Social anxiety, shyness and awkwardness.
Those feelings/states (or whatever they are), are the reason why many people avoid social situations, and as a result suffer from loneliness and low self esteem.
While there are some people who are introverts by nature -they just have a good time exploring their own world. Other people aren’t necessary introverts, they’re just shy, there’s nothing wrong with being introvert, as long as you don’t actually fear the social interactions.
Regardless of whether you’re introvert or extrovert (or in-between), shyness and lack of social skills isn’t an option at all, we want to learn to become more social, why? because social life is important, period.
Why Social Life Is Important?
It’s believed that a good social life and good connections can actually have a positive impact on one’s health (source). On the other side, loneliness is linked to many health issues, Dr. Sanjay Gupta said in a really interesting article that we should treat loneliness as a chronic illness.
In the famous study about addiction, The Rat Park, Dr. Bruce Alexander examined how addiction is really developed, and he came to realize that when rats were put in the Rat Park (basically an environment where rats were enjoying their time, it was like a heaven for them), they were less likely to drink water mixed with drugs.
On the other side, rats which were put in cages were more likely to drink that water and kill themselves.
Although there’s more of this study more than this (watch this video, it summarizes the whole thing), the one thing that got my attention was the kind of conclusion that this study has come up with: the opposite of addiction IS NOT sobriety, the opposite of addiction is connection.
Many studies have already suggested that social life is important for our mental and physical health, and also that loneliness can actually be the new curse of modern society.
But we don’t need studies and researches to confirm that, it’s a common sense! We need each others, we need connections, we need friends, we need a social circle and we need a social life.
We need a partner, a family, a supportive friend, an environment where we can share our own thoughts and connect with other people.
And don’t use being an introvert as an excuse for not wanting to have a social life or some meaningful connections with people, the only ones who don’t actually need that are the dead ones!
Let’s Clarify a Few Things First!
By saying “become more social” and “social life”, I don’t necessary mean the life of the party or becoming a social butterfly, not at all, let me clarify what I mean.
I’m talking about having a social circle that makes you happy, because you have real connections with your circle, I’m talking about not being held down by fear, shyness and social anxiety, and I’m talking about being able to go out there and express yourself or just meet new people.
And this article is going to help you to do that.
Well, you and I know that in order to become more social, we need to put ourselves out there, so we need some tips that will help us to do that.
Instead of giving you tips like “just go out there”, “approach people” or “show confidence”, I thought there might be a better way.
All these tips can be really great, but what about giving you some real evidences, what about giving you real studies and researches about social interactions? what about giving you some case-studies for people who were able to defy the odds?
From my own experience, I’ve found that reading studies which really prove to us that our limiting beliefs are not real, can really help us to destroy these beliefs, and as a result, become more social.
And also reading case-studies, where somebody starts from the bottom, and builds his way up to the top, not only it will inspire you and show you that it’s possible, but also it’s going to show you the exact steps you need to take.
So, we’re going to explore some psychology/social psychology studies about some social interactions, and also some case-studies for people who were able to defy the odds and make it, let’s get started.
#1 Study: Do People Really Care?! (The Spot Light Effect)
In one study, people were asked to wear some T-shirts and walk into a room full of people, the only problem was: the T-shirts had some embarrassing pictures on them.
Then, after one person goes into the room, he/she was asked to estimate how many people actually noticed their “embarrassing T-shirts”.
And also, the people in the room were asked if they were able to recall what picture this person had on his/her T-shirts, and sure they were told the study is about memory.
People reported that about 50% of the people in the room actually noticed their embarrassing T-shirts, was that true?
Well, when the people at the room were asked whether they noticed that T-shirts (remember, they though it’s a memory study), only 10-25% of them actually noticed the “embarrassing T-shirts”!!
People don’t actually notice you that much, at least not as much as you think. And this is called the spot light effect, according to Wikipedia, the spot light effect is:
The spotlight effect is the phenomenon in which people tend to believe they are noticed more than they really are. Being that one is constantly in the center of one’s own world, an accurate evaluation of how much one is noticed by others has shown to be uncommon.
It’s like walking into a room, or walking in a crowded street, and thinking that everybody is looking at you and noticing how you behave, and that’s why we feel so embarrassed when we do some stupid things out there.
And even if you did something stupid (in the study people were wearing stupid things), most people won’t notice you that much, and even if they saw you, they won’t really care that much.
Why is that? because people are focused on themselves, they worry about their own mistakes more than you think, and also because they’re humans who feel this “spot light effect”!!
When you think that you’re the one under the spot light, and everybody is looking and watching you, will you be so focused on other people and their mistakes, stupid clothes, insanity or whatsoever? I don’t think so.
Putting This Into Action:
Calm down! no body is keeping track of how many times you screw up, there’s no light shed on you and you’re not on a stage, people don’t care that much.
People are focused on themselves, if someone did something embarrassing down the street, and just apologized or laughed at himself, I guarantee you, more than half of the people around him didn’t notice him, and the rest noticed him, but they look for a second and they gaze away, they couldn’t care less.
This can really help you in situations where you feel self conscious, when you fear going out there because you think that everybody is watching and judging you, when you do something embarrassing in public, or just when you feel like everybody is watching you.
#2 Facing Fears (Exposure Therapy)
Exposure Therapy is one of the most effective ways to overcome social phobia/anxiety and also in overcoming many phobia, if done right of course.
And it’s all about exposing yourself to the fearful situation, because 99.99% of the time, especially in the social situations, the fear is irrational, and when we experience that fear and hold our ground, it will pass because our mind will see no point in being afraid.
It’s proven that exposure therapy is effective in overcoming many phobias, including heights, snakes or closed places, and sure social phobia is included.
Although there’s some debate about social phobias because it doesn’t seem to work for everybody, but I believe it’s going to work if we applied it right.
We’re going to look at some studies about the effectiveness of exposure therapy (in dealing with many phobias and anxiety disorders), so that we’re not talking only about a theory, after that we’re going to see how you can actually apply this into your life and get results.
In one study, they examined the effects of a single-session that’s usually about 1-3 hours for people with specific phobias and did a follow up after couple of years to see the results.
In other words, they got people who suffer from specific phobias (such as ) and they gave them a treatment session that includes “in vivo exposure”, which means they made them face their fear face to face, and that was pretty effective.
After 4 years they did a post-treatment follow-up and they found out that 90% of those people no longer have intense fear or anxiety (reduction in fear levels), and 65% of them no longer have that phobia at all, completely cured (source).
While this is generalized to many phobias and not only about social phobias/anxiety, still exposure therapy works like charm in overcoming social phobias as well.
Ask any therapist whether exposure therapy can work in dealing with social anxiety, and you will hear a yes 95% of the time, and it’s not a secret, from studies that prove this fact to many case-studies out there telling us how facing our fears can really he helpful.
I’ve heard someone who was able to overcome shyness that just forcing himself to be out there, not matter how awkward he was feeling, has helped him to overcome shyness very quickly.
Also, have you ever had a cold shower? if you did then you know that you first have to put yourself in extremely uncomfortable situation, the very cold water, and you stay there for a while (1-2 minutes), after that you will stop feeling cold and you will actually enjoy the “cold-feared-water”.
Last but not least, I remember that onetime I signed up in a new gym, and it was very crowded and full with bigger guys than me, and I was really very insecure about going there, every time I walk to the door of that gym and get in, I used to feel very anxious and uncomfortable.
However, I noticed that after forcing myself to go no matter how I was feeling, I started to get used to those feelings, and after a while (few weeks), I’m at ease, I no longer feel that intense feelings whenever I want to go to the gym or when I reach that door and get in.
Putting This Into Action:
As I said above, exposure therapy can work if it was done correctly.
So, let’s put an action plan for those of us who doesn’t want to go to a therapy, you can still perform exposure therapy and get the benefits, it’s the best way to become more social and overcome your fears, facing them.
Here we are …
- Write down a list: it’s called a hierarchy, anyway it’s a list of the feared situations and their levels of intensity, you go and you expose yourself to those situations starting with the lowest one building up your way to the top. But how to actually create that list/hierarchy? Very simple:Write down all the actions that you can expose yourself to, regardless of how you feel about them, for example: approaching a stranger, smiling at the cashier, sitting in a public place alone, attending a party, giving a presentation …etc. Basically situations where you are forced to be in social situations, situations that you’re not so comfortable being in.
- Scale your list: now you got your list in front of you, in a scale from 0 to 10, rate every situation, where 10 is very intense, and 0 nothing at all (sure you don’t want to keep any behavior with 0 on your list). For example:Smiling at the cashier: 2 , Approaching a stranger: 6, Giving a presentation: 10, And that’s it, you just rate every item on your list based on how intense it’s for you.
- Build your way to the top: Start with the lowest items, do them until you really feel less anxiety and fear, for example in the above list, you can start with smiling at the cashier, couple of times until you’re totally comfortable, then move on to approaching a stranger at 6, you do it until you you feel calm and you rate your anxiety level at 4 or 3, then you move on to the next item on your list.In brief, you start with the bottom of your list, do the single item a couple of time until you reduce the feeling of anxiety experienced while doing it, then you move on to the next item on your list, until you finish your entire list.
Stick to this plan, but remember, the key to success here is to be consistent, don’t smile at the cashier today and after a week you come and smile at another cashier, don’t approach one person today and wait two weeks to approach the next person.
“If you rest for too long, the weeds will take the garden”
Doing this will make you better at social situations, and and the most interesting part is that now you have a system and a plan, those three points above, you’re not randomly trying things out, you have a plan that’s based on an established therapy-method and researches.
Do this on the course of the next 40 days, and you will see some significant changes.
Now let’s take a look at a case-study that is kind of similar to this approach, and see how it went.
#3 Case-Study: 90 Strangers in 30 Days
This one is my favorite, it’s a project done by guy called Andrew Elsass, and as the tittle suggests, this guy created a project called 90 strangers in 30 days, and yes! he approached 3 persons daily for a whole month.
Before we dive into the case study details, let’s first have a little background about Andrew, and also see how doing this has made him more social.
First of all, Andrew describes himself as a “former shy”, he suffered from social anxiety, insecurities and a low self-esteem, the typical guy who wants to develop social skills, and you can say that he started from the bottom.
He said that he did this project basically because he wanted to have a better social life, the ability to approach people and interact just with anyone, and also getting rid of approach anxiety (can you relate?).
Of course he had others motivators, like becoming more confident, being more comfortable in social interactions, and just making new friends.
He said in this blog-post that he wants to approach 90 people in 30 days, and he wrote some backgrounds about why he wants to do this, he wrote the rules and what changes he expects to see after doing this.
And most importantly, he created a leverage by donating 100$ through stick.com, a site where you set a goal and an amount of money, if you failed to reach that goal, the money goes to a charity whose views disagree with yours, that was a good way to create a leverage for him to stick to his goal.
And not only the 100$, you can set a referee (one of your friends) who controls where the money goes and makes sure that you don’t cheat.
He approached 118 people!! and in fact, he collected all the data in one place, meaning that he wrote down the gender, the age, how he started the talk, what they talked about and whether he got their names or not.
You can can go over here and see some of his results as he did a recap to the whole thing, and most importantly you can download the results of the project in details.
Sure no need to tell you what approaching this number of people would do to your social skills and your self-esteem, not only you will get better at starting conversations, but also getting rid of approach anxiety and become more comfortable.
It’s a skill, and the more you go there, the more you will get used to the place.
And last but not least, it’s something that takes courage to do, building not only your social skills, but also your character and strength.
Hats down Andrew, such a brave guy.
Now what about you? I’ve never met Andrew before, but I’m sure that doing such thing requires a lot of courage, and it can destroy shyness and social anxiety.
How? because you’re exposing yourself to fearful situations consciously, not only that can really build up your courage and set of skills, but as we disused above, this is kind of exposure therapy.
Putting This Into Action:
The way we’re going to put this into action is by challenging yourself, call it the 30 days challenge, or 40 days challenge to destroy my fears.
Just set a number of days, I personally prefer 40 days but anyway no less than 30 days, and you commit that during these days you’re going to attack your fears, how is that?
As we discussed above in the exposure therapy, maybe your case is different from Andrew, and doing too much too soon (or doing to little) will backfire at you, so you need to take it one step at a time.
The list that you made for the exposure therapy, take one item or a specific number of items, for example if you want to directly approach people then that would be your item for the challenge, and if you have smaller items like smiling to the cashier, asking people for directions, approaching people to have a little chat, you can include all of these items and do them from the bottom to the top as we explained in the exposure therapy.
And commit for 30 days for example that you’re going to approach one person each day, or you’re going to start by asking people for directions, after that you will move to approaching people and have a little chat, after that you approach people and exchange names/numbers and so on.
After that you can do some crazy shit like comfort zone crusher right here, that includes lying on the ground in a public place, approaching strangers and give them compliments, howling like a wolf in public and many things that will make your heart beat like a drum (more examples here).
I personally once did the challenge which you lay on the floor in a public place, it’s crazy but fun to do, however I believe that you have to build your way to the top, you don’t have to start here.
In brief, decide that you’re going to challenge yourself in the next 30 days, and pick one thing (maybe a couple of things) and do them daily during this month, that’s it.
You can look at Andrew’s story as a reference and as a motivation, you can actually complete the challenge and experience real benefits.
#4 The Chameleon Effect
The chameleon effect is very simple, it’s all about our unconscious tendency to mimic the other person’s posture, gestures, speaking patterns …etc.
And it was found that the people who display this chameleon effect are more likable.
In other words, people who unconsciously mimic the body language and/or speaking pattern of the person they’re interacting with, were actually more liked, even if that person is a totally stranger.
In one study, people were asked to talk with a stranger (who was actually an experimenter, an insider), there were many experimenters, some were told to do more smiling, some were told to do more face touching and others were told to do more foot wagging.
This was done to determinate whether people naturally try to mimic others postures in social interactions, even strangers.
On the second study, they did almost the same thing, they made people have a chat with strangers (who were actually experimenters/insiders) about a photograph, but this time some experimenters were told to only be relaxed, and others were told to mimic the body language of those participants.
This was done to determinate whether mimicking/matching other people’s body language increases the likability.
On the first study, it was found that people actually naturally mimic others, they focused on what they told their insiders to do (smiling, face touching and foot wagging).
In participant, face touching increased by 20%, while foot wagging increased by 50%, in brief, people do mimic others automatically and naturally.
On the second study, it was found that experimenters who mimicked the body language of the participants, were rated on a scale from 1 to 9 as more likable and smoother.
The experimenters who mimicked the body language of the participants were given an average of 6.62 for liking and 6.76 for smoothness, while the experimenters who didn’t mimic anything were given an average of 5.91 for liking and 6.02 for smoothness.
In brief, mimicking does increase the likability, even with total strangers.
In other follow-up study, they made people fill some questionnaires that measure whether they’re empathy or not, perspective-taking (whether they’re open minded to others perspective).
And this was done to figure out what kind of people are more likely to mimic people’s body language.
It was found that people who were more open to others people’s ideas (perspective-taking) were more likely to mimic people, and also it was found that empathy has zero effect on whether people will or will not display this chameleon effect.
Maybe you’ve heard about rapport establishment in NLP, well it’s kind of the same thing, mimicking people’s body language naturally can increase the likability.
Not only people mimic other people’s body language automatically, but also when you mimic someone’s body language, speaking patterns, unique gestures naturally, that person can actually like you more or at least feel more comfortable around you.
But the key here is: naturally, which means that you need to do that without drawing any attention to the fact that you’re doing that
In other words, if the person noticed that you’re trying to mimic him/her, you’re in a trouble!
It will backfire, 99% of the time, this person will actually dislike you.
You need to match his/her body language in a way that seems natural, because this happens on the unconscious level, as soon as it comes to the conscious level, it will backfire.
That’s why we define the chameleon effect as the unconscious mimicry of the body language, it happens naturally and thus unconsciously, and in order to make use of it, we need to keep it that way.
Putting This Into Action:
All the studies so far has been focusing on getting you to actually go out there and face your fears, but we also need tools that we can use when we’re in the social situations.
And this is a really good tool, if used right.
In order to use the chameleon effect in our daily interactions, we need to make sure that we don’t screw it up.
First of all, don’t focus only on mimicking, because that way you will be distracted from actually listening and communicating with the person.
If you’re feeling like you have to make a lot of effort to keep up present in the conversation because you’re too busy mirroring him/her, then stop and focus more on the conversation.
And most importantly, don’t ever make it too obvious, if the person noticed that you’re mimicking him, he would feel irritated and awkward, as we said, this works unconsciously, as soon as the conscious mind gets into play, it doesn’t work anymore.
You can mimic only 80% of their body language, special words, special gestures …etc, this will help you to practice this more while not being noticed, also it’s going to give you some insights into what to mimic and what to not.
You can mimic the way they sit, what they’re doing with their arms, legs and/or head, their breathing patterns (yes you can!), their speaking tempo, their voice’s tone …etc.
In fact, you can start only mimicking their breathing patterns, because nobody can notice that you’re trying to match his breathing speed.
Last but not least, as the studies suggest, people who are more open to new ideas and people who can relate to others perspective and ideas are more likely to display the chameleon effect, this is a golden rule actually.
They say that You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.
By becoming more interested in other people’s hobbies or lives, by becoming more interested in getting to know this person, mimicking can become a natural part of the process.
Show some interest in people, try to see the world through their own eyes and relate to them, not only this can make mimicking easier, but also this will make you even more likable.
As a last tip, and since this chameleon effect is the same as rapport establishment in NLP, watch this video where Tony Robbins will teach you how to effectively establish that rapport, and who can teach this better than Tony?
#5 How long does it take?
Now that you’re inspired to go out there and start to become more social, it’s good idea to know how long does it take.
I mean how long does it take to become more social?
How long does it take to get rid of shyness and social anxiety?
How long does it take to be able to go out there and socialize normally?
After all, we want to see some results right? we don’t want to randomly put effort and wait forever, and let’s face it, some of us are impatient (maybe most of us), we want to know or at least when to expect to see results.
OK, I have bad news for you, the answer is: I don’t really know!
Nobody has this answer, everybody is different, situations are different, and many variables are involved, so there’s no a single answer like 21 days or something.
However, I can’t leave you with such answer, this article is based on research and that’s what we’re going to look at and hopefully find some answers.
First of all, when it comes to habits there’s an old saying that suggests it takes 21 days to change a bad habit or to develop a good one, and that’s based on the conclusions of Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, who noticed that it takes about 21 days for amputees to adopt to the loss of a limb.
And while this isn’t really true, it takes way more than that, still it’s the official answer for the question: how long does it take to form a new habit?
So, if it doesn’t take 21 days, how long does it take?
Let’s get back to the researches …
Some studies suggest that it takes, on average, 66 days to form a new habit, other studies suggest that it takes 84 days, and other studies say that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days.
As you can see, those numbers are just averages, there’s no secret number or something, and that’s because people are different, situations are different and even habits are different.
This was about creating habits, but what about changing personality as all?
Well, other studies suggest that it takes 16-weeks to create significant personality changes, that’s about 112 days, not a short period of time of course!
While also I believe that this varies from a person to another, still hitting the 16-weeks mark, with consistent effort, can create those significant changes.
How long does it take? nobody knows, as simple as that.
At least no body knows exactly how long, as you can see, many studies suggest an average for how long will it take, and it’s not 21 days.
For the habits, some says it takes 66 days, some says 84 days and some says it takes 18-254 days to form a new habit.
For the personality change, which I believe that our habits are a big part of out personality, studies suggest that it takes 16-weeks (112 days) to create significant personality changes.
From all the studies about how long does it take, we can conclude two things:
- We can actually change (it’s doable).
- It takes consistent effort.
That’s all you need to know, yes you can change your social life, yes you can overcome shyness or social anxiety, and yes you can be what you want to be.
But, it takes not only time, it takes consistent work, you should never stop working.
That means attacking your fears consistently, one time isn’t enough! that means working on developing the missing skills consistently, two weeks are not enough.
Last but not least, to ensure that you’re going to be consistent, you need to make small changes and stick to them forever! small changes that are consistent are way more better that big changes that last for a week or two (or just a day oi worst cases!).
Putting This Into action:
Go for it, but know that it’s going to take time and hard work, it’s not going to be a smooth journey, and of course it’s going to take more than 21 days.
In fact, forget about the days, don’t even count them, focus on what you want and stick to that, knowing that if you don’t put in the effort, the results will never come.
Make small changes everyday, changes that you actually can stick to it, and deep inside, commit to do this for as long as it take.
This won’t only help you in becoming more social, but it’s going to help you in other aspects of your life, we don’t develop the technique, we develop the character.
It has been a wild ride, that’s almost 5000 words, but I believe that it’s worth it.
The first study is a one that you can relate to you can relate when you’re self-conscious and afraid of people’s judgement.
The second study is a study that makes you get off your “butt” and go out there by showing you that facing your fears isn’t just a “good tip”, but it’s a therapy-based technique that is used to overcome social anxiety, along with a specific system to approach your fears (don’t immediately go to a skydiving).
The third one is a case-study, it’s about a guy who decides to face his fears and approach 3 strangers a day for 90 days, he ends up approaching 118 strangers, overcoming shyness, developing more confident, overcoming his fears and of course experiencing the pleasure that comes from conquering your fears.
The fourth study is about what to do after you put yourself out there, obviously that’s something that you’re going to get better at the more you do it, but it doesn’t hurt to learn a technique that can help you become more likable and to communicate with people better, that can give you some confident even before the social interaction.
Last but not least, we talked about how long does it take to create that change, and we mentioned many studies trying to answer that question, and it’s important because many people start the process of changing then they don’t see results and just give up, don’t let that be you!
I hope you found something really valuable while exploring this very long article, there’s no shorter way to deliver this much of information.
Last but not least, you have to put this into action, go out there and start a 30 days (or 90 days like Andrew) challenge, pick up something scary to do during these 30 days, use these studies and researches, be consistent, and see where that gets you.
I’m sure you’re going to experience many benefits, not only in your social skills and social life, but also in the way you look at yourself.
For now, drop a quick comment below and tell me which study really got your attention, and most importantly what are you going to do to make your social life better using these studies.