Growing up, I often asked myself “WHY do I feel uncomfortable around people all the time?”.
I felt awkward around more or less everyone, but especially around someone I liked.
Later in life, I met truly confident and socially savvy people.
Here’s what I’ve learned about how to feel comfortable around others.
What you’ll learn:
- How to stop feeling uncomfortable using the reality-check method
- How to make conversation even if you’re uncomfortable
- My trick for how to always know what to say, even if you’re uncomfortable
- Overcoming the fear of saying the wrong thing or something weird
- Feeling judged? Stop caring what others think with the Approval Detachment Method
- Feeling more comfortable by changing how you view rejection
- Dealing with blushing, sweating, a shaky voice, and other bodily give-aways
- How to go from uncomfortable to relaxed and authentic
- Be more comfortable by understanding The Illusion of Transparency
- Be less uncomfortable by knowing about The Spotlight Effect
- Take ownership of your flaws to become more confident
- Be more confident by staying in situations that make you uncomfortable
Let’s get to it!
1. How to stop feeling uncomfortable using the reality-check method
Here’s the thing about being uncomfortable: It comes from our own mind and assumptions about the world.
Does this sound familiar?
“People will judge me”
“People will think I’m weird”
“People won’t like me”
It’s your own mind that’s coming up with these thoughts. Just because your mind says something, doesn’t mean that it’s true.
Often, we had a bad experience years ago that stuck in our mind. It caused us to have an over-cautious view on life what we want to recalibrate.
The first step to stop being uncomfortable around people is to know that your mind can be wrong.
The next time your mind generates scenes about people judging you or disliking you or laughing at you, consciously generate scenes of the opposite: People accepting you, liking you and appreciating you.
Right now, think about something that makes you uncomfortable. Pause the scenes your mind paints, and consciously paint more realistic scenes. How does that make you feel?
2. How to make conversation even if you’re uncomfortable
Whenever I had to start talking to someone, I got nervous and ended up stuck in my own head. I had thoughts like…
“Does he/she think I’m boring?”
“Does he/she dislike what I just said?”
“Did I say something stupid?”
“What should I say when he/she stops talking?”
When you have those thoughts rushing through your head, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to come up with anything to say.
You want to practice forcing your mind over to the topic of the conversation.
Here’s an example
Let’s say that you talk to this person. She tells you “I just came home from a trip to Berlin with some friends so I’m a bit jet-lagged”
What would you respond?
A few years ago, I would have been going full panic:
“Oh, she’s traveling the world with her friends, she’s much cooler than I am. She’ll wonder what I’ve done and then I seem boring in comparison” and on and on.
Instead, FOCUS ON THE TOPIC. What are some questions you can come up with if you focus on what she just told you?
Here’s what I come up with:
“What did she do in Berlin?”
“How was her flight?”
“What does she think about Berlin?”
“How many friends was she there with?”
“Why did they decide to go?”
It’s not about asking all these questions, but you can use ANY of these questions to keep the conversation moving forward.
Whenever you start worrying about what to say, remember this: FOCUS ON THE TOPIC. It’ll make you more comfortable, and it’ll make it natural for you to come up with things to say.
Read more: How to make conversation more interesting.
This gets easier with time. Here’s a video where I let you practice focus when you talk to someone:
3. My trick for how to always know what to say, even if you’re uncomfortable
My friend taught me a powerful trick for always knowing what to say when the conversation runs dry.
Whenever the topic dies out and there’s about to be an awkward silence, he refers back to anything you talked about before.
So when a topic ends like…
“So that’s why I decided to go with the blue tiles instead of the gray ones.”
He refers back to something you talked before, like this:
“Did you get time to study yesterday?”
“How was last weekend?”
“What was it like in Connecticut?”
LESSON LEARNED: Refer back to what you’ve talked about earlier in the conversation, or even the last time you met.
Think back to a previous conversation you had with a friend. What’s something you can refer back to the next time you meet?
For example, I was with a friend yesterday who was looking for a new apartment. So, the next time we meet and the conversation runs dry, I could simply ask “By the way, how’s the apartment hunt going?”.
Socially savvy people constantly refer back to previous topics like this, and that’s how their conversations always run so smooth.
Read more here on how to start a conversation with someone, even if you’re uncomfortable.
4. Overcoming the fear of saying the wrong thing or something weird
Did you know that confident and socially savvy people say as much “weird” things as you do? It’s just that confident people’s “worry-o-meter” is much less sensitive, and they simply don’t worry about it.
How confident people deal with saying the wrong thing
If an awkward moment for a nervous person feels like the end of the world, the confident person just doesn’t care.
This has been proven in studies as well: People with social anxiety have a hyperactive fear centrum that lights up as soon as they make a mistake in front of others.
- Nervous people think that everything they do needs to be perfect.
- Confident people know that we don’t need to be perfect to be liked and accepted.
(In fact, saying the wrong thing from time to time makes us human and more relatable. No one likes Mr. or Ms. Perfect.)
The next time you beat yourself up over something you said, ask yourself this:
“What would a confident person think if they said what I just said? Would it be a big deal for them? If not, it’s probably not a big deal for me either”.
How therapists cure overthinking and feeling uncomfortable talking
In behavioral therapy, people who overthink are instructed to make conversation with their therapist and constantly try to NOT censor themselves. Sometimes they say things that feel like the end of the world to them.
But after hours of conversation where they force themselves to not filter, they finally start feeling more comfortable.
The reason is that their brain slowly “understands” that it’s OKAY to say stupid things every once in a while because nothing bad happens. (Everyone does it, but only anxious people worry about it.)
You can do this in real life conversations:
Practice filtering yourself less, even if it makes you say MORE stupid things at first. That’s an important exercise to understand that the world doesn’t end, and it allows you to express yourself freely.
It’s worth it to say stupid or weird things every once in a while in return for being able to express yourself freely.
Read more: How to socialize with anyone.
5. Feeling judged? Stop caring what others think with the Approval Detachment Method
If you feel judged, this tip is for you.
Let’s say that your worst nightmare is true and everyone judges you all the time. Would that worst-case scenario even be that bad?
This is called approval detachment. It’s about stopping trying to conform to what others think, and accept that you don’t need anyone’s approval.
Let me be clear: This isn’t about alienating people. It’s simply a mental countermeasure against our brain’s irrational fear of being judged.
The next time you start worrying about what others think of you, remember this:
Instead of focusing on not doing something that can make people judge you, remind yourself that it would be OK even if people DO judge you.
You don’t need anyone’s approval. You can do your thing.
But the road there is to break free from the addiction of looking for others approval.
6. Feeling more comfortable by changing how you view rejection
Most of my life I’ve been scared of being rejected, no matter if it was by someone I was attracted to or just asking an acquaintance if they wanted to grab a coffee some day.
In reality, to get the most out of life, we have to get rejected at times. If we never get rejected, it’s because we never take risks. Everyone who dares taking risks gets rejected at times.
See rejection as proof that you dare to take risks and make the most out of life. When I did, something changed in me:
When someone turned me down, I knew that I’d at least tried. The alternative is worse: NOT trying, letting fear holding you back, and never knowing what could have happened if you tried.
LESSON LEARNED: Don’t see rejection as a failure. See it as evidence that you’ve taken a risk and made the most out of your life.
Make it a habit to still take the initiative and ask. If they say yes, great! If they say no, you can feel great knowing that you make decisions that help you make most out of life. You never have to wonder “What if I’d asked..?”.
7. Dealing with blushing, sweating, a shaky voice, and other bodily give-aways
This graphic shows how blushing, shaking, sweating or other “bodily giveaways” snowballs the nervosity.
Let’s think about the last time you met someone else who was blushing, sweating, shaking etc. What was your reaction? You probably care much less than when you yourself do any of it.
Here’s how I’ve reacted:
Blushing: It’s hard to tell if it’s just because the person is hot, so I just don’t pay attention to it. When I was in school, a guy was constantly red in his face. He said he was born that way and didn’t seem to care about it, so neither did we.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about sudden strong blushing: If the person who blushes talks on like normal and doesn’t seem to care, I don’t notice. If they don’t act very obviously nervous together with the blushing, it’s almost unnoticeable.
Only if the person goes quiet and looks down the ground together with the blushing do I consciously pay attention and go: Oh, he/she must be uncomfortable!
Sweating: Whenever people sweat I always assume it’s because they are warm.
Shaking voice: I know a couple of people who have a shaky voice, but honestly, I don’t think it’s because they are nervous. It’s just how their voice is. It’s likely that if you shake on your voice, people will just think that that’s how your voice sounds, just like some has a high pitched voice and others have a dark voice.
Shaking body: The thing about shaking is that you don’t know if it’s because of nervosity or because someone’s just naturally shaking. I was on a date with a girl the other day and I noticed that her hand was shaking a little bit when she was about to choose tea, but I still don’t know if it was because of nervosity.
LESSON LEARNED: If you talk on like normal despite blushing, sweating, shaking etc, people will HAVE NO CLUE if you do it because you’re uncomfortable or for any other reason.
8. How to go from uncomfortable to relaxed and authentic
As soon as I had to walk up to a group of people or talk to someone new, I noticed how I got uncomfortable. My body tensed up in all sorts of ways. I tried to fight that anxious feeling and come up with a way to make it stop. DON’T DO WHAT I DID.
If you try to push the anxiety away, you’ll soon realize that it won’t. As a result, you start obsessing about it and become MORE uncomfortable.
When you accept your nervosity, you stop obsessing about it. Ironically – this makes you more comfortable.
Read more: How to overcome social anxiety.
9. Be more comfortable by understanding The Illusion of Transparency
In a study, people were asked to present in front of an audience. They had to rate on a scale from 1 to 10 how nervous they think they came off.
The scientists then asked the audience to rate how nervous they thought the presenter was.
Scientists call this the illusion of transparency: We believe that people can see how we feel, when in reality, they can’t.
The scientists decided to take it one step further:
For some of the presenters, they told them about the illusion of transparency before the speech.
Here’s what they said:
“Many people […] believe they will appear nervous to those who are watching.
[…] Research has found that audiences can’t pick up on your anxiety as well as you might expect. Psychologists have documented what is called an “Illusion of Transparency.”
Those speaking feel that their nervousness is transparent, but in reality, their feelings are not so apparent to observers.”
That group was SIGNIFICANTLY more comfortable than the group who hadn’t heard about The Illusion of Transparency.
LESSON LEARNED: Whenever you feel uncomfortable, remind yourself of The Illusion of Transparency: It FEELS like people can see how nervous we are, but they can’t.
10. Be less uncomfortable by knowing about The Spotlight Effect
In one study, students were instructed to wear a T-shirt with a celebrity on it. They were asked how many of their classmates had noticed what celebrity they were wearing on the T-shirt. These were the results:
LESSON LEARNED: We always overestimate how much we stand out in a group. In reality, people pay less attention to us than we think.
11. Take ownership of your flaws to become more confident
For years, I worried about my looks. I thought my nose was too big and that I would never get a girlfriend because of that. At some point in life, I realized that I had to learn to own everything about myself, especially the things I didn’t like.
Even if there are things about yourself that aren’t perfect, they are still a part of who you are.
Confident people aren’t perfect. They have learned to embrace their flaws.
This is NOT about being a prick and say “I don’t need to change because people should like me for who I am”.
As humans, we should strive to be better. That’s how we grow. But while we work toward being a better version of ourselves, we should own who we are in each given moment.
Back in the day, I tried to angle my head toward people so that they wouldn’t see me in profile, because I then thought that they would judge me for my big nose.
When I decided to own my looks, I consciously decided to stop trying to hide my flaws. That (obviously) made me more free in interacting with others. Ironically, that made me more attractive.
12. Be more confident by staying in situations that make you uncomfortable
The natural reaction to uncomfortable situations is to get out of them as soon as possible. But here’s the problem with doing that:
When we “escape” an uncomfortable situation, our brain believes that everything went well BECAUSE we were able to get away. In other words, the brain never learns that those situations are nothing to be afraid of.
We want to teach our brain the opposite. Studies show that if we stay longer in uncomfortable situations until our nervosity has dropped from its peak, THAT’S when we over time build our confidence!
Whenever you feel uncomfortable, remind yourself that you’re doing something good:
If you stay in the uncomfortable situation until your nervosity has dropped from its worst, you’re slowly rewiring your brain.
Rather than avoiding uncomfortable situations, practice staying longer in them. After a while, your brain will realize: “Wait a minute, nothing terrible ever happens. I don’t have to pump stress hormones anymore”.
This is confidence building in the making.