell the picture in your imagination. See yourself performing everything you need to do with ease, enjoying every moment.
- Allow the black-and-white scene to come back into your mind for a few seconds, and then replace it with the second scene. Notice the total transformation you have made between the two scenes. Repeat this several times, observing the “old” you and the “new” you.
- The final stage of this exercise is to totally eliminate the old black-and-white picture. You can do this in various ways. I sometimes allow the old scene to turn into a small ball which I can kick into the air. I watch it ascend into the air and finally disappear. You might visualize a trash can. Turn the black-and-white scene into a small parcel that you can pick up. Dump it into the trash can and replace the lid.
- Once the old picture has gone, visualize the new scene again. Enjoy watching it for as long as you wish. When you feel ready, open your eyes.
- Repeat this exercise as often as you can until the second picture becomes a reality in your life.
Instead of trying to imagine from scratch what confident or effective social behavior looks and sounds like, using a situation from the past to replay and then edit it to the way you would like it to be can make visualization of desired behavior easier.
Athletes are well-known for using their minds to visualize effective performance. Former water skier Camille Duvall has said, “I train myself mentally with visualization.” Tiger Woods, the golfer, visualizes where he wants the golf ball to go before he takes a swing.
As maximum performance strategist Matt Mayberry says, “All top performers, regardless of profession, know the importance of picturing themselves succeeding in their minds before they actually do in reality.”
Likes athletic and business performance, social performance too can be improved by picturing yourself succeeding.
The bottom line is repeating social events in your mind which happened in the past can actually be helpful, just as long as you don’t ruminate or beat yourself up about them. Instead, you can use past social events to help you turn things around.
So whenever you find yourself ruminating, replace the negative thoughts with positive ones and see yourself the way you want to be, and associate positive emotion with social events.