It’s a beautiful Monday afternoon as of me writing this.
Right now it’s just me, my laptop, and an ice cold glass of beer… oh, and a couple of dozen of other people who around me. I’m writing this siting alone at a bar. The thought of this alone would trigger anxiety for quite a few people.
- “People will think I’m weird if I’m all by myself.”
- “What if someone thinks I have no friends?”
- “Oh lord, everyone is looking at the lone weirdo over there.”
Ever had thoughts like that?
It’s a common theme among so many people suffering from some form of social anxiety, fear and insecurity. Even when walking down the street, you might have felt that everyone around you is looking at you. Like everyone is taking in every detail about you. Like everyone is judging you.
Let’s put that to rest!
Today I’ll be shedding some light on this issue and offer a way of thinking that will help you overcome these kinds of thoughts.
Your Life Is a Movie
This is something we all do in our own minds.
Wherever you go, you are the one person who is always there. You are the main character of your own life, you follow your own path, you tune into your own thoughts, you are there every step along the way. In your head, you’re constantly thinking about everything related to your life.
- The things that happened to you
- Your worries
- Your future
- Your problems
- Your “awkward moments”
- And so on…
You are literally in your own head 24/7!
You have some side characters in your mental movie: your friends, your family, your significant other, perhaps a social club or sports team, etc. Those are the characters that help bring the story to life. They are the characters that help you, the main character, come to life.
Let’s Make a Bet!
Okay, let’s play a little game here:
You have most likely come across a situation where you think someone did something weird, looked funny and things like that. Try to think of a recent moment where you saw a person or something they did that stood out to you.
Now here’s your challenge:
Take anything from your past week. If you can describe both the person as well as their behavior that stood out to you, you win! Note that this has to be a stranger, your own friends, family and people you know don’t count here.
I’ve run this through with a few people, putting them on the spot.
And guess what?
In those little experiments, not a single person could recall any details about an event like that. Not a single one! Every one of them has been in situations where someone did something weird or embarrassing, but none of them actually remembered any details.
You most likely can’t either, can you?
Therein lies one of the truths in overcoming social anxiety:
NOBODY is paying attention to you!
In your own head, you are playing this mental movie where YOU are the hero or heroine. The reason you cannot remember any details from the kinds of events I described is that in this movie of yours, those people are mere background characters! They are there, but the main attention is on you as the main character as well as the supporting side characters in your life.
You Are NOT Alone
Everybody else is doing the exact same thing!
In THEIR mental movies, THEY are the star. They are the main character that the movie revolves around. THEIR friends and family are the side characters in that movie. And in their movie, YOU are just a background character! You are nobody of real importance. You are that character who was in the movie for 10 seconds and you are easily forgotten as soon as you’re off-screen.
Here’s the thing:
Sure, people may think you’re being weird for a moment. They might even remark about it to the person next to them. But the thing is that after that people return to their own world. They’re back in their own head, thinking about their own problems and playing their own mental movies!
In just a few short moments, you’ve become an afterthought!
There are two ways to respond to this:
You can either get bummed out thinking that no stranger cares about you.
Or, you can take reassurance in the fact that even in the worst-case scenario, the kind where you “embarrass” yourself beyond measure, you’ll be long forgotten 5 minutes later! It’s your ultimate cue to breathe easy, relax and know that no matter what happens in ANY social situation, you will be 100% fine!
- Nobody is closely examining you
- Nobody is judging you
- Nobody is even really paying attention to you
- Almost nobody is going to remember you
You have the best of both worlds!
Be yourself without minding too much what other people think about you! If you meet someone where your authentic self resonates with the other person, you’re potentially making yourself some new friends. In the cases where that’s not the case, it doesn’t matter because they’re most likely not even going to remember you in a week.
Not caring about what other people think about you does NOT mean doing stupid, inappropriate things. It does not justify being an asshole! Of course you should be calibrated to the vibe you give off to other people to the best of your ability. What it does mean is that you do not attach your self-worth to the opinion of others and that you don’t need their approval to feel good and feel comfortable being yourself.
The Case Against Social Anxiety
Let’s dive a bit deeper into your own thinking:
Your mind is NOT programmed for your success, it is programmed for your survival.
Evolutionarily speaking (back in cavemen times), your best chances of survival were when you were part of the group. Most of our social anxiety stems from that instinct. Your mind wants to ensure your survival and not fitting in with other people was (in the past) a detriment to that survival.
And so your mind makes up the worst-case scenario.
In your mind, you fear the situation where you don’t fit in. You fear not having people’s approval. You fear being a social outsider. All because of your mind’s purpose to ensure your survival. Back in the days, these things meant that you were almost certain to die…
Of course, these days that is not the case.
But in your own mind, it still is!
Your mind still views any kind of not fitting in with you as potentially dying, which is the root cause of social anxiety. The response we have to any situation where we “stand out negatively” (in our own thinking) is disproportionate to the amount of “danger” there really is.
Back to social anxiety:
It’s likely going to be difficult at first as it goes against your instincts, but it’s time to let go of the need for other people’s approval! You aren’t under NEARLY as much pressure as you think you are! If you take the amount of judgment you think people have of you and divide that by 1000 times, you’re way closer to how much people actually judge you!
Relax and breathe easy my friend!
Actually, let’s go back to the intro of this article:
I was the only person who was sitting by himself at the terrace. I was the only person who was working there. I was the only person who had a laptop on the table. I was literally the odd one out among all of the people that were sitting there this afternoon.
Do you know how many weird looks or judgment I got during the entire time?
So here’s my call out to you:
- Go to a terrace by yourself if you want to enjoy a drink and the nice weather! (Have dinner too while you’re there)
- That new movie you’re excited about, but your friends aren’t? Go and see it by yourself!
- Let your authentic self shine through in whatever situations you’re in in your life!
- Let go of the need of everyone’s approval, you do NOT need it and are perfectly fine without it!
Your mind wants you to believe that not fitting in is the end of the fucking world… While it used to be true thousands of years ago, it just does not hold true these days! Take comfort in the thought that you are not constantly judged and be yourself!
You got this!