How to not be awkward at parties

Whenever I get invited to a party, I instantly get an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach and my brain starts coming up with excuses for why I can’t go.

In the research phase of one of our programs, I came across a scientific method that made me realize something about myself and parties.

I thought that I disliked parties. But in reality, I disliked my own insecurities at parties.

That’s a profound realization.

It’s not the parties. It’s my insecurities that parties trigger.

This realization helped me feel more at ease. Join me as I go “under the veil” of our minds. See what happens in your head when you get uncomfortable, and change the workings of your subconscious.

We all have subconscious “movies” that play out in our heads with future scenarios.

Someone asks you to speak in front of a group? A movie plays. It shows you, forgetting what you were about to say, making a fool out of yourself. As a result, anxiety is triggered.

In a way, you could say that speaking in front of a group isn’t what makes you anxious, it’s the movie in your head that does.

Someone asks you to join a party? A movie plays with whatever your biggest fear about parties is. Perhaps it’s awkwardness, being left alone, or not knowing what to say.

It’s easy to see how this make sense evolutionary:

Hanging out in the jungle with your Neanderthal buddies when someone asks you to swim across that river? A movie plays where alligators rip you to pieces.

What I’ve learned is to pay attention to the exact scenario that the movie really shows. It’s time for…

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Step 1: Lift up unconscious scenarios to a conscious level

What does your movie show when you think about parties? What visions do you get in your head? Invest a few seconds into closing your eyes and looking at the scenarios that’ll pop up.

Saw something? Great!

(Notice how you felt a bit uncomfortable simply by looking at those scenarios)

Sometimes our mind plays scenarios that aren’t even realistic. (Like, that everyone will be standing in line laughing at you.) If that happens, try visualizing a more realistic scenario in your head instead. Simply “correcting” your thoughts like this can remind yourself that you’re afraid of something that won’t even happen. But we’re not done yet.

Step 2: Own the outcome

It’s time to apply the psychological principle of “owning the outcome”. Research shows that when we accept an outcome, it becomes less scary (1).

Look at the scenarios your mind plays and accept that they might occur. Continue playing them PAST their scary parts, showing how life goes on.

That social awkwardness wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, it wasn’t the end of anything at all. You say a failed joke and no one laughs. What’s really so bad about that? You end up with no one to talk with for a while. What’s really so bad about that?

When we pull a subconscious monster out of the shadows of our mind, it often turns out it was just a little kitten.

You “own the outcome” when you accept that the scenario will happen many many times in your life. You don’t try to avoid it. You’re fine with it happening. Now, you own it.

Step 3: Make a constructive ending to the movie

When that awkward scenario happens, what’s something constructive you can do?

When I visualized how I might end up on my own at a party, I realized that the constructive thing to do would be to relax and go look for the people I knew. Eventually, I would find them and rejoin the group.

What would be a constructive response to the scenarios your movies showed? You want to play your constructive response and add it to the movie.

So one of my movies can now look something like this:

Me, at a party. I don’t come up with anything to say. So I’m quiet and feel a bit uncomfortable for a while. Soon, someone else starts talking. The party continues. People have a good time.

(And that’s the worst-case scenario. Not exactly a horror movie anymore).

Thinking about parties now triggers more realistic, less scary movies, and the entire concept of parties suddenly feels a bit more appealing.

What to do now

If you’re serious about feeling more at ease at parties, you want to hardwire your new associations into your mind by writing them down in the comments below. That way, you make the change permanent and take an important first step in your journey.

In the comments below, let me know the following:

  1. Start by writing down a scenario that plays in your head when you think of mingling with new people at parties.
  2. If the scenario is unrealistic, what’s a more realistic scenario you can change it to?
  3. What constructive responses can you add to the scenario?
  4. Add a continuation to the scenario, what realistically happens afterward?
  5. How does the new scenario make you feel?

I’m excited to hear from you in the comments below!

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David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (3)

3 thoughts on “How to not be awkward at parties”

  1. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a great big rave or a little house party with my closest friends and family, the same insecurities still ALWAYS surface. It’s better if I avoid the party in the first place


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