As humans, we’re meant to be social creatures. Having friends makes us happier and healthier—in fact, being socially connected is said to be the key to our mental and emotional health.
Yet many of us are shy, we feel awkward around unfamiliar people, unsure of what to say, or worried about what others might think of us.
Loneliness is a common problem among people of all ages and backgrounds, and yet it’s something that most of us hesitate to admit. Loneliness is nothing to feel ashamed about.
But what if you’re struggling with shyness, social insecurity, or a long-standing difficulty making friends? The truth is that none of us are born with social skills. They’re things we learn over time—and the good news is that you can learn them, too.
When it comes to shyness and social loneliness, the things we tell ourselves make a huge difference.
Improving social skills requires practice.
Just as you wouldn’t expect to become good on the guitar without some effort, don’t expect to become comfortable in social situations without putting in the time.
But don’t forget that you can start small. Take baby steps towards being more confident and social, then build on those successes.
Here are some suggestions:
- Smile at someone you pass on the street.
- Compliment someone you encounter during your day.
- Ask someone a casual question (at a cafe, for example: “Have you been here before? What’s your recommendation for lunch?”)
- Start a conversation with a friendly barista, receptionist, retail staff members, etc.
Learning to accept yourself
When you start realizing that people are NOT scrutinising and judging your every word and deed, you’ll automatically feel less nervous socially. But that still leaves the way you feel about yourself.
All too often, we’re our own worst critics. We’re hard on ourselves in a way we’d never be to strangers—let alone the people we care about.
Learning to accept yourself doesn’t happen overnight—it requires changing your thinking.
You don’t have to be perfect to be liked. In fact, our imperfections and quirks can be endearing. Even our weaknesses can bring us closer to others. When someone is honest and open about their vulnerabilities, it’s a bonding experience—especially if they’re able to laugh at themselves.
If you can cheerfully accept your awkwardness and imperfections, you’ll likely find that others will, too. They may even like you better for it!
It’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s part of being human. So, give yourself a break when you mess up.
Your negative self-evaluations don’t necessarily reflect reality. In fact, they probably don’t, especially if you:
- Call yourself names, such as “pathetic,” “worthless,” “stupid,” etc.
- Beat yourself up with all the things you “should” or “shouldn’t” have done.
- Make sweeping generalizations based on a specific event. For example, if something didn’t go as planned, you tell yourself that you’ll never get things right, you’re a failure, or you always screw up.
When you’re thinking such distorted thoughts, it’s important to pause and consciously challenge them. Pretend you’re an impartial third-party observer, then ask yourself if there are other ways of viewing the situation.
As you put yourself out there socially, there will be times when you feel judged or rejected.
Maybe you reached out to someone, but they didn’t seem interested in having a conversation or starting a friendship.
There’s no question: rejection feels bad.
But it’s important to remember that it’s part of life. Not everyone you approach will be receptive to starting a conversation, let alone becoming friends. Just like dating, meeting new people inevitably comes with some element of rejection.
Don’t dwell on mistakes. Even if you said something you regret, for example, it’s unlikely that the other person will remember it after a short time.
Stay positive; refrain from labelling yourself a failure, or from telling yourself that you’ll never be able to make friends. The very shyest people do, and so will you.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- Ask about someone’s job, family, or anything that gets the other person talking.
- Talk about travel.
- Anything food related.
- Ask what music someone likes.
- Movies/books/other media.
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- Show them a funny video or meme online.
- Talk about current events.
- Ask where they’re from.
- Pets, or just cute animals in general.
- What’s the craziest/scariest/most awesome thing you’ve ever done?
- Tell a joke.
- Favourite quotes.
- Cool places to hang out in town.
- Interesting things you’ve done recently.