Are you struggling with how to overcome social anxiety? Tell me if this sounds familiar:
- You’re at a party and you only know one person — and he’s off talking to someone else. So you just sit in the corner and play Candy Crush on your phone while wishing for a time machine to jump you to the end of the party.
- You’re on a first date with someone and it seems like EVERYTHING you say is worthy of its own post on /r/cringe.
- You’re at a networking event with the opportunity to let people know about your business…but you’re too nervous to even make eye contact with anyone without hyperventilating.
Unless you’re some sort of charismatic prodigy, these scenes should be incredibly familiar to you…but when you really think about it, it doesn’t really make any sense.
All of us have a certain area of our lives where we’re really comfortable. Maybe it’s around our family or a close group of friends. When we’re there, we feel totally at home and at ease. We can tell long stories, crack the funniest jokes, and always have something to say.
So why do we melt into an awkward mess when encountering strangers?
The invisible scripts of social anxiety
We’re defined by invisible scripts — the unseen and unspoken things we tell ourselves that impact our everyday lives. These scripts are so deeply embedded that we don’t even realize they guide our attitudes and behaviors.
You probably know a few right now without even realizing it. Things like:
- “After college, I need to get married, buy a house, and have kids.”
- “I need to find a cushy office job and work there until I’m retired.”
- “Having more Twitter followers means more people like me!”
- “I need to follow my passion to find my dream job.”
And when it comes to social anxiety, it’s often caused by these invisible scripts. That’s why we see so many people hide behind platitudes like, “I’m an introvert. That’s why I SUCK at talking to people.”
I used to believe in the exact same scripts — but I learned the systems to demolish those mental barriers.
How? Simple: I fought invisible scripts with an Invisibility Cloak.
The Invisibility Cloak concept
Let’s rewind all the way back to Halloween when I was in high school. I was a skinny, awkward Indian kid who was defined by a BUNCH of invisible scripts like:
- “I’m not the kind of person who’s in student council.”
- “I’m not a cool jock athlete.”
- “I’m not the most confident guy at school.”
That is until one fateful Halloween when my school hosted a haunted house. I was tasked with working there, which meant I had to wear a mask and cape to scare people…
…and I turned into a completely different person!
I started running around acting crazy, scaring people, and doing all these things I would NEVER do if it were just me wearing normal clothes. I felt unleashed and FREE.
Why? Because I also felt safe.
Years later, as I started to try and improve my social skills, I realized the benefit of what I learned wearing that mask. Wearing the mask gave me the safety and security to try different things that I would NEVER have tried without it.
I didn’t have to change who I was — just the way I acted.
That’s why I call it the Invisibility Cloak (no, I didn’t get the idea from Harry Potter). It’s almost like you’re wearing a cloak that allows you to be invisible and cover up certain parts of you.
Of course, you don’t want to walk up to someone at a party wearing a Freddy Krueger mask and say, “Greetings, do you like what you’re drinking?” You might end up with a mask full of pepper spray and a restraining order.
But if you apply the framework mentally you can do wonders.
Before you go into a conference, party, networking event, whatever, mentally put on your cloak and ask yourself, “Who am I going to be today? What is my behavior going to reflect?”
You might choose to be a gregarious, friendly, outgoing person. When you do, you’re not going to change who you are on the inside — just the way you behave.
You’ll start to notice that you start going up to people and introducing yourself. You’ll start engaging in conversations and cracking jokes with complete strangers. And once you do this enough, your attitude will match your behavior. You don’t have to commit to this behavior forever, just for this night.
The Invisibility Cloak allows us to FEEL one way and BEHAVE another.
It’s a weird concept — but it works remarkably well.
Defeat social anxiety with charisma games
If there’s one thing you need to realize about social skills, it’s this:
Charisma is a skill — and like any other skill, it can be learned, honed, and mastered.
Believing that charisma is something we’re just born with is a HUGE misconception. Some of the most charismatic people on earth started out as completely awkward messes.
For instance, take Jimmy Fallon.
Before he became the host of The Tonight Show and regularly talked to the world’s biggest celebrities, Jimmy Fallon was just as awkward as you or me. Check out his audition tape for SNL if you don’t believe me.
After all, social interactions should be fun, not nerve-wracking. Instead of thinking, “Oh, my God. What is the technical thing I should be doing? What’s the line? How should I smile? What do I do with my hands?” frame it like a fun game.
To facilitate, here are a few of my favorite social games I recommend you use to practice your social skills.
The 60 Seconds Rule
This one is very simple: Within 60 seconds of arriving at an event, party, coffee shop, or anywhere else, you need to walk up to someone and say, “Hello!”
Later, you might decide to stop using “Hello” and use a different phrase (like the ones I’ll show you in a little bit). Awesome. That’s all up to you — but do it within 60 seconds. It’s a good time limit because it pressures you to talk to someone before your social anxiety gets the best of you.
The Compliments Game
Give 3 observational compliments in 24 hours. Don’t just call up your mom, give her compliments, and think you’re done either. It needs to be 3 unique compliments to 3 different people.
It might seem daunting at first, but it’ll get easier to find compliments as soon as you get started.
- “I really like your sweater.”
- “Wow, the coffee you made tastes GREAT.”
- “You’re such an adventurous person. I love it!”
REMEMBER: Be careful not to accidentally dole out a backhanded compliment.
The Phone Game
I love this one because it’s so easy: You see someone using a phone or reading a book, just walk up to them and ask, “What kind of phone is that? I’ve been thinking about switching for a long time,” or “What book are you reading? I’m looking for something good.”
Do that 3 times in 24 hours. You’ll be surprised at the awesome conversations as well as the awesome recommendations you’ll have.
Start conversations without anxiety — using these scripts
When you’re starting out learning social skills, you might fall into the trap of obsessing over the “perfect opener.” The fact is, though, there’s no such thing, ESPECIALLY when you consider the fact that the context of your situation will vary a lot from conversation to conversation (eg where you are, who you’re talking to, what the weather is, etc).
But, there are a few that will work in most any situation where you’re meeting a new person. I want to show you three right now that you can use in 90% of all social situations to get started introducing yourself to people.
SPOILER: They’re incredibly simple — but that’s the point. They’re just easy ways to connect and build rapport. Don’t overthink. Just do. Eventually, you’ll be able to set these scripts aside and make up your own.
The scripts are:
- “Hi, how’s your morning going?”
- “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Ramit.”
- “Good morning. How are you?”
Remember, the value in these scripts is not in their novelty but in their UTILITY.
You can use these starting immediately and I think you’ll be surprised at the positive responses you’ll get from others around you. That’s because 99.9999% of people you see on the street have their nose buried in their phones or have their headphones on while zoning out from the entire world around them. When you set yourself apart, people will respond to that.
Though the three scripts above work for most situations, you might want to tailor your opening to whoever it is you’re talking to — especially if they’re service workers. Consider asking one of these questions for those situations.
- What’s your favorite thing on the menu? Why?
- What’s the craziest thing someone tried to order this week?
- Have you ever written somebody’s name wrong on purpose because you didn’t like them?
- You don’t get a discount as an employee, do you?
- So [picks up a tabloid], who buys these things? Seriously? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone actually buy one.
- What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to deliver?
- So you can basically park anywhere if you’re driving that truck, right? [PAUSE, gauge reaction] Have you ever gotten a parking ticket?
Notice that many of the questions are jokey and lighthearted. They give you an easy way to build rapport and get a fun conversation along the way.
Remember: Treat it like a game. See how the other person reacts and build off of that. You’ll quickly find that talking to someone you don’t know can be an incredibly fun experience.
BONUS: How to prepare for group meet-ups in 5 minutes
Group conversations can be so awkward. We’ve all been out with a friend as they see someone we don’t know and start a conversation (as we sit on the sidelines).
It’s always uncomfortable…we wonder what the hell to do with ourselves as they talk.
It’s a struggle a lot of us have — there’s even a Facebook group about it (with 2,000+ likes…)
We feel you, Homer.
I’ve created a quick 5-step checklist that’ll help prepare you to light up any room you enter.
It only takes 5 minutes to review before meeting up, and once you do, you’ll have a proven way to join group conversations without feeling intimidated.