15 Days of Social Discomfort: Day 2

My train is stuck and so I figured that I might as well wrap up todays’s hour of discomfort. Hour? Yes, hour. As I had some appointments until the early afternoon, I decided to go for one hour of crash-and-burn.

Today’s agenda included clapping in public and giving strangers compliments. Upon the train coming closer to the big city (different one than the last time), my heart was starting to beat faster and faster – and now here I stand, the fear having subsided and uncertainty filled its place. It’s a 12-minute walk to the city. There’s only a few people here at the central station, but I start clapping – I’ll have to do this 3 times, so let’s start now. I feel like I’m disturbing some people, but no one seems to mind. They’ve all got other stuff to do.

I meet an old lady and ask her for directions, and she’s happy to help. That’s a burden falling for me, and I ask some more people – to see that all of them react in the same positive way (except that one woman who ignored me – maybe she’s used to idiots hitting on her? I, for one, only wanted to know directions).

Just from approaching these strangers, my whole demeanor changes. I know that I have an extroverted part (in accordance to Jung’s theory of dominant and auxiliary traits). I smile, I am much more eager to hold eye contact, I come up with crazier ideas to get out of my comfort zone (of which I then don’t do any, often adding to my insecurity).

I have found the city. Time to disturb other people again. The fear makes me get more into my head, and out of my extroverted side. I start clapping my hands together. I feel like people are looking at me or amusing themselves, and I hear someone clap behind me, but those may all very well be illusions. One guy looks at me, we exchange smiles. He expresses some pity for me – as if I were doing this because I lost a bet. Hostile reactions? None. But it is the most entertaining when doing it while waiting at a traffic light – no way to move on and ignore me now. This is fun. After two minutes, I stop to enjoy the feeling of greatness.

One of today’s observations is that the longer I wait after doing something, the more the fear starts to build up again. And I have to clap one more time – I decide to chirupp (with some clapping) instead. That elicits about the same amount of fear, but is more interesting… I don’t want to bother people. And honestly, that’s an excuse.

But I move on, now starting to get crippled thinking about the next challenge: Complimenting strangers. Just while passing them, nothing serious. Multiple times, I have something on my tongue and look at my recipient of choice. And then I swallow it. Something powerful inside of me is in the way.

I’m making my way to the next big mall so I can do it there – my mind comes up with a hundred justifications for that. On the way there, I’m noticing some behavior I normally sport when I’m really afraid and in my head: Crossing my arms, nervously fidgeting with stuff, shying away from eye contact. And upon entering the mall, all my pretty excuses have dissolved into an overwhelming fear. I come up with some half-assed compliment ideas, but I’m not willing to make anything of it. I know that it will be half as hard after breaking through the initial barrier, but despite all psyching, I can’t do it, and because of time pressure (great justification for not persevering!) I hop into a tram to the central station. On the way there, I make a last attempt. Nobody’s around, and a guy is locking his beautiful bicycle. I open my mouth, look at him – and close it. My face must have looked funny with its muscles tensing but not releasing, almost aggressive.

After that, I avoid any eye contact and rudely jump into the train. Textbook case of being too in-my-head.

How did I end up there? I attempted too much. Next time doing this (about two weeks from now, vacation first) I will make sure to warm up and get myself right into my extroverted side to then immediately fire away with the compliments, so I don’t have time to become afraid.

Why is that fear there? No idea. I only know that I’ve been avoiding it my whole lifetime and that to overcome it, I have to work hard (leaving my comfort zone repeatedly) and smart (warming up).

It’s really humbling to see such constraints to break loose from in myself – it makes it hard for my ego to justify myself as better than others if I can’t even talk to these same “others.” Just for that, tracking and hunting my fear is absolutely worth it.

I will now take a (forced) vacation during which I will pause the challenge. But after that, I will have a battle plan and I will not take hostages. Although I may need some ice cream to get me back on track, I have been really grim the last hours. But I see it like soreness after a good workout. I see it as an honor. If it’s absent, I haven’t pushed far enough. And even though it drives my family crazy, I’m proud of it, because it indicates progress in one of the most important areas of my life.

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