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A 5-Step Action Guide on How to Transform Your Social Confidence With Change Psychology

How many of us want people to like us? Lynne Henderson, author of Improving Social Confidence, says that’ll be about most of us “normal” people. When sampled, most of her readers said they’d love to feel socially comfortable more than anything else in the world. That means feeling comfortable talking to people, going to social events, expressing ideas, and greeting strangers. But for that to happen, we have to let down our defenses, improve our social confidence, and show people who we really are. And that takes courage.

 “I’m just too introverted,” my daughter told me yesterday. “Everyone here thinks I’m boring.”

“Introversion is okay,” I told her, “What’s your proof people think you’re boring?” She shrugged and pulled her coverlet closer.

Change – particularly dismantling negative habits and entrenching positive ones – is hard. Are there any reliable simple science-based tactics that can help us deal with our social anxiety?

These rules from the Psychology of Change give us five actionable strategies for starters.

Social Confidence Step 1: Start With Yourself

It’s a natural human tendency to wonder what others think of us and to want others to like us. We’re herd creatures. In their book Change Anything, Kerry Patterson and her four co-authors suggest that for habits to change, we flip the formula from “others” to “I” by forming what they call a “default future”.

We do this by asking ourselves questions that resemble the following:

  • What would my future look like if I avoid public speaking, networking, going to parties or going on dates, as I do now?
  • Continuing that pattern, where would I likely live? How would my love life look like? What about my career? And my family?

Sit awhile and visualize the results. Write them down, if writing helps you see your thoughts more concretely.

To flip to your dream future, ask yourself:

  • What would my future look like if I learned how to cope with my social anxiety and faced setbacks as they arose?
  • Continuing that pattern, where would I likely live? How would my love life look like? What about my career? And my family?

Cut dream clips from brochures and paste on a vision board, if that helps you. Close your eyes and meditate on your dream existence. See it, talk about it, share it with others.

You can become socially confident by engaging with people in a way that interests them and makes them feel heard.

Just change the focus from what “they” think to what “you” want. Focus on your own behavior and desires.

Action Plan

Jot down your answers to these questions. Writing stimulates your brain’s reticular activating system, which helps you clarify our thoughts and entrenches your intentions.

Social Confidence Step 2: Identify The "Bright Spots" in your Life

In their book Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath draw on a neuroscientific truism. Classical philosophy says we’re rational creatures, namely we can choose to follow our minds. Wrong! Psychologists show our minds are ruled by two different systems – the rational mind and the emotional mind – that compete for control. The rational mind wants ourselves to be valued, to have our contributions recognized, and to feel accepted. The emotional mind hates the anxiety and loves the comfort of the existing routine. The tension between rational mind and emotional mind dooms change – unless that tension’s overcome.

How do we overcome it?

Look for “bright spots” – rays of hope – and clone those.

Find your bright spots by asking yourself these two questions:

  1. If your social anxiety was to wash away while you were asleep one night, what’s the first small sign you’d see when you wake up to make you think the problem is gone?
  2. When was the last time you saw a little bit of this miracle, even for a short time?

We’ve all had those spurts of social confidence. Maybe when we made that sale or class talk, or landed that successful job interview. Dwell on that “bright spot”. Magnify its moments. Think how good you felt then. How euphoric! On top of the world, right?

Ask yourself: What worked then and how can I do more of it?

Action Plan:

Jot down at least two moments in your life when you felt at ease with people.

  • What did it feel like?
  • How did you get there?
  • What did you do differently?

For each of those moments, answer the following:

  • Who were you with?
  • Why did you feel comfortable?
  • What was the setting?
  • How did you behave, dress or carry yourself?

Analyze those events and apply to your present social situation.

Group of four out for lunch

Social Confidence Step 3: Achieve "Small Wins"

Small wins are those tiptoe steps, or minor milestones, that add up to a major breakthrough. According to a study done by Harvard Business Review, small wins evoke outsize positive reactions and result in what the Harvard researchers call “the progress principle”.

When applied to improving your social confidence, social ease is our ultimate aim. To get there, we can break it into millisecond goals. First, I’ll greet some strangers. Second, I’ll walk down the hall to talk to that new employee. Third, I’ll take some gym classes where I’ll meet some people… And maybe after that, I’ll go to the bar.”

Action Plan:

What’s your teeniest social goal?

  • Make it specific
  • Give it a deadline
  • Offer yourself a reward for completion.

Example

Teeny goal #1: Walk with chin up and look five people in the eye on my walk home Wednesday. Treat: watch that Netflix movie.

Small goals help you cope with risks and integrate into the social scene.

Social Confidence Step 4: Identify and Rewire Crucial Moments

According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, habits are an action loop that consist of :

  • Cue: The trigger
  • Routine: Where you proceed from there
  • Reward: The satisfaction you get at the end of the line

All habits are driven by cravings.

Essentially, Duhigg suggests, “When you are triggered to do a bad habit, recognize that trigger and do a good habit in its place.”

To apply Duhigg’s formula to social situations:

  • The cue or the “crucial moment” was the moment you realized you wanted to approach a stranger.
  • The routine is what your mind always does when it gets this cue. It tells you that you should not take action.
  • The reward is that mental justification that you’ve “protected” yourself from rejection.

To restate and rewire:

  • Cue: You want to say hi to that stranger
  • Routine: Break the routine and proceed
  • Reward: Now wasn't that a nice thing to do? The stranger greeted me back.

If you want to change your habits for different rewards, change your routine.

Action Plan:

What’s your social life like – and how would you like it to be? Jot down those cues. Jot down your dream reward. What’s your regular routine in such cases and how can you change it to achieve your rewards?

Social Confidence Step 5: Make A Plan B

You’ve identified those cues, rewired them and got your results. And your results flopped. The stranger scowled. That adorable woman refused your hand and walked away. Instead of applauding yourself you felt scroungier than ever.

What to do?

Make a default plan, or Plan B.

Example:

  • Cue: You want to say hi to that stranger
  • Routine: Break the routine and proceed
  • Reward: Didn’t happen. The stranger looked at me as though I was crazy and reached for her mobile to call the police.

Plan B: I’d tell myself I tried. That’s brave enough. I can congratulate myself on that – and greet the next person. After all, success means resilience.

Action Plan:

Tweak your Cue-Routine-Reward Plan from Step 4. Add an extra step if hoped-for results misfire.

Plan A: Here’s what I would like to happen.

Plan B: Here’s how I’d react if my dream plunked.

Conclusion

We all want people to like us, but that takes a certain amount of social ease, self-confidence and self-acceptance that’s hard to achieve when being with people feels awkward.

To make any changes, it’s vital to know the dynamics of change – the cues, routine and rewards of our habits – as well as how to cue ourselves to affect change. Achieve small wins. Remember and clone those “bright spots.” Forget about others and think of your positive contributions – show yourself as you really are. 

Reaching out to others feels risky, but gaining new experiences, friendships or even romance makes it worthwhile.

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