Social anxiety is no joke.
Most people have a fear of public speaking. Not far behind is having conversations with people. it’s not like you don’t do it all the time already–– you just never felt comfortable. The calculated risk is too high.
Your image is at stake, and you can’t be yourself. Anything you say can jeopardize what people think of you. Simply put, you get conversation fright.
It’s moments like this that you’d rather be anonymous. Like, put a bag on your head anonymous.
What if you only talked to Five People?
I haven’t spoken about this very much, but when I was a child I freely gave my words to a core grand total of five people. My parents, sister, nanny (in Indonesia this is common), and grandmother. Only because they were necessary and people I felt comfortable around them.
Teachers were frantic. How do you teach a kid who absolutely refuses to talk?
At the school, the teachers would ask, “What is 2+2?”
I would remain silent.They had to rephrase the question.
“Fiel, is the answer five?” Then if they were lucky, I would shake my head.
“Is the answer four?” My head would nod. “Great!”
A few weeks ago, I was searching through Wikipedia and I found my answer. I suffered from a condition called “selective mutism.” It’s a form of severe anxiety where you do not speak in certain situations or to certain people and is often found in children.
They tried to diagnose me with autism. Why? Everyone was baffled. They had never encountered this phenomenon before. Being in Indonesia this was definitely the case.
This condition is rare enough that it is overlooked in favor of other pressing psychological matters like down syndrome and ADD.
I was stressed and upset in ways a child shouldn’t be, it was weird. You wouldn’t be in my shoes if you went through what I did, at least I hope not.
It all started when I was five. We moved from the U.S. to Indonesia because my father was diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver–– which is a terminal illness. We didn’t want to be without support, so it was the best option as a family.
One problem. I didn’t speak Indonesian.
For some reason, something within me snapped. I didn’t want to be away from home. I wanted to go back, NOW. Schools didn’t help regardless of language because I got made fun of anyways.
My American accent was funny when we spoke English, or the fact that I was American was weird. What are you doing here, you don’t belong! Sounds very familiar if you’re a TCK or an immigrant for that matter.
Luckily there was my Swedish neighbor Freddy, and a kid named Patrick I used to play with, and the Australian lady down the street, but that was only because they spoke English.
To the frustration of all the rest, I spoke using body language and would puke all over people’s cars on the way to visit my grandmother for the weekend. Intense times.
I felt so judged and hurt by what others thought and said that I became a turtle and hid in my own shell. As you can imagine, my parents weren’t being cut any slack either.
Regardless my parents still loved me. It was a time that wasn’t easy for anyone.
Even when we went back to the states, I was so hurt that I didn’t speak in school for another two years in the 3rd grade. The old ladies at church were still nice to me though. Luckily my cuteness spoke over my silence. (Maybe…?)
How Did You Overcome?
I kept my lips shut from pre-K to the start of 3rd grade. I remember on the first day of every year my mom would say, “Be a good boy and speak in class ok?”
I would nod determined to change things. My mom didn’t know what to do. She was so frustrated one day that she put a chili pepper on my mouth as punishment (she knew I didn’t like spicy food.) I was sad because I wanted to make friends too, but I was too afraid. I had been hurt too much I didn’t want any more.
Then, a man named Guy came into my life. He was my child psychologist.
After I finally became comfortable with him, I began to talk to him. He told me he was friends with my 2nd Grade teacher Ms. Roth and wanted her to meet with me outside of school. Over a bowl of miso soup, I began to warm up and let my voice go.
Of course, he wasn’t friends with Ms. Roth. But thanks to his well-played tactics, I became more comfortable with people, and I finally talked for the first time in school in the 3rd grade.
Enough about me.
At a language meetup in New York City, there was a guy I met who seemed to suffer from social anxiety. While I walked all around meeting people, I noticed him standing in a far corner.
He stayed there for a good hour pacing back and forth and staring into space.
Because I don’t tend to stay in one place for too long in social situations, I eventually made it to his corner where the bar was. As I began talking with people near him, the guy slowly inched in our direction and proposed conversation.
You’d think he did something sparkling with rainbows or had something very intelligent to say.
All he did was ask a simple question, “Is that the Romanian flag? My family speaks Romanian.”
What he said had NOTHING to do with our conversation , but he did it anyways. He also was wrong on the flag, but he didn’t care. He was going in.
He knew he stuttered, and would put his two pointer fingers together every time he would say something, but he didn’t care.
Guess what, we had good conversation! It was encouraging to see him step up and decide he was going to go for it.
Stuttering didn’t stop him, nor did him being wrong.
He was there and he wanted in.
Hear me out.
Now, I’m no psychologist. I’m a musician and writer.
When I say social anxiety, I don’t mean the medical form of it. Plus I’m a New Yorker. We like to exaggerate a lot.
If you’re seriously suffering from the medical anxiety seek professional help, but before you do, hear me out.
You might find a solution or two in here.
No matter where you are on the people-lover spectrum, shy, introverted, social anxiety, I’m here to help.
Despite my struggle with selective mutism that I mentioned above, there is still residue.
Whenever I meet someone new I tend to stutter and in class, I am still slow to give an answer for fear of being wrong. This happens when I’m ordering something, especially in a foreign language.
Imagine you and me sitting at a café. Just us, right now.
No matter where you are on the people lover spectrum, here’s your simple guide to overcoming social anxiety.
1. Realize Your Intrinsic Value and See it in Others.
Humans are AMAZING.
I don’t mean that everyone is nice and beautiful with jumping rainbows and promenading unicorns.
But let’s throw away our cynicism for a second. If cynicism is the lens by which you see the world, it’s all you will see.
Ready? Let’s go.
Just think of all the things that are in us that make us human. We have 60,000 miles of blood vessels, over 600 muscles, 45 miles of nerves– and that’s only on a biological level.
You’re so valuable that your parents bothered to bring you into existence, but even more than that, they raised you. They brought you up through your diapers to breaking out as a teen. Neither stage is fun.
You’ve got relatives, siblings, teachers, others that care for you.
The swim team needed you to win the medley and your high school band participated in Battle of the Bands.
The list can go on forever.
It’s no accident that you’re here.
An ancient Rabbi once told his disciples to not worry about anything. Easier said than done. His words are recorded in the gospel of Matthew and Luke.
Lemme paraphrase for you: “Think about the pigeons that scavenge our streets. Not many people like them, but here they are! They keep reproducing too!
Birds don’t have jobs or ways of growing their own food. They don’t even have refrigerators to store the food they forage, but they’re plump!
Who can live longer by worrying? Who can grow an inch because they were fearful of the next day?
That’s right. No one.”
Don’t think so? Shoot me an email at email@example.com and let’s talk!
As long as you know who you are, you don’t need the approval of others to validate your existence.
You’re amazing and special. Life is worth living and you’re worth living for.
Do you really believe in the equality of individuals?
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. -Thomas Jefferson
Do people working in service vocations and retail count?
Is the Starbucks barista just a barista or is he a human being?
What about taxi drivers? Are they just Bangladeshi immigrants? Each of these people you meet throughout your day aren’t under you.
They’re your neighbors. They all have intrinsic worth.
To go from the last section, maybe you now realize you are more awesome than you thought. That’s great!
That absolutely extends to your annoying co-worker. Not to mention an acquaintance who is a total airhead and says the dumbest things imaginable.
“Nah, but he’s something else,” you say.
I understand, but I can also guarantee you that if you begin to listen to what people have to say before judging, you might be surprised.
Stop Judging ME.
Much of judgment is imaginary.
We visualize, and our head replays our fantasy over and over. Before we know it, we are conditioned ready for a horrible evening out.
Many people live a self-fulfilling prophecy. We tell ourselves, “The people are going to be boring. I’m boring, and they’re world travelers, we’ll have nothing in common.”
Essentially, we judge ourselves harder than people we meet. On top of that, we judge ourselves before we give people the chance to even meet us.
We are our hardest critic, while being deadly afraid of the judgment of others.
We should fear ourselves.
I mean, I like to say that what I write here ISN’T original. Because it’s not. Give yourself shots of positivity.
Behavior and thoughts heavily factor how we perceive situations.
When we say a phrase like, “stop judging me” my question is, who is judging?
Is there someone you don’t like? Not everyone is very likable. For people that tend to have better smarts, it’s hard to want to even listen to airheads or “slow” people move their lips.
When Joe Schmoe comes in the room we say, “Oh great. Here he is. He’s gonna say something stupid again.”
Let’s stop feeding ourselves mental negativity. Try saying something positive mentally before you open your mouth. Let’s say for once that you said, “Oh hey, it’s Joe. It’s good to see him! I love his work ethic.” You may not believe it at first, but keep pumping yourself with this, and your heart will follow.
Just like you can’t go on a marathon without warming up, you need to warm up your mind before talking to people.
Don’t just wait for life to happen, you’ve got to happen to it.
Prepare your mind.
If you really believed that all people are equal, how different would your life look?
Forget tolerating. Learn to love out loud.
2. Rejection is a Myth.
A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet. – Irish proverb
As extroverted as people think I’ve become, I’m losing it.
Convincing myself that people are worth my time, is a constant struggle because I’m human.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ll be standing in line and I see something that catches my eye or ears. This can be a random sticker, an unknown language, or someone’s looks that I can’t figure out.
The thing most people do (myself included) is expect people to talk to us!
We sit there looking pretty, visualizing a potential social interaction. Our curiosity will make our brains go wild, but we’d rather keep our cool than talk to a stranger.
I continue thinking to myself and internally pray our eyes meet so I have to say something.
They do, but nevertheless, I maintain closed lips.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is a daily task, especially talking to strangers who look like “they can’t be bothered.” Being afraid of what other people will think of you is real.
As long as you have to brush your teeth in the morning, you will have to keep telling yourself rejection is a myth.
Just go for it.
I don’t mean that suddenly you have to be all over every person you meet, that would be weird.
If meeting one new person already has you deeply breathing, take it slow.
Don’t push yourself too hard, but do push. Ask some friends to help you along.
Before I know it the person takes off, never to be seen again. Then I ask myself, “why didn’t I say anything?”
Some people might say “Why the hell does it matter to you? It’s none of your business!”
I think the saying is just a ploy to keep society separated.
If I hear a language I can’t recognize, asking always leads to learning something new.
Curiosity is a beautiful wonder that we humans should carry with us to the grave. Without it, I would never have helped tourists or made friends at hostels
Let’s say someone rejects us and doesn’t care for conversation, who missed out?
That person cannot take away your awesomeness–– the person you spoke to lost their own.
The Man Who Met A Stranger Everyday for a Year
What was the craziest New Year’s resolution you’ve ever had? Steinar Skipsnes decided to take loving out loud to a whole new level.
He told his wife that for 2016, his resolution was to meet one new person a day. And that he did! Here’s a video plus an interview:
He agrees with me and says: “The fear of rejection is way overrated.”
If you think his story is absolutely nuts and are curious for more? Here are some of his tips to help you meet new people without fear.
He’s got a lot more experience than me and a lot of awesome tips.
I’m no Steinar Skipsnes, but I once stopped a guy at a hardware store because he had a guitar on his back assuming he was a classical guitarist. Turns out he was an American who studied flamenco guitar in the magical city of Granada. We became really good friends afterwards and since we were both studying music, we’d hang out.
All because I had the mojo to ask a simple question.
Tell me I’m wrong, but the chances of you being told to buzz off are next to nothing. Even in a cold place like NYC where people look at you if you try to talk to them, you won’t get punched.
You’ll get shot. JUST KIDDING.
When you talk to people, you realize deep inside people are longing for deep conversation. If one fails there 7.4 Billion other people you can to choose from! Remember how I compared life to the Sims? Social meters are one of the least maintained in society today.
Don’t enslave yourself in your own mental prison for fear of unlikely thoughts from others. #nolongeraslavetofear
Suddenly the grocery line goes faster than you thought.
3. Surround Yourself with Extroverted People
Bad company corrupts good character. – Paul of Tarsus
The opposite is also true.
Musicians are always told to play music with people that are better than them.
If only hanging out people at your skill level, you’ll never see what you can become.
You’ll never be challenged, and you’ll constantly feel that you’re the best that could be.
Find yourself a few extroverted people and learn from them.
Ask them, “What makes you tick? Why do you talk so much? What is it about people that makes you pumped?”
Have them bring you to a social event and you just watch them do their thing, I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two.
4. Listen to Learn, Not to Speak.
“I thought you were listening.”
“Sorry, I just zoned out.”
“So I have to repeat the whole story now?”
Listening is so rare, you will stand out. Especially if you know your love languages, this is a killer for building relationships with quality time people.
Dale Carnegie makes the point pretty clear in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: everyone want to be heard. It’s a general instinct that to be heard is to be known and loved.
How many of you have unfriended on Facebook because of their views?
“Oh my God, how could you say that! You’re so stupid! Dude, this is what you need to do…”
How many times have you been shut down for something you’ve said? Maybe you were pouring out your heart, only to be told what to do and how to do.
Frustrating isn’t it?
Your friend thought you were being helpful when you just wanted a listening ear. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, and then I realized an invaluable truth:
There’s a difference between listening to someone and waiting to talk.
There couldn’t be truer words to that. If we check our ego at the door, we’ll realize not everyone is looking for feedback.
When you show people you are willing to listen, you appear wise. People will like you and value your opinion, and thus boost your self-esteem.
Love is patient, love is kind.
5. Be Approached Rather than Approach.
Make it Easier For People.
We’ve focused on the self up to this point. As the saying goes, insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.
Let’s do things differently.
Do or wear something that makes you stand out! There are 7.4 billion people on this planet remember?
Give someone a reason to talk to you! Taking the initiative and going the extra mile is a step I could not recommend highly enough.
Even if you are a stunningly attractive person, a frown will deter anyone. One must not only sell food at a restaurant but must look clean and welcoming.
Benny Lewis, the National Geographic Traveler of 2015 wears leprechaun hats and a cape, hands out earplugs at concerts, or will wear a stethoscope on the beach just to get people to talk to him.
Here’s some proof of Benny wearing his “talk to me outfit.” :
That’s a crazy idea if ever I heard one. He swears by it and has met hundreds of people by standing out. But let me tell you, it works. That’s why I wear an Indonesian Batik often with a hat called a peci. It’s not “weird clothing” –it’s a wearable conversation starter.
Note: he is naturally introverted. He had to force himself to find ways to talk to people so he could practice his languages and experience the world.
My guitar teacher Eliot Fisk has a crazy wardrobe he puts on for concerts. He often wears a white tux with a pink shirt and pink shoes.
The idea behind it? “People will be so shocked by his clothes, they’ll stop looking at their phones and pay attention to the music.”
Okay, maybe you don’t want to dress like cotton candy or a specific ethnicity, that’s still fine! Everyone has interests, right?
We all represent something, we all like something. Wear a shirt of your favorite band, movie, or something that people will recognize.
Doing this is effective without the crazy.
Here are some things you can do to increase your chances:
- Wear a smile. **this is free!!* Smiles don’t cost a dime!
- Be on your phone LESS. This is also free, and liberating!
- Put on a shirt of your favorite band or country you love. Anything to make someone smile and comment.
- Open your heart to interactions with others.
You’ve made it here because you’re awesome.
This means you’re equipped and ready to go. If you’re looking for more guidance, I’ve got more FREE resources for you.
- Your FREE eBook is waiting for you!
- 5 Surefire Conversation Starters
- 5 Love Languages
- Understanding the four types of love
- Overcoming Stage Fright
- Meet a stranger for a year
That’s plenty. Take it one step at a time and let me know how you’re getting along.
You’re worth my time and I want to hear from you. Hope this simple guide was helpful. It definitely takes practice.
Leave a comment down below or shoot me an email!
Till then, keep loving out loud!