I remember how nervous I was the first time I approached a girl. About 10 years ago, my friend basically forced me to talk to this pretty girl at a nightclub. I was so nervous I couldn’t come up with anything to say after the initial introduction. I panicked and went to the bathroom. Then I went home.
Today, I could walk up to almost anyone and introduce myself and make conversation. I actually enjoy it when I’m in the mood.
So what did I do to eliminate my nervousness around people? (Let me give you a clue, it works no matter what you’re nervous about. For me, it was meeting new people, especially girls.)
The key to eliminating nervousness around people
I have to warn you, it wasn’t easy. But it WORKED. Looking back at it, it was one of the best times in my life because of how I dealt with it.
To keep it short: I did what I feared thousands of times. That sounds super hard, but it wasn’t THAT hard because of this important detail – I did it in gradual, small, 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.
Today I’ve helped hundreds of people through my job to overcome MIND-NUMBING nervousness around people. Much thanks to this 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 a stuttering mess into a warm, friendly and likable person in anything from a day to around a year. It all depends on your starting point, but anyone can do it, it just takes more time for some.
Make a list of what you are nervous about
So what is the first step to getting YOUR ball rolling? Then order the items from what is least scary to what is the scariest. The more detailed and comprehensive the list, the better.
A 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
- Hold a speech
Then you only focus on the least scary thing in your list at first. Challenge yourself to do that one small thing until you feel you’ve got it under control. Then you can move over to the second least scary thing and so on.
If something feels like too big of a step. Look to see if you can somehow divide it up into even smaller steps, or if you can construct some form of less scary variation of it.
For example, if you feel introducing yourself to a stranger at a party feels too much, ask a friend if they can do a quick roleplay with you where they play the role of a stranger. They don’t really have to do much since you’re only going to introduce yourself. Then try that a couple of times until you feel a bit more comfortable in the situation. After that, doing it for real will get easier. Because you’ve trained your brain on what to expect in that situation.
Failing is succeeding
Most people think they have failed if they tried to do something, but it didn’t go perfectly. Then they give up and never try again. But even if it doesn’t go as planned, you just got a new experience. Next time in a similar situation, you will do slightly better. You will know a little more what to say and 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!
Negative coping strategies that will reverse your progress
A common strategy that might SEEM helpful against nervousness and anxiety is to avoid situations that cause it. Or to give in to nervous urges you get.
For example, some people drink too much alcohol at parties to reduce anxiety, this only prolongs and reinforces your nervosity. You will then feel that you NEED alcohol to relax. Or if you just avoid going to parties (or whatever scares you), your fear will just grow stronger. Because 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.”
You need to give your brain proof that it’s not actually as dangerous as it thinks. And you do that by habituating yourself to it. Gradual experience WILL reduce it nervosity permanently. And eventually, your nervosity will be GONE. It’s not easy, but it works.
Now you need to build experience in socializing with others. You can begin by practicing with someone you feel comfortable with such as a relative or friend. Practice making small talk, and ask others to help you with your nervous mannerisms like if you shuffle your weight during the conversation. The goal here is to practice as much as you can because this experience can help you build confidence in the social skills needed to thrive in a wide variety of social situations.
Exercise: Question self-doubt and identify negative issues
First, you’ll want to identify what is holding you back when spending time with others. Most of the time, it’s insecurity that is the root cause of why you feel shy or awkward around others. If this is applicable to you the first step is to write down what thoughts you encounter when meeting others.
Next, you need to question that thought. Write down all the reasons why you are good enough. Once you are finished, tear the negative thoughts from the page and hold on to the list and read over it regularly. While this exercise may sound corny to some, what this does is it makes you focus on a positive view of yourself. When you build the habit of questioning negative thoughts and focus instead on the fact that you are worthy, and that you do have much to offer to others, it is then that you can move on.
Learn how to be less nervous in school
The school is a great time to practice socializing with others. One of the best ways to do this is when you are walking down the hallway keep your eyes up and say hi to others. While some may not respond, others will see that you are outgoing and will approach you. School also provides you with other avenues to meet people through small groups in class, school trips, and clubs. Keep your eyes open for after-school activities as this is an easier way to talk to others and build more confidence.
Develop confidence to become less nervous in college
College is an exceptional time in your life because everyone is on the same playing field. You will find more people in university that share your same interests, particularly in your junior and senior years when you study your major. To become less nervous in college, take the initiative early on and join clubs that appeal to your interests. At these clubs, introduce yourself to others. This is a great way to build confidence as some people are more receptive when someone else makes the effort to get to know them.
Learn to be less nervous at work
It’s vital that you develop self-confidence and social experience because once you earn a job, these skills can help you feel more comfortable in your work environment. When at work, take the time to introduce yourself to others, even if they are not in your department. Invite a few coworkers to lunch or to spend time together outside of work.
This process may feel weird at first and you may make mistakes, but don’t let that discourage you. Not everyone will be receptive to your efforts, but it’s important to try. When you do, it helps you break out of your shell and gives you a better opportunity to make lasting friendships.