Ok, so now that my approach image was getting better (i.e. I could smile and make eye contact – with a huge amount of effort, mind you), I decided to step up my conversation exposure. There was one small problem though: I had very few opportunities to get out and mingle with people. After all, its not like I had a huge social network. At best, I had 2 friends and a few work acquaintances. Well, I did have my family, but they were a little too familiar. Uninhibited conversation came easy with them. I needed more of a challenge.
For the longest time, I used this as an excuse.
After all, how could I practice conversation if I had no opportunities?
While it was true that I had very few friends, I look back now and realize that I was simply making excuses not to get out. I didnt need a huge social circle; one person would do.
The reality was that I needed to make my own opportunity. I had to decide not to be afraid and welcome chances as they presented themselves. I took stock of just how many times I could have said something to an acquaintance (or even a stranger), but chickened out because I was afraid of being rejected, ridiculed, or made a fool of. Yes, the opportunity was there, I just needed to open my eyes.
These days, I see opportunity all around me. From people in line at the checkout, to the grocery store cashier, to my hairstylist, to my co-workers; these are all legitimate opportunities. The list is endless, and is only limited by how much anxiety I feel at that particular time. Many times, I chicken out and beat myself up later for not taking a chance.
That being said, I do find myself acting a little braver these days. Certainly more brave than I have ever been in my life. This is real – I can feel myself improving as the months go by.
There are two things I do now that have made all the difference in the world:
One – I push myself just slightly beyond what I used to feel comfortable doing. Without this, nothing would have happened – no conversation would have ever taken place – no connection would have ever been made. Again, this extra effort is very small – just a nudge past comfort.
Two – I feed myself every last drop of positive feedback from each encounter, while rationalizing, then dismissing, the negative parts. Positive feedback goes to reinforce my positive beliefs, and negative feedback is processed in a more realistic and non-personal way, then forgotten. I also try to extract any lesson to be learned – good or bad.
Its so easy to fall into a self-pity/depression trap – a friendless, lonely world of scarcity. I now realize that you get out of this world what you put in – and having a solid social network is no different.
I remember a general self-help tape series I listened to over and over that kept reinforcing the following message:
Get out, and make something happen. Only you can do this.
Sounds simple, but this was probably the biggest hurdle I had to get over. I was so content in my own apartment. I suffered every time I left; so tearing myself away from that comfy lair was not easy.
I always seemed to migrate towards immediate gratification or pleasure; while avoiding the *seemingly* unpleasant.
It never occurred to me that I was missing out on the essence of life – that all the good times were happening outside of the apartment.
Yes, security and familiarity has a steep price indeed.