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You think your social life could be better. You’ve felt shy as long as you can remember. Your conversations have more awkward moments than you’d like. Maybe you don’t need a ton of friends, but you’d like to have some people to hang out with on occasion. You want to make changes, but you don’t know where to start. Lots of people have been in your shoes, so you’re hardly a lost cause, and it’s never too late to turn things around. The Social Skills Guidebook gives you insights into your interpersonal struggles and behaviors, and offers hands-on advice for developing and improving your people skills.

The Social Skills Guidebook goes into detail about solving the three core areas that hold people back socially:

1) Mental barriers including shyness, social anxiety, and low self-confidence
2) Less developed conversation skills
3) A lack of friends and an unsatisfying social life

If you look at the people who are socially comfortable in your school or workplace and want what they have, know that you can achieve social success like theirs without losing yourself in the process. You can remain true to your personality and pursue your favorite interests while conquering the attitudes that hold you back, improving your conversation skills, and learning how to make friends. With practice, time, and patience, you can create the kind of social life you want for yourself.

The Social Skills Guidebook covers topics including:

• Changing counterproductive thinking that stands in the way of your social confidence
• Becoming comfortable with your social fears by facing them in a gradual, manageable way
• Improving your self-esteem
• Navigating the different parts of a conversation
• Getting past awkward silences
• Interacting in one-on-one and group conversations
• Learning how to listen to others and respond appropriately
• Identifying other people’s nonverbal cues and being aware of your own
• Finding potential friends and making plans with them
• Deepening your friendships
• Keeping your progress going
• Improving your social skills if you have Asperger’s syndrome

The Social Skills Guidebook is written by Chris MacLeod, the author of the extensive, well-visited, free site on interpersonal skills Succeed Socially. This book contains all of the site's key advice in a tight, organized, polished package.

Chris MacLeod
ISBN 13:
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Copyright © 2016 by Chris MacLeod, MSW
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval
system, or transmitted, in any form or in any means – by electronic, mechanical, photocopying,
recording or otherwise – without prior written permission.
ISBN: 978-0-9949807-1-7
Editor: Vicki Adang
Cover and interior design: Victoria Valentine/Page and Cover Design

Table of Contents
Title Page
Table of Contents
1. The Overall Process of Improving Your Social Skills
2. Addressing Some Common Challenges and Concerns about Working on
Your Social Skills
Section 1: Tackling the Main Mental Barriers to Socializing
3. Seeing the Effects of Shyness, Social Anxiety, Insecurity, and
4. Shifting your Mind-Set about Your Social Discomfort
5. Handling Counterproductive Thinking about Socializing
6. Hands-On Strategies for Taking the Edge Off Anxiety
7. Reducing Fears and Insecurities through Real-World Experiences
8. Increasing Your Self-Esteem and Confidence
Section 2: Developing Your Conversations Skills
9. Getting a Basic Feel for Conversations
10. Dealing with Awkward Silences
11. Starting One-on-One Conversations
12. Having Deeper Conversations
13. Ending Conversations
14. Navigating Group Conversations
15. Making Conversation in Particular Situations
16. Becoming Aware of Empathy
17. Core Listening Skills
18. Recognizing and Acting on Other People’s Nonverbal Communication
19. Improving Your Own Nonverbal Communication
20. Conversation Mistakes
21. Being More Likable
22. Being More Fun
23. Assertiveness Skills
Section 3: Forming and Growing Friendships
24. Introduction to the Process of Making Friends
25. Finding Potential Friends

26. Making Plans with Potential Friends
27. Deepening New Friendships
28. Making a Group of Friends
29. Making Friends in Particular Situations
30. Troubleshooting the Process of Making Friends
31. Looking Forward as Your Social Skills Improve
Appendix A: Asperger's Syndrome / Mild Autism
Further Reading

I; ntroduction

THIS BOOK IS FOR ANYONE who feels they need to brush up on their social skills. Maybe you feel
shy, anxious, and insecure around people. You struggle to make conversation and leave a good
impression on others. You’re lonely and isolated and don’t go out nearly as often as you’d like,
or you only have a few casual acquaintances and want some closer relationships. Maybe all of
the above. Maybe you feel like you somehow missed out on learning the unwritten social rules
that everyone else seemed to have gotten the hang of by the time they were thirteen.
If you have these social difficulties, you’re not alone. You may feel like a uniquely broken
outcast, but they’re all common issues. Millions of people feel the same way you do.
The good news is that these social problems can be fixed. The concept of a “late bloomer”
exists for a reason. Lots of people were shy or lonely for a period in their lives before they
developed their interpersonal skills and put the shyness or loneliness behind them. You can
increase your self-confidence. You can learn to manage shyness and anxiety and the
counterproductive thinking and behaviors that feed them. You can practice and hone your
conversation skills. You can learn a reliable process to meet friends and build a social life. Even
if aspects of socializing don’t come that naturally to you and you’ll have to work a little harder
at it than most, nothing about your situation makes you a lost cause.
You don’t need to completely change who you are to become more socially successful either;
you can leave your interests, values, and personality traits intact. You just need to fill in the
skills or confidence gaps that are currently holding you back. Then you’ll be a more socially
polished version of yourself. The goal of this book is to give you the tools you need to become
socially happy in whatever way works for you, whether that involves partying all the time with
a dozen casual acquaintances or mostly keeping to yourself except to occasionally meet with a
few really close friends. It doesn’t want to turn you into someone who acts fake so they can
appeal to as many people as possible.
This book is a comprehensive guide to catching up socially. There are titles that cover shyness
or conversation skills separately, but this one tells you everything you need to know in one

place. The author struggled with all of these issues himself when he was younger and wrote this
as the guide he wished he’d had at the time.
This book teaches the fundamentals you somehow missed learning as you were growing up. It
addresses barriers that only come up for people who have been struggling socially for most of
their lives.
If social skills could be rated on a ten-point scale, it’s about helping you get from an unhappy
3 to a content, functional 7 (or higher). It’s not a collection of little-known tricks that will let
you move from average to advanced. It won’t reveal five secret tricks that CEOs use to make
their handshakes extra memorable and influential. That said, charismatic people are that way
not because they have access to a bunch of techniques most of us don’t, but because they
execute many of their social fundamentals a little better than normal. In that sense, this book
may help you someday have lots of charisma by making you aware of the core skills you could
develop beyond a typical level.
This title focuses on day-to-day socializing. It doesn’t cover workplace-specific issues like
how to manage difficult colleagues, influence your boss, or nail that product demonstration. It
also doesn’t go into dating and flirting. However, if you’re struggling socially, most of the
topics covered here should help your career or love life. You can hardly woo someone or get
along with your coworkers if you have trouble with conversation or can’t manage your anxiety
around people.
What’s ahead
After a few opening chapters about the process of working on social issues, the book covers
three core areas of social skills:
1. Dealing with shyness, anxiety, and insecurities, and feeling more comfortable and
confident with yourself and others
2. Making conversation and interacting with people
3. Meeting people and making friends
The sections build on each other—you’re going to struggle to make conversation if you’re
anxious and insecure, and you’re going to have a hard time making friends if you can’t keep an
interaction going—but you don’t have to read them in order. If you feel your confidence and
conversation skills are already okay, then using the suggestions in the “Forming and Growing
Friendships” section may have the biggest and quickest impact on your social life.

The Overall Process of Improving Your Social Skills
AS YOU WORK TO IMPROVE your social skills, you must approach the process in the right way.
Many people struggle to improve their social skills not because they’re up against impossible
challenges, but because they approach the task from the wrong angle and get unnecessarily
discouraged. With the right mind-set, expectations, and approach to improving, you’ll make
more progress. This chapter covers some things you should know before working on your
issues. Chapter 2 troubleshoots some common questions and concerns people have about
improving their social skills.

Figuring out which skills and traits to work on and which to leave
As the Introduction said, you don’t need to change everything about yourself to do better
socially. Of course, you’ll want to address clear-cut problems that most people would be happy
to be rid of—shyness and anxiety, low self-confidence, unpolished conversation skills, and lack
of knowledge about how to make friends.
The traits listed below can also cause social problems. They’re all perfectly valid variations
from the norm that you shouldn’t have to change. However, they can lead to practical social
inconveniences when either people misunderstand and look down on the traits, or the traits
cause you to have competing needs.
Acceptable, though sometimes impractical, social differences
Having an introverted personality
Liking to spend a lot of time alone
Not needing or wanting a ton of friends
Being selective when choosing who you want to be friends with
Preferring to socialize for shorter periods of time, and then head home to relax and
recharge your batteries; having a tendency to get drained by socializing
Being into low-key types of socializing and choosing to avoid rowdy parties or getting

Preferring to hang back and listen more in conversations, rather than talking a lot and
trying to hold the spotlight
Not having a bubbly, expressive, excitable personality
Being able to take or leave aspects of socializing, like making chitchat with strangers
waiting in a line with you
Preferring your conversations to have lots of substance
Being into “uncool,” non-mainstream hobbies
Not caring about seemingly popular interests like team sports or reality TV
Living an alternative lifestyle or being part of a non-mainstream scene or subculture
Having beliefs and values that differ from the mainstream
Having a more quirky personality
As examples, having non-mainstream hobbies may hinder you if they cause your peers to
stereotype you and write you off without giving you a chance. Liking to spend time alone may
cause a conflict in your social goals. Part of you may want to go out more to make new friends,
but your urge to hang out by yourself may get in the way.
You’ll have to decide for yourself how to approach your acceptable differences in light of your
social goals. Wherever possible, you should be true to yourself and try to find your niche, which
includes looking for friends who get you and like you for who you are.
No one is socially perfect. As long as they bring enough positives to the table, they can still
get by. If you read a piece of advice in this book you aren’t crazy about following, ask yourself,
“Would it make me happier on the whole to skip this suggestion? Could I handle the
consequences of not following it?” For example, maybe you’re at peace with having a blunter
communication style and can live with the fact that it will occasionally put some people off.
Maybe you’ll even decide you’re okay with aspects of your being mildly shy, even if it is
technically a “problem.” Be your own judge of what works for you.
At times you may weigh the pros and cons of a situation and find it suits you to go along with
certain social conventions. For example, in your perfect world you’d never devote a second of
thought to fashion, but you realize other people value it and so learn to dress a little better. Or
you like spending a lot of time alone, but you push yourself to be around people slightly more
than you’d prefer so you have enough time to practice your social skills and be with your
You’ll have to decide for yourself where you are and aren’t willing to compromise. Changing
isn’t an option if something violates your deepest values or you outright dislike it. The
pragmatic approach can work if you feel indifferent toward something and it doesn’t take that

much effort to go along with it. However, there are always going to be parts of the social world,
where even if you realize intellectually it would be practical to go along with them, you’re just
not going to be able to play along. Most people aren’t going to give up their religious or
political views to fit in. As a lighter example, some men don’t care about sports, but know
they’d have an easier time relating to other guys if they were into them. Some never come to
love sports, but can make themselves follow just enough news about game results and trades to
grease their conversations. Others can’t bring themselves to do even that, and they’re fine living
with the minor hassles that causes.

Keep an open mind
Although you don’t need to completely change or sell yourself out to do better socially, you
should try to keep an open mind. Be open to new experiences and the possibility that one
day you may develop traits or come to appreciate things you never thought you’d enjoy.
People change throughout their lives. It’s important to be true to yourself, but not to the
point where you become locked in place and dismiss anything new with “No, that’s not who
I am.” Say a friend invites you to an introductory salsa class, and you’ve never done much
dancing. Even if you sense it’s not something you’d get a lot out of, it’s too rigid to blindly
say, “No, that’s not me! I don’t like dancing and never will!” You don’t have to mindlessly
try everything everyone suggests, but you never know—you may actually love partner
dancing and just not realize it yet.

Realizing your interpersonal skills don’t have to be flawless to have
a satisfying social life
Countless people in the world have fun social lives even though they’re a bit shy and insecure,
or they sometimes stumble in their conversations, or they don’t have a ton of fascinating
hobbies, or they have a few irksome personality quirks. Even charismatic people make bad
jokes or have their invites turned down. You don’t need to perfectly execute every skill in this
book 100 percent of the time, and you don’t have to get every last person on the planet to like
you. You just need to be good enough to get by and have friends who accept you for who you
are. You don’t need all of your interactions to go flawlessly. You just need enough of them to go

well that you can meet your social goals (if you invite ten people to hang out and only three
accept, but they go on to become your good friends, that’s a win).

Practicing your social skills to improve them
Social skills are skills like any other. Reading advice can give you an idea of what you need to
work on and help the learning process go more smoothly, but in the end you have to practice to
really get things down. You’ve probably socialized for fewer overall hours than many of your
peers, and you have to put in the time to catch up.
That seems obvious, but when it comes to interpersonal skills, some people think they can be
gained all at once through the right trick, insight, psychology “hack,” or confidence booster.
They likely think that because social skills are non-physical and mundane. People instinctively
understand it takes time to learn complex physical abilities like skiing or drawing. However,
when it comes to socializing, their thought process is, “It’s just talking. I already know how to
do that. So just give me some secret super-effective conversation formulas, and I’ll be off to the
Additionally, most people have found that navigating a social situation was easier when they
were temporarily more confident than usual. So they figure there must be a way to be extraconfident all the time. However, although you can fleetingly become unusually self-assured,
there’s no way to call that feeling up on command or lock it in place for life. There really are no
shortcuts. If there were, they’d be common knowledge, and this book wouldn’t be needed.
Knowing what are you working on when you practice your social skills
As you practice socializing, you’ll develop the following overall abilities. In some interactions,
you’ll draw on only a few of them, while other interactions will require you to juggle many at a
1) Your ability to think on your feet. When it’s your turn to say something, you can’t take
forever to come up with your response. Also, aside from the relatively predictable first minute
or two, interactions can quickly go in countless directions. It’s unfeasible to try to plan out
everything you’re going to say ahead of time or map out how to handle every scenario in
advance. The best you can do is learn some general guidelines and then sharpen your ability to
2) Your ability to multitask. When you’re interacting with someone, you have to continually
attend to several things at once. The other person is constantly sending signals through their
words, actions, and nonverbal communication; you have to take it in, evaluate it, and decide on

the fly how to act on your conclusions (“They just said they’re not familiar with cycling. I’ll
have to adjust how I tell my anecdote.”). At the same time, you have to manage the signals
you’re sending (“I’m curious about what time it is, but I won’t check my watch now because it
may make me look like I’m not interested in their story.”). As you get better at socializing,
taking in all of that information and deciding what to do with it starts to feel less overwhelming.
3) Your proficiency in a variety of concrete subskills like listening, asserting yourself, or
phrasing an invitation. Like with any skill, at first you’ll be clumsy and exaggerated when you
listen actively, assert yourself, or extend an invitation, but in time you’ll develop a defter touch
and be able to calibrate your behavior to the situation at hand. For example, when you’re first
getting the hang of listening skills, you may sometimes come across as an over-the-top
therapist. With more practice, you’ll be able to show you care and that you’re paying attention
in a more subtle way.
4) Your comfort level with various subskills, like making eye contact or starting
conversations. Some subskills, like making eye contact or initiating a conversation, will make
you feel nervous or unnatural at first, but the more you do them, the more normal they’ll feel.
5) Your general knowledge of people, what makes them tick, and how they tend to react
to various things. Every person is different, but with enough social experience, you’ll start to
notice broad patterns you can act on. For example, you may notice that people who are into a
certain hobby also tend to share the same political beliefs and conversation style, and you can
adjust accordingly.
6) Your knowledge of various social situations and how to navigate them. You can learn
this through firsthand experience or by observing other people who are more socially
experienced than you. It’s possible to find advice on common scenarios, like how to approach
people at a party or turn down an unreasonable request, but in your day-to-day life, you’ll come
across other scenarios that are too rare and esoteric to end up in any book. When you come
across these novel situations, you may not always handle them perfectly, but with time you can
build up an overall sense about how to approach them.
7) Your knowledge of the unwritten social guidelines of your particular culture,
subculture, or group of friends, and how to adjust the general communication-skills rules
to fit them. This is another reason it’s impossible to explain how to deal with every situation
ahead of time. What may be considered an appealing conversation style in one country or
among one circle of friends may be seen as obnoxious elsewhere. The only way to learn the
rules for your social context is to be in it and observe them for yourself.
8) Constructive mind-sets toward socializing. A well-intentioned, but unhelpful, variety of
social advice is to suggest you adopt useful, but easier-said-than-done, mind-sets like, “Don’t

care too much about people’s opinions of you” or “Just go out to have fun and don’t fret about
how well you socialize.” It’s great if you can think like this, but you don’t instantly acquire
those worldviews just by reading they’re good to have. Instead, as you socialize more and more,
you’ll have many small experiences and successes that show firsthand these are good ways to
think, and you’ll gradually add them into your worldview.
9) Your personal social style. There are some general guidelines for what makes for a better
or worse interaction, but there isn’t a single right way to socialize. Everyone has his or her own
personality and strengths and weaknesses. There are usually multiple ways to handle any
situation. What works well for another person may not fit you at all. Your friend may be good at
cheering people up by being a good listener. You may be better at being funny and helping them
take their mind off their worries.
Ways to practice socializing
You can practice your social skills in three ways. First, if you feel you’re socially inexperienced
all around, you can simply find ways to spend more time socializing. This method is
unstructured, but you’ll still learn new things from all the extra hours you’ll rack up, and hone a
variety of skills. You can
socialize more with the people you already know (existing friends, coworkers,
classmates, roommates, family members);
get a job that involves lots of interaction with people (for example, retail, restaurant
server, bartender, call center, sales);
sign up for a volunteer position that involves socializing (for example, fundraising,
talking to seniors, helping out at a festival);
join a club, team, or organization;
attend online-organized meet-ups (for example, from a forum you use, through sites like;
take advantage of natural opportunities to have brief, friendly interactions with people
who are generally expected to be pleasant and chat with you, such as store clerks and
restaurant servers;
go to a venue where people can show up alone and be social with the other patrons (for
example, a board game café, a pub or pool hall);
interact with people online (for example, chatting with people while playing a
multiplayer game). Of course, this can’t be a complete substitute for face-to-face practice,
but it shouldn’t be dismissed entirely either; or

if it’s a realistic option, travel and stay in busy, social hostels.
A second method is to practice in a deliberate, structured way, especially if you want to work
on specific skills. For example, if you have trouble starting conversations, you could attend one
online-organized meet-up a week and talk to at least five new people each time. If you have
trouble with a specific type of interaction, like inviting someone out or turning down an
unreasonable request, you could practice by role-playing the scenario with a friend or family
member. Some organizations and counseling agencies run social skills training groups that
provide opportunities to practice in a safe, supportive environment.
A third way to practice socially is to take a class to learn a performance-oriented interpersonal
skill like public speaking, acting, or improv or stand-up comedy. These more specialized skills
don’t fully carry over into day-to-day situations. A rehearsed, memorized speech isn’t the same
as a spontaneous, casual conversation. However, they still provide a lot of benefits. For
example, speech classes may teach you how to project your voice and use confident body
language. Performing in a play may help you deal with your nerves and fear of being on the
spot. Improv teaches you to be more loose, playful, and spontaneous in your conversations.
Many people also find they get a small confidence boost in their daily interactions from
knowing they’re getting the hang of a more intimidating skill like speaking in public.
You don’t have to spend a lot of time talking to strangers in public to practice your social
skills. Some people think they have to chat with a bunch of randoms at the mall or grocery
store. If you’re specifically trying to get used to starting and carrying on conversations with
people you don’t know, that’s one thing. If you generally want to rack up some social
experience, talking to strangers is usually too stressful and inefficient. It’s better to practice with
people whom you know and are already somewhat comfortable with, or strangers you meet in
more structured situations like an art class.

Indirectly improving your social success
Although directly addressing the less-practiced aspects of your social skills is essential, you can
also indirectly help your cause by becoming a more well-rounded, knowledgeable, interesting
person. This works in a “wax on, wax off” kind of way. Imagine you did nothing to directly
practice your social skills for three months, but spent that time traveling, discovering new
music, and learning to mountain bike. At the end of those three months, many social situations
would likely go more smoothly for you. You’d have more to talk about and relate to people
over, and you’d really notice a difference if you ended up in a conversation with a traveler,

cyclist, or music fan. The struggles of traveling and learning to mountain bike would have
increased your overall confidence or maybe made you more fun and adventurous. The
experiences you had on vacation may have some cachet and make people want to chat more
with you so they could learn more about them.
That’s not to say that if you pick up a bunch of new hobbies, you’ll be able to duck out of the
direct practice requirement. Also, some people hear this advice and they try to learn about and
do everything, hoping to get the maximum social benefit. Of course that’s not feasible.

Knowing how long it will take to catch up in your social skills
Of course, it’s hard to estimate how much time you’ll need to polish your social skills because
everyone starts from a different place. One to three years is a reasonable amount of time to
expect if you’re behind all around, as opposed to needing help with a smaller area or two. It
generally takes a few years to get half-decent at many skills.
Reading that may leave you feeling discouraged: “It may take me three years? Are you
kidding me?!” That estimate isn’t meant to bring you down, but to be straightforward and
realistic about the process. In the long run, knowing what to expect prevents more
discouragement than it creates. Hearing the news doesn’t feel good up front, but when you’re
six months in and have a bad day, you can put it in perspective and not see it as a sign that
you’re hopeless. If this book falsely led you to believe social skills are quick and easy to obtain,
you’d feel worse—and maybe even give up entirely—if everything didn’t fall into place after a
few weeks.
One to three years may seem long, but the process of improving won’t be a grind the entire
time. As with learning anything, it will be roughest at the beginning and then get more
enjoyable and comfortable once you’ve developed a basic foundation. It’s like learning to play
the guitar: In the first month it hurts your fingers to hold down the strings, and it’s an
accomplishment to play a chord properly, let alone to switch between several of them quickly
and smoothly. At the six-month mark, the situation is far different. You’re still a clueless
beginner in the grand scheme of things, but you know enough that practicing isn’t a complete
struggle, and is often fun when you get the hang of a new song. It’s the same with socializing.
At first it may be nerve-racking to make polite chitchat with someone for a few minutes. A year
in you may confidently head to a party with a bunch of friends and know you’ll get in some
mingling practice while you have a good time with everyone.
Not all progress comes slowly either. Some areas are easier to make improvements in than
others. For example, there are some simple, common mistakes people commit when trying to

make friends, and after they know how to avoid them, their social lives often improve quickly.
You have more time than it seems. Late bloomers often worry that their best years have passed
them by and they’ve missed the window for having a fulfilling social life. That’s not true at all.
Social skills can be learned at any time in your life. After you’re caught up, you’re caught up.
Learning social skills isn’t like learning languages, where our brains are wired in such a way
that it’s harder to learn new ones after childhood. There’s no door that closes when you reach
20, 25, 30, or any other arbitrary age. You will have opportunities to enjoy yourself and
socialize throughout your life. If you’re in your early twenties or younger, you may believe that
after college all the fun dries up and everyone becomes boring and bogged down by
responsibilities. Not true. People never stop socializing and having fun together.
It can be frustrating to hear you have to wait before you can get what you want, but try not to
succumb to impatience. If you’re impatient, you may give up on helpful suggestions because
they’re not working instantly. You also might chase one supposed quick fix after another,
instead of sticking with proven approaches that are slower and less glamorous. When you do get
discouraged or impatient, remind yourself that social skills take time to develop; it’s not realistic
to expect to become an expert overnight. Also, look at where you are now compared to where
you began. You’ll be more likely to keep going when you can show yourself you’re making

Expecting your emotions to swing up and down
You can broadly divide the process of putting your social problems behind you into an initial,
more frustrating phase, and a later one where the sailing is smoother. As you improve your
social skills, practicing them becomes easier and more encouraging, and you have a sense the
worst is behind you—success is just a matter of time if you stay the course.
Your moods can be rocky during that first phase. Whatever happens, you’ll tend to read too
much into what it means for the future. If you have a good day, you’ll be overly excited and feel
like you’ve finally turned a corner and everything will be okay. When you inevitably have an
off day, you’ll conclude you’re hopeless and you’ll never have better social skills.
With more practice and a few more tastes of success, you’ll calm down. You’ll also realize
that even if you have a few shaky interactions, your progress is still steadily ticking upward; if
you keep at it, you’ll get there eventually. One way to maintain perspective is to keep a record
of your progress. That way you have an objective reminder that you’re making positive changes
(“I feel like I’m still as shy as I’ve always been, but it says this month I started more
conversations than I ever have, and I’ve hung out with three new people.”)

Realizing it’s okay to seek professional support
This is a self-help book, but when it’s appropriate, it will point out situations where it may be
helpful to get some extra assistance from a counselor or support group. Sometimes you’ll face
challenges that are too difficult to deal with on your own. Seeing a professional isn’t a shameful
last resort for “weak,” “broken,” “crazy” people. It’s just a way to get some knowledgeable
experts on your side. If you’re in college, your school may offer free counseling services. Many
communities also have affordable mental health agencies.

Addressing Some Common Challenges and Concerns
about Working on Your Social Skills
THIS CHAPTER FIRST COVERS common practical challenges to improving your interpersonal skills;
then it goes over some concerns people have about the process.

Practical challenges
Even when you want to make changes in your social skills, the following challenges can make it
hard to start, and continue, working on them. These barriers are all surmountable.
“I want to practice my social skills, but I get drained quickly in certain situations.”
It’s not uncommon for people to quickly become mentally drained when they’re socializing.
They can handle a dinner party conversation for an hour or two, but after that they feel depleted,
like they want to leave. After a few hours, they’re too tired to properly listen to everyone and
craft their responses. Afterward they usually need some downtime to recover from their
Getting drained easily can interfere with your ability to practice, or just stay out with friends
as long as you’d like. From an “acceptable, but inconvenient, differences” perspective, you may
also be annoyed when people don’t understand you’re wired this way; some less-sensitive
people may give you a hard time when you want to take off from an event early, or they may
take it personally when you look tired around them.
Short-term ways to feel less drained once the feeling has started to set in
Have some caffeine to give yourself a quick burst of energy. This suggestion
especially helps if you’re out late and you’re feeling sleepy on top of being depleted from
Have a snack or full meal if you haven’t had any food in a while. Your energy levels
can subtly slip if you’ve gone hours without eating. However, don’t eat so much that you
go into a food coma.
Wait until you get a second wind. Tiredness tends to come in waves, and your energy

will usually rebound if you can gut out the grogginess for twenty minutes or so.
Take mini-breaks to recover some of your energy. Bathrooms are a classic hideout. At
a bigger function, moving from the hectic indoors to a more low-key conversation outside
may be enough to give you a breather.
Consciously throw yourself into another gear and try to re-engage with everyone.
After you’ve started feeling drained, it’s easy to give in to those feelings and sit back,
zone out, and wait until you can go home. Hanging back and doing nothing is dull and
usually makes you even more tired and checked out. Instead, try to find a fun interaction
to join, which may perk you up and make you feel more enthusiastic.
If you know about a draining event ahead of time, take a strategic nap beforehand
so you’ll have more energy.
Becoming less susceptible to feeling drained over the long term
Even taking the above suggestions into account, you can only do so much to hold back the
drained feeling after it’s already started. Here are some things you can do to reduce your
tendency to get socially drained over a long haul:
Get more proficient at socializing in the situations that tire you out. Anything is more
mentally taxing if you’re unpracticed at it. Also, you’ll start to feel drained and
disengaged more quickly if you’re bored and not having a good time. As you get more
skilled at handling a situation, it will easier to have fun in it.
Get more comfortable in the situations that tire you. Anxiety is very physically and
mentally draining. When you’re more relaxed in a situation you won’t waste your energy
feeling tense and worried.
Over time push yourself to stay in social situations longer and longer. You can
“exercise” to build up your social endurance. When you’re out with friends and want to
take off, tell yourself you’ll stick around for another half hour, and then later, an hour or
more. After you’ve decided to stay, actively socialize rather than retreating to wait out the
Hang around people who are more your style. You’ll be more prone to feel drained if
you’re with people who you don’t have much in common with and are either too dull or
too go-go-go for you.
Be around people more often. Everyone has a baseline level of social contact they
prefer, but it has some wiggle room. If you spend a lot of time alone, then when you do
socialize, it’s more of a shock to your system, and it won’t be long before you want to be

on your own again. If your life circumstances constantly put you around classmates,
coworkers, family, and roommates, you get used to being around people constantly. Your
need to escape and recharge doesn’t totally go away, but your tolerance for having
company is higher.
“I want to work on my social skills, but I just can’t motivate myself to get started or stick
with practicing for very long.”
To improve your social life you need to be motivated to work on it, and push through the
difficult patches. That motivation is sometimes hard to find even if you feel you logically
should have it. There are a few reasons this can happen:
Your anxiety is holding you back. It’s only natural you’d want to avoid the kind of
social practice that makes you nervous. At times you’re well aware that you’d like to
make changes but are too scared of getting rejected, embarrassing yourself, or having to
dwell on your failures. At other times your anxiety will provide you with an excuse to
procrastinate, like “I’ll try to make more friends in the summer, when I’m not so busy
with school.”
If you have a personality where you have a lower need to socialize and are happy to
be alone, you can get caught in a stagnant middle ground. You wish your social life
was better, but having to spend a lot of time on your own doesn’t bother you that much,
so you never feel enough of the pain or loneliness that lights a fire under you and
compels you to make big changes.
Your goals aren’t your own. You may truly not care about improving aspects of your
social skills at the moment, but have absorbed messages from society that you should
want to address them. If you’re younger, your family may be pressuring you to change
before you feel ready.
You’re not sure how to begin tackling your problems and are overwhelmed.
If you struggle with motivation, here are some things you can do:
Learn to handle your anxiety. The book’s next section goes into detail on this topic.
Accept that you may not be fully ready to change yet. Regardless of how you think
you should feel, your heart may not fully be in it at the moment. If you don’t have an
inner drive to tackle your issues, no rah-rah speech or quote is going to fix that. At best
that’ll make you feel psyched up for a day or two before you go back to the status quo.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to wait until a greater sense of urgency sets in.
Set aside some time to figure out what you really want. Are you telling yourself you
should try to become an outgoing party animal because that’s what society says is
important, when deep down it doesn’t interest you? Would you feel more enthusiastic
about trying to develop a more low-key social life?
Realize the hardest part is often getting started. After you’re over that initial hump it
will feel rewarding to make progress.
Break your goals down into manageable chunks. Rather than having a vague objective
of “I’m so lonely” or “I’m so bad with people. I don’t want to be like that anymore,” try
to define exactly what you’d like to change. Would you like to make three friends you see
regularly? Would you like to be able to chat to your coworkers without feeling tonguetied and self-conscious?
Focus on the next immediate step. It’s important to keep your long-term goals in mind
so little hiccups don’t discourage you. However, when it comes to motivation, your
overall objective may feel impossible and overwhelming. You may not know where to
start with “Have a full and rich social life,” but it’s easy enough to tackle “Step 1:
Research some places in town where I may be able to meet people.”
Don’t try to work on every social skill or goal at once. Figure out the few core things
you’ll need to get half-decent at to feel better about your social situation. Save all the
smaller tweaks for later. For example, if you’re shy and lonely, but okay at making
conversation after you’re past your initial nerves, focus on meeting new people and being
able to feel comfortable enough to chat to them. Don’t spread yourself thin by also trying
to perfect your posture and use of humor.
Do what you can to practice socializing in ways that are fun and convenient. There’s
no way to avoid feeling uncomfortable at all times, but as much as possible try to get
your practice through types of interactions you’d enjoy anyway.
Alter your environment so it nudges you toward getting out and being social. You
could decide not to watch TV or play video games on the weekend, so you’ll feel bored
and look for something else to do. If you have a specific social task you’re putting off,
tell yourself you can’t do certain fun things until you’ve completed it (for example, “I
can’t go on the Internet until I text Karen and ask her if she wants to hang out this
“I’m too busy to work on my people skills.”
Everyone gets really busy from time to time, and if you have more important priorities, there’s

nothing wrong with putting your social skills development on the back burner for a while.
However, try to be honest with yourself about whether you’re really too busy or if you’re using
that as an excuse. Don’t hide behind a job or graduate program that has a culture that glorifies
having no life. If you want to try to work around your hectic schedule, here are some ideas:
Make socializing a priority. Don’t see it as something you’ll get to if your schedule
happens to work out.
Boost your energy level. If being too tired to go out is the problem, a nap after work or
class or a strategic dose of caffeine may be all you need to get your energy and
motivation back.
Manage your time better. Figure out ways to use your time more efficiently and free up
some hours in the day, for example, by improving your study or assignment-writing
Streamline your social life. Tweak your social life so it’s less time-consuming and fits
into your schedule. For example, make plans to see your friends after work, when you’re
already downtown.
Spend quality time with people instead of hanging out aimlessly for hours on end.
For example, have a shorter conversation-filled dinner instead of spending an evening
watching TV and barely talking.
Organize group activities. If you don’t mind that kind of thing, try to hang out with lots
of people at once instead of catching up with every person individually.
“I don’t think I can get past my social problems without an exhaustive structured
roadmap with hands-on exercises for each subskill.”
Some people like to have every step of a process spelled out before they feel ready to start. This
book offers lots of details that you can apply to your life as you see fit, but the content still may
not be as fine-grained as you’d like. Every author has to decide what to leave out so the book
can stay at a reasonable length. If you want in-depth clarification on a specific topic, you can
look for it elsewhere, perhaps from a book in the Further Reading section.
Another possibility is you’re not giving yourself enough credit to figure out how to improve
on your own. To learn any complex skill, you need to know how to direct your own
development at times. Everyone is different, and your needs aren’t always going to fit a
template. You need to know how to decide what to focus on and how to come up with your own
practice exercises if none are available. As a side effect of being less socially successful, some
people develop a sense of helplessness and passivity around the issue. They think, “I’m clueless

at socializing. I could never figure out how to get better by myself. The only way I’ll have a
chance is if someone holds my hand every step of the way.” Not so. Figuring out how to
improve is something you have the ability to do.
This is not to pooh-pooh the idea of having a detailed, personalized plan entirely. Just don’t
default to thinking you can’t do anything without one. If you think having a personalized plan
would benefit you, a counselor can help with that.
“I feel like I’m a lost cause. I’m an especially bad case. I have too many factors stacked
against me to ever get past my issues.”
It’s not uncommon to feel discouraged in this way. However, very few people are hopeless cases
when it comes to their social skills. The ones who have limits on their potential have real
impediments, like congenital intellectual deficits, lower-functioning autism, or significant
mental health issues like severe schizophrenia. Even then, they can still make some
improvements. If you’re more typically functioning, you’re more than capable of developing
good social skills, even if it takes a while.
When people see themselves as a hopeless case, the biggest barrier that prevents them from
getting over their problems is, ironically, their belief that they’re a lost cause. If you actively,
consistently work on your issues, it may be tough at times, but you’ll overcome them
eventually. However, if you give up and don’t do anything to address your problems, they are
guaranteed to stay with you. Chapter 5 goes into more detail about how you can identify and
dispute some of the beliefs that may be feeding this sense of being beyond help.
“I have Asperger’s syndrome/mild autism, which makes it harder for me to improve my
social skills.”
Asperger’s syndrome is an inborn condition on the mild, higher-functioning end of the autism
spectrum. Those who have it find socializing more difficult in a variety of ways. However,
Asperger’s is relatively rare, and most people who struggle socially don’t have it. Appendix A
goes into detail about the challenges Asperger’s can cause and provides some approaches for
working on your social skills if you have the condition.

Concerns about the idea of working on your people skills
A fear of having to change too much and sell out to do better socially is a common concern.
This book has already touched on some of these worries, and here are some more:
“I’m not sure if I want to work on my people skills. I don’t lead a very social life, and I’m

happy with it.”
Odds are you’re reading this book because you’re motivated to change your social situation.
However, maybe you’re feeling more ambivalent. Maybe someone bought this book for you,
and you’re noncommittally flipping through it.
If you’re content with your current social situation, this book isn’t going to try to persuade you
to change. However, it’s important to make that decision with full self-awareness and honesty.
Issues like anxiety, discouragement, and past resentments over being picked on or overlooked
can cloud your motivations. You can trick yourself into believing you don’t want what you think
you can’t have.
If you want to spend all of your time at home and not have many friends, and you’ve arrived
at that choice with a clear head, that’s fine. If you think you want to live a mostly solitary life
because a) your anxiety has gotten out of hand, b) you’re convinced no one would like you if
you did try to make friends, and/or c) you’re bitter about the idea of being social because you
got picked on for being “weird” in high school, that’s a different story. It’s okay if you’re not
operating at 100 percent self-awareness at all times; no one is. Just check in on yourself
occasionally and adjust course if needed.
“I’m on the fence about working on my social skills. I just don’t enjoy socializing and
don’t see how I’d get any personal benefit from improving at it.”
If you truly don’t get much out of socializing, then you should live your life in a way that
reflects your personality. However, many people who express this view are younger. They think
they don’t like socializing because they haven’t experienced how rewarding it can be. Simply
put, they don’t know what they’re missing. They associate “conversation” with all the awkward
or insulting interactions they’ve had, instead of associating it with interesting, affirming
exchanges with good friends who get them.
If your social skills are less developed, you have a lower ability to “unlock” the fun in many
situations. For example, attending a party is going to feel like a chore if you don’t know how to
mingle and participate in engaging conversations, and are uncomfortable with letting loose or
dancing. Of course, if you don’t get a lot out of parties even after you know how to navigate
them, that’s okay too. It’s also okay if you’re not that keen on getting good at socializing at
parties to begin with. Not everyone has to like all the same activities or be a social butterfly.
However, when you’re inexperienced or gun-shy, it can cloud your sense of how appealing
certain types of socializing can be. Once your interpersonal skills and confidence are higher you
may find you enjoy some activities more than you used to.

“It’s not socializing itself that I dislike. It’s that I generally think other people suck.”
Sometimes when a person says they “don’t like people,” it’s just their semi-facetious way of
stating, “I’m not super social by nature. I don’t need a ton of friends. I’m selective about who I
hang around. My personality is on the less conventional side, and I’ve come to realize most
people don’t have a lot to offer me.” That’s fine. Not everybody has to be mainstream and love
At other times “I just don’t like people” is said in a much more wounded, hostile manner. As
with believing you don’t like being social, feeling that you don’t like people may be a
reasonable conclusion based on your life so far. Who wouldn’t dislike people if all they’ve
known is cruel classmates, unsympathetic parents, coworkers they have little in common with,
and a difficult, nitpicky boss?
It’s also easier to form a negative opinion of people when you’re at a distance. If you spend a
lot of time alone, and your only social interactions are fleeting and superficial, a lot of the
information you receive about humanity is more abstract. You read articles about the latest barlowering hit TV show or trashy celebrity. When you look at life from that detached viewpoint,
it’s easy to be down on everyone else. Improved social skills let you have the positive firsthand
experiences that reinforce how great people can be.
“I’m the way I am now socially because I was picked on in the past. Why should I have to
change? It’s society in general and the type of people who bullied me who should change.”
If you were picked on for perfectly acceptable differences like your interests, then I agree you
shouldn’t have to change those things. However, if being picked on caused you to develop
social problems that are having an undeniable negative effect on your life, you probably do
want to change by getting rid of them.
It’s unjust that you experienced these adversities, but in the end they’re still issues you need to
deal with. You’re only holding yourself back if you refuse to deal with them out of a sense that
it’s not fair. It’s like if you were walking down the street and a stranger jumped out from behind
a corner and shot you in the leg. Is it your fault that this happened? Not at all. Is it unfair?
Certainly. Is whoever did it a horrible person? Without a doubt. But at the end of the day, you
still have a gunshot wound in your thigh that you need to attend to. You can’t get everyone in
the world to change; you can only work on yourself.


Tackling the Main Mental Barriers to

In this section
An overview of shyness, social anxiety, insecurity, and discouragement
Important mind-sets for working on these issues
Four effective approaches for dealing with these issues:
1. Addressing the counterproductive thinking patterns that sustain them
2. Knowing some hands-on methods for reducing anxiety
3. Gradually facing and reducing your fears
4. Increasing your overall confidence

Seeing the Effects of Shyness, Social Anxiety, Insecurity,
and Discouragement
IF YOU’RE LIKE MANY PEOPLE who want to improve their social situation, the biggest thing holding
you back is your own mind. You may be quite socially capable and charming when you feel
comfortable with someone, but in many situations, your shyness, anxiety, insecurities, and
counterproductive thinking get in the way.
This chapter describes the four main confidence and comfort issues that interfere with
people’s ability to socialize:

Social anxiety
Pessimism and discouragement

Shyness is a multifaceted condition with many variations and nuances, but in short it’s when
you feel inhibited and uncomfortable in certain social situations because you’re worried about
how you’ll come across to everyone. Just as other social difficulties can range from mild to
severe, shyness also comes in degrees. If you’re slightly shy, you may seem totally functional
and even charming. Even though you may have some inner worries and insecurities, you can
socialize in spite of them. Your shyness isn’t a huge problem, but even if you’re performing
well outwardly, it’s still draining to be constantly worrying and doubting yourself. If you’re
moderately shy, you’ll be more hesitant and quiet than normal in social situations, but still be
able to get by. If you’re severely shy, you’ll be totally withdrawn, if you get into many
interactions at all. Less mild forms of shyness overlap with social anxiety, which will be
covered in a second.
The richest aspect of shyness is the thinking patterns and beliefs that fuel it. Shy people think
in ways that increase the supposed risks and stakes of socializing. They see other people as
mean and judgmental. They see themselves as unappealing and less socially capable. They view

interactions as life-or-death tests of their social skills and worthiness as individuals. Chapter 5
goes into more detail about these unhelpful thinking patterns.
People who suffer from shyness often second-guess the meaning behind other people’s words.
They may be hypersensitive to perceived signs of rejection or hostility (“She only sort of
laughed at my joke. She must hate me.” “He complimented my hat. He’s probably messing with
me somehow.”) Sometimes they dwell on past social situations, sometimes years after the fact,
and beat themselves up over the things they supposedly did wrong.
Overall presentation
Regardless of how shy you are, you’re likely to experience some or all of the following effects:
being hesitant, reserved, and untalkative;
coming across as meek, soft-spoken, and unsure of what you’re saying;
acting uncomfortable (for example, fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, crossing your arms
over your chest);
having trouble getting your words out or putting sentences together; stuttering;
coming across as unconfident and self-effacing;
on occasion, being more outgoing and chatty than normal because of nerves or because
that’s how other people expect you to behave;
on occasion, coming across as cold and aloof because you unintentionally act this way
when you’re feeling awkward, or because you’re purposely trying to manage your
discomfort by sending out “don’t approach me” vibes;
reacting physically: blushing; trembling; muscle tension; sweating; clammy hands; dry
mouth; tight, quiet voice; increased heart rate; stomach upset; increased need to urinate;
feeling amped up and fidgety.
Circumstances that can bring on shyness
You may feel shy in most social situations or only during particular ones. Situations in which
people commonly feel shy include
meeting new people;
having to work a room and mingle;
interacting with people you find intimidating and high-status (for example, asking a
professor to reconsider a grade she gave you on a paper);
interacting with people whose opinion you really care about and whom you want to make

a good impression on;
being put on the spot (for example, being handed a microphone out of the blue and asked
to record a video message at a wedding);
being the center of attention or doing something that draws attention to yourself (for
example, being called on in class, wearing flashy clothes, calling down a hall to get a
friend’s attention);
having to perform (for example, giving a speech or telling a story when everyone at the
table is listening intently);
confronting someone or being assertive (for example, telling a friend you don’t like it
when they tease you constantly, telling a coworker you don’t want to help them move on
the weekend);
during interactions where you may upset the other person (for example, turning down a
request, asking someone not to do something annoying, asking a person to go out of their
way for you);
talking on the phone or having to leave a voicemail.
Approaching social situations
Shy people dread many common social settings or interactions because they aren’t sure how to
act or they aren’t sure how they’ll be received by others. See if any of these responses for
handling social situations sound familiar:
completely avoiding social situations or interactions that make you feel shy (for example,
not going to a party, crossing the street to avoid having to stop and chat with an
acquaintance, sending an email when a phone call would be easier, not following up to
hang out with someone you met the other day);
bailing out of social situations early (for example, making an excuse to end a
conversation after a few minutes, leaving a pub because you feel so out of your element);
partially avoiding social situations or interactions (for example, being present in a group
conversation but not saying anything);
being less likely to take social risks (for example, not asking someone to hang out, not
approaching a stranger to start a conversation, holding back a mildly controversial
Overall consequences

Being shy does more than keep you home at night. It also causes these overarching problems:
The self-doubt and inhibition inherent in shyness prevent you from showing your full
personality. When you’re in a conversation with people you feel uncomfortable around,
you stand there silently, and no one sees what you’re capable of. However, if the people
were your long-time friends, you’d be making all kinds of hilarious jokes and witty
It keeps you from going after what you want.
It simply doesn’t feel good to be so hard on yourself or feel so ill-at-ease in certain
Your shy behavior may create a poor impression on other people. It’s not that most people
think horribly of shyness; it’s just that if it comes down to being sure of yourself or being
withdrawn, the former is going to come across better.
Making friends is difficult. You can still make friends when you’re shy, but the process
takes longer and you may have less control. You have to hope that you’ll spend enough
time with the other people for you to feel comfortable around them or that they’ll give
you a chance and make all the first moves.
Getting a handle on your shyness allows you to reverse the condition. You’ll be more willing
to show your personality and put yourself out there in social situations. You’ll feel better about
who you are. You’ll feel comfortable instead of being a ball of nerves. On the whole, your
interactions will be more effective. Reducing your shyness also frees you up to work on your
social skills more effectively. You’ll be able to socialize more often, during which time you can
take more chances, push yourself harder, and make more mistakes you can learn from.

Social anxiety
Social anxiety is when you feel nervous in social situations. It has a lot in common with
shyness; it leads to similar outcomes, like avoidance and impaired social performance, and is
often brought on by fears about how you’ll come across to people. However, social anxiety and
shyness don’t always go hand in hand. It’s possible to feel shy and inhibited at a party without
feeling physically nervous. It’s also possible, but less likely, to feel anxious in a social situation
without having a ton of worries or insecurities (for example, even though you know everything
will turn out fine, you’re stressed about meeting your friend’s friends just because it’s a new
situation and you’re generally frazzled from problems at work).
With social anxiety, the nervousness can become its own problem. Mild anxiety isn’t oodles of

fun, but it’s relatively easy to tolerate and push through. Physically it doesn’t feel that different
from excitement. You may feel a little amped up and jittery or have some minor sweating,
blushing, or butterflies in the stomach. Moderate anxiety is another story. Besides your fear
levels being higher, it can cause unpleasant bodily symptoms like nausea, trembling, dizziness,
hot flashes, heart palpitations, and a need to use the bathroom. Severe anxiety—that is, a panic
attack—is downright terrifying. You feel incredibly bad physically, you have an intense urge to
escape, and you often think you’re going to die or go crazy.
Acknowledging social fears
If a social situation made you anxious, a completely understandable reaction would be to
become scared of it and want to steer clear of it in the future. Stronger anxiety can also lead you
to develop a second-order fear that your anxiety is obvious and noticeable, which in turn can
cause you to fear being rejected; you may worry that everyone will be put off by your looking
like a shaky wreck, or that you’ll do something humiliating, like throw up or freak out in public.
As with shyness, social anxiety can crop up in most social situations or be specific to a
particular one. These more specific fears may be the same as the ones a shy person has (for
example, meeting new people). Socially anxious people can develop other types of specific
fears. First, they may get nervous and self-conscious in day-to-day situations where they feel
people are watching or evaluating them, such as eating in front of their friends, writing in view
of others, working out at the gym, or, for men, using a urinal with other guys around. Second,
they may develop a fear of situations where they’re “trapped.” In situations where people feel
trapped, they worry that if they were to become really anxious, they’d draw attention to
themselves and perhaps become a laughing-stock (for example, sitting in the middle seat of a
crowded movie theater, getting a haircut, riding the subway).
The problem is that this is all self-reinforcing. You develop a fear of fear. When you’re
worried about getting anxious, you’re almost guaranteed to bring on the very nervousness you
want to avoid. It’s one more obstacle to improving socially. If you go to a party, you’re so
preoccupied with managing your nerves that trying to connect with anyone gets pushed to the
back burner.
Overcoming avoidance
It’s no picnic when your nerves screw up your conversation in the moment, so you may choose
to avoid interactions that may be difficult or unpleasant for you. However, over the long run, the
avoidance that anxiety encourages is more damaging. Avoiding something that scares you
prevents you from feeling bad in the short term, but often runs counter to your long-term

interests. Anxiety is manageable if you’re afraid of some obscure scenario, but it’s another story
if you feel nervous about day-to-day social situations that you want to be involved in. A key to
handling anxiety is to break the avoidance habit.
Avoiding something you fear plays into a vicious cycle, which strengthens your anxiety.
Whenever you avoid a situation, the relief you feel reinforces the behavior and cements the idea
that you dodged something truly dangerous. Avoidance can make you miss out on important
parts of life when you try to prevent yourself from ever feeling uncomfortable. You can end up
rearranging your days into a lonely, sterile rut.
It’s one thing to feel blatantly nervous and cancel on a dinner party or decide against trying to
start a conversation with a classmate. However, anxiety can be a lot more subtle when it comes
to avoiding social situations. People sometimes have a hard time admitting that they’re not
doing something because it makes them uneasy, and anxiety is great at providing reasonablesounding excuses and rationalizations. Anxiety can make you think you truly aren’t interested in
an activity when the situation really just scares you. You can be about to leave for a get-together
when you start thinking, “You know what? I really should study tonight instead.” Subtle anxiety
can also appear as procrastination. You really want to join that running club, but you’ve been
putting it off for the past six months because it’s never the perfect time.
Safety behaviors allow you to partially avoid a situation. These behaviors shelter you from the
full brunt of an anxiety-provoking situation. For example, if you feel off-balance at parties, you
may drink a lot to dull your nerves and have a ready-made excuse for any gaffes you make.
Safety behaviors can also be more understated. If you’re mildly anxious in social situations, you
may be able to have conversations, but only when you stick to neutral topics, keep the focus on
the other person, and don’t reveal any deeper personal information about yourself. If you have
trouble with specific symptoms like blushing or nausea, you may wear your hair in a way that
covers more of your face or always carry some stomach-soothing medication around “just in
Social Anxiety Disorder
Shyness is a fairly common, if inconvenient trait. Everyone feels socially anxious at times.
However, if you experience anxiety in social situations often or intensely enough that it
interferes with your life, a professional could decide a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder /
Social Phobia is appropriate. Here are the criteria for it from the latest edition of the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

DSM-5 Criteria for Social Anxiety Disorder
A. Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is
exposed to possible scrutiny by others. Examples include social interactions (for
example, having a conversation, meeting unfamiliar people), being observed (for
example, eating or drinking), and performing in front of others (for example, giving
a speech).
B. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that
will be negatively evaluated (that is, will be humiliating and embarrassing; will lead
to rejection or offend others).
C. The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
D. The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
E. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social
situation and to the sociocultural context.
F. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.
G. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in
social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
H. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a
substance (for example, a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition.
I. The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not better explained by the symptoms of another
mental disorder, such as panic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, or autism
spectrum disorder.
If another medical condition (for example, Parkinson’s disease, obesity, disfigurement from
burns or injury) is present, the fear, anxiety, or avoidance is clearly unrelated or is excessive.

To be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder, your nervousness in social situations has to be
at least moderate. There are degrees of severity within the condition. Someone with a mild
version of it may feel quite uncomfortable in social situations, but is still able to be functional.
In severe cases, people never leave their house, only socialize with family, and panic if they
have to speak to anyone else.
If you suspect you have Social Anxiety Disorder, make an appointment to see a professional
and get their opinion on what steps to take next.

Insecurity boils down to having a low opinion of your own value (particularly in social
situations), assuming other people won’t like you, and believing your flaws will keep you from
meeting your goals. Like anxiety, insecurity is often a component of shyness, but it can exist on
its own. You could go to a social function and be outgoing and calm, while still having thoughts
like, “I’m too lame to be hanging out with this crowd,” “Everyone probably thinks I’m
annoying,” or “He gave me his number and said we should hang out, but if I call, he’ll probably
think I’m needy.”
Insecurity doesn’t rear its ugly head only before a social interaction. You may experience
some of the following thoughts during a conversation:
“I’m probably screwing up.”
“They think I’m annoying.”
“They’ll only like me if I’m really impressive.”
“They’ll only like me if I hide who I really am.”
“He glanced away for a split second after I made that joke. He probably thinks I’m corny
and trying too hard.”
“She’s talking to me now, but it’s probably just out of politeness. She’d never want to
hang out later.”
When you’re facing the opportunity to pursue a friendship, these thoughts may run through
your mind, causing you to second-guess whether you should reach out to the other person:
“They probably don’t want to hang out again.”
“If we meet and grab a coffee, they’ll realize how awkward I really am. No point in
Even after you’ve established relationships, you may feel insecure about your value to the
other person:
“My friends probably don’t really like me. They’re still hanging out with me only out of
inertia or pity.”
“She didn’t return my text right away. She hates me.”
Signs of insecurity

Sometimes people who are insecure show no signs of it. Some insecure people have it together
on the outside, and no one would ever guess that they question their value to themselves and
others. But all too often, people who are insecure subtly convey that feeling to those they’re
talking to. Examples include
coming across as shy, unconfident, and fearful about saying the wrong thing;
trying too hard to please people and do whatever it takes to get their approval;
bragging and trying too hard to impress people; acting overly outgoing and self-assured
to compensate for a lack of confidence; putting others down so you’ll feel better about
yourself in comparison;
acting needy and clingy with friends (for example, contacting them constantly or always
casually mentioning how much they mean to you and how devastated you’d be if they
stopped hanging out with you);
trying too hard to control your friends’ behavior and force them to be considerate toward
you (for example, “I invited you to my birthday dinner, and you didn’t let me know you
were coming until a week before it was happening. You should have let me know right
overreacting to possible signs of rejection, either by giving up entirely, showing needy
behavior (sending a bunch of increasingly frantic “u there?” texts if they don’t reply to
you instantly), or being too quick to stand up for yourself and set them straight over
minor issues (“You were half an hour late to my party. You have no respect for me! Don’t
let it happen again”).

Discouragement / pessimism
Feeling discouraged or pessimistic is an issue that is different from the three above, but often
goes hand in hand with them. The methods for addressing it are the same as well. A history of
poor social outcomes can lead to pessimism and discouragement about meeting your goals to
improve your social situation. Feeling discouraged can then cause you to develop a number of
counterproductive mind-sets that can hinder you even further. It can also lead to self-sabotaging
behavior where you don’t try because you “know” you’ll fail anyway. Here are some typical
discouraging thoughts:
“I’m too unlikable. There’s no point in trying anymore.”
“I could go to that party, but it won’t get me anywhere, so I’ll take a pass.”
“They’ll probably reject me, so I won’t bother talking to them.”

“They seem bored by me. I’ll bow out of the conversation now to save us both time.”
“He just gave me his number and said we should grab a beer sometime. It never works
out when I follow up with someone, so I won’t bother.”
“Maybe other awkward people can improve, but my set of issues is too much to
The four related problems of shyness, social anxiety, insecurity, and discouragement need to
be tackled directly. You should do some work on them before working on conversation or social
life issues you want to fix. If you’re shy and insecure around people, you can indirectly become
more confident by developing your conversation and friend-making skills (assuming they’re not
already fine and your shyness just blocks them from coming out). One warning though: If you
attempt to practice your social skills but haven’t taken steps to address the counterproductive
thinking at the core of your shyness and anxiety, you may end up worse off. You’ll put yourself
in social situations but still see them as dangerous and high-stakes; if something goes wrong,
you may come to inaccurate, disheartening conclusions about yourself and your hopes of
improving. You don’t have to get your thinking to a flawless place before you start working on
your people skills, but your thoughts should be at a level where they won’t completely sabotage
you either.

Shifting your Mind-Set about Your Social Discomfort
BEFORE YOU CAN START WORKING on any shyness, anxiety, or lack of confidence, you need to
develop the right mind-set for dealing with these problems. People often believe two big myths
that give their social discomfort too much power and hinder their ability to deal with it:
1. “There must be a way to totally eradicate my shyness, social anxiety, and insecurities
(and therefore I’ll put improving my social life on hold until I do that).”
2. “I can’t show any signs of social discomfort to people. It’s shameful and will ruin the
You’ll have to do some work, but you can limit the impact of these counterproductive mindsets. This chapter presents some useful attitudes to adopt regarding social situations. If you keep
these points in mind, you’ll be on your way to feeling more comfortable around people and
handling any uneasiness that pops up along the way.

Know and accept that you’ll never banish all social discomfort from
your life
Although the strategies in the following chapters will help you turn down the dial on your social
discomfort, you’ll never banish those issues completely. Humans just aren’t wired to be
blissfully happy and self-assured 100 percent of the time. Even if you learn and apply every
coping strategy there is, you need to accept that the following things will still happen:
At times you’ll have worried, insecure, or counterproductive thoughts, even if you use
every technique you know to try to make them go away.
Sometimes you’ll feel anxious, regardless of how much you try to control it or logically
realize there’s nothing to fret about.
Some situations will always make you a little nervous, even if you’ve successfully gone
through them plenty of times (for example, most people never get entirely comfortable
with public speaking or trying to start a conversation with someone they’re attracted to).
There will be instances where you’ll make a mistake, get rejected, or look bad in a social

situation, even if you do everything you can to prevent it.
You’ll feel down on yourself at times, no matter how much you try to psych yourself up
or remind yourself of your strengths.
Even if you seem to have your shyness and insecurities under control, you may go
through a stressful period in your life that makes them flare up again.
You’ll never be able to predict the future or have full certainty an upcoming social event
will go well.
You may have been born with a tendency to be more anxious and insecure than average,
and it’s something you’ll have to learn to work around.
Accepting that you may sometimes get uncomfortable in social situations takes away some of
the control your shyness and insecurities have over you. For example, if you think awkward
silences are terrible, you’ll avoid countless conversations in an attempt to only chat to someone
under the perfect, safe set of conditions. If you make peace with the fact that lulls happen
sometimes, no matter how prepared you are, you’ll be willing to talk to more people.
Even when you really don’t want a certain outcome, you’ll often feel a kind of relief when
you know for sure it’s going to happen. At least the uncertainty and “what if?” worrying are
gone, and you can focus on how you’re going to handle it. If you knew with 100 percent
certainty you were going to stumble over your words whenever you met someone new, it would
be inconvenient, but you could shift your energy toward coming up with strategies to deal with
that fact.

Aim to become socially functional, rather than 100 percent assured
at all times
After you accept that you’re still going to encounter some social unease from time to time, your
aim should be to become socially functional, where even if you’re nervous or self-doubting, you
can still meet your goals. Don’t put your social life on hold until you wipe all shyness from your
mind, because that will never happen. A key part of being functional is to realize you can be
shy, nervous, or insecure during a social event and still function and ultimately enjoy yourself.
Socializing while experiencing a case of the jitters
When people struggle with social anxiety, they sometimes look at their discomfort in either–or
terms when they’re deciding whether to attend a get-together. They think if they’re not
completely confident and relaxed, then they have to skip it. If nerves strike when they’re with

people, they think the whole outing is ruined.
You can get through most social situations with some self-doubt or jitters. If your nerves or
insecurities are mild, they may not interfere with your outward performance at all. Even if they
trip you up a little, they won’t fully ruin the interaction. Only the most extreme, sustained
anxiety will do that. A conversation can easily be a success, even if you trembled or had trouble
putting your thoughts together at the beginning of it.
When looking back at an outing, how nervous or unsure you were at the time becomes even
less important. If you get nervous in crowds but go to see your favorite band anyway, five years
from now you’ll be happy you went and cherish the good memories you have; you’ll hardly
regret the experience because you felt on edge at the start of the show.
Acknowledging that nervousness comes with valued goals
Figure out what is truly important to you in life and commit to going after it, regardless of your
fears or insecurities. This will put your discomfort in perspective and help you set your
priorities. If you’re pursuing something you truly care about, then any nervousness that comes
up along the way will be worth it. For example, you might decide it’s important to increase your
social circle and try new things. If you get an invitation to go rock climbing with some
coworkers, but the thought of it makes you anxious, it’ll be easier to get yourself to go because
you know it aligns with what you want.
Accept that it’s okay to show signs of your issues
Shyness and anxiety can have such a powerful hold on you because you’re afraid of
experiencing their symptoms in front of people. You can take a lot of that influence away if you
say to yourself, “You know what? If I look scared in front of people, then so be it. If I turn red
while talking to someone, it’s not the worst thing ever, if I seem comfortable with myself
otherwise.” If you can start to care less about the consequences of your self-doubts or anxiety,
you’ll be less likely to feel insecure or anxious in the first place.
Caring less about your social faux pas is easier said than done. The secret is to make acting
against your worries a higher priority than trying to make every interaction go perfectly. You
can achieve this by employing two mentalities, either of which may motivate you depending on
your personality:
1. Be pleasant and understanding toward your fears and insecurities. You see your anxiety as
just trying to help, but it’s going too far. If you’re nervous about meeting your new friends
for drinks, tell yourself, “Anxiety, thanks for your concern, but getting to know new people

is a priority for me, so I’m not going to cancel and stay home.”
2. Be more angry and defiant. You’re tired of letting your shyness and worries push you
around, and you won’t let them run your life any longer. You may be heading to a meet-up
and think, “If I get nervous, I get nervous. At least I showed up and didn’t let my anxiety
rule my life.” On the walk home, you may think, “I was a little inhibited and queasy at the
start of the night, but I hung in there. My anxiety wanted me to leave, but I beat it.”
Mention when you’re shy, nervous, or insecure
Part of accepting your shyness or anxiety can include a willingness to tell people you’re feeling
shy or anxious at that moment, or have a problem with those issues in general. Being able to
talk about your problems takes away the belief that you can’t let anyone find out what you’re
going through. Occasionally someone will respond insensitively, but most people know what
it’s like to feel nervous and will be understanding. If you tell someone, don’t phrase it as a
shameful confession or go into the entire backstory of your struggles. Just casually let them
know you’re a bit nervous and then move on with the conversation. If you set a tone that your
nerves aren’t that big a deal, everyone else will follow your cues.
Know it’s normal to be shy, insecure, or socially anxious at times
It’s certainly not fun or helpful to feel shy or nervous, but it’s not a sign you’re weak or
mentally defective. These problems are very common. Just because they may be giving you
more trouble than average doesn’t change that they’re normal human emotions. Go easy on
yourself and give yourself permission to feel that way.

Knowing whether working on your social skills directly will
decrease your shyness
Many people who are shy or socially anxious have perfectly good social skills. Their fears and
insecurities just get in the way of them using those skills, unless they’re around people they’re
comfortable with. Other people have underdeveloped interpersonal skills in addition to their
shyness and anxiety, and the two problems feed into and amplify each other. If your social skills
are creaky, you may start to feel more socially confident once you develop them more, or even
just learn some strategies on paper and feel more prepared.
The book’s other two sections on conversation and making friends have plenty of advice on
handling social situations. One warning though: If you attempt to practice your social skills but
haven’t taken steps to address the counterproductive thinking at the core of your shyness and

anxiety, you may end up worse off. You’ll put yourself in social situations but still see them as
dangerous and high-stakes, and if something goes wrong, you may come to inaccurate,
disheartening conclusions about yourself and your hopes of improving. You don’t have to get
your thinking to a flawless place before you start practicing your people skills, but your
thoughts should be at a level where they won’t completely sabotage you either.

What if you can’t reduce your shyness or anxiety by yourself?
If you have mild to moderate shyness or social anxiety, you should be able to apply the
suggestions in the next four chapters using a self-help approach. Sometimes your anxiety will
be more severe and too much to handle on your own. If that’s the case, consider seeing a
therapist or joining an anxiety support group. You’ll still go through the same kinds of treatment
approaches the following chapters cover, but a professional or others with similar issues can
support you through the rough patches and customize everything to your needs. Also, go to a
doctor to rule out whether your anxiety has a physical cause, like an issue with your thyroid
Medication may also be an option to look into. Speak to a physician or a psychiatrist about
that possibility and to get the most up-to-date information about your options. Medication
dampens the physical symptoms of anxiety, but doesn’t affect its underlying psychological
causes. It needs to be used in conjunction with psychological treatment approaches that address
those issues. Medication can reduce your symptoms enough that you can implement a treatment
plan you’d otherwise be too nervous to progress through.
Although many people take medication on a short-term basis, a smaller number feel it
improves their quality of life enough to justify staying on it long-term. They realize that they
were born with an overly high anxiety level, and medication brings it down to a level where
they can function better.
Some people are justifiably wary about taking any kind of drug, and it’s not a decision to be
made lightly. Medication can cause side effects, and it can take people some time and
experimentation before they find a drug and dosage that works for them. In more severe cases, it
can make the difference though, so at least give it some thought if a professional makes that

Handling Counterproductive Thinking about Socializing
all sustained in part by thoughts and beliefs that are counterproductive—that is, thoughts that
lead you away from good outcomes. They create unpleasant feelings like nervousness and selfdoubt, and cause you to behave in ways that go against your goals, such as avoiding gettogethers or giving up on trying to be friends with people. They can pop up in the present
moment or when you’re looking back on the past or toward the future. If you can rein in your
negative thoughts about socializing, you’ll be more content and confident and have an easier
time going after what you want.
This chapter explains the two broad ways your thinking can stifle you. Then it covers two
approaches for dealing with your counterproductive thoughts. First, it gives you a framework
for identifying and disputing these types of thoughts and replacing them with more-balanced
alternatives. It then explains an equally effective alternative approach—using mindfulness
principles to acknowledge and accept your counterproductive thoughts without getting sucked
into them.

Counterproductive thinking pattern 1: Cognitive distortions
When thinking about social interactions, you may have thoughts that psychologists call
cognitive distortions. These thought patterns become misleading and irrational in ways that
sustain your problems. It’s possible to have cognitive distortions about all kinds of things, like
your ability to grow tomatoes, but the examples below naturally focus on social situations.
Emotional reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when you think that because your emotions are telling you something is
a certain way, it truly is that way. For example, thinking that because you feel anxious,
something must be happening that is worth feeling anxious about, when in fact maybe you’re
just on edge because you drank too much coffee. In social situations, it often creates the
reasoning of “I’m nervous about doing X, therefore X must be scary, difficult, and

Jumping to conclusions
When you jump to conclusions, you quickly assume something negative, even though your
belief has little or no basis in reality. There are two variations: mind reading and fortune-telling.
Mind reading is when you believe someone thinks a certain way without any solid
evidence to support it (for example, “I just know everyone on my dodgeball team hates
me” or “When she said ‘hi’ she was doing it sarcastically to subtly mock me”).
Fortune-telling is when you assume an event will turn out a certain way (for example,
when you “know” you’re not going to have fun at the bar later that night because some
jerk is going to bother you).
All-or-nothing thinking / Black-and-white thinking
When you see things in simplistic, absolute terms, you’re using all-or-nothing or black-andwhite thinking. This may involve extreme comparisons like perfect vs. useless or words like
“never” or “always.” It often comes up when you’re thinking about your social goals or
evaluating how you’re currently doing. For example, “I don’t think I’ll be able to become
incredibly charismatic, so there’s no point in trying to work on my social skills at all,” or “Not
every person in my class loves me, so that means I’m a complete reject.”
Overgeneralization involves taking a few isolated incidents and making sweeping
generalizations about yourself, other people, or your life. For example, “My one coworker
didn’t invite me out. No one at my job wants to be friends,” or “I didn’t find those two people
that interesting to talk to. I have nothing in common with anybody.”
You’re filtering when you apply a dark-tinted mental lens to your perceptions so you dwell on
the bad aspects of something, while ignoring the good. This can involve “seeing what you want
to see.” Because life offers up a variety of experiences, no matter what conclusion you want to
reach, you can usually cherry-pick enough “evidence” to support it. For example, you may be
feeling discouraged about getting over your shyness and remember the times you felt selfconscious and inhibited, but “forget” all the instances where you weren’t. Or you may believe
that other men / women are macho jerks / catty gossips. You overlook all the people who don’t
fit that stereotype but can’t let it go if you spot someone acting like an obnoxious bro /

backstabbing Queen Bee.
Magnification and minimization
When you overstate how something really is, once again with iffy evidence to back up your
thinking, you magnify the situation; similarly, if you understate a situation with insufficient
evidence, you minimize it. For example, you could magnify the supposed importance of the first
week of college by believing that if you don’t make friends during that time, your social life for
the next four years will be ruined. You could minimize the usefulness of a personal talent by
telling yourself, “Sure, I’m good at singing, but there’s no way that could help me meet people.
How much could joining a choir or band really do?”
When your mind leaps to the worst possible outcome, you’re catastrophizing. It can also mean
to see a situation as totally hopeless or unbearable, when it’s really just uncomfortable. This
cognitive distortion unsurprisingly tends to increase anxiety. Some examples:
“I have no plans this weekend. I can’t take it. I just know I’m going to live a life of
complete social isolation.”
“If I seem shy at this lunch, everyone’s going to think I’m a weirdo and kick me out of
the group.”
“I’m feeling too nervous right now. I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I need to leave.”
“Should” statements
This cognitive distortion involves constraining yourself with unrealistic expectations about how
things “should” be (for example, “People should invite their friends to hang out at least once a
week, otherwise it’s a sign they hate them”; “I should always have brilliant things to say in
conversations”; “I should never get anxious in social situations”).
Labeling occurs when you slap simplistic labels on things in order to explain them, rather than
looking at the unique facets of the situation. You’d be labeling if you explained away a strained
conversation by saying it was because you’re a geek and the other person was a jock, or if you
told yourself, “I’m an electrical engineering student. It’s a given that I’m awkward around

Personalization involves thinking you directly caused something to happen, or that something
relates to you, when other forces may have been at work. For example, you might think your
friends want to leave your place early because you’re so boring, when they’re really just tired.
Disqualifying the positive
Disqualifying the positive is when you dismiss positive events for no real reason, probably
while being all too eager to accept the negative ones (for example, “I had a really nice
conversation with Amy at that party, but it doesn’t count. She’s friendly to everyone. I still suck
at talking to people”).
Attributional style
Disqualifying the positive ties into a related psychological concept called attributional style, or
explanatory style, which is the way people tend to explain events to themselves. People who are
socially insecure tend to dismiss positive experiences as being one-off flukes, while seeing
negative interactions as being caused by their enduring flaws. If they have a good conversation,
they’ll write it off as the other person being in a cheerful mood or talking to them out of pity. If
they have a stilted exchange, they’ll blame it on how boring or awkward they are. Most people
are the opposite. They’re slightly benignly deluded in a way that helps them function better. If
an interaction goes well, they give themselves the credit, but if it doesn’t, they look for outside
explanations, like that the other person was distracted and in a hurry.

Counterproductive thinking pattern 2: Unhelpful beliefs
A lot of counterproductive beliefs arise from cognitive distortions. Odds are, as you read the
preceding section, you recognized a few cognitive distortions you’ve had yourself. Your
thinking can also interfere with your social success when you hold inaccurate beliefs that are
related to socializing. A few of these beliefs are straight-up false. Most have a kernel of truth to
them, but that element has been blown out of proportion. Unhelpful beliefs can be about several
categories. You’ll notice some of them contain cognitive distortions like mind reading or
fortune-telling as well:
Beliefs about yourself
“Being shy or socially inexperienced is a very negative trait.”

“I’m flawed and unappealing at my core.”
“People won’t like me because I’m too X.”
Beliefs about the risks and stakes of socializing
“My worth as a person depends on how well I perform socially.”
“My social performance has to be 100 percent at all times, or I won’t be successful.”
“Every interaction is a test of my social skills and likability.”
“It would be terrible if people thought of me as shy or awkward.”
“Every social mistake I make will have horrible immediate consequences.”
“If I screw up, people will remember it, hold it against me for a long time, and tell
everyone they know, and it will ruin my social life.”
“Rejection is terrible and intolerable.”
Beliefs that give you responsibility for things you can’t control
“I must make everyone like me.”
“I’m 100 percent responsible for how well an interaction goes.”
“I’m 100 percent responsible for other people’s reactions to me.”
Beliefs about other people
“Everyone is really choosy about what they look for in others.”
“Everyone else has their act together socially.”
“Other people are constantly evaluating how I’m coming across socially.”
“This certain type of person is mean and especially likely to reject me.”
“Certain people have the authority to judge my value as a person. If they don’t like me,
then I’m a loser.”
“People often mock others by pretending to compliment or be friendly to them.”
Beliefs about improving your social situation
“Something about my area makes meeting my social goals too hard.” (For example, “The
people in my city are too unfriendly” or “There’s nowhere good to meet anyone in my
“Something about me makes it too hard to reach my social goals.” (for example, “I’m too
old to make friends.” or “I have bad skin. No one will want to hang out with me.”)

“It’s inappropriate or ineffective to do certain things to try to reach my social goals.” (For
example, “I can’t just start conversations with people I don’t know. Who does that?
Everyone will think I’m a creep.”)
These unhelpful beliefs may only somewhat interfere with your social success. For example, a
belief that other people are putting your social skills under a microscope may make you
somewhat more nervous around others, but not enough that it prevents you from meeting new
friends. Beliefs can limit you when you believe them too strongly and refuse to accept the
possibility that you’re wrong. For example, you could believe that you’ll never make friends in
your new city because the locals are too cold and aloof; when anyone tries to say differently,
you get angry. These limiting beliefs can be stubborn because the filtering cognitive distortion
can kick in and cause you to focus only on things that confirm your existing views.
Now that you have an understanding of how your thinking can get in the way, let’s look at the
first method for dealing with it.

Identifying, questioning, and replacing your counterproductive
Because counterproductive thoughts are distorted or inaccurate, you can overcome many of
them by logically picking them apart and replacing them with a more realistic alternative. Here
are the steps to doing this:

Step 1: Identify your counterproductive thoughts and beliefs
You can informally do this step and the next one in your head, but they’re more effective if you
make a proper written exercise out of them. It’s an ongoing process. Don’t expect to spot and
debunk all of your negative thoughts in one twenty-minute brainstorming session.
Areas of counterproductive thinking to delve into
1. Think of what your counterproductive beliefs are. If you’re like most shy or lessconfident people, you’re all too familiar with the messages that scroll through your
brain all day and won’t have trouble getting a bunch of them down on paper.
2. Follow your negative emotions (for example, anxiety, discouragement, resentment) and
see where they lead you. For example, you might start thinking about some
acquaintances, feel a bit sad, and then identify some worries about them not wanting to

become closer friends with you.
3. Pick a specific social situation you struggle with and then examine your thoughts
around it (for example, speaking up in class).
4. Look back on a social interaction you recently had. Say you tried chatting with some
coworkers during your lunch break. How do you feel it went? What discouraging or
self-critical thoughts are you having about it?

Step 2: Critically examine your counterproductive thoughts and
Do this step when you have some time to yourself and you’re in a fairly neutral, logical mood. It
is possible to analyze your thoughts when you’re in the middle of a social situation or in the grip
of a strong emotion, but it’s a lot more difficult to stay objective.
To begin, you want to shift your perspective. When dissecting each thought, imagine it’s
something a friend told you they were feeling about themselves or a statement your worst
enemy made to you. You’ll often uncritically accept ideas from your own mind that you would
question instantly if they came from an outside source.
You could also try “externalizing” your issues. Instead of seeing your anxiety or insecurity as
a core part of you, view it as an outside entity that has taken up residence in your mind and is
trying to sabotage it (for example, picture it as a cartoony demon).
Next, ask several questions of each thought and see how well it holds up:
What is the overall tone of the thought? Sometimes you’ll have thoughts that are
technically accurate and free of distortions, but you’re still being way too harsh and
unsympathetic toward yourself.
Is there a cognitive distortion, self-effacing attribution, or unhelpful belief in the thought?
Do you have any evidence that the thought is accurate and true? Don’t just think about it
for a second and come to a knee-jerk conclusion. Write out all the objective arguments
for each side, like you were arguing a case in court. Say you believe no one likes you.
What real-world encounters are you basing that on? Are you giving too much weight to
one negative memory? What about counterexamples of people who enjoy having you
If you feel you do have evidence that the thought is true, is it accurate, or is it the product
of counterproductive thinking as well? If you think, “No one likes me,” and for evidence
you recall that last week one acquaintance didn’t respond to your text right away, that’s

overgeneralizing or jumping to conclusions. If you say, “I just know everyone hates me. I
just feel it every time I reach out to someone,” that’s mind reading and emotional
If you have a simplistic black-and-white thought about yourself, like “I’m boring,” can
you break it down more? You’re not either 100 percent dull or 100 percent interesting.
What percent interesting would you say you are? What are the individual elements of
being interesting? Being funny? Having unique experiences and stories to share? Having
insightful opinions? If you made each of those a scale from 0 to 10, where would you
come out on them?
What if a belief or observation turns out to be true?
If you’re really shy and insecure, you should lean toward assuming your thoughts on socializing
are at least somewhat skewed. However, sometimes you’ll put a thought or belief through the
questioning process, and it will be accurate. For example, you can make a solid argument that
two of your acquaintances truly don’t want to be closer friends. When that’s the case, don’t
overgeneralize beyond it (two people not wanting to be friends with you doesn’t mean you’re
utterly flawed and hopeless). Even if the conclusion you came to stings, try to get any useful
feedback you can from it, such as realizing you were coming on a bit too strong and scared
them off.
Finally, ask yourself what the consequences are of holding a particular thought or belief. Even
if it’s technically true, it may not lead to the best outcomes. For example, you could make a case
that humans are inherently selfish; however, socializing under this assumption may lead you to
be too guarded, distrusting, and cynical. It’s more adaptive to act as if people generally have
good intentions.

Step 3: Come up with more realistic, balanced alternatives for your
counterproductive thoughts
The key words here are realistic and balanced. The idea is not to skip around being blindly
“positive.” An unrealistic counterproductive thought might be, “Everyone at this party will hate
me. I’ll never make any friends in this city!” An equally unrealistic overly positive thought may
be, “I’m an amazing person! Everyone there will love me instantly!” A balanced thought is,
“Some people will probably like me, and others won’t. The ones who aren’t into me probably
won’t be mean, just kind of indifferent. I can handle that and will concentrate on the ones who
seem friendly.”

As mentioned, tone is just as important as content. Even if what you’re telling yourself is
technically balanced and true, you shouldn’t need talk to yourself as if you’re an incompetent
piece of crap. You can work to improve yourself while being compassionate and understanding
of your struggles at the same time.
There will be several examples after the final step is explained.

Step 4: Continually question your counterproductive thoughts
If you have interpersonal issues, you have probably been thinking about yourself and your