The voices in our heads can put a real damper on our social life.
Because we’re human and we each have an ego, every single one of us has an internal voice giving us an opinion about our social aptitude and acceptability. Like a TV on for background noise, our little voices send messages that sink into our subconscious and shape our outlook for better or worse.
Imagine walking into a party where you know no one. Someone briefly makes eye contact with you but then quickly turns and walks away. What’s your immediate thought?
For Debbie Downer, her internal dialogue confirms that she made the wrong outfit choice and has no right to be at such a cool party. But for Positive Patty, her internal dialogue assumes that the person needed to step away to make a quick phone call or refill his drink.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
We all long to be accepted by our peers. This isn’t a function of delicate self-esteem but rather a biological need. It’s vital for our survival to remain in the pack. The most basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are more easily fulfilled when in community with other people.
So it’s understandable that we would all have a heightened awareness of our social acceptability. But things can go wrong when this assessment gets distorted and we convince ourselves that innocuous actions or inaction by others is a direct reflection of our self-worth. We convince ourselves that someone’s behavior toward us is a judgment of us.
“Do I look okay?” “What do they think of me?” “What should I say?” We all wrestle with this type of preoccupation to some degree. And while this internal dialogue is going on, we put on blinders to the rest of the world. The inward focus leaves hardly any mind space to stop and evaluate others objectively or otherwise. In the end, the scrutiny we so fear is mostly self-imposed. We become our own worst critics.
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The Social Faces of Others
With everyone distracted by the stories in their heads, the reality is there is far less judgment going around. But that is not to say there isn’t any. The most vicious critics among us are the ones with the loudest demons.
These people tend to be the most insecure. Instead of managing their self-doubt by being a wallflower, they mightily overcompensate. They present the loudest, the most obnoxious, or the most snarky commentary to drown out their internal voices that are screaming, “You’re not good enough!”
When you encounter these types, know for certain that their judgment isn’t about you. It’s about them trying to pretty up the emotional ball and chain they carry with them constantly. See their game for what it is, and extend them some empathy.
Conversely, we have all encountered the most socially poised who walks with quiet confidence. They are kind and welcoming and make us feel accepted and heard. These are gems who have the talent to put more focus on others than themselves because they know what toxic internal dialogue can sound like. They, too, have the voices, but they’ve become adept at dialing them down.
The Origins of Our Social Struggles
To have a lay of the social land doesn’t discount that we still wrestle with the feelings that accompany social insecurity. Where we are on this spectrum has a lot to do with our life experiences. The foundation of our social skills and social habits were formed in childhood, and we may have had poor examples or poor experiences that we carry with us today.
Alternatively, we may have grown gun-shy from being in social situations that resulted in rejection or social failure. Or we may have a propensity to strive for perfection in everything we do, including social mastery. For those of us in both categories, we know that socially engaging with others is the right thing to do, but we’ve bound ourselves in a social straitjacket of our own making.
To work through such inhibitions or preoccupations, it takes a reorientation of thinking. We must see flawed thinking for what it is. Small efforts to promote social confidence (like the ones described in this article) can eventually shift perspective. However, for some, guidance by professionals like a therapist can be the best solution. A counselor can offer tools and continuous direction to recalibrate one’s mind-set for lasting change.
Taking Steps Towards Social Confidence
To begin the process of increasing your social confidence, it helps to have a road map before you begin the journey. The following are seven steps to condition yourself for stronger self-confidence. It happens step by step, little by little, day by day.
1 - Clear Your Mind
From Instagram posts to photoshopped magazine covers, our world is full of images of supposed perfection. But it’s an alternate reality that has no substance. Without being conscious of the facade these outlets present, we fall victim to feeling inept without realizing why.
So give your psyche a rest. Take a break from both mass media and social media. Instead, focus on things that exist in real life that make you feel good. Like spending time with good friends or playing with a puppy. Puppies love everyone.
2 - Purge Negativity
Unfortunately, most of us have a few people in our lives who have nothing good to say and lack the presence of mind to know it. Repeated exposure to such people can pervert your thinking, leaving you feeling weak and small.
Keep your mind safe and sound. Wall off these energy vampires from your life, or at the very least restrict your exposure. When you purge negative people, it’s like clearing out an overgrown garden. Cut the weeds to make room for fertile ground. You’re growing something important here.
3 - Take Inventory of Yourself
Take a hard look at yourself. What do you see? Strive for positivity in your assessment because we all have some wonderful things we offer the world. Recognize, however, that we all tell ourselves little lies disguising deep-seated insecurities.
We present our flaws as truth when they’re just a matter of warped opinion. Ask yourself, “Can this assessment be backed up with facts?” Inject objectivity into this exercise by asking positive friends and family to help you. Ask them, “What do you like about me?”
4 - Create Positive Mantras and Visions About Your Sociability
It’s far easier to accentuate your strengths than shore up your weaknesses. Using your (positive) self-assessment, translate it into imagined social confidence. Meaning, create images in your mind where you are demonstrating your best traits with ease in a social setting. Write down these traits in the form of mantras using the present tense. For example,
I feel socially confident when meeting new people because I ask good questions.
Others are socially drawn to me because I have a good sense of humor.
I’m comfortable when I socialize because I naturally express kindness and empathy.
This may seem ridiculous, but the repeating of mantras, especially aloud, changes your thinking over time. The words we repeatedly hear matter. If you don’t believe me, study the tactics of dictators.
Another powerful way to support imagining positive socializing is to create a vision board of socially confident people. Really try to picture yourself in these scenarios. You can either make a physical board that you review regularly (preferred) or create a virtual board on Pinterest. But if you go the Pinterest route, be sure to look at it daily so it stays top of mind.
5 - Model After Others
Within our social networks, we all know people who are exceptional in their social abilities. We're drawn to them, and we are in awe as we watch how they make socializing look so natural and easy. Leverage your proximity to such people and feed off their vibe. Reach out to them and discover their secrets to success.
Roger, you are so good with people! How do you do it? What makes you so comfortable being around new people?
Chances are they have both a mind-set and a handful of tactics they use regularly, giving them a methodology to their approach. If you dig deep for the nuggets, you may discover insights and techniques that you could easily replicate. Or to learn faster, try hanging around them in social situations. Observe and analyze, and then adapt for yourself.
6 - Practice Foundational Social Skills
From your observation of your socially savvy friends, you will begin to pick up on their social “playbook.” Model the same approach and create one for yourself. Select no more than three social skills that are conducive to your personality, and put them into regular practice.
Here are a few examples:
making regular eye contact
listening with focus
using the person’s name often
displaying receptive body language
expressing humor or empathy
Play to your strengths and comfort level. An introvert, for instance, won’t be chatty, but she could ask the same three questions to get any new conversation started.
7 - Build Off Your Wins
With each social encounter you have, you will have an opportunity to gain practice and confidence. Look upon these instances as experiments of trial and error. Some encounters will be winners, and others not. Read no more into it than that.
To see the status of your progress, journal about your good and bad experiences. What did you do? What went well and what went poorly? What did you learn? In time you will see patterns and figure out your social strengths.
How I’ve Grown My Social Confidence
Everyone carries with them a little apprehension when socializing. When I started this blog, I was much more socially reserved. I would find every excuse not to strike up a conversation with a new person. However, by immersing myself in this blog content week after week, I have begun to gain courage and confidence and to see myself as a more socially competent person.
Now, I more regularly strike up conversations. Sometimes it pans out; other times it doesn't. But I’m now much more mindful that everyone is trying to figure out the steps of this social dance. As a consequence of this mind shift, I feel far less self-conscious when it comes to the responsiveness of others.
In this journey, recognize you’re not alone in figuring things out. It’s all a big game. Take comfort in knowing that no one really cares as much as you think they do, and besides, they’re distracted by their own insecurities anyway.
A lot of your opinions about your own socializing ability can change with a perspective shift. Decide to take action and give some new things a try. If you keep at it, soon socializing will feel more natural and comfortable, and you’ll become an inspiration for others.
Commit to following the seven steps outlined in this article to build your social confidence. Journal about each step. Also, document what you learn as you practice in social situations. You will gain more confidence as you see your progression over time.
What things do you do to make yourself feel more socially confident?
Share your secrets with us in the comments below.