The first mistake is in thinking that, with social skills, you either have them or you don’t.
Not true. Social skills are learnable, as I’ve experienced.
The second mistake is the way people go about learning social skills. They get told that with enough exposure, they’ll learn how to socialize just fine.
While exposure therapy does work—it’s nowhere near as effective without a game plan.
Why Exposure Therapy, Alone, Won’t Cut It
Growing up I was very isolated. Being home-schooled and playing lots of video games meant I didn’t learn social skills like other kids.
When I got my first job at 16—it was a mess. Around people my heart throbbed out of my chest and it wasn’t long till my shirt got drenched in sweat.
Yet I managed to survive. Damn the odds.
And then at 19 I got a job waiting tables, which skyrocketed my anxiety to a whole nother level. And let’s just say I was lucky not to develop an ulcer from all the stress. Purposely interacting with strangers and being put on the spot was terrifying.
Yet, I once again, survived. And things slowly got better. Exposure therapy was working.
But surely after five years of waiting tables my anxiety should have been eliminated altogether, right? So why were there still occasional moments where it spiked? Had I not had enough exposure?
Learning the Right Way
In golf they tell you to get a coach and learn the correct mechanics, before venturing onto the course and whacking away at the ball.
Why? Because developing a bad habit is a nightmare to unlearn. And if you do it on your own, it will take years of trial and error to figure out.
The same applies to social skills. Without learning the correct way you will reinforce bad habits.
What bad habits?
First off, socializing, if you were isolated like me, is nerve-wracking. And when you make mistakes in social interactions—for example, making things awkward—it reinforces in your mind that you’re bad at socializing.
It becomes a vicious cycle. And now you no longer have just social anxiety, you have anxiety about your social anxiety.
Before talking to someone you’re already bracing for a bullet that hasn’t even been fired.
Hacking Social Skills
Exposure is clearly needed if you want hope of overcoming a social phobia.
But more than that, the correct way of learning social skills is needed. Or else you’ll just end up creating a mental blockade. I.e. that you’re forever doomed to be bad at socializing.
It all boils down to this: inner and outer—you need both.
The outer, exposure therapy, is needed. You must expose yourself to social situations and take action. Because at the end of the day, taking action is the only way to build a skill.
But the inner, and understanding the correct way to socialize, is also needed.
The Inner Game of Social Skills
Why did I still have nervous tics even after waiting thousands of tables?
For one reason. I never learned about the most essential part of a social interaction.
Why is it essential? Because body language makes up 70% of a social interaction.
Thus it only makes sense that if you’re gonna master social skills—you should focus on what matters most.
Smashing Anxiety for Good
Body language, I learned, makes you feel radically different around people.
With good body language, I felt more assertive and in control. And I became self-assured that no matter what happened—I could handle the situation without the fear of social anxiety taking over.
You don’t know how liberating that is.
And I only achieved that state of mind because of body language. It holds the key.
And it changed my life. I know it can change yours, too.