How to participate in group conversations when you dislike attention

Avoiding the spotlight and zoning out in group conversations

This is the third part of my email series on group conversations.

Here are the previous parts:

Part 1: How to be part of the group without saying anything smart or funny
Part 2: How to be part of a conversation when you just don’t feel like it

Yesterday I had an eye-opening coaching session with a client.

He told me how he zoned out in conversations. I’ve met with him before, and nothing had given him great results.

Finally, after an hour of coaching, we finally arrived at the core of the problem:

The real reason he zoned out in group conversations was that he, deep down, didn’t want to be put in the spotlight.

It’s like when the teacher asked a question in class and you didn’t know the answer, so you pretended to be deep into your book.

So as a new task, we agreed that the next step for him would be to practice formulating his thoughts and responses in his head, rather than trying to avoid it all together by escaping the conversation mentally. That way he could start participating more in conversations.

These tricks we play on ourselves aren’t obvious. It took hours for me and my client to get to the core.

In psychology, this phenomenon is well-known. It’s called an avoidance behavior: It’s a subtle thing we do, often subconsciously, to avoid our fears.

It could be…

The only way to deal with this is to consciously meet and face the fear of participating in a conversation.

No! I’m not going to have a few glasses before I go to the party. I’m going to deal with my nervousness.

(Read more here about how to deal with nervosity.)

When it comes to zoning out to not be in the spotlight, the way to face our fear is to…

  1. Be aware that it’s happening (I’m zoning out to avoid the spotlight)
  2. Face your fear in small steps (Do something that gives you slightly more of the spotlight than usual)
  3. Gradually face your fear (Practice sharing thoughts and opinions in your head during the group conversation)
  4. Engage in the conversation despite it being scary (Act with fear)

Can you come up with some of your own avoidance behaviors?

Writing down the ways our brain avoids fear is powerful to become confident and improve socially. When we finally face our fears like this, that’s when they start to dissolve.

To start chipping away at your avoidance behaviors, leave a comment and let me know about something you do to avoid your fears.

Why self-improvement is painful and what to do about it

When I feel bad about myself

A while back I met an amazing girl that I soon fell in love with. I knew that she liked me back. But while I felt more and more for her over time, she felt less and less.

When someone I speak with for five minutes walks off, I’m unaffected, because I know that they don’t know me.

But being rejected by this girl took a hit at my self-esteem.

I’m privileged to have extremely conscious, smart people around me who could give me input.

I felt like I was back in school – seeking advice instead of being the one giving it out.

It’s funny how we work because I could have had a very rational response to what happened:

“Well approach A didn’t work so let’s do approach B next time”.

Or

“Well, maybe I just wasn’t her type”.

But instead, I had a wave of feelings washing over me: Feeling bad about myself, feeling that there’s something wrong with me, that I’m unattractive, that I’m inferior to others.

And then, when I knew what I wanted to improve, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to change, that I wouldn’t have what it takes, and so on.

I know that these feelings have nothing to do with reality. I can look at my life journey to see that. But still, they are just as overwhelming.

Even though they are “just” feelings, they are feelings we all have to deal with.

This is why self-improvement, to me, is about being able to deal with emotions

Self-improvement causes us to feel bad about ourselves because it reminds us of our shortcomings. If we can’t deal with those feelings, we can’t improve.

A lot of people try to cheer themselves up, or ignore their feelings, or occupy themselves with something else.

I do the exact opposite.

When I feel bad, I lay down on my bed and pay attention to each and every feeling and thought throughout my body, until I’ve given every sensation my full attention.

I accept my feelings instead of trying to cut them off. Sometimes, I even give them names because I know that I’ll have to live together with them for a while.

This isn’t some method I’ve come up with. It’s part of eastern teachings that have lately been proven in modern science: Accepting our thoughts and feelings gives us power over them.

I’ve learned to observe my feelings just like you observe a child playing. You watch it with curiosity, but you know that you don’t have to obey it.

This is why I’ve been able to improve myself and design my life to be what I envisioned it to be a decade ago, despite struggles. I accept my feelings, and because of that, I don’t need to fear them.

When you read my advice, you probably go through feelings of self-doubt and worry.

But you still keep on reading.

For that, I salute you, because accepting the pain of self-improvement is one of the most valuable things we can do in life.