How to Be Less Socially Awkward: 5 Steps to Overcome Shyness and Build Self-Confidence
Why Are You So Awkward?
Have you ever felt that there is this secret "thing" that everyone seems to know except you? Somehow every person around you could melt into any social situation and have a good time, and yet you're the only weird one who seems to have no idea what to do?
Sounds like you might be a bit socially awkward. People may have even pointed it out to you before, asking what's "wrong" with you, or wondering why you're so quiet. You might have even accidentally offended people who assumed that you were aloof.
The truth is that there's nothing necessarily wrong with you.
Social awkwardness could just be a sign that you interpret the social environment a bit differently than most people. It may be a little harder for you to pick up on social clues, so you will have to learn the rules of social interaction a bit differently than most. It could also be that you're more introverted than others, so you naturally haven't had as much practice talking to people.
All of these issues have simple solutions--even if they sometimes can be difficult to implement at first. Let's take a look at what you can do:
Step #1: Is the Problem Your Social Skills or Your Lack of Self-Confidence?
First, let's identify what the issue might be for you. Are you socially awkward because you lack social skills, or are you awkward because you don't have any self-confidence?
Both can result in unpleasant social interactions where you can't seem to do anything "right."
It's likely that you actually have both of these issues to some degree. They tend to feed off each other like a vicious cycle: You might have few social skills because you didn't have the self-confidence to get out there are practice interacting with people. In turn, you might have low self-confidence in social interactions because you don't have the skills. It's a catch-22 for sure.
Luckily, just as these problems can feed on each other and make your situation worse, once you improve one of them, it will often improve the other. This means that putting even just a bit of work into your social skills and self-confidence can snowball tremendously and transform your life.
You have to plant the seed and get things going, though. For that, you will need to muster up some courage.
There's also one interesting mental "hack" that can push you miles ahead of other people when it comes to confidence, but it's not easy to get there. Most people don't even realize it exists, but conquering this will disintegrate the root of your problem. Let's take a closer look at this strategy:
Step #2: How to Be Less Awkward - Realize the Deceptive Secret
The answer to all your problems is this old cliche right here: "Be yourself."
Except that this doesn't work. Just "being yourself" doesn't work, even though in the end it will give you exactly the self-confidence you need to no longer be socially awkward.
Here is the problem: If you're like most people, you don't know who you really are, so there's no way you can just be yourself.
"But I Know Who I Am!"
No, no you don't. If you did, you would never feel awkward. You know what makes you feel awkward? The idea that you might do something wrong in a social interaction. The idea that you will mess up and people will judge you. The idea that you messed up in the past and the images from your embarrassing mistake are playing over and over in your mind.
If you really know who you are and live as that person, then no one could ever judge you for anything. You would simply be yourself because that's the only way you can be, and you wouldn't be bothered if people had a problem with it. You would never resist your real self or try to change it for others.
Awkwardness is when you're struggling to figure out how to please or impress other people--and are failing at it.
As you might already realize, most people--even those who are socially skilled through practice--don't have the mindset of being their true selves. They are constantly worried about what others think of them. Their subconscious mind is always busy thinking about how they should change to look good in front of others.
A lot of people can cope with this just fine. They become extremely skilled at getting certain reactions from people. They go their whole lives being molded by the opinions of others. You could say they have a knack for it.
Maybe you just can't cope with this the same way they do. And you know what? That makes you lucky! You have to actually think about your social interactions, instead of falling into subconscious patterns that could work against you.
The Unspoken Truth: Everyone is Socially Awkward to Some Degree
By now you may have noticed that this isn't just a problem for you--it's a problem for nearly everyone! The difference is just in degree, and different people cope with it in a vast variety of ways.
So never let your lack of social awareness make you feel like you're "less" than someone who is socially skilled and well-liked. The truth is that they probably have a million insecurities and are struggling just like anyone else.
The only people who aren't like this are the ones who genuinely don't care what people think, and these are few and far between.
Step #3: Get Closer to Your True Self
Once you've realized that the root of the issue is that you don't know who you are, then the real work begins. This is a hard thing to admit to oneself, since in our society we place so much value on a person's identity. In fact, most people confuse a person's social identity for the person themselves. They are not the same, however.
The Difference Between How You See Yourself and Who You Really Are
You probably recognize that the identity that people give you is not really who you are. Your boss may see you as an employee, but is that really "you," or just the image that he has of you? Most people will project an image on you based on your particular "use" to them. It is rare to find someone who doesn't do this and likes you with no agenda. Hold onto these friends.
But just as someone will make a false identity for you and pretend that this is all you are, we also do this to ourselves. Think about it: Who are you? What things about you make you feel proud of yourself? If you lost certain things in your life, would you suddenly have no idea who you are? What are these things?
Maybe you see yourself as a skater, or an electrician, or a smart person, or a mother, or a father, or an entrepreneur.
If you suddenly found out that you were bad at these things, how hurt would your ego be? If you thought you were smart all your life, but you find out your IQ is 100 (average), how disappointed would you be? Would you question who you are? If you thought you were strongest person in the world, but you met someone who could lift three times the weight, would you be bothered?
If your answer is yes about any of those kinds of things, then this means you have made a small sliver of your life into part of your identity. It's no wonder you (and nearly everyone else) feel awkward and second-guess yourself in social situations. Your "self" is under a constant state of threat because it can easily be damaged.
Is your identity--and all its pieces--really "yourself," though?
You are whatever is underneath all that...but it's deceptively hard to find.
How to See Who You Are
Seeing your real self, past all the BS, is a lifelong process. Thankfully, it's not an all-or-nothing endeavor. You don't have to be all the way there to benefit from it. Just getting a slightly deeper understanding of who you really are can make a world of difference. You might find yourself with:
- More self-confidence.
- Genuine self-esteem that doesn't depend on anyone's opinions.
- A sense of contentment and gratitude with life.
- An ability to handle more difficult challenges.
- General emotional well-being.
The thing about your real self is that it can't be conceptualized. You can't think of it because, unlike your human-made identity, it's not made up of words or concepts. You can only experience yourself.
While this is an individual journey, here are some suggestions:
- Meditation. This is the practice of being with yourself in silence with no distractions. You can use this time to examine the thoughts that randomly pop up and let them go without judgement. You can also use this time to focus on one thing.
- Self-examination. Ask yourself always: Why do you do the things you do? Why are you angry? Sad? Happy? What is the root of it inside of you? Why do you react to things the way you do? The answer will give you clues as to what kind of emotional baggage is standing between you and your ability to just be who you are.
- Nature. Spend time where there are no people and where you can't rely on anyone. This is another great opportunity to be naked and alone with yourself.
True self-reflection is scary for most people. It means that you can't blame other people for your problems. It means that you will face the truth that you're just a tiny creature on a tiny planet with tiny problems.
The weird thing is, though, that the more you can pull back and see the tinyness of your life, the more your anxiety over social interaction shrinks as well.
Step #4: How to Be Less Shy - Your First Dive Into Practice
Learning about your real self is not something that you do just once, and then it's over. It is something that you become aware of and seek for the rest of your life. The more you do it, generally, the happier you will be.
In the meantime, though, you probably have all sorts of ingrained patterns when it comes to social interaction. You're probably shy and feel weird taking that first step. That's perfectly normal, especially if you've had negative and awkward experiences in the past.
To that end, here are some tips that you can put into practice NOW to take that step into social practice:
- See the person you're talking to as human. Lots of people--especially young guys talking to women for the first time--make the mistake of putting the other person on a pedestal without realizing it. They will assume that every time the person scoffs at them, it is because they are wrong and the person is right. They will take it personal when someone rejects them. The truth is that other people, even very socially practiced people, can be wrong or afraid or nervous or unsure, and often are. They just hide it better than someone awkward.
- Drop your agenda. Stop trying to get something from someone all the time. You might say, "But I don't want anything! I only want friendship!" Yes, friendship is a thing. If you approach someone with a desperate agenda in your mind--even if you're not aware--to acquire money, connections, their friendship, their attention, a relationship, sex, whatever, they can often sense it. Loosen your agenda. Try interacting and see where it goes.
- Be vulnerable. This is one of the hardest things to do, but it will ensure that your interactions are genuine and that you're attracting people who will like you for who you are. Be honest about yourself--even the ugly parts. This doesn't mean that you should run around complaining about your flaws or singing praises about your good points; just don't hide them.
Keeping these things in mind, do the following:
- Join a club that is connected to a strong interest of yours. It's easy to bond with people over something that you have a passion for. Join multiple clubs if you can. You're going to want to surround yourself with many people.
- Go out to a crowded place where you know no one. This is harder, but it will push your social muscles a bit. Set the goal in your mind to approach 10 people. Ask them something dumb, like what time it is. After that, move onto asking them deeper questions. Make conversation with them.
- Volunteer your time to a worthy organization. Work at a soup kitchen or a food bank. Find a charity that requires you to interact with people who are grateful for your presence.
- Travel outside your country. Nothing is scarier and more stimulating than having to interact socially with people who don't even share a culture with you. Ideally, you should visit a place that is very different from your home country and where you don't know the language. This will force you to adapt socially.
If you are able to push yourself to do all these things, your social fear and awkwardness will start to recede. You will also probably notice that "awkward" is relative, and that some of the negative social interactions you might have had in the past (such as being subjected to someone's judgement) were due to the other person's insecurities.
Would you say that you like yourself?
Step #5: Building Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem Over the Long Term
By now, you have probably figured out that building true self-confidence and self-esteem has nothing to do with your external accomplishments or how great you think you are. Real self-confidence simply means that you have an internal sense that you are able to attack life's challenges--including the social ones.
Just as you can overcome shyness by putting yourself in situations where you have to stretch yourself socially, you can build self-confidence by giving yourself opportunities to succeed in life:
- Get into dating if you are single. Meet up with a wide variety of people, and enjoy the interaction for what it is, without expecting anything from anyone. Anytime you feel awkward or embarrassed, examine the situation and try to understand which insecurity it triggered in you.
- Try new things all the time. Don't get stuck in the same routine, or else you will often get attached to the way things are and be unable to deal with changes confidently. Confidence is really just a form of resilience.
- Don't let the opinions of others influence your path. We'll naturally be in a weaker position if we let other people influence or dictate our path in life. For instance, if you never wanted to be a doctor, but your mother guilt-tripped you into it, it will be more difficult for you to be confident--not only in your profession, but in your everyday life. Relying on the opinions of others makes us second-guess ourselves and renders us unable to make strong decisions.
- Do difficult things habitually. Some of the things that are most worth doing are also the hardest. Don't give into shortcuts or trying to find the easiest way all the time. If it's a worthy challenge, it will help you grow. As you see yourself succeeding, you self-confidence will naturally increase.
- Don't get too attached to any one person. There's a difference between love and attachment. Getting too attached to a person means that you are influenced by them and their behavior enough that it affects the whole course of your life. This will crush your self-esteem slowly over time. Loving someone is great, but it also means allowing both of you freedom.
Self-confidence, especially in the social arena, is not built overnight. While you can "fake it" to some degree to temporarily get around social problems, there's nothing as powerful as true self-confidence built with a real foundation.
The problem of being socially awkward is deeper than it seems at first. Though there are some people who are more skilled at dealing with the awkwardness than others, this often involves ignoring the root of the problem. If you want the experience of never feeling awkward in the first place, it can be done, but you have to peer into the depths of your true self.
Your Awkwardness Level
How socially awkward do you consider yourself?
© 2017 Jorge Vamos