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.

Bucket Lists Against Boredom

Ever sat somewhere with absolutely no idea what to do? We all have. Even the most busy of us face void when all our projects are completed. And that is a great opportunity, because you are now at a decisive point: You can a) do something you enjoy, b) Bore yourself to death, or c) bury your lack of goals and purpose under a wagonload of work.

If you choose option a) – or decide to find something you would enjoy doing in the other cases – here’s my process for it: Empty your brain. You’d be surprised what amazing stuff you bring up.

What have you always wanted to do that you never had the time to?

What do you want to do?

What would you do if money were no constraint?

What/who do you want to be?

What if you had unlimited time in your life?

What do you want to have?

What makes you really happy?

There’s other questions like these you could ask yourself, but it’s more about the process. Sit down, close your eyes and fathom yourself in another situation. Write down all the things you want to accomplish. List the characteristics of the billionaire playboy lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, or create silly, challenges. The options are infinite.

Oh, and don’t forget to always keep something with you where you can write down your newest ideas – there will always be some: From time to time, we all think of something we would love to be or do some day. When I was sitting in a church the other day, I came up witch the idea of crashing a mass. Now, you write these ideas down.

And after that comes the best thing: You start to do things from your bucket list. There’s simple things (try a new meal, read a book, watch certain movies) you can do right now, things that require some planning (scuba dive, do 1,000 push-ups in a day, fast 24 hours) or really big goals (speak five languages fluently, learn a new instrument) necessitating almost frightening workloads.

In either case, you’ve got something to do. Have fun.

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.