I went to a restaurant by myself… Like a psychopath

A few weeks back I published the blogpost How high fiving strangers helps me design products. The post is about how I’ve been validating and testing in order to understand users for the product, Steps.
Steps helps people overcome social anxieties with progressive challenges.

Social anxieties are the biggest reason for not achieving the things we want in life. The fear of speaking in public, talking to strangers or just speaking your mind is something that affects us all.
The only way to overcome a fear is simply by practicing it. This method is also called Exposure Therapy, it simply means you confront your fear, in order to become less afraid. Therapists use this technique to treat all sorts of fears and exposure therapy is proven to be the most effective treatment for social anxieties.

Since November I have been pretotyping. Pretotyping means you don’t build anything, but instead do the absolute minimum to get validation.
So I invited 10 people to a Facebook chat-group. Together we completed 3 challenges and shared our experiences. The first challenge was to high five a stranger.

My high five

Interacting with strangers, with the possibility of a rejection, is frightening yes! 
But I wanted to understand how the method can apply to other fears, including my own. My biggest fear is being by myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love being alone, but the thought of going alone for dinner or to a party terrifies me.
I found out that this can be related Agoraphobia, the fear of wide-open spaces, unfamiliar places and uncontrollable social situations.
In my case it’s a mix and most of all the fear of what other people might think of me.

Like a psychopath.

Therefore I gave myself 6 challenges, only rule was to be absolutely alone, no laptop and no staring at phone. I have done this first 3 and here is how it went:

  1. Go to the movies
    This was piece of cake! Or not really, but it was easier than expected. I’m not sure what I expected but nothing unexpected happened.
    I arrived 10 minutes before the movie started, enough time to get a coke and sweets and little enough time to worry about what other people might think. The place was pretty much empty and I got my own row in the back. I watched Zootopia (which was absolutely amazing!), after a while I forgot I was alone and simply enjoyed the movie. When the movie ended it felt a bit weird not to share the experience with someone, but all in all it was not nearly as bad as expected.
A very dark selfie from the movies

2. Go out for dinner
It seems like everyone but me finds this enjoyable. I hated just the thought of it. Every time I decided to go to a place I told myself that it was either too crowded or or too empty and changed my mind. After walking around in circles for about 30 minutes I finally went into a local turkish restaurant and asked for a table for one. I had to stop myself from constantly checking my phone but after my first beer things became easier and I enjoyed my meal while observing family dinners and tinder dates. The meal even ended with turkish delights and a sweet alcoholic shot, tasting like marzipan, on the house.
This is something I want to work on until it feels natural and I’ve decided on another place I want to try already tonight.

A table for one

3. Go to a museum
I went to South London Gallery, walked around, took some pictures and left when I had enough. Doing things on my own feels easier when I don’t have to interact with anyone. At a museum you just walk in, take a look around and walk out when you’ve had enough.

My favorites from museum by Michael Dean

What I learned so far

Share and commit
Talking about my anxiety to friends and coworkers made me realize that I’m not alone. It also helped me realize that I have to do something about it. Finally breaking it into smaller tasks and writing them down, made me do them.

It’s all in my head
Like most anxieties, it’s the “what if” that keeps me from doing it, actually doing the thing I fear is not that bad.

Don’t think too much about it
Actually don’t think about it at all, just go ahead and do it.

Makes me more self-aware
Going out alone made me more aware of my surroundings and my own needs. It made me more open to other people and it even got me to start conversation with the staff at the museum.

It’s a muscle
Anxieties won’t disappear just because I went to the movies once, I need to keep challenging myself and keep working on feeling comfortable without support from others. The second meal alone felt much better and now I’m looking forward to my next 3 challenges.

I googled ‘fear of doing things by yourself’ and got 219,000,000 results, so I’m not alone after all.

Shoutout to Ben Marsh for being a genius and my always supportive Fampany™, ustwo.