How I Overcame My Fear Of Talking to Strangers
Don't believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that - thoughts.
Talking to strangers has always been my greatest weakness. Two years ago I would gladly run into a burning building than say hello to a stranger.
I'm sorry I have to boggle you down with my story but it's only meant to clarify my points so that this can be useful to you.
I’m a recovering socially terrified imp who had no friend in high school except for those in my class. And then after high school, I had only a single friend who happen to live in the next apartment to ours.
It was after I made it to college that I realized I should learn how to overcome my fears. I saw that I couldn’t survive on my own. And to make matters worse, the loneliness side effect of my fear was starting to cause me serious emotional pain.
I had to overcome it ASAP!
So I took to personal development and the four points below are the goodies that shot me outta my comfort zone.
Realize that Negative thoughts are normal
Every time I was out around people, my thoughts were always super negative, I would want to talk to a girl walking by and think only of how I would get rejected and embarrassed.
I would see rejection and criticism in clear images in my head and because of that I wouldn’t even try.
It was only after I learned evolutionary biology that I saw the big mistake I was making. I learned that the basic programming of our human brains is to keep us safe.
Evolutionary biologist call this survival driven aspect of our brain the reptilian brain. And it functions through ceaseless horrible future predictions and harsh rehashing of the past.
This happened to be the way it kept our naked and weak ancestors alive 200000 years ago. They were always thinking negatively and anticipating everything so that they can quickly run away from danger.
Our primitive ancestors can’t afford to think positively or else they would die off quickly. But even though, I’m not in any serious danger right now, my reptilian brain doesn’t know that.
It is still trying to protect me from danger — strangers!
I learnt that my mind was meant to come up with negative thoughts and that it will keep pointing out that my approaches will turn to disaster and that I’ll fail because I’ve failed in the past.
What saved was that I also learnt that I had a choice.
I could choose not to believe the negative thoughts. I can bring in the understanding that the horrible thoughts are just the evolutionary tricks of my mind meant to keep me safe.
Understanding this, I came to see that my thoughts were nothing but words and images in my head that I could choose to believe in or not.
I'm not going to tell you I just woke up and made this huge decision. I didn't. It took me some steps and they are outlined below.
Accept the negative thoughts
The next step I took was accepting my negative thoughts. Yeah you heard that right.
It is impossible to beat millions of years of genetic programing but you don’t have to best your thoughts. Negative thoughts are not really a problem unless you believe in them.
In the past, I only had a problem with my thoughts when I believed them and let them stop me. Eventually I was able to take action even though I still had the thoughts.
I had simply chosen not to believe in them anymore.
I accepted the negative thoughts with open arms and got used to them to showing their ugly faces. I accepted that I’ll think not only of embarrassment but also how I’m a huge failure as I’m about to approach someone.
I stopped fighting the thoughts, because I realized that even though I can’t control my thoughts, I can control my actions no matter what thoughts are flirting through my mind. And it even got easier when I learnt mindfulness.
Stand back from them
I got my real breakthrough when I learnt an exercise called psychological defusion.
Psychologist Steven C. Hayes discovered this exercise in 1982 as a part of the Acceptance and commitment therapy.
He called the state of mind in which we believe everything we think as psychological Fusion, that is our thoughts and us are inseparable.
Steven then came up with Psychological Defusion as a mindfulness exercise that helps us separates from our thoughts and makes us see them as they really are — thoughts — nothing but words and pictures in our heads.
All it requires is for you to sit down in a quit place for some minutes with your thoughts.
Take a deep breath and bring a negative thought to mind such as "I can’t approach that girl" or "I’m just not social, I can’t do this" and then add a prefix of "I’m having a thought that" to it.
So instead of saying you are scared or you can’t do it, reframe the thoughts into "I’m having the thought that I can’t approach that girl" and "I’m having a thought that I’m not social and I can’t do this".
You’ll see this gives you an immediate sense of distance from your thoughts. You’re able to perceive them as nothing but thoughts.
Another way to do this is to sing the negative thoughts in silly tunes such as jingle bell and merry Christmas. This is usually so much fun to me and I did it a lot.
When I learnt this, I committed to it with a passion I’ve never had before in my entire life . I set reminders on my phone and I do 3 sessions of ten minutes everyday for more than a month.
And it paid off!
Doing this frequently gave me a sense of distance from my thoughts when I want to approach people, and even though I couldn't take huge action. I was able to start with small actions.
Defusion made it easy for me to take small actions such as going out to meet ups and smiling at people.
Then gradually over time I was able to break the ice and say hello to strangers. Most of them went well and some bad, I had a lot of awful thoughts focusing on the bad, but I defused from those thoughts too and kept saying hello and smiling to strangers everywhere around campus.
The more I practiced defusion, the less I believed my negative thoughts even though I still had them for months after I started practicing. Eventually after I had approached over 100 strangers, the thoughts and the fear reduced drastically.
Surround yourself with confident people
One more thing that really help me in overcoming my fear was the fruits of the first meet-ups I went to as I started facing my fear.
The meet ups were mainly about self-improvement and mindfulness, and I quickly made friends there. The new friends I made were those who gave me the added motivation to keep practicing defusion and keep going out to meet new people.
One of them even gave me a book on a social skills by an FBI agent that I still use today, and they introduced me to their friends so I can practice my social skills.
So just as Jim Rohn said
"You are the average of the five people you spend most of your time with"
I was able to talk to more people in the first few months I met my new friends at the meet up than I had talked to in my entire life before I met them.
So that was how I Overcame my fear of taking to strangers. I learnt that the negative thoughts that comes up as I’m about to take action are genetically designed so I accepted them.
Then I practiced psychological defusion to stand back from my thoughts coupled with small actions - just going out and smiling at people and later graduating into saying hello.
And all these wouldn’t have been possible without my friends. I hope my story resonates with you and you can use the lesson to overcome your fear too if you’re having one.
Then it’s worth recommending!