15 Days of Social Anxiety: Day 6. The Subtle Art of Getting Pissed.

If Day 5 was messy, I am at a the end of my vocabulary. This was worse. This produced 9 pages of notes. This took so long I didn’t even have time to write about it when I got home yesterday – although, truth be told, I spent only a few hours really attempting to approach strangers. I had a a lot of fun just doing my thing, too – but I will try not to make this an overly long diary entry.

I traveled several hours today, hoping the distance from home would make this all easier. It did not. When I get out of my train, I have spent the last three hours reading or listening to podcasts – not something that prompts me to be more social. I leave the city’s central station and rethink my goals: approach or compliment 15 strangers and approach 5 girls. Damn, this is going to be hard. But there is no turning back. It is 11:05 am and I did not come here to jerk off and watch my favorite dramedy series (which, if you’re interested, is suits).

So, after being in my head for another quarter-hour, I ask a man where the townhall is… Which, understandably, makes him amused. Who doesn’t find the townhall? Who cares. His accent and friendly attitude instantly elevate my mood. Wasn’t so hard after all. There’s just one problem: I don’t care for the town hall. I may care for my bible friends, but they’re not here. So I ask an old lady and a man smoking something for a nearby park. The latter gives me a recommendation. Crossing a bridge, I try to formulate a compliment for style in my head. A man with a really fresh tie comes around – no, no, not now. I do it anyway. I haven’t yet understood the mechanism that sometimes makes me do these things robotically while I am thinking how much I don’t want to do it. It’s almost as if a part of my subconscious wrestles with the part that obviously tries to get me to not do it (and is damn effective at that).

The little off-beat park is amazing, and I snack on some cashews. I have a problem, though: I need to pee. So, I ask the internet and the internet responds: there’s a public library. Why haven’t I come up with that by myself, dammit? I’m going there. I ask a few people for the way. Not that I wouldn’t find it, but directions are too good a reason for approaching to let them go to waste. Eventually, I find it. This thing is huge. And I love books. So, I stay.

At 2 pm, I have finished Atul Gawande’s “Checklist Manifesto.” Time to get movin’ again. While descending a staircase on my way out, I see a pretty girl coming right at me… No chance. I am in my head from reading. Dammit. Such a good chance. I start walking through the city, disheartened, frightened. I give a man whom I pass in a side street a compliment for his amazing hat. The busy pedestrian zone intimidates me. I’m now hungry – let’s head to another, more central park.

2:20 pm. Eating cashews and listening to the woman on the bench right to me complain about some stuff. When I come back, after 20 minutes of walking in a direction that proves to be a dead-end, she’s still complaining. At 2:55, I set my intent on finding girls. The few remaining approaches/compliments can be done in 30 seconds. The girls – not. While I am amazed by a guy playing didgeridoo, I realize something: I am not afraid of rejection. In fact, I want it because it gives me a quick way out of interactions. I am afraid of judgment. That’s why I most favorably approach people standing on the side of the pedestrian zone and don’t even think of walking up to groups of girls. I definitely need to do more things in the realm of clapping/lying on the floor to lessen that fear.

At 3pm, a silver lining occurs: I see my good friends smiling at me, hoping I check out their free bible courses. I walk away from them. Some day, I might ask them if they’re stalking me. And while I consider turning around for that very reason, another silver lining: A perfect candidate passes me. I can’t see her face – but I sure as hell see her backside. Oh Jesus. You have heard my cries. There’s only a handful people in the street we are just walking down, her a little bit faster than me. But let me tell you who doesn’t give a shit about my cries: my brain. My heart starts racing and I do my best to muster at least some courage – no way. I make a note about it. It’s almost as if I want her to disappear.

And that’s what she does. So, relieved, I ask a guy of Arabic origin for directions. He doesn’t speak the language very well, but points me to the riverside. I am always intimidated by people of Arabic origin – you see, they don’t have the best image here and I can’t help but be influenced by that a bit. As much as I am open-minded, I won’t deny that subconsciously, I am scared of them all. Anyway, there’s a bigger problem: She is standing at a tram stop, with not even half a dozen people around. I stop and pause for a moment. I have to do this. Just directions. I walk towards her, the fear almost overwhelming me. I haven’t had that before. Most likely because I’ve never had the balls. She’s faced away from me, so I make sure to walk around her and approach from an angle of 90 degrees maximum. She is damn pretty, although probably about two to three years older than me (which, by the way, is exactly my target demographic). She looks at me like I’m a little puppy – I’ve heard of that before. What a beautiful look. I tell her that I just want to know directions – and with a smile usually reserved for four-year-olds and the aforementioned puppies, she tells me the right direction. I’d have ended up somewhere in the suburbs otherwise. I thank her and leave. I know she’s looking at me, and I’m pretty sure the people around are, too. But I don’t care. I grin devilishly and look toward the sky. I haven’t suddenly started to believe in God – I’ve regained faith in myself.

Now reasonably fly, I give a guy thumbs-up for his visible soccer team affiliation and intimidate a refugee on a bench by telling him that the book he’s reading – Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari – is a banger. I cannot, however, find any lone girls to make my state even better. And this is a theme that will continue as I am pretty much making laps through the pedestrian zone and its side streets (where I feel more comfortable approaching), spotting only girls who are with their family, boyfriends or female friends. The two solo ones I spot, I let pass. They’re not enough. I don’t do it in both cases. And by 4 pm, I’m severely pissed. So, I take a break and contemplate where to best meet solo girls, because it doesn’t seem to be in the city on a summer’s holiday Friday afternoon. Makes sense. What kind of hot girl would be sitting in a park or library at this time, and that alone? I wouldn’t say none, but I am also not exactly sure the number comes close to one.

Anyway, at 5 pm, I’m calling it a day. I know that this setback isn’t the end – after all, it shows me the necessity of getting really uncomfortable. I’d just hoped it would all pretty much fall into my lap after the last two days. Well, it doesn’t. But I figured out how to be more strategic about this: Warming up in side streets and with everyone, then carrying that momentum on into the pedestrian zone, and at some point focusing onto girls there. And I would do good in thinking about where to find them beforehand. And I need to do more anti-judgment exercises.

Which, by the way, I do. At 6 pm, while creeping through the central station’s main hallway, I finally put off my bagpack and lay down on the floor. And although my head starts getting red fast and EVERY passerby is staring at me, I’m having a moment of deep peace. It isn’t nearly as bad as my mind made it seem. The only thing getting me up are two security guys who ask whether they can do anything for me and amicably dismiss my asking whether I could stay where I am. But who cares. One of them winks. The journey has just begun again.

NOTE for followers (I love you): I will not continue this for quite some time as  family and school will not allow me to allot several hours per day for traveling and purposeful awkwardness. I will, however, pick this up again at some point.

15 Days of Social Anxiety: Day 5. Sun Ain’t Shining.

I apologize in advance if this post has some weird vibe to it – I’m just listening to Pink Floyd for the very first time and I’ve got four pages of notes to decipher and structure into something comprehensible.

Alright, let’s jump into it: It’s 20 minutes after 12 noon and I’m jittering. My goals for today are twofold: Approaching 20 people with excuses like looking for directions, and approaching one girl. Yes, one. That is surely going to be hard enough and all that is needed for busting my irrational fears. I can’t really explain the fear that I have, and I don’t much care why it is there. I am removing it. Case closed. One is infinitely greater than zero. I know that this one approach will bust my fear sufficiently to do it again and better.

While exiting my train, I catch a girl’s eye. She quickly looks down – bingo. Way too young though. I look outside the window and do my favorite weirdo smile while her girlfriend is checking me out. I probably just look confused. Who cares.

Out of the train station, I’m still jittering. And my back hurts. And my feet hurt. And pretty much everything hurts. That’s no excuse. Nor is the bad weather. For the first time these holidays, it’s been raining just an hour before and the sun doesn’t show any intention of changing that. But I’m dressed for the occasion. I am prepared. So I start my 25-minute walk to the town center.

At 12:25, I’m feeling better. I’m smiling. There isn’t the faintest reason for it, but I’m starting to enjoy this. After all, that’s only reasonable considering what I’m throwing myself into. I want to ask two elderly men for directions, but they’re chatting – so, I pass. Making my way to the city, I ask some people I pass (of which there aren’t many, making it easier) for bookstore recommendations. The first three or four people have no clue, but still try to help, recommending going into a certain city quarter or mall. The next man, however, reacts really positively and explains the way to the city’s largest bookstore. It’s too complicated for me, but that just means asking more people. Perfect.

I’m in a really good state now as well: Asking people, something that frightened me for years of my life, now feels automatic after two days of practice. I decide to ask a woman witch a cigarette – looks like she’s having a smoking break – for directions regarding the first part of my journey to the bookstore, even though she looks kinda pissed. And, contrary to my expecting a harsh rejection, she happily points me in the right direction. Man, how easy people can change their mood. I spend the next minute contemplating whether I’m like that too.

At 12:55 pm, I’ve hit the pedestrian zone and I’m really frightened of the people. But I have directions, and so I continue my way. Trying to stop an elderly man to gain more certainty, I’m blown off. The guy doesn’t even look at me, but says “no time.” It may be the notebook and pencil in my hand. I overthink my decision to scribble notes down every minute or so – do I look like a survey guy? Whatever. Rejections mean more practice opportunities – they cost barely two seconds.

After this realization, though, comes the best part of the day. I spot two young girls (probably even younger than I am). Of course I have second thoughts, and I have third thoughts. But that doesn’t matter, because unbeknownst to my mind, my body has already started walking straight toward them and before my mind is allowed any fourth thoughts, my mouth opens and I ask them for directions. Just directions. They seem a fair bit frightened – the most frightened I’ve ever made anyone so far – but I completely understand that. I respect that. Just directions. I get them. I turn around (seems like I’ve missed my target the first time) and feel like I’m flying. The weight that’s coming off my shoulders would be too much for the fucking Mountain to deadlift – and yes, yesterday I talked about a mountain coming off my shoulders – but the image here is stronger, which matters way more than the actual mathematical weight. Gotcha.

Thinking about it… in just ten seconds, I’ve become braver than 90% of men. That is a very dangerous way to look at it, but let my ego bathe in that for a few seconds.

A ‘lil longer….

Okay, enough.

I fly through the streets and look for someone that has time to help me – after all, I don’t want to interrupt people’s conversations. I want them to be able to enjoy helping me. I find a man, I ask him. I’m not far from the bookstore. And I’m in thriving mode. I get outta people’s way and automatically assess how busy they are. I get in, I look at the hilarious titles of English books that have been translated into German, I get out.

At this point, by the way, I’m sweating like crazy… Because it’s warm (and I’m wearing long clothes) and I’m the most joyful guy in town. Let’s relax a bit. I ask some folks if they know any nearby parks. None do. One woman is just locking her bicycle and doesn’t seem eager to help me at all – which I totally respect, she may have something more important on her mind – but even she gives me some directions. This has gotten robotic. I don’t really think about it any more. I just go for it.

I have, however, only about 45 minutes before my train leaves – unless I stay two hours longer, as I originally intended… But I’m making such quick work today, I might as well approach some eight more people. I’ve already got the girl – and it was a 2-set – approach done, and I thought that would take two hours.I pick up a 50-cent voucher from the ground and exchange stares and nods with some black guy my age. That doesn’t count as approaching, though.

So, without a real pretence and just to see what happens, I enter a big department store and ask a guy working there for self-help books. He reacts surprisingly by walking me to the shelf that may satisfy me. I’m already anxiously thinking of a humane way to get out of here without buying anything. He points out his favorite, and I ask for English versions, calling German translations a shot in the knee. He leaves very quickly after that. I’m glad. By the way, “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, published in 2011, is atop the bestseller list here… Mad world.

1:40 pm. About five approaches remain, and I’ll have to complete them on the way to the train station. Easy. I ask a mid-aged woman (I’m a little hesitant because she’s looking at some shop window) and, although she is really confused that I want to take a 25-minute walk to the central station by foot out of the city, but don’t even know where it is (my answering her question of what I want to do there with “get into a train” doesn’t seem to help there), she gives me a great explanation of the way while going the first short bit – which makes for half of the turns on the way – with me. I’m short on time, but it’s enough to wish her a wonderful day and ponder at the beauty of humankind. I complete my challenge by asking a few more people for the way, which gets more ridiculous with every step as I’m walking straight toward it, clearly being able to see it. Or perhaps I’m short-sighted? That may be an explanation they might think of, until they see me asking another person the very same thing thirty seconds after passing them. I even take out my notebook and pen to ask a woman if she wants to participate in a survey. She doesn’t. Good for me, time is sparse.

I’m done for today, but I’m feeling to awesome to not compliment two men on their outfit and ask another guy whether that building in front of us is the central station. I give him thumbs-up for the answer.

Now what? Now I almost want to rip my own hair out. I recalled the time of departure from the train I used yesterday – in a different city. Now, I’m a half hour early. I walk up to the right track, wonder whether I should compliment an old man’s nice white dress – nope, he’s talking to himself – and put on some music to enjoy for the next half hour. At some point, a young mother asks me whether I know where the train’s bike cart (for her buggy) will halt. I don’t. But she reminds me of myself: Looking a little uncomfortable, wanting to exit the interaction and thus thanking twice. The second time is when people add something while you have already turned around because you’re glad you’ve done it and just wanna go home now. I know that.

Train’s arrived. I look around to see that the mother is in the right place. I’m still in thriving mode. I’m still feeling magnificent. Time to get home. I’ve hit it.

 

One thing that stood out today that I haven’t mentioned: Persistence. I’ve had to say “entschuldigen Sie” (excuse me) or “Verzeihung” (sorry) twice in some cases, after people didn’t react the first time. I did that automatically, and most of them stopped or turned to me the second time.

Other than that, I can really only say that I’m proud of myself. I’ve bust the barriers. I can now ask strangers for directions – or survey participation – without relevant second thoughts. I’ve never been even remotely able to do that. I have approached two girls. I can do that, too. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t even get rejected. Time to get rejected by girls.

Oh, and I’ll have to look for my bible friends tomorrow. Me missed each other today.

15 Days of Social Discomfort: Day 4. Excuse-Approaching People

It’s 12:45 pm and for the first time doing this, I am not anxious, having spent the last two hours sitting in buses and trains while listening to Luis von Ahn on Tim Ferriss’s podcast (highly recommend that episode, by the way). Or it is because I have slept some 12 hours recovering from two nights of binge-watching. But that’s unimportant: I’ve just declared today’s goal to be appraching ten random people. Excuses are allowed.

Soon, however, I’m making them for not approaching: There’s a cute girl at the bus stop across the street. All by herself (almost). The target (I only use this for lack of a better word) I have fantasized about for years of my life. I walk toward her. She looks at me a bit coy, but then smiles and, as I am fewer and fewer steps away from her, opens her arms to welcome me lovingly. She’s been waiting for this as much as I have.

Jk. I cannot get myself to even walk toward her (maybe that would be a great way to push myself over the edge? I’ll think about it). Not today, I tell myself. Today, I can approach anybody. I’m getting into my head more and more, and that isn’t made better by the fact that I am too shy to even ask for directions now and a few moments after crossing the street spot two benches on a meadow, with a girl sitting on each. Dammit. I suck. Let’s “recover” and read something.

Since I forgot my phone charging cable (such a complex word. We Germans say “ladekabel.”), at home, however, I’m looking for the nearest tech store. And I shall find it with the help of a young dad sitting on a bench, who seems happy to give me directions. I spotted him, I went toward him, I asked him. It’s as easy as that and I’m proud of myself.

Something I notice while trying to find someone else to ask is my screening people: Too hot, too concerned with herself, too focused on his phone, too frightening.

It’s now 1 pm and I decide to cheat a little: I ask a woman at the hardware store for what I’m searching. It counts because I still have to approach her, unlike a cashier whom I inevitably get in contact with. 8 euros for the cheapest cable they have, by the way? Screw those guys. That’s like 10 cents in production.

Fast forward ten minutes of walking down the pedestrian zone and looking at people, and I’m in a fairly good mood, even after spotting the next nail spa. Only the glaring sunlight is keeping me from doing my almond-throwing show. And I have reached the end of the pedestrian zone. Dammit, this city is way smaller than I had thought. I don’t want to do it, but I ask an elderly couple walking towards me whether there’s anything interesting if I further go in that direction – a) they’re visibly happy to answer and b) there isn’t. On the way back, a girl is walking next to me. I want to approach and turn my head left… It’s a woman in her fourties. Never mind. But I’m in a fabulous mood just from the elderly couple.

Another observation about my screening shenanigans: I keep looking for attractive girls even though I permitted myself to approach anyone and would chicken out at the sight. But my imagination does its best to convince me otherwise.

On my way back to the train station (this city feels too small), a shirtless guy on a bicycle passes by me, enjoying himself quite a bit. I instinctively give him a nod and finger-point of approval.

1:40 pm. Dammit. My train leaves in half an hour. I don’t wanna wait that long and turn around, going back into the city. Let’s make some approaches at a bookstore. Girls are more relaxed and moving slower there (I know I’m fixated on girls. But that’s my teenage testosterone. I’ll happily admit that I’m a jerk). I ask a middle-aged woman, and I ask a punky young woman 20 seconds after that. Both seem a bit frightened – possibly because I’m running around with a notebook and pointing my pen at them – but stop to help me, and the second one recalls something in the mall.  Half done for today.

I’m still in the shabby part of town. Some guy is leaning in a shop entrance, smoking his cigarette. After a long stare with nothing happening, I nod. He complies, I take my gaze off of him and onto my watch, which I then thrust up my arm a bit.

I ask a man, again using the bookstore excuse. I can do this. He points me to the same one as the young lady. The woman I ask a minute thereafter is only in town for shopping, but advises me to visit the mall. After a look onto my watch, however, I decide to turn around and get my train. I can get the three remaining approaches done on the way to the train station, especially since I have momentum after the last five minutes. I ask a young man on his phone for the time (my watch isn’t working correctly) and, although confused, he tells me. I smirk.

Then, another girl – alone, walking toward me, not many people here. I look at her, consider – nope. But again, I was closer to it than ever before. In a few days, I will not have to think. I will stop them and say some stupid shit intuitively. At least that’s what I tell myself after her having passed. Maybe it would help if she wasn’t wearing sunglasses and I could tell her level of interest from the eyes? Maybe it would help if I wasn’t, too. Let’s not wait until winter to find out, though.

Asked a middle-aged man for directions to the train station I have been to twice today. He is even more confused than the guy whom I asked for the time, but points towards it. It’s not even 400 metres (a quarter-mile for those wondering) away, although another building is blocking the sight… Okay, I’ll admit it. Better excuses have been found for approaching people. However, there’s only one more approach I have to do – but I’m lacking the pretence: I’m walking toward the train station and thus clearly not interested in buying books, or directions of any sort – which I in fact am, as it turns out: I can’t find the right track. I ask a man standing on the bottom of a staircase, and he gives me just the directions I needed. The beauty here is not in the directions. It’s in my turning around and then instinctively asking this guy whom I  – in a split-second – judge to be a frequent traveller. I don’t think about it. I just do it. That’s where I want to get, and apparently that takes only a few warm-up approaches.

Key takeaways? 0) My wrist hurts from typing this. 1) This city is a shithole. And a small one. 2) Resting targets (this now sounds really predatoresque) are easier to approach. 3) Uncrowded places are easier to approach in. 4) Approaching with excuses is easy… Who’d have thought. 5) State/zone/flow/momentum feels really good. It’s as if I’m another person.

Oh, and guess who showed up when I was leaving the second train station on my way back home: Kind-looking people next to a stack of free bible courses. It’s getting creepier by the day.

15 Days of Social Discomfort: Day 3. Nodding like a king

If you have a great style (or pretty girlfriend, or swaggering walk) and some dude with a creepy grin noded at you – that dude was me. And the nod was meant as a sign of approval. But let’s start from the beginnig.

It’s 1:45 pm. I have just exited my train and as I’m making my way outside the railway station, I am becoming increasingly anxious. Of what? No idea. Because I didn’t have a goal today. So, what do I do? After walking around and beating some people in the eye contact game, I decide to stand down right in the middle of a busy pedestrian area. It feels awkward as hell, hence I judge I’m on to something and stay where I am. However, there’s actually not as many people passing as I thought. I’m getting bored. So I search for an even more crowded spot.

And I discover something: There aren’t actually as many people in one place as it looks like from afar. Nonetheless, I want to do it anyway. This time, I lean onto a wall across a Douglas store and just look at the passersby. What makes this so awkward is the Douglas store: I feel like a stalker, and I pity the poor clerks who must by this point be about to call the police to remove me. Isn’t it amazing how quickly our superego comes up with rationalizations en masse as soon as you take a tiny step outside your comfort zone, effectively threatening that mofo?

At 2 pm, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable just from the presence of all the people around me. I expected that – I’m an introvert – and note that this is where the mental muscle is built. So, I start going around and looking at the people like I’m their king: kindly and into as many faces as possible. I’m starting to feel really good about myself. I’m starting to enter some kind of mental zone. I smile ruthlessly, because I’m having a damn good time.

2:40 pm. Time for an almond break. I read some Reddit posts on approaching strangers (the end goal, after all), but that only increases my disinclination toward it. At 3:10 pm, I’m starting my king exercise again. Leaving a mall, I see a man pushing a buggy and instinctively hold open the door for him (which he doesn’t need, because he decides to wait for someone inside). I’m in thriving mode.

To entertain (and feed) myself, I’m throwing almonds in the air and catch them with my mouth. I would my feeling doing it as stage fright – but regardless, I hit 90%. I’m having fun. The rest doesn’t matter so much. But still, I have goals: approaching. So, I start looking for some lone girl in a quiet place. Of course, I don’t find her. This will have to be awkward for me. I will get rejected. Fuck it. That’s the whole point.

Side note: As always, I meet some ladies giving away their jesus brochures. These guys seem to follow me everywhere. Seriously, it’s frightening. I smile and shake my head at them.

Reaching 3:40 pm, looking at people is getting really challenging – but, to bring another muscle training analogy: The first reps are over. Now it’s time to grind through the ones that hurt. The ones that really tear your muscle fibers down so they will grow. So, I push myself to continue and start nodding at some people whose style (or girlfriends) I like. They nod back. It feels weird, but effortless – natural. It’s almost as if I’m unlocking something inside me. I certainly like to think of it that way. As I’m entering a metro back to the central station, I notice how few people in there even bother to hold eye contact with me: procisely none. They are so shy. I think they would welcome everyone taking the burden af approaching, of talking – of leading – away from them.

Soooo… I didn’t do some heroic leaps outside my comfort zone. But I got comfortable holding eye contact, I got into a feel-good zone, and I even made the first steps toward interaction through my nodding. I think this is much more long-lasting than going out of my way and completely burning myself – believe me, I’m destroyed enough. Once I have listened to some music and podcasts, I arrived at my worst: Being in my head, wondering whether that girl there is signaling me to approach her for five minutes, needing ten attempts for a somewhat comprehensible voice message to a friend. That’s the torn-apart muscle fibers. It’s painful – and thus a clear sign that I’m making progress.

Time for some bratwurst and TV.

 

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.

15 Days of Social Discomfort: Day 1

Man, this was scary. And I have to admit, I kinda chickened out. But let’s get specific.

I arrive in Hanover (the closest city to me) by 1:30 pm. As my train is approaching its destination, I’m starting to get nervous. This is gonna be hard. But I must not worry – I will only make eye contact with people today.

The first of many realizations is that few people look back at me for longer than a second. Also, I have to stop counting because most people don’t look directly into my eyes. After about fifteen minutes, it hasn’t gotten any better and I’ve only had the pleasure of directly looking into the eyes of about half a dozen people. A possible reason that comes to my mind is that this is Hanover – the people from Lower Saxony are exceptionally shy (my opinion as someone who’s not from here). And apart from that, I don’t want to do laps through the pedestrian zone. Thus, I head for a mall.

On the way there I’m caught off-guard by someone trying to convince me of what I’m sure would be a noble cause – however, as a student I am af no use for him. The guy is friendly and I make a face. I’m feeling peaceful inside, but I often don’t bring that across, especially when off my guard like here.

Searching for a place to sit that offers both comfort and a straight view on as many people as possible, I make a few observations regarding my behavior:

  • I am really intimidated by girls of any sort, not only the ones I find attractive. My reaction to them is often a) making a serious face when I’m attracted and b) making a disgusted face when I’m not attracted… or c) looking away and trying to force myself to take another look because we haven’t had eye contact.
  • I am afraid of judgment, and that increases in large crowds: I am afraid to even whistle here.
  • when I’m in an uncomfortable/tense sitting position, people react less positively. I am convinced that my seeming discomfort makes them feel the same.
  • My mind often comes up with things like “it’s gonna scare him/her” (especially with children, mid-age women) or “it’s gonna be awkward for them” (especially for girls in groups or with a parent).

Time for a break now. I head back to the train station and catch a girl smiling at me – however, I ain’t here for approaching today, says my brain. I buy a new pencil and find a good spot to read my WhatsApp messages. That’s something I only do in the face of severe boredom and thus a sign to me to take a real break because after 45 minutes of intimidating people, I’m tired.

Now whistling and clapping from time to time, I start to enjoy myself. Passing by some girls (ignored them, I tell myself it’s time for a break), one of them starts clapping too. The thought process that ensues goes like this:

  1. “Oh shit, gotta show her my approval”
  2. “If I turn around and shout, my voice will sound meek”
  3. “Let’s instead give a thumbs-up and smile”

This process takes me a split second – it was as if my thinking pace sped up tenfold for a second. I turn around, smile, and give her a flicked thumbs-up.

When chilling in a park now, I get pretty psyched up to make an approach – there’s just no girl. This wouldn’t be hard if I stayed if I sought out my comfort zone, and that’s what this is. So, I head back toward the pedestrian zone.

Something I also get today is hostile reactions – guys staring at me threateningly or telling me to shut up (fuck you! I whistle when I want to). That’s tho nature of the game. There’s just people who are like this, and I can amuse myself about that fact.

Now on my way back to the train station, I try to psych myself up for laying down on the floor – but I’m overwhelmed by my fear. Nothing more happens today, because I leave it at two hours of intimidating people (I think I smiled at two – but the nonhostile people just wouldn’t make eye contact) and head home for grocery shopping.

An interesting discovery I made there: I have a frohnatur inside, and I think I can most easily activate by just shouting a loud salute at people – those tend to sound the least hostile. I think the other resolutions are obvious: Fuck my fear and do some more comfort zone challenges (although whistling and clapping were a good start), make sure I’m warmed up and amusing myself before trying to go crazy (this really is much like muscle training!), and going on a little longer – although that should be no problem, because I will have more than two hours of effective training time the next time I go to the city.

However, that will be a few days from now. Can’t ignore my family’s holiday planning. Thus, my friend, we shall leave it at today’s insights and go all-out next time – I didn’t even feel the fear make me shiver today.

15 Days of Social Discomfort: The Plan

As told, I am about to start my self-imposed challenge of approaching strangers to reduce my social anxiety. And in the last week, while you were reading premade one-sentence posts scheduled for daily release, I came up with a simple program of how I will confront my anxiety, as I will not go cold-turkey. I believe in gradually confronting the fears I have. And by the way, this uses the Don Juan Bootcamp’s challenges as a guideline. It is aimed to be effective, not fancy. And if you want to skip the technicalities, stay tuned for today’s wrap-up post.

Stage 1: Hold eye contact with people for four total hours (walking around), with 25 girls

Stage 2: Smile at people for four total hours, at 25 girls
Stage 3: Say ‘hi’ to 100 people, 25 girls (this should include the two things I practiced before, looking and smiling)
Stage 4: Have 2-minute conversations with 15 people and 25 girls
Stage 5: Get rejected by 15 girls

Apart from these, I will lay down on the floor on public (or do something else if I start feeling comfortable on the ground) as a warm-up each day.

You may notice the focus on picking up women. I am 15 years old. It’s a priority for me, and if I have to overcome my social fears anyway, I may as well do it in the way that brings the biggest yield.

I have a maximum of 15 free days of summer holidays available for it and intend to make use of every single one of them, especially since they are distributed over a period of several weeks. This project will be my top priority, as it will influence the communication with every person I meet – for the rest of my live.

What are my expectations? I will fear. I will fringe. I will probably cry. I’m really not positive how this will make me feel – I have never done anything close to this when it comes to stepping out of my (social) comfort zone. But all that matters is the profound impact on my communication that this will have. And expecting the worst, I may even have some unforeseen adventures.