I’ve been socially awkward my whole life.
From struggling to talk to girls, to making a fool of myself in front of groups of people, I’ve never been comfortable meeting new people and making a good impression.
So about two years ago, I decided to change this. I was sick of making a bad impression and not living life to the full.
And two years later, I can safely say that life has changed for the better. I’ve tried my hardest to push myself socially. It’s paid huge dividends for my wellbeing and happiness.
The best bit?
I didn’t have to do anything crazy or out of character. I just had to work on a few things.
So in this article, I’m going to explain exactly what worked for me.
But first, I’ll talk about four signs that you are actually socially awkward.
4 signs you’re socially awkward
1) You’re chronically nervous in social settings
A socially awkward person doesn’t feel comfortable in most social situations.
This is particularly the case for meeting new people. This nervousness affects their ability to appear normal and make new friends.
2) They don’t understand what to do in social situations
Some people just don’t understand what they’re meant to do in social situations. This isn’t necessarily because of nervousness.
They just aren’t clued on with what’s appropriate to talk about, or what they’re actually meant to do.
Saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way can insult people, or make others feel uncomfortable.
3) There’s no flow to the conversation
We’ve all experienced conversations that have huge gaps of silences. Or the chronic small-talk with nothing being said. For socially awkward people, this happens regularly.
4) They don’t have many friends
Most people tend to avoid the socially inept. They feel uncomfortable around them. This can cause them to have little friends or meaningful connections. They spend a lot of time alone.
Can you relate to any of these? For me, I’ve mainly been plagued with number 1 and number 3.
If you can, then don’t worry. Here are the seven things that worked for me:
Seven ways to get over social awkwardness
1) Accept that you’re anxious or nervous
Being anxious and nervous is never fun. All of us tend to avoid these emotions. But when it comes to social anxiety, if you avoid it, unfortunately, you’re not going to get past it.
And if you hate it and fight against it, then it’s going to get worse.
I did that for years. I looked down on myself for experiencing emotions like nervousness and anxiety.
But when I decided that these emotions are just a part of who I am, I became more comfortable with them, and over time they became less strong.
So as much as it sucks, you’re going to have to go through some discomfort to improve your social skills.
By accepting that you’re nervous or anxious, you can move on with your actions.
It’s important to remember that negative emotions won’t kill you. They’re annoying, but not dangerous. And acceptance is much less of a drag than the ongoing attempt to avoid them.
After all, it is possible to overcome your social anxiety.
There’s no point judging yourself for having these nervous reactions, either. Feelings aren’t something we can control.
We can control our attitudes and actions towards these emotions, however.
2) You need to push yourself through (slight) discomfort
Now I want to make it clear that you don’t have to push yourself to unbearable limits and enter yourself into a difficult social situation to “get over it.”
It might not help and will most likely hinder your progress.
Instead, it’s time to take action one small step at a time.
So if you get overly anxious when you have a conversation with someone new, the first step you could take is ordering a coffee at a cafe.
Once you’ve done that a few times, your next step can be to ask the waiter how their day has been.
Going through these mini-steps will help you build confidence.
The trick is to keep going slightly out of your comfort zone, but not so much that you’ll be discouraged to retake action.
2) Learn social rules and norms
A lot of us have trouble with interpersonal situations because there are many unwritten rules and norms that we don’t know about.
So while you won’t learn them all overnight, you need to understand the basic social norms and rules.
It’s not exactly practical to formally list every social norm and guideline, but there are books that give an overview of the most basic norms.
There’s a lot of information on the Internet explaining social norms in specific situations.
For example, there are detailed articles that cover how to behave in concerts, job interviews, at work, etc.
If you do a specific Google search, chances are you might find some information for specific circumstances.
However, many social rules are unwritten, and you’re not going to get information on every single basic social rule.
You may be able to get someone to explain some to you. Maybe your friends or family can lend you a hand.
Usually, if you stick to being polite, kind and respectful of other people, you should be fine.
Sometimes you don’t want to be too direct in asking personal questions.
A great starting point is to learn from others and watch what they do. That will help you to avoid any mistakes they make.
Overtime you’ll begin to behave according to social norms without even being able to articulate why you’re behaving a certain way.
3) Learn routines
Many people will roll their eyes when they hear this, but learning social routines helped me a great deal.
I had pre-planned questions to ask people, pre-planned stories and even pre-planned jokes.
Many of the socially best people out there naturally tell the same stories over and over again.
And what happens? They get better and better at telling it.
When you know exactly what you’re going to say, you don’t have to worry about thinking on the spot. Instead, you can speak slowly and confidently with great body language.
All it takes is a bit of preparation before a social interaction. Have questions to ask and stories to tell. You can even write it down on your phone in case you forget.
We’re always told to study and practice a subject to become an expert, but isn’t it funny that we never do the same for social interactions? It’s a huge part of our life and the better prepared you are, the better you’ll do.
5) Get fit
You may not like this one, but it’s fair to say that sitting in front of the TV or computer all day won’t do much for your self-esteem.
A sedentary lifestyle does little to raise your fitness level and confidence. But the truth is, being fit, feeling good and looking good will improve your self-esteem.
A few years ago, I was a skinny twig with a pot belly. Today, I have more muscle than I’ve ever had.
Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not the magic bullet that’s miraculously improved my self-esteem.
But it has helped. I feel good about my body, and I know that I look much more appealing than I used to.
So go outside, exercise and get fit. It’s great for your health, your mood and your self-esteem.
6) Be more interesting
You don’t have to be a billionaire, or a CEO, or an astronaut to hold people’s attention. You just need to highlight your passions and skills.
When you’re proud of something you’re good at, or you’re passionate about a particular topic, you’ll be way more engaging when you speak about it.
You can also organize routines and stories about them as we discussed above. If you don’t have any passions or skills, then it’s time to find some.
For me, I love Australian rules football, digital marketing and running (I’m going to do a marathon soon).
I find it much easier to get along with people who are interested in the same things.
So once you find some things you enjoy talking about, you can seek out people who are interested in the same thing. It’ll make your social conversations a lot easier.
7) Be interested in other people
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
That quote from Dale Carnegie sums it up.
That was the most important takeaway I got from his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.
And being interested in other people is one of the biggest things that’s changed my social interactions for the better.
There’s always something interesting about other people. There’s always something to learn.
There’s no reason to judge others, either. We all have incredibly unique circumstances, and there’s a logical reason for people act the way they do.
Learn about them. Be curious and genuine. Get outside of your head and your problems and focus on others. It’s a great way to get rid of self-consciousness.
Remember, listen carefully, and the follow-up questions will come naturally.
Being socially awkward is never fun, but I’m here to tell you that you can get over it. All it takes is a little bit of experience, a little bit of preparation, and within time you’ll be having a whole lot of fun.
Stick at it, and you’ll get there.
And if you’re looking for specific techniques to improve all aspects of your daily living, including your relationships, emotional resilience and state of mind, check out my new eBook on the no-nonsense guide to using Buddhism and eastern philosophy here.
Are you mentally tough?
Resilience and mental toughness are key attributes to living your best life. They determine how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to dealing with challenging emotions, to carrying on after a relationship has ended.
In The Art of Resilience: A Practical Guide to Developing Mental Toughness, we outline exactly what it means to be mentally tough and equip you with 10 resilience-building tools that you can start using today.
Sign up to Hack Spirit's daily emails
Learn how to reduce stress, cultivate healthy relationships, handle people you don't like and find your place in the world.