Are you like I used to be and find it difficult talking to new people, difficult to start a conversation easily? I see people all the time starting conversations easily. On the bus or tram, in job interviews or on a first date, but I used to struggle.
I was so shy and unconfident. I had a few friends, but I thought it might make it easier for me to enjoy going to the gym, finding someone to go on a date with, or in my new job, if I could start a conversation, and build a connection with new & different people more easily.
There are so many different ways that you can meet people. Anyone that you’ve ever created a connection with, that you are friends with, whether it’s a deep lasting long-term friendship or someone you see every now and then, at one point, you didn’t know each other. At one point, you were strangers.
What holds you back from starting a conversation?
So what’s happening, what’s stopping you from going out and talking to people or making new friends? You’re sitting on the train, or you’re in the store or at the gym, why don’t you go up and talk to a new person?
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I noticed every now and then I’d feel confident, but most of the time, I’d shy away from new people. The frustrating thing was I couldn’t work out, those few times that I would feel confident, when it happened. If I could work out when it would happen, I could time my dates, my interviews and my gym sessions for that day!
I thought confidence was something outside of me, my clothes, makeup, something I ate or drank, . I would start feeling confidence at the time when I’d do or say the right thing, or when the right thing happened to me.
What about the thoughts going through your head? I’d have thoughts like ’Oh I’m not interesting’, ‘They won’t like me’, ‘What am I going to talk about’, ‘They look like their busy, I better not interrupt them’, ‘They don’t have time to stop and chat’ or ‘I don’t have time to stop and chat’, ‘We don’t have anything in common’ or ‘They’re completely different to me’, ‘They’re too good looking’. On it would go. And that’s only a few of the thoughts that would go through my head when I was thinking about going up and talking to a new person.
I’d come up with a hundred different excuses or reasons not to go up and talk to somebody, my thinking (or overthinking) would go into overdrive! Instead of talking to people, I’d sit back and ‘people watch’. I’d tell myself that I was fascinated by people and that I would rather watch them, and learn all I can, so then I could get to the stage of going up and talking to people. What was actually happening was that I was nervous, and I prefered to stay safely thinking and overanalyzing, rather than risk of talking to someone and getting it ‘wrong’.
But, how do we learn to overcome the fear?
We learn through experience right? When you think back to a child learning to walk. When they are around one year old, they’ve been crawling around and now they are about to take their first step. Now when they do, they get up, they are a bit shaky, testing that their legs can hold them up. Then they go for it. They take their first step, maybe a second step and usually fall over. What does the adult watching them usually do? More often than not, they clap and cheer, get excited, encourage, saying things like ‘Woohoo’, ‘Well done, that was great’, ‘Try again’.
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How we learn seems to change for a lot of people as they grow up. As we grow up, we have more experiences and it’s like we start raising our expectations of what we can do, or how we should learn something. We train ourselves to make learning more difficult. And oftentimes if we don’t get something right the first time, we don’t always try again.
The biggest difference I notice between how we used to learn as one year olds and how most people learn as we grow older, is that we forget to celebrate. We celebrate big successes – birthdays, big achievements, getting married, having a child etc. These are great to celebrate but they don’t happen so often. And we forget to celebrate the little things, making learning harder, less inviting and we start to think that I was better off accepting where I was at rather than learning a new skill.
What if when we were learning how we meet people, if the first time we took the first two steps, if it doesn’t go exactly to plan, we stop, ‘Woohoo’, cheer, get excited about having given it a shot and tell ourselves to try again. It would make it more fun, right? And we’d be enthusiastic about giving it another go.
We should just give up, right? No!!!
When we don’t celebrate the little things, the ‘perfectionist’ trait starts to develop. I hear people say ‘I didn’t get it perfect’ or ‘I didn’t do it right’. When a child is learning to walk, I don’t hear them say ‘Oh my goodness, I just want to get this walking thing right. I want to get it perfect straight away so I’m going to study it. I’m going to go online and watch youtube videos, study human anatomy and then when I’m five years old, I’ll stand up and walk straight away’.
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It sounds ridiculous, but that’s essentially what we’re saying when we look for perfection first. It’s like a child getting up, taking two steps, falling over and turning around and saying ‘I’m never doing that again, it didn’t work!’ ‘I’m terrible at walking, I’ll never get it!’ or ‘I shouldn’t be trying to walk’. So many people are not making it easy & fun to learn or do something new.
I have a friend who was really shy, who would spend all of his lunchtimes and breaks at school in the library, surrounded by books and computers. He didn’t interact with other kids, and when he did, he was really shy. As he grew up to about 18 years old and had been noticing his friends were starting to meet new groups of friends, having fun and getting into relationships, he wanted the same. He wanted to start meeting more people, but he was so shy & scared of going up and talking to people, especially girls. What he did about it was so simple and easy, and he made it fun.
Rather than set his expectations too high and judge himself on his ability to meet someone, connect with them and instantly have a long and engaging conversation, he set realistic expectations based on his abilities. What he made was a list of the achievable steps he could do while he was walking down the street, or at a cafe or somewhere similar. The thing he did for the first week, every night over an hour, was go up and say hi to the first person he made eye contact with and say. Then he’d walk away and celebrate (yay!), before continuing to do it again with someone else. That was it! He didn’t have to wait for them to say ‘Hi’ back, and risk getting stuck in awkward conversation. Step one was just say ‘Hi’.
The second week, he’d improve on the steps of the first week. He’d go up, make eye contact say ‘Hi’ and give them a genuine compliment ‘I really like your jumper’. Then he’d celebrate and go do it again with another person, over an hour every afternoon for that week.
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
Each week he’d add another step little by little, like building a house one brick at a time. Within 6 or 7 weeks he was easily going up talking to new people, starting a conversation with anyone and enjoying it! All because he built the structure of talking to people one brick at a time rather than putting all the breaks in together and then getting confused or overwhelmed by not feeling good about it. Now, he’s the person that it the first to arrive at a party and the last to leave and will be talking to different people the whole time.
So what’s the first step?
What’s your first step going to be? Find something little, something simple you could do again and again to build up your confidence. It might seem slow to start with but what happens is that before long it’s natural, and you catch yourself talking to people in line for a coffee or at the grocery store, without thinking about it!
Things that we do automatically now, like brushing our teeth or tying our shoelaces at one time on our life were difficult, they were new. We had to learn how to do them and then we did them again and again until now, we don’t think about them at all. Talking to people is exactly the same. Talking to strangers is exactly the same.
Start simply, write down your steps. For me I started with smiling at people and making eye contact. That was the struggle for me to start with. I didn’t like making eye contact with people and smiling but once I started, it got easier. Next for me was saying ‘hi’ to someone. Next was to introduce myself. Maybe the fourth step is to ask a question, I like to ask what do you like to do for fun? It gets a much better response than how’s the weather, or what do you do for work. The most important thing is to keep going and every time after you do a step, celebrate it, feel good about it, feel good that you’ve done it!
The more times that you have a good feeling about something the better you feel about doing it. When you build on your achievements, it builds confidence. That’s the secret to having fun meeting people. It gets easier through repetition, through doing it and celebrating the little steps and achievements along the way. Go ahead, discover how much fun it can be meeting new people!
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