Overcoming Laziness And Inertia Toward Working On Your Social Problems
Some people know what to do in theory to improve their social skills, but find it hard to get out of their comfortable rut and actually start making changes. If that applies to you, here's my take on how to get yourself going.
Usually the hardest part is getting started
Establishing a new routine and pulling yourself out of a well-worn groove is difficult. It's so easy to put off. However, once you take those first few steps it's often rewarding and natural to keep going (e.g., once you've found a hobby club it becomes more effortless and fun to practice your conversation skills). Like with taking up an exercise program, the first few weeks are often the roughest. Starting something new can be draining and discouraging at first, but once you get over that initial hump it's not as hard to continue.
Think about what you actually want
Sometimes students struggle with procrastination at university because deep down they're not really into their program, but they can't admit that to themselves yet. Maybe their parents pressured them into it. Maybe it's what they thought they wanted to do, but are having doubts now that they know what the field involves firsthand. Maybe they didn't want to go to college at all, but everyone told them how important it was, so they just picked a major, any major.
Someone may drag their feet with their social goals because they're honestly not that enthusiastic about them. They could be going along with the expectations of society rather than pursuing what they really want for themselves. It can help to take the time to think about this. What are your goals? Why do you have them? What about them motivates you?
As this article goes into, it may also be useful to consider if you're fully ready to begin working on your interpersonal issues, or if there are factors that are making you ambivalent.
Accept that you're going to be lazy some of the time
Anything that is both a) uncomfortable, and b) optional is inevitably going to lead to bouts of procrastination. Improving your social situation often falls into this category. It can suck to go to an event where you don't know anyone, or try to make friends, or start conversations with people who intimidate you. But there's no law that says you have to do it. On the other hand, you pretty much know you're going to have fun if you watch a new movie or play your favorite video game.
So just realize up front that you're going to slack off some of the time, and that this will make the process of improving yourself take longer than it could in theory. Accept that some of your natural tendencies will slow you down. If you read enough self-help material you'll come across the same archetype over and over again: It's the person who was in a low, low place in their life, and through years of consistent, determined effort they turned themselves into a huge success. It's awesome if you can be one of those people, but most of us aren't cyborgs with a bottomless reservoir of willpower and discipline. We're going to get there eventually, but we'll occasionally plod along, detour off the path, or take a break. Sometimes you'll throw a week away by reading a trashy book or binging a TV series. That's fine and isn't going to make or break how your life turns out. Sometimes you'll be happy with your routine the way it is, your problems won't be weighing on your mind too heavily, and you won't feel any pressing need to get to work on yourself at the moment.
Don't feel the process of getting better with people is always going to a painful grind
Going back to that archetype of the self-improving cyborg, an implicit message I find in a lot of self-help material is that changing yourself has to be a painful, drawn-out process that requires a ton of willpower and a high tolerance for hardship. While there are most certainly times where you'll have to deal with anxiety, discomfort, and rejection, it's not always going to be one torturous experience after another. A night of practicing your social skills may involve going out to dinner with some hilarious new acquaintances and having an awesome night.
One idea this site talks about is that you can sometimes do a lot to improve your social interactions through slow, easy, indirect methods. If often don't connect with people, you don't necessarily have to put hours into having discouraging, unsuccessful practice conversations. You may just need to read more widely or dabble in some new hobbies so you'll have more topics to bring up. If you have trouble having fun with people maybe you just need to learn to get into a more joking, less-serious frame of mind, or get the hang of dancing and pool so you can take part when your friends do those things at a bar, rather than watching from the sidelines and feeling like you want to go home.
Break your goals down into manageable chunks
A vintage piece of advice for getting past procrastination is to break your task down. If a student has to write a 20-page assignment, that can seem very huge and overwhelming. They can't imagine where to begin, so they might not start at all. If they divide the paper into smaller pieces it won't seem as bad. Like all they may have to do the first day is go to the library and take out some books.
It's the same with social goals. Have a bunch of friends or Completely get over my shyness are huge, amorphous objectives. It would be way better to pull them apart into more manageable chunks. For example, if someone wanted to make a group of friends and currently didn't have any they could come up with tasks such as:
- Think of places where they could meet people.
- Some of those ideas are probably spots where they already spend a lot of time (e.g., work, classes). For the other places they come up with (sports teams, clubs), figure out which ones would be feasible to join, and then sign up.
- Think of ways to start more conversations with people at these places, and then do it.
- Think of people they're already on good terms with who they could invite out.
- Figure out some things they could do with people.
- Once they've got some prospective friends, invite them out.
- Etc, etc, etc.
Don't look too many steps ahead
When people have a big, ambitious goal it's only natural for them to look to the finish line. There are times when doing this can make the job of getting there seem too daunting or discouraging. It can help to only focus on sub-goals that are a few steps ahead, before worrying about the tougher challenges.
For example, if someone wants to make a ton of friends, but currently has none, their goal may seem too complicated and out of reach. They may not be able to imagine themselves as the kind of person with a bustling social life. However, to make a ton of friends, first you only have to make one friend. Then you have to do it again and again. Making one single friend is something anyone can do.
You could take this "The longest journey begins with a single step" approach even further. Maybe even making one friend seems like a lot. Well, to make one friend you have to start by talking to one person. They may not become your buddy, but maybe the next one will. Chatting to that first person may not seem hard at all.
Tell yourself you can stop at any time
This is another fairly well known piece of advice for getting started on things. It's a way to trick yourself into beginning, and it works even when you know you're trying to fool yourself. Again, a task may seem overwhelming if it's framed as a sprawling, lengthy undertaking. If you tell yourself you don't have to commit to it for life and can back out any time (which is technically true) then starting it doesn't seem as intimidating. Of course, what often happens is that once you start you'll naturally want to keep going.
This idea can apply toward the whole idea of improving your social situation. Tell yourself you'll commit to trying to get better with people for one month. If you don't like how things are going you can always back out and take it up again another time. The trick works with smaller tasks too. You can make a deal with yourself that you'll at least show up to a party and stay for half an hour. If you're not liking it after that you have your own permission to leave at any time.
Ease into uncomfortable tasks gradually
When facing your fears it's much, much more effective to tackle them at a slow, manageable pace. Often when we're reluctant to get started on something it's because an element of fear is involved. We may not even be consciously aware of it. This article talks about how to face your fears in this way:
Alter your environment so it pushes you in a certain direction
This suggestion is a little more extreme, and not everyone will be into it. It's also derived from anti-procrastination advice. It's a lot harder to get going on a job when you've got a lot of other fun things surrounding you. That's why college students often go to the library when they want to study, rather than staying in their distracting rooms.
If you find you often choose to do things like stay in and play video games when you really feel you should be socializing, it may help to eliminate some of these distractions. You should hardly throw your PlayStation out the window, but you can make little rules for yourself like, "During my lunch break at work I can't go on the internet" (i.e., I have to chat to my co-workers instead), or, "On Tuesday evening I can't read books, play games, or browse the internet on my phone" (i.e., "Maybe that'll be the kick I need to check out that swing dancing night I keep putting off").
You can marshal your natural interests in another way to motivate you. Make doing them contingent on meeting your social goals first. So tell yourself you can check your favorite websites, but only after you've hung out with your co-workers over lunch. This is yet another bit of procrastination advice. When people tell themselves, "First I'll watch an episode of the new TV series I'm going though, then I'll get started on my paper", they're getting it backwards and essentially giving themselves a reward pellet for not working. They need to put the reward after the task they want to complete, not before it.
If you've already read the article on facing fears gradually, you'll notice using the "I can do something fun, but first I have to do this" reward system is also a good way to motivate yourself to confront the things that scare you.