Ten Truths To Overcome Social Anxiety

Neil StraussNeil41 Comments

Recently, I did a small project based on experiments from the book the Game.

It involved walking up to strangers and asking them to write down their vision for the world.

I was with a couple other people in a food court area, and we saw a thin, poorly dressed, angry-looking man in his thirties sitting alone at a table.

No one wanted to approach him. They were scared not just of getting rejected, but that he’d be mean to them.

So of course I approached him.

To my friends’ surprise, he agreed to write down his vision for the world.

His dream for the world: “I wish people would be friendlier.”

He’d just moved from another country and he felt alone.

So this man, who everyone was afraid to speak to, just wanted to meet people. Soon, we were having a great conversation.

Besides offering a lesson in not judging others, it made me think about one of the most important things I learned over the last decade:

Life is fun when you open your mouth.

So I’m sending this email to encourage you, whether you are single or in a relationship, whether you have few friends or you’re overloaded, to overcome social anxiety and do the simplest thing:

Get to know the fellow human beings whom you’re sharing this planet with.

Kobo Abe, the Japanese writer, once told an interviewer that his works were tied together by the theme of social isolation. “The city is the place where people first had to deal with a stranger who is not an enemy,” he said. “I think they still have not succeeded completely.”

So let’s start succeeding.

The people you brush past every day are not your enemies, nor are they your judges or critics. They are potential friends, lovers, collaborators, teachers, or employers who you are missing out on.

How often do you stand in silence in a crowded elevator?

How many times have you sat on an airplane, a bus, or the subway and ignored the human being right next to you?

How many times have you stood in line, impatiently waiting for your turn to buy something, when you could have been striking up an amazing conversation with someone just inches away from you?

Some of you are here because you read The Game. This is where The Game begins. In fact do this often enough, and you may not need much else.

The New York Times wrote yesterday that suicide rates in the country had reached an all-time high, surging by over fifty percent since 1999 for middle-aged people.

One expert interviewed said that she believed the cause is increased social isolation. She noted that in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to commit suicide (and unmarried middle-aged women were 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves).

Fortunately, the prescription for this disease is the best medicine there is: Talk to other people.

You may be thinking:

“I’m awkward.”

“What if no one wants to talk to me?”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“I’ll probably get rejected.”

Who cares!

As with anything else you don’t have practice with, you may not be natural or comfortable approaching people at first. But with practice, you will soon discover that unlike Kobo Abe’s quote, the enemy is not actually other people. It is you.

It is the lies you tell yourself that you believe: that you’re not [fill-in-the-blank] enough.

News flash: Almost everyone feels the same way.

So now you have something in common with them.

Go meet them.

In fact, this is not even a new skill for you. It’s something you did when you were much much younger, with no fear whatsoever.

So here are Ten Truths that will help you today.

I’ve given them a pretentious title to get you to take them seriously. Because they will change your life.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF OVERCOMING SOCIAL ANXIETY

1. No one is watching you approach and judging you for it. They are just as worried about being judged and criticized as you are.

2. Let go of your outcome, whether it’s a phone number or social validation. If you want nothing out of the interaction other than to speak to someone else, you have a 100 percent chance of succeeding as soon as you utter something.

3. Don’t worry if you’re shy or nervous when approaching; people will be nicer to you because of it.

4. A rejection is not a comment on who you are as a person. It is simply feedback on something you did.

5. Instead of being outcome dependent, be learning dependent

6. No one will say anything as insulting, mean, and cruel about you as the things you tell yourself.

7. Know that wherever you go, you are accepted. And if you don’t know it yet, then act as if it’s true until experience proves it.

8. More people than you could possibly imagine are looking to meet you.

9. The only failure is not approaching. Because the pain and disappointment of letting yourself down is much greater than anything someone else can say.

10. And, finally…life is more fun when you open your mouth!

Be Learning Dependent - Neil Strauss

This may be one of the easiest and quickest way to improve your life.

It may lead to a new job, investor, or opportunity.

It may lead to learning something you didn’t know before.

It may lead to a new romantic or sexual relationship.

It may lead to a new best friend.

It may lead to a new life experience.

It may lead to a really interesting conversation.

It may lead to a boost in self-esteem and confidence.

Or perhaps you will be the one to change your approachee’s life.

And if you truly take this post to heart, it will lead to all of these things.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “But what should I say?”

The answer, if you’ve truly let go of your outcome, is: Whatever you want to say.

Nothing’s wrong, as long as you’re not violating someone’s personal boundaries.

(This means that if someone conveys that they don’t wish to be spoken to, whether verbally or non-verbally, that you respect their personal space. You’re obviously all intelligent enough to know that we’re not talking about catcalling or harassment. We’re talking about creating a genuine and comfortable moment of connection: The recognition of a person’s existence, from one human being to another.)

Try: Hi.

Or: Hey.

Or even: Hello.

Your mission: Say one of these words to ten people today with a warm smile. And–this is key–don’t expect anything in return.

Do just that little. And I can guarantee that you just made the world a better place—and you’ll feel good for having done so.

And, finally, you may be wondering “What should I do if I want to say more than hello?”

Say anything with genuine curiosity and interest.

You’ll be amazed at what unfolds.

Be sure to post your experiences with the Hello Mission and any other people you meet this week in the Comments section below to motivate others or if you need some feedback.

Sometimes the smallest things can yield the greatest results.
Life is Fun When You Open Your Mouth - Neil Strauss

 

41 Comments on “Ten Truths To Overcome Social Anxiety”

  1. Thanks for saying this Neil, not always obvious to everyone. Sometimes you want to have a conversation and sometimes you don’t, depends on my mood (and whether I’ve had my coffee lol).

    “This means that if someone conveys that they don’t wish to be spoken to, whether verbally or non-verbally, that you respect their personal space. You’re obviously all intelligent enough to know that we’re not talking about catcalling or harassment. We’re talking about creating a genuine and comfortable moment of connection: The recognition of a person’s existence, from one human being to another.”

    1. And sometimes you want to isolate, but getting out of your own head and interacting can bring you more aliveness than caffeine.

    2. yay, I had that moment in traffic, while staring at strangers car, a baby while looking through the windows, and I smile to him, and he recognize that someone recognized his existence , and laugh to me. that was a divine moment. true joy.

      it happen to me in traffic again, an amazing older women (English isn’t my first, so excuse me .I didn’t wanna call her a milf, but she was) , anyway, she was putting on makeup while waiting for a green light, and I, with my chicken wings, gave her thumbs up when she turn her head to me, and we connect just for a second, but there was something real about it.

  2. Why not have computers randomly start conversations for us? They could tell us exactly what to say.

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  4. Neil ,
    It’s a great Article , I personly love you and respect you , kindly , I would like to add something that I learned from the life , that is :
    1. I have learned a lesson not to be too much kind to people and you will suffer pain if you help the wrong people .
    2. Just being kind and without agenda ( you are geniunly not attached to any outcome ) and you really have good faith , still you will be misunderstood in a lot of cases .
    Keep in mind that alot of people are suffering , it is obvious by their behaviour especially when they are sure they will not be punished .
    ( I remember an experiment in Russia where a woman standed naked and wrote on a sign that people can do anything to her and they will not be punished or even blamed for it .you won’t believe how many people hurted her just because they know there will be no punishment for their acts ) . There is a lot of evil in the world .
    3. You can find good people like you but they are very rare .
    4. My rule , I do not say things that hurt people in any way , even if it is a mock or tease , and when I joke I do not hurt anybody by my words .

    I do not know , may be the above applies in different magnitude to different people , it depends how both are seeing life ( positive , negative , their level ) , but for me it is difficult to not be alone , even I have friends from both sexes , being alone gives me time to read , and I believe no one can be creative if he do not have time alone .
    It is just my opinion , and as I told you , I really love and respect you , and keep on .

    1. Thank you for your feedback Samer. And for me as well, solitude is key to creativity. I would just question some of your premises at the top of your post. Consider this: being kind to someone is not the same as helping them. You can be kind to all, but you can choose who you help. You seem like a sensitive person who has had some painful experiences with other people. But don’t let those experiences change your world view. You can wake up tomorrow morning and choose to see the evil in the world or you can choose to see the good in the world. It’s up to you. But I bet a more beautiful life will flower out of the soil that sees the good than the one that sees the evil.

  5. Hi neil,

    You are absolutly right!!!! I try to live like that. Somedays i feel totaly great with doing that, somedays a little voice tells me not to. Hate that little voice.

    Last week i felt like i wanted to know to everyone i met. It ended up me in my room being drugged by a woman and her stealing all my stuf at home.

    Must say honestly… it cracked my spirit… didn’t know how to react to it. Feeling angry, ashamed, stupid, naieve, , … as you can see on my list, not many great feel good emotions

    Told myself over and over and over…. one person will not change my perception on people…. it wont…. i wont… it wont… it did

    One good thing came out of it… i started reading the thruth… scary familiar for me… felt sometimes uncomfotable reading it (only at the free ibooks part). But the way you looked at the world, women and yourself is so close to my world, so definetly gonna read it till the end

    Greetz, and sorry for the many authographic mistakes, she stole also my iphone and need to get used to this cheap alternative 😉

    Since you also end with a ps (min one)

    Ps. You should love everyone when they are alive is a good alterative title for your previous book… more optimistic 😉

    1. Steven, sorry to hear about that experience. You should talk to Samer above. The thief stole your possessions, but you didn’t let them steal your thoughts and spirit. Good for you!

  6. Hey Neil,
    Funny you should send that, I’ve written a blog post on that exact topic a few weeks ago (in french, so I won’t link to it). I am putting it into action everyday. I LOVE these tiny interactions. I find it’s so much easier if you open to others, look at them with intent and interest rather than just thinking about what you’ll say next or what you think about them. Guys, if you hear a voice in your head constantly judging everything (yourself and the other person), just turn its volume down and focus on the conversation that’s going on. You’ll have a much better time.
    Just a week ago my life has changed because of someone I talked to with genuine interest.

    1. Yes, good notes. It’s amazing how often we don’t listen. We wait to speak, or we judge, or we worry about being judged. Congrats on the big change in your life from a tiny interaction!

  7. As I was finishing this article, I got a phone call from a Bernie Sanders supporter (feel the Bern!). I had just read the part about saying “Hello” with a genuine smile, so I did that. Had an awesome conversation and connection. So fun 🙂 Love the serendipitous timing.

  8. Remarkable timing. This is something to which I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately. I don’t meet people easily. I don’t have many friends. I don’t know how to mingle and have fun at social gatherings. And I think my primary problem is that I don’t express genuine interest in people. We’re having a conversation and, while they’re talking, I’m only thinking about what I’m going to say next, rather than just listen and pay attention to what they’re saying. I think “social anxiety” could be doubly named “self-centeredness gone wild.” I am selfish. I think that this also is why I (and others who feel this way) have trouble thinking of what to say to someone or some group of people that I want to meet. I’m only thinking about how I’ll be perceived instead of: who are they? what do they like? what are they struggling with right now? what are they happy about right now? what’s fun for them? And if I think on it, some of the most engaging, magnetic, charismatic men I’ve ever met had a great aptitude for expressing enthusiasm for other people and what’s happening with them. I have to change this about myself. I printed out the Ten Commandments and set it on my nightstand. I’m gonna read it regularly. I might even write “genuine curiosity and interest” on my wrist before going out. Thanks Neil.

    1. If you have trouble answering people because you don’t know what to say or what they’re telling you doesn’t fire up any enthusiasm at first, just mirror what they’re telling you. Use their words with a question mark and encourage them to continue. After a while you’ll find yourself being pulled in the conversation while they’re really doing all the work and then it starts becoming sooo good!
      Keep it super simple, too. For example if they tell you: “I’m a nurse”, ask “you’re a nurse ? How’s that ?” and let them complete it. People usually love to receive attention so they’ll be happy to feed you with info. If they’re shy, you’ll have to work a little more but you’ll learn from the experience 🙂

  9. This is a real beautiful piece of work by you.
    That is the reason why this many people admire you including me.
    And don’t worry we’ll not let the world end.
    We will keep it socially healthy.
    I am already on this mission right now.
    Again thanks for your motivation.

  10. “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being” – Albert Schweitzer

    I like that quote a lot because that’s what I think whenever I encounter a stranger. Wherever I go, I think maybe I can be their flame igniter or maybe they will be mine. Either way I never judge the interaction I just allow it to be. As James Hollis would say (and I loved this saying so much) “it’s not about what I want but what wants to enter the world through me”.

    Great post. Thank you Neil, always so inspiring.

      1. Thanks Neil 😉 I think you should too!! Thanks for taking the time to reply, you do a great job at lifting others in a wonderful way.

  11. Hi! You are right! I am here because I read the game, what I don’t remember is by which PUA website I first heard of it. Anyway. I am from Costa Rica. I once had a chance to go to Rio de Janeiro, and was AMAZED about how friendly people were. Even the hot men and women were very nice to tourists. Also, we get a lot of inmigration from Colombia, and Colombian girls are the sweetest thing. Because of peer pressure (a lot of girls in Colombia are really hot) they don’t realize how hot they are so they have a beautiful combination of being gorgeous and humble. After seeing those 2 examples of other cultures, and comparing to the cold and sometimes even rude way that Costa Ricans treat each other, I followed Gandhi’s suggestion and set myself to be the change I want to see in the world. The specific place where I started my mission was the gym. Even though I know my way around the gym after so many years, I still feel “gymtimidaded” by the cold looks (or by the head turns to break eye contact) of other gym goers, especially women. As you put it, this happens because everyone is afraid so everyone kicks off their defense shields. So I decided that I would do 2 things:
    – greet out loud on my way in to the locker room, and say good bye out loud on my way out.
    – try to smile everyone I ran into, at least with a mild simper or whatever I could do without feeling akward (because I knew they would dismiss it)
    To no suprise, now other people that seemed mean or angry greet back, and many women don’t feel intimidaded any more and also at least acknowledge the smile. I have definitely made the gym a better place, at least for me.

    The mission carries on to the work building, malls, etc…

    Peace

    Rolando

  12. Hello everybody..!
    I’m so inspired by your article but what if you are stuck in a place where you don’t like anything and if you try to verbalize yourself to others then they in return try to rationalize you with just anything.

    1. Mandy, if I understand your question correctly, try connecting with positivity rather than negativity. Doing that was a big shift for me. Search NVC on my blog for more posts on the subject.

  13. When standing next to people, I like to observe the comedy of just what is going on around us (nothing cruel or demeaning) and remark on it. If it clicks with the other people, it creates smiles.

  14. Good article Neil. I wish people kept this in mind a LOT more when they are SHARING the road with others. It seems like quite a few drivers feel that all the other cars are inconveniencing them rather than all trying to be cooperative partners in a fast paced dance.
    For example, just the other day I had an experience that made me want to print a bumper sticker that said F**k motorcyclists in opposition to all those purple stickers you see. Why? because I lane changed to the fast lane to pass the slower traffic when after i already committed I see a motorcycle a few cars back dart out at a very high rate of speed so much so that instead of slowing down, he road along the medium passing me. Lucky he didn’t wipe out. He also took the time to turn back and flip me off as if to say, “how dare you almost make me wipe out and get in my way driving that huge old car.”
    So reactively I reciprocated. Later on I thought, how foolish… how sad.
    Imagine, how we both would’ve reacted if we had known each other and were even friends. We certainly wouldn’t have treated each other with such recklessness and disrespect.
    Cars – where we ALL are subjected to forced isolation from each other (not including possible passengers). Seems to bring out the worst in a lot of us. Insulated by several tons of machine, we are like knights in armor lacking chivalry riding our war horses ready to do battle at the slightest perceived aggression towards us.

    1. Good note. May need to do the Ten Commandments For Motorists.

      This simile of yours is just great: “Insulated by several tons of machine, we are like knights in armor lacking chivalry riding our war horses ready to do battle at the slightest perceived aggression towards us.”

  15. I’m all into what you’re saying but while reading you mentioned “In fact, this is not even a new skill for you. It’s something you did when you were much much younger, with no fear whatsoever.” And I think that is my problem, like I experienced really bad comments because my appearance (classism shit in my high school) that definitely did something in my mind that I’m always thinking I’m not at the same level.

    1. I’m talking younger than that. Before you were even aware of your appearance.

      There was a joy and free spirit in you that got shut down in high school. Make friends with it again and let it back out.

  16. Social anxiety can occur when others find one’s imagination too over the top for narrow minds. Our creative intentional community would like to connect with you further. We gather around gifted people who enjoy discussing creative spirituality, life and higher consciousness in the hot tub. Great house on 5 acres (2 hectacres) with great views and private trail. http://www.CreativePhilosopherClub.Org includes people like yourself, plus poets, writers, artists, horticulturalists, sculptors, photographers, video makers.

  17. Hey Neil.

    Just was watching your chat with Chase Jarvis and found myself on this post and YES YES, agree with these simple ideas for connecting and talking to folks.

    Our need for social engagement is hardwired in our autonomic nervous system, yet (as you know) our early wounds disable this hardwiring and make it so tough for folks.

    Being a high level Somatic Experiencing practitioner (I help Peter Levine at his master classes when they run back East) and I’m also a Feldenkrais teacher (high level neuroplasticity training), this topic is close to my heart and guts.

    [I also heard your chat with Lewis Howes and wanted to reach out a hug you when you mentioned Somatic Experiencing!]

    Take good care, Irene.

  18. Once Upon a time i only talked 3/4 people a week.As a person who suffered from anxiety a lot, I NOW FIND MYSELF LOT MORE RELAXED and not getting uptight like I use to. I now go through my day in a more relaxed manner and I find myself with more energy as well. So what changed me?
    I didnt change overnight, it was a gradual process and I suggest you start now. This is how it happend ,i purchased a LOT of self-help books on the internet, some were useful and some were crap, but reading self-help books changed my BELIEF SYSTEMS, reading a self-help book for 30 mins per day was like a 30 min hypnosis session, so imagine 30 min for 30 days!!! It had a massive effect on my life, EVEN THOUGH I RARELY APPLIED THE TECHNIQUES OUTLINED IN EACH SELF HELP BOOK I READ IS STILL REACHED THE CHANGE I WANT IN LIFE BECAUSE LIKE I SAID BEFORE READING HAS A HYPNOTIC EFFECT.

    So in conclusion…reading self help books was my CURE, so i strongly recommend you, if you suffer from SA, to start reading today! and the link below leads to an EXCELLENT SELF HELP BOOK I DISCOVERED, the book given in link below is specifically written for those having SA….THIS BOOK IN THE LINK IS AN BETTER WAY TO START BEFORE YOU GO ON READ SOME CRAP.
    http://tinyurl.com/hubv6xk

  19. I’m not sure about this. I am often just not interested in other people. Talking to someone about something interesting is great, but trying to find some topic of conversation with a stranger bores me to tears.

    I’m happy in my head, with my friends, with my colleagues. I have no problem reaching out to people I want to engage and talking with them, but don’t enjoy chatting with random people.

    Is that so bad? Is this problem (that doesn’t seem like a problem to me) something I need to fix?

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