It’s perfectly natural and normal for many people to feel anxiety when first meeting someone new – whether it’s a guy or girl at a bar, a new boss or coworker, a new friend of a friend, or even just a stranger in public.
This kind of social anxiety is often known as approach anxiety. It occurs when we want to meet someone new and build a healthy relationship with them, but we are too worried or afraid to do it – usually due to a fear of rejection or embarrassment.
Often times, these fears and worries stem from our beliefs and our perspective.
However, we can learn how to “reframe” these situations – by looking at them from a new perspective – we can better motivate ourselves to act in more life-enhancing ways.
Common beliefs that drive approach anxiety include:
- “I’m not good enough or worthy of this person’s time.”
- “I’m going to do something stupid and embarrass myself.”
- “I’m going to be judged and rejected as a person – they won’t like me.”
- “I’m worried what they are going to think about me.”
These are some of the most common beliefs behind approach anxiety, but there are many others too. The good news is we can learn to better much of our fear and anxiety by using a technique called reframing.
Reframing (also known as “cognitive restructuring”) is a popular tool in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) where an individual investigates their belief system and replaces unhelpful beliefs with more life-enhancing beliefs.
Here are positive reframes to help you overcome your approach anxiety:
1. Your presence is a gift
As I mentioned before, one of the key causes of approach anxiety is that we feel like we aren’t worthy of someone’s attention. We may find ourselves thinking or saying things like:
- “I’m not good enough to talk to this person.”
- “Why should they want to talk to me out of all other people?”
- “That person is way out of my league or class.”
We can begin to reframe these thought patterns by focusing on getting our self-esteem from inside, rather than from others. Then we can begin thinking more productively:
- “Anyone would want to be my friend if they really got to know me.”
- “Of course, someone should want to meet me – I’m a smart, funny, and respectful person.”
- “If a person doesn’t want to talk with me that is their loss, not mine.”
The key is to identify your strengths and positive attributes – remind yourself all the good things about yourself, then recognize that you are a person that people should want to meet and get to know better.
Because if you don’t believe you are a person worth getting to know, it’s going to be tough for you to actively approach new people. But when you believe you are a person worth knowing, you’ll feel more free to initiate conversations.
This kind of reframe can help eliminate a lot of the baggage when it comes to approach anxiety. We often feel as though we have to “prove ourselves,” and when we get rejected it hurts because we feel like the person has denied us as a human being.
But if we have self-esteem, and we value ourselves regardless if others approve or not, we realize that when a person “rejects us” they are often the one’s missing out.
2. Any failure is a learning experience
Let’s say we continuously try to meet new people and every one of them turns us down.
Maybe you have a really poor track record of job interviews or dates or public speeches, and you begin to believe that deep-down you just aren’t fit for success in these areas of your life.
However, the truth is that no amount of failures in the past can dictate how you succeed in the future. The question of success isn’t how quickly you succeed, but how long you’re willing to fail and continue going forward anyway.
In fact, failure is often an integral and necessary part of success. For example, even the best hitters in baseball usually only bat around .300 – that means they fail every 7 out of 10 times they go to the plate. Even as awesome baseball players and future hall-of-famers, they need to face failure every single day. The same is true for almost any type of growth and success.
The failure comes with the success, and vice versa. So failure is not something that we can completely eliminate from our lives, because it is a part of our growth.
When you begin to reframe your failures as learning experiences, you see them as a good sign – a sign that you are testing your boundaries and exploring new territory. I would be more concerned if I wasn’t failing, because that probably means that my growth is coming to a halt and I’m not being challenged enough.
“If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”
In one article, I even recommend you try failing on purpose.
You can even make a game out of it. For example, are you scared of approaching girls at a bar or party? Find a friend and make a game out of who can get rejected the most times that night.
Do silly things. Wear something ridiculous on your head. Put mustard on your shirt. Push yourself to the limit just so you can get more used to “failure” and realize it’s not such a big deal most of the time.
The more you experience failure and get comfortable with it, the less intense your “approach anxiety” will be in the future.
3. See the bigger picture
Rejection can be a really painful thing, but often it is only temporary. Sure, in the moment that we embarrass ourselves, make a mistake, or say something stupid, we may feel like we are in the pits of hell – but as time passes these memories tend to have less power over us.
Imagine yourself 90 years old looking back on your little blunders while you were in high school or college. From this perspective, do you really think these memories will still resonate with you the same way they did back when they were actually happening? Probably not.
And if we can maintain this “big picture” perspective, we often learn how to put less emphasis on the little things. Because in the long-run, most of it is just little things. When you look at the bigger picture, do you really care that you got rejected at that job you wanted 40 years ago? Or that girl who slapped you at a bar during your first date? Or that embarrassing first attempt at sex? Or that time you farted during a business meeting?
The truth is most people are too preoccupied with their own lives to really remember all the times you messed up and embarrassed yourself. You’re probably holding onto the experience more than they are.
Most of the time, there are just too many other things going on in the world for people to focus on all your past mistakes. If you could forget about these past mistakes as quick as your peers could, you’d be in a much better position to put your best foot forward.
So remember to look at the bigger picture of these little events, and often times you’ll find it a lot easier to move on. Usually, they aren’t as big of a deal as we tend to make them out to be.
When you think about “approach anxiety,” what is it that you really fear? Usually, it’s just a small and temporary pain of embarrassment. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that terrible.
4. Transform anxiety into motivation
Feelings of anxiety and fear never completely go away. Even professional athletes, musicians, and performers admit that they experience a little anxiety every time before they step onto a stage or go onto the field.
“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear… the professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”
I believe the same is true whenever we meet someone new. There is always a bit of social anxiety because we never quite know what a person is going to be like or how they may react to us.
I recently saw an interview with comedian Robin Williams about how he gets incredibly silent and lethargic before he gets on stage. That’s his body’s way of managing the fears that come with every performance he does. Professionals don’t ever get rid of their fear, they just find ways of managing it better than most people and moving past it.
When it comes to approach anxiety, there is a rule in the “pick-up community” called the 3 second rule. The idea behind this rule is that the very moment we start experiencing anxiety, that is a sign that we need to do it now or never.
So instead of viewing anxiety as something that stops you – or a reason not to approach – you view it as the exact reason to approach. By doing, you learn how to transform those feelings of anxiety into motivation.
In a related study, psychologists discovered that people who tell themselves to “get excited” rather than trying to relax can improve their performance during anxiety-inducing activities such as public speaking and math tests.
At a biological level, anxiety and motivation can be very similar. Both are releases of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which helps focus our minds and make us more alert. The key difference between “anxiety” and “motivation” is how we interpret this high level energy when we experience it.
At the end of the day, individuals who interpret their approach anxiety as a type of motivation are much more likely to meet a new person than if they interpret their anxiety as something holding them back. Remember, your anxiety won’t ever go away completely, so it is up to you to channel that energy in a positive way.
Overcoming approach anxiety
I think if you try out one or more of these reframes you will definitely see a noticeable change in how you manage approach anxiety. A lot of anxiety is all in our heads, so when we learn think differently we can often times overcome a lot of unhelpful beliefs that are holding us back.
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