I remember how nervous I used to be walking up to strangers and introducing myself.
I blanked out and couldn’t come up with anything to say after the initial scripted intro. Once, at a party, I panicked after the initial introductions and went to the bathroom. Then I went home.
Today, I could walk up to anyone and introduce myself and make conversation. When I’m in the mood, I actually enjoy it.
So what did I do to eliminate my nervousness around people?
The key to eliminating nervousness around people
I have to warn you, it wasn’t easy. But it WORKED. Looking back, it was one of the best times in my life. All because I learned how to eliminate my nervousness around people.
What did I do?
In short: I conquered my fear in small, manageable steps.
In psychology, this is what we call habituation. It is the process of decreasing your (nervous) response to a situation through repeated exposure to it.
As part of my job, I have helped hundreds of people overcome MIND-NUMBING nervousness around others. Many of those people can thank this very process.
At first, most people are so nervous they are almost paralyzed. But if you just find the smallest and easiest step in the right direction, you get the ball rolling.
I’ve seen how someone can transform from seemingly anti-social into a warm, friendly and likable person. I have seen it take from as short as day or as long as a year. It all depends on your starting point, but truly anyone can use this method to never be nervous around others again.
The “6-step method” to never be nervous around people again
The 6-step method I’m about to share with you was developed by psychologists, and contains the most powerful tools in reducing anxiety known to psychology today. If you’re serious about reclaiming power over this area of your life, I suggest you follow the steps below carefully.
When followed, this approach will help you feel more at ease around other people. I know, because I used the “6-step method” to help myself!
In fact, one study showed that this kind of self-help can be just as effective as spending thousands of dollars on a therapist.
#1. Make a list of what makes you nervous
The more detailed and comprehensive your list, the easier it will be to pinpoint exactly what makes you nervous.
Your list might look like this:
- Introduce myself to a new person at a party
- Watch a movie at the cinema alone
- Answer an unknown phone call
- Ask a friend to hang out
- Join a party with a friend
- Join a party alone
- Talk to a guy/girl you’re attracted to
- Speak in front of a crowd
After you finish making your list, rate each item 1 (no anxiety) -10 (the most anxiety imaginable) in terms of how nervous it makes you. If you have any items that are a 9 or 10, try breaking them down into smaller pieces.
Let’s say speaking in front of a crowd receives a 10 on your list. The first step you encounter is writing your speech. How anxious does this make you? Afterward, you need to memorize the speech. What level are you at? Then, you have to walk into the room to talk. Evaluate how nervous this makes you. The key here is to break down what makes you the most nervous into small, doable steps.
#2. Start small
When you begin the process, it is important to start with a situation that makes you feel appropriately nervous. If you aren’t nervous enough, no amount of exposure will make a difference. If you are too nervous, you will not be able to self-soothe during the experience.
Look over your list, and pick an item you rated 3 or 4. Now you are ready to seek out this situation.
Say you want to be able to introduce yourself to the opposite sex. The next time you go out to a party or a bar, go up to someone attractive and say hi. That is all you have to do. Simply go up and introduce yourself to one person. Although it may seem like anything but simple to you now, you will be surprised of how much easier it will feel after you have followed this 6-step system.
If you are getting nervous just thinking about being nervous, don’t worry! I’m going to give you 3 techniques to help you deal with that.
Use the following methods to decrease your anxiety:
Use diaphragmatic breathing aka belly breathing
Do you ever feel like it is difficult to breath when you are nervous? I know I did. When I came up against a stressful situation my breath would become shorter and more shallow. Sometimes I felt as though I was going to have a panic attack. That is, until I began diaphragmatic breathing. Belly breathing actually decreases our body’s nervous response, makes us sit up straighter, and allows our respiratory system to work right.
Diaphragmatic breathing can be practiced while you are seated or standing. Even in the moment you are feeling nervous. However, it works best if you practice this technique on your own time. You want to strengthen your diaphragmatic muscle, so this type of breathing becomes automatic.
- Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, back straight.
- Put one hand right under your ribcage, and the other on your upper chest
- Breath in through your nose, and notice the way your stomach rising underneath your hand, causing your hand to rise.
- Then, exhale through your mouth. Keep the hand on your chest to remind yourself to focus on exhaling only from the diaphragm. The hand on your abdomen should be falling.
- Continue to practice this breath, and it will become second nature.
Progressive muscle relaxation
One of the best ways I have found to decrease anxiety, stomach aches, and even headaches is PMR. Even the Mayo Clinic recommends progressive muscle relaxation as a way to lower stress levels. As an added bonus, PMR can help you fall asleep!
PMR is all about getting comfortable and letting go. This technique consists of tightening and relaxing major muscles groups from your toes all the way to the top of your head. What makes this exercise difficult, yet effective, is focusing only on the muscles you are intending to squeeze.
Sometimes it can be difficult to will yourself to do this on your own. It can be especially challenging if you are new to relaxation techniques. However, with practice over time you will be able to do this anywhere on your own. Until then, try using a guided progressive muscle relaxation such as the one below.
If you know what to do and want to practice in the moment, head to the closest place you
can be alone. This could be a restroom, an office, or even an outside space. This
technique works best when you can sit or lie down. However, the challenge of progressively relaxing your muscles standing up could be just what you need at the moment.
Question your negativity and change it
For the initial step, you’ll want to identify what is holding you back as you spend time with others. Then, after an interaction, write down one negative thought about yourself that popped into your head.
Next, take some time to reflect on why you believe you are not good enough. Ask yourself if there is any proof to the contrary. Then, take your negative thought and turn it into a positive one! Once you are finished, tear the list from the page and keep it with you. Now, read over your list daily.
While this exercise may sound corny, research shows how this helps get a more positive and constructive outlook on your situation. When you build the habit of questioning self-negativity, you begin realize you are worthy and have much to offer.
Here is a personal example from our team member Sarah:
“I used to have real issues with rejection. When I spent time with others, I would be so bogged down by negative thoughts I could barely hold a conversation. I thought things like, “who would want to talk to me”, and “there is no way someone like that would be friends with someone like me”. So, after the interaction I asked myself why I felt that way.
Unfortunately, I had experienced rejection at the hands of those I thought were close friends. However, instead of feeling sad, I decided to turn my negative opinion of myself into a positive one. I reminded myself with each passing day I love myself more, and it did not matter what people from my past thought about me. Then, I wrote this positive statement down, and read it every single morning.
As I continued to analyze my negativity toward myself, my list of positive things about myself grew. Pretty soon, I was becoming the person on the positive side of the list simply by thinking of myself in a positive light.”
#3. Do something that scares you every day
Repeat your stress inducing behavior until you feel a bit more comfortable in the situation. If it makes you feel better, you can begin by practicing with people that make you feel comfortable. Think relatives or friends.
Practice making small talk, and ask others to help you with your nervous mannerisms such as shuffling weight during conversation. The goal here is to practice as much as you can, because this experience can help you build the confidence and skills needed to thrive in a wide variety of social situations.
The more frequently you do something that scares you, the faster you will get over feeling nervous. Why? Because you’ve trained your brain on what to expect in that situation.
#4. Generalize your findings
When you find your level of nervousness decreasing, mix up the situation! For example, say you get good at introducing yourself to people at parties. Next time, go to a bar, club, or meetup. Or, if you want to feel more comfortable talking to the opposite sex, broaden your introductions to include them.
When you put yourself in somewhat similar stressful situations, your brain will use what it learned before to help you deal. The more stressors you expose yourself to, the faster your brain will adapt. The faster your brain knows what is going on, the less time you will spend feeling nervous.
#5. Build your self-confidence
Let me count the ways…
- Use visualizations. The first 15 times I heard this I shrugged it off as nonsense. Then, I tried it. All you have to do is imagine yourself doing something you want to do. Take care to use your senses and be aware of every detail.
When I was learning how to talk to people, I would imagine myself going up to someone attractive and saying hello. I took special care to sense all of the details. How did my voice sound? What was I wearing?
Turns out, vibrantly imagining your future increases your self-confidence because your brain cannot tell the difference between a real image and your imagined image.
- Use affirmations. I thought affirmations were corny as well. Nothing more than brainwashing. Turns out, that exactly what negative thoughts are – brainwashing.
Affirmations are just truths about yourself and your reality. Research shows that for the affirmation to work, it needs to be something you feel is true, but need to remind yourself of. My personal favorite is, “I do the best I can, and doing the best is what counts”. An example of an affirmation that’s not as effective is saying “I’m confident” if you don’t feel confident.
The more you repeat your affirmations, the more your positive thoughts will crowd out the negative.
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? Maybe you are afraid you will look like a total idiot in front of a crush at the bar. Sit down, and write out the worst possible scenario. Let’s say your nightmare scenario comes true. They ignore you, walk away, and tell their friends you are lame.
Visualize that, including how it makes you feel. Then, take the time to realize it wasn’t that bad. Usually, the monster under our bed is just a dust bunny. That’s why it is so important to rationalize away our fear.
- Practice self-care. Building self-confidence goes hand in hand with loving yourself. What do people who love themselves do? They exercise, go to bed on time, and eat healthy. If you want a quick self-confidence boost, take the time to dress to impress.
#6. Remember, failing is succeeding
Most people think they have failed if they tried to do something, but it doesn’t go perfectly. Then they give up and never try again. But even if nothing goes as planned, you just got a new experience. Next time, you will do slightly better. You will know a little more about what to say. Not only that, you will feel slightly less nervous. Each time you do something you were nervous about, regardless of how it goes, is like collecting another star in Super Mario. That’s how you level up in life!
#1. You are engaging in negative coping strategies
A common strategy that might SEEM helpful against nervousness and anxiety is to avoid situations that cause it. Instead, you need to give your brain proof that the situation is not actually as dangerous as it thinks. And you do that by habituating yourself.
Gradual experience WILL reduce your nervousness permanently. It’s not easy, but it is one of the best tools you have to overcoming your fears.
If you just avoid going to parties (or whatever scares you), your fear will become stronger. Your brain will subconsciously think: “I avoided this situation and my anxiety went away, that must mean that situation is really dangerous and I need to keep avoiding it.”
Drug or alcohol use:
For example, some people drink too much alcohol at parties to reduce their anxiety. Other people self-medicate with marijuana. This only prolongs and reinforces your feelings of nervousness. Over time, you will feel that you NEED alcohol or weed to relax.
Check out a more scientific explanation here
#2. You aren’t getting enough exposure
If you are engaging in a behavior on your list once in awhile, but still feel anxious, it might be time to increase the frequency. Ask yourself how you can expose yourself to more situations to help you grow. In the case of meeting enough people to introduce yourself to, this might mean going out more often.
#3. You aren’t anxious enough
If you aren’t practicing avoidance behaviors, and you are exposing yourself frequently enough, there is one other explanation. Your level of anxiety is not high enough. Try a behavior you labeled a level up. If that still isn’t enough, consider re-evaluating the rankings on your list.
Fake it til you make it
Habituation takes some time, because anything worth having is worth working toward. However, there is nothing that says you can’t fake it until you make it. Below are my 6 tips on acting like the self-confident person you are becoming.
Smiling makes you seem kind, outgoing, and open. Even if you feel tense, remember the worst thing that can happen is they do not smile back.
#2. Pay a sincere compliment, then follow it up
A simple way to start a conversation is by paying a sincere compliment and following it up with a question. For example you could say, “nice shoes, where did you get them”. If you’re a guy, you want to complement women for their personality or intellect rather than their body.
#3. Ask open ended questions
If you are uncomfortable with giving compliments right now it is okay. Even if you forgo the compliment, you can still ask an open ended question. In fact, asking an open ended question about the other person is one of the easiest ways to start up a conversation.
I like to keep a list of open ended questions that tend to work on anyone. If I have any information about a person before I meet them, I will think up some more personalized questions.
#3. Find a common bond
When you are in a situation with new people, scan the room to try and find something to connect you. Maybe someone is wearing a sports jersey and you happen to know a lot about the current games.
Is someone eating a food you like? Try and connect over that. If you see someone walking his or her dog, you have the perfect in!
#4. Mirror people’s expressions and body language
When you mirror the non-verbal language of others, they automatically feel bonded to you. Numerous studies have shown when you copy someone’s body language it helps form a relationship. Even if you don’t have confidence in yourself, have confidence in science!
#5. Take a time out
If you begin to feel uncomfortably nervous at any time, quickly return your focus to your breath. Taking a time out when things get hectic is a great way to get rid of any negative thoughts that crop up during the conversation.
#6. Remember: the other person is human
According to a study by Joyable, 70% of millennials self-identify as socially anxious. So, chances are the person you want to engage with is just as nervous as you. Remind yourself of this throughout the interaction, and you will feel more self-confident.
3 extremely good training grounds for improving social skills: school, college, and work
There are 3 amazing opportunities where you can practice your social skills the majority of the week. If you are currently in school, college, or the workforce, here is some extra advice to help you overcome anxiety.
Become less nervous in school
No matter what grade you are in, school is a great time to practice socializing with others. One of the simplest ways to do this is saying hi or nodding to others as you walk down the hall. While some may not respond, others will see that you are outgoing and approach you.
School also provides you with other avenues to meet people such as small groups in class, school trips, and clubs.
Keep your eyes open for after-school activities as this will give you a better opportunity to get to know others in a less stressful situation. It is an easier way to talk to others and build more confidence.
Become less nervous in college
College is an exceptional time in your life, because everyone is on the same playing field. Additionally, you will find people at your university that share your same interests.
To become less nervous in college, take initiative early on and join clubs that appeal to your interests. That way, you will already have a common bond to discuss. At these clubs, introduce yourself to others.
This is a great way to build confidence, because people are more receptive when someone else makes the effort to get to know them first.
Become less nervous at work
It’s vital that you develop self-confidence and social experience as you get older. These skills will help you feel more comfortable in your work environment once you land a job.
While at work, take time to introduce yourself to others even if they are not in your department. Then, invite a few coworkers to lunch or to spend time together outside of work.
I have found most co-workers are waiting for someone else to make the first move. You could be that confident someone!
The “6-step method” may feel weird, and actually invoke more anxiety at first. All change does. Just know from the start you will make mistakes, and know that is okay.
Actually, messing up is how you learn and grow as a person, so don’t let setbacks discourage you. Also, you will encounter people that are not receptive to your efforts. That is fine
What’s important is to get yourself out of your comfort zone and eliminate your nervousness. When you do, you will see the beautiful social butterfly that was always there, waiting to be set free.