When I was around 9 years old, my dad showed me a picture of New York City’s skyline. I couldn’t stop looking at it. The year after, when I was 10, I wrote a little book that I named “The Journey to New York”.
That day, I made the decision: One day, I would live there.
In reality, it’s hard to just move to another country like that. You don’t know anyone. You don’t know how you’re supposed to make a living. And how do you even get a permanent residence?
When I was around 20, I set the goal to be in NYC before I was 25 and run a successful business that helped people. (This was after I’d just read book “The monk who sold his Ferrari”.)
I put a reminder 5 years into the future, due on my 25’th birthday. The note read “Are you there yet?”.
Then, devastation struck. My business failed. I had burned myself out trying to sell something I didn’t really believe in.
On my 25’th birthday, as the reminder popped up in my calendar, I was broke and NYC and business success looked further away than ever.
I knew I had to change strategy
That’s when I started SocialPro. This time, I made my business 100% internet based to one day be able to bring it to NYC. More importantly, SocialPro is about helping others, not just making money. I never want to burn myself out doing something I don’t even believe in again.
I started SocialPro 5 years ago. Today, I’ve spent my first week in NYC as a permanent US resident.
Here are some pictures from this weekend.
So on my journey, I’ve both had failures and successes. Here’s what I learned along the way:
Don’t let life happen to you
Back in school, the most popular guy in class was (naturally) together with the most popular girl in class. They often talked about how they would move to California when they grew older.
Years passed by, and they let life happen to them. They got stuck in some job they didn’t particularly like and moved to some place in Sweden they didn’t particularly like.
The latest I heard is that the girl has two children and lives alone in some rural part of Sweden.
So how do you avoid that life just happens?
Concretizing is key
If you want to achieve a certain goal, what SPECIFICALLY do you need to do NOW to reach your goal later?
When we concretize, we realize certain things about our near future.
Example: “To be able to reach my goal, I need to have $10 000 in my account in 5 years from now. That means I have to save $150 a month from now on. It’s doable, but it means that I actually can’t afford that TV I was about to buy + I need to work Saturdays instead of Mondays.”.
Or, “To reach my goal, I need to spend 3 hours every day practicing. I don’t have the energy to do that right now as I work full time, but if I start working 80% and rent a slightly smaller apartment, it’s doable”.
It’s great to set up goals, but to actually reach them, you need a daily system
My goal to be in the US before 25 made it more real: It wasn’t just something I would do “later”. But studies show that goals in themselves aren’t enough. We need a daily system.
Your daily system
I’ve been working on my business every day to reach my goal. Many days, I haven’t even had NYC in mind. For weeks and months in a row, I’ve just followed my system of waking up in the morning, taking my walk, making my coffee and putting the hours in to improve SocialPro.
The daily system needs to be very simple and something you can do on autopilot even when there seems to be no goal in sight. The system should be simple to follow,realistic to maintain for years and something you can do when your goal isn’t in sight.
“Practice X between 6 and 8 pm every day except Sunday”
“Work on X at least 6 hours every weekday”
When we feel demotivated and tired we don’t even want to think about our grand goals. At those moments, the savior is the daily system that you can just follow without thought.
A powerful exercise is to write down your goal and daily system. What is your goal? What would be your daily system needed to one day reach it? Write that down in the comments below! It will help you see your goal and know exactly what to do to reach it.
For me, it all started a late summer night out with my friends.
I was just beginning my journey of self-development. I was especially concerned about my lack of experience with girls: I had never even kissed a girl.
I always felt like that was something I had to hide and make sure nobody knew about. I worried about what others would think of me if they knew.
But this night was different.
On my way home I went alone to get something to eat at a local hamburger joint. There was no table available, so I sat down by a middle-aged woman.
We started talking.
I don’t know exactly why, but that night I just didn’t want to care anymore. I think I was tired of always trying to hide my big shame; my inexperience with girls.
So, I told her everything about it.
When I stopped caring, something happened.
It was as if the shackles weighing me down finally shattered. It’s still one of the most liberating things I’ve ever done.
I felt unstoppable. All my shame and self-consciousness just washed away.
What’s even funnier is that she didn’t really believe me because she said I seemed so confident about it.
After that night I realized something…
I had been totally honest with who I was to a total stranger, and the world didn’t come crashing down because of it.
Quite the opposite – she was one of the first people in my life who’d seen me as confident.
So, why was I so concerned about hiding it to everyone else?
Here’s what I realized: When we are okay with others knowing about our insecurities – we can become truly confident with who we are.
This didn’t mean I started telling everyone about my fears and insecurities. (That would just be weird.) But my fear of being exposed disappeared.
If anyone would ask me about my experience with women, it wouldn’t throw me off balance. I knew I could just tell them like it is.
And sure enough, with my newfound confidence, meeting girls eventually wasn’t a big issue in my life anymore. Today, I have a wonderful girlfriend as of 6 years.
Here’s me and my girlfriend on a recent trip to Thessaloniki, Greece. It’s a really cool city for anyone with a historical interest (or if you just want to enjoy amazing Greek food and wine by the sea).
How you can stop your fear and insecurity from controlling you
That burger joint experience taught me something fundamental about fear:
Fear feeds on itself. When we avoid it, it becomes stronger.
Here’s what’s funny: When we stop running away from our fears, they eventually stop being scary.
When I finally admitted something I thought would destroy me if it came out, I realized that nothing had changed. I was still me. People still liked me, maybe even a bit more because I became more relaxed and genuine.
The first step to stop caring what others think
To become truly confident and stop caring so much about what others think of us, we need to face and deal with our insecurities.
As long as we walk around in life afraid of being “exposed”, we can never fully be ourselves.
Less self-criticism and more self-kindness when mistakes occur
More desire to live life for yourself (and not others)
The ability to take more risks without worrying about the consequences
Feeling freer in life to do what we truly want
Your first mission: Write down something you are afraid of or insecure about. By writing it down, you take the first step towards self-acceptance and becoming more confident in yourself. You also make sure that your fear stops growing.
Bonus mission: If you already did the first mission in the previous email about others judging us, do this instead. Think about how you can challenge and face your fear. Here are some examples:
Telling someone about something you feel insecure about
[…] after a few seconds of eye contact I begin to feel awkward and this seems to make the speaker feel it too. Where should I look when listening to people speaking and how do I go back to focusing on what they are saying when this happens? – Kim
The Internet is full of advice on how to make eye contact, and most of that advice does more bad than good. It’s a mistake to believe that more eye contact = better.
Just like Kim realized, just staring someone down doesn’t work.
Today I want to talk about how to keep the right amount of eye contact, how to know when to look away, and how to feel at ease maintaining eye contact if you usually feel uncomfortable doing it.
Too little eye contact makes us come off as submissive. Too much makes us come off as aggressive. When we understand the psychology behind eye contact and can adjust it to what’s needed in a certain situation we end up in the middle sweet spot. People in this sweet spot come off as likable. Luckily, there are some good rules that can help guide us to the right amount of eye contact.
Eye contact is key to your social success
Research shows that a fear of making eye contact, or “gaze avoidance,” is often a “safety behavior” used by people with higher levels of social anxiety.2 This means that people who are more anxious in social situations will avoid eye contact as a means of reducing their nervousness.
The problem is that gaze avoidance is very obvious to the person you’re talking to, and it can send signals about you that aren’t necessarily true.
Says one study, “…gaze avoidance, particularly during moments when it is socially normative to direct eye contact, can have unintended consequences, such as communicating disinterest or coldness.” The study continues to say that higher levels of social anxiety resulting in gaze avoidance can cause people to be “perceived as less warm [or] less well-liked.”2
As you can see, eye contact can have pretty serious implications for your social life. Learning when and how to make eye contact is an important part of your social success.
What Kim said in her email hits the nail on the head when it comes to awkward eye contact.
After a few seconds of eye contact I begin to feel awkward and this seems to make the other person feel it too.
It’s not necessarily the eye contact that is making the other person uncomfortable. It’s their understanding that you’re uncomfortable that is making them feel awkward.
Like we discussed in our article on avoiding awkward silences, a social interaction is only awkward if you make it awkward. This means that a moment becomes awkward when you begin to show signs of discomfort that signal to the other person that perhaps they should also be uncomfortable.
Eye contact itself is not awkward, but awkward eye contact is awkward. That is why we’ve developed this guide to teach you the difference between comfortable and uncomfortable eye contact and how to make eye contact in a non-awkward way.
Making and breaking eye contact
The first rule in making non-awkward eye contact is this: Whenever there’s a silence in the conversation, break eye contact. This includes those brief pauses whenever you or the one you’re talking to thinks about what to say next. Maintaining eye contacts during these moments comes off as overly intense and can quickly cause an interaction to become awkward.
As you break eye contact, don’t focus on any specific object, and especially not another person, as that indicates that you have diverted your attention to that other object or person. We want to look into the horizon, into a wall or down the floor, just as we do when we’re thinking or processing information.
Whenever anyone talks, keep eye contact. As soon as you’re done thinking and continue talking, or as soon as someone else continues talking, you want to immediately resume eye contact. I’ve made the mistake many times to not resume eye contact at once as I start talking, and I’ve been surprised by how often people interrupt me when that happens (especially in group conversations). I believe this is because when you look away, there’s no connection, and when there’s no connection, people just don’t get immersed into what you have to say.
It’s just as important to maintain eye contact when you’re talking as when you’re listening to someone else talking.
An exception is if you’re walking or sitting side by side – then it’s natural to keep less eye contact.
You stand out from the rest if you’re able to immerse yourself into whatever someone’s talking about. You make people feel seen and heard, and that makes it rewarding to be around you.
Likewise, when you’re able to maintain good eye contact whenever you’re talking (except for when you’re formulating your next sentence in your head) you’ll be surprised by how much easier it is to catch the attention of the listeners.
In groups, distribute your eye contact evenly. When you’re the one talking in the group conversation, you want to make sure that everyone feels seen by you. Why? Because ignoring someone for more than just a few seconds makes them feel like they aren’t part of the conversation. When two or more in a group conversation feel slightly left out, the group is soon divided into several parallel conversations.
When eye contact makes you uncomfortable
As you’ve probably noticed, it’s always harder to maintain eye contact with someone who intimidates you (because they’re taller than you, or you’re attracted to them, or you for some reason feel inferior to them).
On the other hand, it’s easy to keep eye contact with people you feel superior to.
When we improve our self-esteem and mentally position ourselves on an equal level to those we come across, it becomes easier to keep more eye contact.
However, improving self-esteem is a process that takes years. Here is my most powerful advice to instantly be able to maintain eye contact:
Study their eyes. Instead of forcing yourself to “look people in the eye,” try to study people’s eyes: their color, their texture, the size of the pupil. If you’re further away and can’t see those details, you can simply focus on the eyebrows. When we occupy ourselves with analyzing someone’s eyes, we use other circuits in our brains than the ordinary pathways of keeping eye contact that can trigger our nervousness.
This is a great “hack” that instantly lets you maintain eye contact more easily, and be more at ease doing it. Doing this will kick-start your eye contact. However, to long-term transform your conversations, you want to instead…
…focus your full attention on what’s being said. As I’ve shown before, we become less self-aware (and thereby less nervous and more at ease keeping eye contact) when we focus our attention on whatever subject we’re currently talking about. You can interrupt self-conscious thoughts like “I wonder if I look nervous” and instead “force” yourself to be fully focused on the topic. When you do, you’ll have an easier time keeping eye contact.
You can do this shift by (in your own head) asking questions about the current topic to arouse your curiosity. “She said that she was in Bali, what was that like? Was it fun? Did she become tired from the jet-lag?” When we preoccupy ourselves with questions like these about the current subject, we have an easier time moving the conversation forward (by asking any of those questions that pop up), feeling more at ease that we have something to say if the conversation dies out and feeling less self-aware (because we’re focused on the topic). Therefore, we’ll have an easier time maintaining eye contact.
Using eye contact to create attraction
If you want to create a tension with someone you’re attracted to, you should keep eye contact with that person even when no one’s talking. Combine this eye contact with a subtle smile and make sure that you don’t tense up your face if you feel uncomfortable. If you do, your gaze may be mistaken for aggression, which can have an opposite effect from what you’re trying to accomplish.
Studies show that simply looking at each other in the eyes without saying anything can make someone feel attracted to you.1 One study used MRIs of people’s brains to demonstrate how making eye contact with a person can cause you to be perceived as more attractive, whereas avoiding eye contact can decrease the amount of attraction the other person experiences when looking at you.
Eye contact and conflict
One interesting study showed that when we’re in a conflict with someone, we should look down at the floor. That improves our chances of solving the conflict. On the other hand, if we maintain eye contact, we instead risk worsening the conflict. When we come off as more submissive, we come off as less of a threat and show that we just want to solve the conflict.
If you’re talking to someone who’s keeping very little eye contact and you want to build rapport with that person, it can be clever to keep less eye contact as well. The same goes for all traits that relate to confidence. If you maintain great eye contact, talk with a loud voice and come off as highly self-confident, you’ll probably intimidate someone who’s nervous.
People like those they can relate to, so it makes sense to tone down our own self-confident traits to be able to connect also with those who aren’t as confident.
Leave your comments below!
Kellerman, J., Lewis, J., & Laird, J. 1989. Looking and loving: The effects of mutual gaze on feelings of romantic love. Journal of Research in Personality, 23. 145-161. doi: 10.1016/0092-6566(89)90020-2.
Langer, J. K., Lim, M. H., Fernandez, K. C., & Rodebaugh, T. L. 2017. Social Anxiety Disorder is associated with reduced eye contact during conversation primed for conflict. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 41. 220-229. doi: 10.1007/s10608-016-9813-x.
Kampe, K. K., Frith, C. D., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, U. (2001). Reward value of attractiveness and gaze. Nature, 413(6856), 589.
“Why do people stop keeping in touch after a while and what can I do about it?”
This is one of the more common questions I and David get so I wanted to address this thoroughly.
Sometimes people seem to always be busy when you want to hang out and it’s hard to know why.
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of this spectrum. I’ve been “ghosted” by lots of friends, and I’ve also stopped keeping in touch with lots of friends for a wide variety of reasons.
Sometimes we have bad habits that push people away from us. When we become aware of them, we can deal with them and fix it.
Therefore, I want to share with you the top 3 reasons for why I’ve stopped keeping in touch with someone.
Here are the top 3 reasons I’ve grown tired of someone and what they could have done to avoid it from happening
1. Agnes, who should have focused more on commonalities
I had a childhood friend I’ve known for over 15 years. Let’s call her Agnes. The last couple of years I’ve felt like she acquired lots of new values that I don’t agree with.
That’s not a problem – I have many friends who have different values than me. However, while those friends don’t have a need to bring it up on a regular basis, conversations with Agnes always ended up around her values. It’s natural because her values are important for her. But for someone who has a different world view, that soon gets old.
In contrast, I have one friend who has radically different views than I who I love to hang out with.
On the contrary to Agnes, he’s interested in what I have to say. If we do talk about his values, he can say, “But that’s how I view things. What do you think?” That makes me feel heard and shows that he accepts my opinion, even if he has a different one. In return, that makes me respect his opinion more.
But most importantly, he doesn’t have the urge to always bring up his beliefs. He never hides them, either, and is interested in talking about them if I ask about them. It’s just that he talks about what WE BOTH are interested in when we meet instead of what HE’S interested in.
We want to pay attention to the difference between a discussion where both are heard opposed to an argumentation where both try to convince the other one. You don’t need to adopt your friend’s beliefs, but you should always acknowledge them. When your friends feel heard, they’ll enjoy your company.
Focus more on the values you do share than the ones you don’t share. People’s lives are complicated as they are. Don’t make them feel like they have to defend themselves or explain themselves when you’re around. Small disagreements over time form a growing divide between you.
It’s important to realize that most often, people won’t even take a conscious stance against you. They just have another friend that’s nicer to hang out with.
2. Martin, the self-centered one
I had one friend who talked quite a lot. That was fine because he had interesting things to say. I mostly enjoyed listening for the first few weeks we knew each other.
But it turned out that when I really did want to talk about something that was important to me, he didn’t ask any questions at all. Over time it got clear to me that he was either socially oblivious or too egocentric.
Naturally, I started prioritizing my other friends because I didn’t feel like meeting up with Martin that much.
In a conversation, we have two worlds: What you think is interesting, and what your friend think is interesting. For a friendship to emerge, there needs to be an overlap between the two worlds.
Ask yourself: In which world do you spend the most conversation time? You want to spend the most time in the overlapping worlds. When you spend time in your world, you want to balance it up by spending some time in your friend’s world.
Then we have Rick. We were friends for many years and had lots in common. However, he started getting bitter about life.
To be fair, life didn’t go exactly like he wanted: He had a hard time meeting girls interested in him and his job sucked. That’s all fair because life is tough sometimes.
However, he got stuck in the habit of bringing up negative things whenever we met up. It’s OK to talk about problems from a constructive standpoint. And sometimes, you just need some comforting from your friends when everything sucks. But when you make it into a habit to complain, people tire.
On top of that, it’s a fact that complaining about life rather than working to improve it makes you less attractive for anyone to be around. (In opposite, someone’s who’ve had a hard time but gets out of it becomes inspiring.)
Over time, his rambling monologues got longer and he seemed to lose sight about what we both enjoyed. So I stopped meeting with him so often because even if I felt for him, I have my own problems in life and I have to prioritize friends who give new energy rather than draining me of it.
Complain when you really have to. But don’t make it a habit to talk about negativity – or people will tire.
Spend more time thinking about how to solve your situation or make yourself feel better and less time thinking about how things are bad.
4. A final reflection
At one moment in my life, I had more friends than I could keep up with. I simply wanted to prioritized other things in life. So I didn’t keep in touch with anyone except my three closest friends.
There was nothing wrong with my other friends, but I just didn’t have the motivation to keep those one-sided relationships floating at that point in my life.
It’s not always about you. Sometimes, people are just busy.