Believing that you are unacceptable or unlikable socially can be painful. Lack of self-confidence can make you get afraid to interact socially. When in situations where you will be observed by others or where you need to speak in front of a crowd or to strangers you might feel anxious. This might cause you to act awkward. You might avoid eye contact and behave too cautiously. The idea that you are socially unacceptable might get reinforced to you when you feel that other people react strangely towards you.
As the result of the challenges you face you might end up avoiding social contact even though you know being in social places and interacting with others is a big part of any persons' life. We cannot always avoid social situations in living our daily lives. You might get invited to parties where friends are celebrating or by colleagues at work celebrating their birthdays. It is not always possible to avoid interacting socially.
So how do you improve social self-confidence when you do not have it? Before I tell you how, let me start by telling a little story about a rat.
When you have a rat in the house that eats up your tomatoes and messes up your fruits. To catch it, you would need to know how and when and where it operates. You would want to catch it when the house is quite with a piece of cheese in the mouse trap or place a rat poison in places where the rat is likely to hang around.
A similar approach is applicable to improving self-confidence. You need to understand how your mind operates and what patterns you go through so that you can interrupt those patterns and form new ones.
The first trigger is mentally, you get images of you doing something that will cause you embarrassment. What you think is what you feel. Your thoughts cause you to feel anxious. When feeling anxious you respond by avoiding interacting socially and the result is that you lack social self-confidence. To overcome social anxiety therefore you need to influence this pattern. Let's draw how the pattern looks like:
social situation (environment) - images of embarrassment (thought) - anxiety, fear (feelings)- avoidance (response)
We do know that we cannot change the external environment (sometimes you will be in a social situation whether you want to or not). We can only influence ourselves internally in terms of how we respond to the external environment. Constantly trying to avoid social situations may serve as a temporary solution. However, this cannot guarantee long-term success towards improving how you interact socially. What you can change is the thought process, your feelings as well as your responses.
Past failures might have conditioned you to view every social situation that you need to interact in as anxiety triggering. We are human after all human, once we are burned we never want to move near a lit candle. So to help you improve social self-confidence you might first need to forget past failures and try to change how you view social situations first. Here are the 3 ways that I have developed to help you overcome social anxiety and improve social interaction.
1. View social situations as opportunities by recalling past success
Some successful sport teams have a tradition in which they take players through past successes before a cup final. The players get shown previous cup finals before the match and get taken through all the trophies that the team has won before. The past success of the team helps players get motivated to win another cup final for the team. If you ever had past successes interacting socially use this as anchors for yourself. Remember how you successfully delivered a presentation in front of an audience and interacted very well with a stranger. Have you ever been in a situation where you delivered a public speech and did well despite your fear? This is the time to have these memories fresh in your mind. Remembering your past successes and celebrating past victories can help you believe in yourself and be able to overcome present anxiety feelings toward social interactions.
2. Use visualization to empower yourself for social situations
Access the power of your subconscious mind by constantly picturing yourself interacting well socially. This need not take long. Just spending 5 minutes seeing yourself approaching a stranger and having a pleasant conversation or picturing yourself delivering a great presentation publicly can help. Once our mind has been where we want to be, our bodies just need to support us in getting there. By mentally picturing yourself having social self-confidence, you will be able to give yourself better strength to play out your mental images in real life when the situations calls for it. Be careful though, visualization needs to be done before a social interaction. Doing this actively as you are interacting socially might be problematic because it will force you to think about what you are doing. When thinking about what you are doing you are more likely to get anxious. So visualize before social interactions and try as much as you can to remain natural when in social situations.
3. Make social interaction a challenging game of exposure
Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously and this does not help. Improving social anxiety requires you to occasionally have a playful attitude. Use a playful attitude to expose yourself socially. Exposure is scientifically proven to be very effective when it comes to improving social anxiety. I know this is the last thing that you might want to hear because when you are uncomfortable interacting socially the immediate response is to avoid social interaction. However, the more exposure you get interacting socially the better you will become. Aim to start a small conversation every time you are in a social situation with a stranger. This can be as simple as saying hallo to a cashier each time you pay for items in a store or when shopping. Just asking the cashier his/her name and thanking him/her for the service is enough to get you going.
Few of us remember to appreciate cashiers when shopping, you will make their day just showing appreciation and equally improve yourself. Try as much as you can to expose yourself.
Petrol attendants are also good people to interact with in a non-threatening environment to start a conversation. This is better done playfully so that you see it as a challenge instead of getting too serious and reading too much on the results. The more you bring it to your awareness to interact with others the better you will expose yourself and improve how you interact socially.
Spending time with a friend who is not afraid to interact socially might also help in this situation. Human beings learn by seeing also. If your anxiety is specific such as falling in a public place then get a friend to pretend falling in a public space so that you can visually see that the results are not as worse as you thought they would be. Expose yourself without emotional attachment. Use a playful attitude with any friend who is comfortable interacting socially and have fun doing so. Practice makes perfect, this is also true in getting rid of social anxiety.