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During my high school years, it was hard for me to connect with people. I felt depressed when no one liked me, and I hated having to spend weekends and evenings alone.
Say hi to old David
On top of that, I was an introvert who felt shy in large groups, so parties or mingles were not for me. I was certain there was something wrong with me. I wondered “Why don’t I have any friends?”
I started reading about social skills and how to get a social life up and running. I went from “I have no friends” to “I have no time for all my friends”.
Let me tell you this: Making friends as an adult is harder than back in school where you naturally meet people all the time. So I’m very proud that I found a way that works for ANYONE, even if you’re an adult.
What I’m about to show you works both if you are a college student, in high school, working, or between jobs.
I post this picture here not to brag, but to show what my life looks like today (And maybe to brag a little bit, because I’m very proud of my transformation 😉 )
As it turns out, there was never something fundamentally wrong with me! It was just that I hadn’t learned the steps to turn strangers into acquaintances, and acquaintances into close friends.
These are the very steps that helped me go from lonely to a life full of friends.
Before we start – what if you feel low about yourself?
When I saw how everyone made friends but me my self-esteem tanked. It’s not fun to socialize when you feel bad at it.
That’s why advice like “Just go out there” or “Just be more social” SUCKS.
I’m living proof that even when you’re in this rut, it can change. It turns out that even I, a nerdy introvert, could transform my life from a loner to having a life full of wonderful close friends.
EVERYONE can be GREAT at making friends, even if they feel like they lack something fundamental!
These steps are made to work if you’re NOT naturally social or extroverted.
1. Finding friends as an introvert
Here are some misconceptions about finding friends. Understanding what it’s really about makes it more fun!
FALSE: To make friends you need to be shallow, loud, and fake.
TRUE: Making friends is about being warm and authentic. (More on what I mean by that later.)
FALSE: To make friends, you need to go to parties, bars, and mingles.
TRUE: Those places suck to make friends! People mostly go there to have fun with their existing friends. (I’ll tell you where to make friends if you’re not the party type.)
In other words, you DON’T need to be overly nice or extroverted. That just takes energy. Instead, you want to go to places where you’re the most likely to find people similar to YOU.
I’m for example interested in entrepreneurship, so I went to a weekly business group for beginners. (I actually made most of my friends from this single group!)
I’m also interested in philosophy. But there was no philosophy group in my small hometown, so I decided to start my own.
“But David, it’s not just that I have no friends, I have no interests!”
I’m not talking about your life passion – I talk about anything you might like doing.
Tip 1: DON’T go to “New in Town” groups or “Make New Friends” groups.
Why? Because anyone goes there. You want to go to the places where chances are that you can find your “tribe” ie – groups with your interests.
When we meet people who we can relate to, we bond so much faster.
Tip 2: If you go to a meetup based on interests, you can skip the small talk.
If you go to a place where people have specific interests, you can always talk about the interests and you don’t need to make awkward small talk.
Tip 3: Interest groups are often less intimidating.
I loved going to groups where people were just as nerdy as I. I didn’t need to feel intimidated.
On the other hand, going to places where extroverts went just made me nervous.
Read more in my article Why you find your best friends at the nerdiest places.
2. Talking to strangers when you’re anxious or shy
As I explained in the previous step, it’s less intimidating to go to interest-based meetups. But it can still be really scary!
I was afraid to talk to strangers. Finally, I learned a trick that changed all that:
In one study, participants had to meet with a complete stranger 1 on 1. The scientists asked half of the participants to focus on themselves: How they might come off, etc.
They asked the OTHER half to focus on getting to know the stranger: What they were up to, what they were doing, etc.
People who focused on the other person described themselves as just HALF AS NERVOUS as those who’d focused on themselves.
What does this mean for you and me?
Actively force your brain to focus on the other person. (Instead of worrying how you come off.)
Here’s an example.
Let’s look at this photo. Ask yourself the following:
(Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash)
- What did she do before she got here?
- What might she do after she’d been here?
- What might she be going?
- What’re her interests?
What we’re doing here is cultivating an interest in people. It has two benefits:
- It makes us LESS self-conscious (Because we focus on them instead of obsessing about ourselves)
- It makes it EASIER to come up with conversation topics.
Next time you take a walk, ask yourself questions about the people you meet. See what that makes to your self-consciousness.
3. Making that initial connection that makes people go “I want to talk more to this person!”
When I felt intimidated by people I met (or just nervous) I had a “safety behavior”. I became a bit more reserved. I waited for others to be friendly first.
THIS KILLS OUR CHANCES TO BOND!
Others just see you as distant and unapproachable.
The secret to connecting with people is to dare to put down our mask FIRST.
Why does everyone love dogs? Because dogs dare to show how much they love you. Well, it’s not about being needy as a dog. But you want to be warm and calm.
I explain it more in detail and show examples in this video:
4. Give people have a chance to get to know you
Here’s a huge mistake I made:
I felt uncomfortable talking about myself, so I didn’t share anything about me. As a result, people didn’t have a chance to get to know me!
How can they get to know you if they don’t know anything ABOUT you?
You want the conversation to go back and forth between you and the other person.
I went to a photo group the other day. My conversation went something like this:
– Hi, what kind of photos do you take?
– Mainly landscape and portrait.
– Oh, cool, I do a lot of landscape as well, but I want to start doing more portraits. What kind of landscape photos do you do?
Here’s what we can learn from that conversation:
It’s not just asking questions nor talking about myself. Ask a simple question about someone, then share a little bit about yourself. Then, ask a question back.
If you only talk about yourself, you come off as self-centered. If you only ask questions, you come off as an interrogator. But most important of all – you don’t give them a chance to GET TO KNOW YOU.
This is super important to make friends – people want to get to know you before they dare to trust you and like you.
5. Keeping in touch with friends without coming off as awkward
For the longest time, I never understood this:
To make friends with someone, we need to spend a lot of TIME with that person.
In one study, it turned out that people spend hundreds of hours with someone before they see that person as a CLOSE FRIEND.
This means that you can’t just meet a person at a meetup once. You need to keep in touch and meet regularly.
I made really awkward attempts to keep in touch with people.
When I asked, “Do you want to grab a coffee some day..?” I didn’t make it clear WHY I wanted to meet up. They were probably like – “Is he hitting on me, or trying to recruit me to Herbalife?”
The trick is to keep in touch about a COMMONALITY.
In step 2, I explained how to ask slightly personal questions. When you do, you’ll sooner or later come across something you have in common.
For example, I one time met up with a guy who’d read several of the same business books that I’ve read.
That’s a commonality!
We exchanged Facebook, and then I texted him:
“It was really fun talking to you! Want to grab a coffee some day and talk more business stuff? :)”
Do you see what happened there? I used our commonality as a reason for meeting up. This was five years ago, but today, this guy is actually still a great friend of mine!
6. Making friends if you only spend time with a boyfriend or girlfriend
When we get a partner, we risk spending time with that person only.
It’s natural because we get our social needs fulfilled by that person, and then it’s easy to forget about others.
But after a while, we might realize that we need to get out of the house and meet new people. (And maybe get some healthy distance from our partner.)
It’s important to have our own social life, even if we love someone. If you can relate to all this, here’s my advice for you:
Go find a meetup with something YOU are interested in. Not what you AND your partner like – but something that’s just for YOU.
To do that, go to step 1 of this guide and read it extra carefully.
Best of luck with your soon to be friends!