Money, health and productivity aren’t satisfying if you don’t have any friends. It can be even worse to be stuck inside a social group that doesn’t respect you, forces you to conform or discourages you from making improvements in your life. Social skills are vital, because our greatest victories and most sobering defeats will be with and through other people.
I became a lot more social when I moved from my smaller town to the larger city of Winnipeg. Before my move, I hadn’t built many strong relationships in my hometown. This was partially due to my personal development efforts, as I distanced myself from the crowd to work on myself. It was only after I moved that I realized I was missing a huge chunk of life, and I needed to take steps to fix it.
I’d like to go over the steps I took to become more outgoing. So far, nearly three years later, those steps have been very successful. I have several groups of friends, and any evening I spend by myself is a matter of choice, not a lack of options. Although this article is about becoming more social in general, the same principles I’ll talk about here have improved my dating life, including meeting the woman I’m seeing right now.
First, Make it a Priority
If your social life is bankrupt, in order to change, you need to make it your top priority. This means you actually need to invest time meeting people, spending time with new friends and being outgoing. This can be hard for people who are less naturally outgoing for two reasons.
The first is that you might not value social activities as much. I felt the same way when I went to University, believing that all the drinking and partying was mostly a waste of time. Unfortunately, that value system got me into the problem of being isolated in the first place. You don’t need to spend every night in the bar to make friends, but if you want to be more social you need to start spending time where people are. Long nights playing MMORPGs or studying for final exams won’t help you meet people face to face.
The second problem can be the energy you need to put in to be social. If you’ve been living a quiet life for awhile, your social muscles probably aren’t very strong. Mine certainly weren’t. This can be uncomfortable if you’re going to social events where everyone seems to be having effortless fun, while you feel drained and awkward just trying to keep up.
The solution to the first problem is to re-evaluate your priorities. If building a strong circle of meaningful friends is important to you, your time should reflect that. The solution to the second problem is to not worry about it. Just like going to the gym, you’ll build social muscles so what drains you out initially will be relaxed and fun later.
What if your entire life is a mess? Should you make social skills a priority? My answer to this question is no. Personal excellence always has to come first. Without that, it’s likely that you won’t have built a strong enough individual life to make social relationships meaningful.
However, if you have a decent grip on the other realms of your life, but are struggling to build relationships, I suggest making it a top priority. Building social skills has ripple effects that help you in your career, finances, health and productivity, so it’s an important investment.
Want to Have More Fun? Be More Fun.
Life is a mirror, it tends to reflect whoever we are back to us in the people we meet and experiences we have. Interesting experiences only happens to interesting people. Fun events only occur for fun people. And, success only happens to successful people. This is the first rule of winning in any part of life.
Especially in your social life, you need to become the very thing you’re trying to attract. If you want to meet fun, exciting people, then you need to be more fun and exciting. If you want people to approach and meet you, you need to approach and meet other people. If you want to have fun, be more fun.
This isn’t an easy step, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t accomplish it immediately. If you’re in an unfamiliar environment, it’s only human nature to close yourself up and be tense. Just realize that 95% of the time you’re not getting the results you want, it is because you’re not putting out the energy you expect back from other people.
Be Friendly, Not Cool
There is a lot of advice on the internet about trying to be cool. Much of it is associated with how to pick up women. I’m not going to judge that content, because some of it can be useful. But I think if anything can be said, it’s that people who try to be cool usually aren’t cool.
The scenario goes like this: the unsocial person sees that cool people are standoffish or arrogant. Therefore, they mirror that attitude becoming standoffish or arrogant. But this follows the first rule, and as a result, their environment mirrors them, being unfriendly and hostile.
Social skills are a mostly unconscious process. I’m sure everyone here can remember a time where they met someone incredibly friendly, but who was also incredibly socially awkward. However, the only way you can shake the feelings of awkwardness is to get used to the social norms of the people you’re meeting. And the only way you can do that is practice. Trying to fake confidence or project a false attitude is incredibly transparent.
I think a much better approach is to follow the first rule and treat other people how you want to be treated. If you want other people to be nice, friendly and fun in meeting you, do the same. If you take this attitude, it doesn’t take long to realize that the cool people aren’t arrogant or standoffish. They are the people who are friendly and outgoing, who introduce themselves to new people with a smile and pay attention when other people talk.
Cultivate a habit of friendliness. Friendliness, more than anything else, will improve your social skills. This means be willing to initiate conversations, say hi to people, and make the first move. If you’re not used to it, it takes a lot of energy. But, if you start small you can build it into an automatic part of your life.
Start in Your Comfort Zone
You don’t need to start by doing the most daring event, completely outside your comfort zone to get started. Although drastic measures can help, I think the internal dialog for many people goes like this:
They want to go meet people, so they think of the biggest, most anxiety-ridden step.
They pump themselves up to do this, but fail.
They beat themselves up for lacking the willpower and start back at step one.
There are plenty of ways to meet people. Some require a lot more confidence and suave, like stopping to talk to people during a busy event. Others are fairly easy, like going to a Toastmasters meeting (where you will probably be greeted by several people as you walk in).
My advice is this: start with the low-hanging fruit. Don’t try building your confidence on the most daring social endeavors. Start with the easy ways to meet people and work your way up. As you gain more natural confidence, you can eventually bite off the social tasks that scare you the most.
When I started working out at the gym, I picked an amount of weight I could lift comfortably and slowly moved up. I didn’t go back and forth from the gym, chastising myself because I didn’t start with 100 lbs. Pick easy targets, build your confidence and move up.
Dispel Personality Myths
The biggest myth that holds people back from creating satisfying social lives is that introverts can’t be outgoing. I’m an introvert. As much as I hate labels, I would fit that definition. I enjoy time by myself and prefer one-to-one conversations to large groups.
However, my status as an introvert has nothing to do with my ability to be outgoing. Many people mistake me for an extrovert when I gladly introduce myself to strangers join in group discussions. Innate personality differences do matter. But, remember, that your desire to form a particular social life is also an innate personality difference. The fact that you want a certain experience is more important than any past history of success or failure.
Don’t chase a social life you don’t want, just because you feel you should. I’m never going to be a pickup artist, simply because I don’t have the desire. I’d much rather have deeper, emotionally satisfying relationships. But, if you do want something, never let the results of a questionnaire or beliefs of your current friends define what you’re capable of.
Be Socially Independent
I’ve written about social independence before. If you’re interested in becoming more social, then I’d suggest reading this article. Improving any area of your life often involves a dip. You need to get worse before you can get better. Sacrifice what you have, to start fresh.
The same is true of socializing. If your social life is already filled with friends you don’t really connect with deep-down, you have a choice. Either you can work to rebuild those relationships and be more authentic, or you can let them slip. Letting them slip is sometimes the best decision, since it opens you up to form new relationships with people you’re more compatible with.
If you spend a lot of time investing in personal development, you’ll probably eventually outgrow your social group. Most people don’t change significantly, so if you’re making rapid changes to your life, the people you originally connected with might be the same people that hold you back. Loyalty to those people is dangerous, since it hurts your growth and builds resentment.
My suggestion isn’t to cut them off entirely (unless they are completely destructive to your life), but to free up time and start venturing out on your own. If you build a separate, more compatible social circle, you’ll naturally shift your time towards new people.
Build Relationships, Don’t Just Start Them
One mistake I made early on, was to confuse social skills with the ability to meet people. That’s like making the confusion of running an online business with registering the website name. Meeting people is only the start, and if you get really good at meeting people, that does nothing for your social life unless you build lasting friendships.
Once you meet people you connect with, follow up with them. Invite them to things you’re doing that they might be interested in. This is even easier nowadays with instant messaging and Facebook, allowing you to build relationships faster.
Unless you want to be socially promiscuous (meeting many people for one evening, and never seeing them again), I’d suggest that at least half of your time improving your social skills should be devoted to improving the connections you’ve already made. The joy of building a strong group, is that once you build more friends, those friends make it easier to meet new people.
The ultimate goal of becoming more social isn’t to sleep with the most attractive person at the bar, or to have a posse of friends who follow you. The point is to enrich your life with people that inspire you, challenge you and imbue life with a richness that can’t come from private successes alone. I believe that’s a goal worth striving for.