There's No Quick, Effortless Way To Fix Your Social Problems

If you're just coming to this site for the odd tip or two, that's one thing. But if you're shy or socially awkward in a more overall, longstanding way, that's not something you can fix overnight.

Building up your social skills takes work. The process isn't always a horrible grind by any means, but it can take longer than you'd like, and at times it can be discouraging and hard on your nerves. You could say the same of acquiring any important new skill. Some people who want relief from their social problems get sidetracked by looking for a non-existent magic pill that will let them improve painlessly and quickly.

Besides from the appeal of instant improvement, some magic pills also promise that you can "have your cake and eat it too" - that they're so effective that you can get everything you want without having to address any of your faults. You just use the pill and get all the popularity and relationships you daydream about, while remaining the same insecure, awkward person you always were.

Social skills are skills like any other. It takes time to build them up. You have to practice. To get more comfortable in situations that make you nervous you have to gradually build up a tolerance for them.

However, I think because interpersonal skills and courage are abstract and non-physical some people mistakenly assume there might be a way to improve them all at once. Some talents, like skiing or playing the guitar, are more manual and concrete. We have an easy time understanding that it takes a lot of effort to develop them. But when it comes to people skills we're sometimes too quick to ask things like, "What's the one conversation tip I need to know to be able to make everyone like me instantly?"

Here are some common forms magic pills in this area take:

A way to get the perfect attitude

Your moods and attitudes seem to have a large effect on how well you do in social situations. If you're in a positive mood you'll do better than if you're in a negative one. Most of us have memories of being unusually confident for a time, and doing better socially because of it. This leads some people to believe that all they need to do is figure out how the have the right attitude all the time, and amazing social skills and bottomless confidence will just flow out of that. Some magic bullet advice aims to teach you how to do this.

The main problem with this approach is that a lot of the advice promises to help you improve by teaching you supposedly profound insights or having you do mental exercises. You're basically trying to go into your mind and mold and fix what's already there. You're trying to unlock some hidden potential that's dwelling within your subconscious.

I think you can only alter your attitude so much by sitting around and trying to tweak or supercharge it. And that's only counting the advice that's legitimate. A lot of it is nonsense. I've found real, lasting attitude change has to be built gradually through experiences in the real world, e.g., you become more confident by gaining more to be confident about.

I also think the idea that everything is already within you and waiting to get out is a misconception. There really isn't a super smooth, happy, confident person lurking within your subconscious, waiting to be unleashed through self-hypnosis or whatever. That we can feel like this temporarily makes us believe that's possible. However, just because you can get psyched up for a while doesn't mean you can make yourself feel that way permanently. How you are most of the time is the way you actually are. To become a different person you have to slowly build towards it.

There's also the fact that having the right attitude isn't the whole picture. Just because you're confident doesn't mean you'll always do the right thing in every situation. We've all come across people who were very sure of themselves, but also strange and off-putting at the same time.

Super helpful knowledge

Some people hope there's advice about socializing or managing negative moods out there that's so good and so useful, that once they read it they'll know how to handle any situation effortlessly. There is advice on these topics that can be very helpful, but nothing so powerful or profound that it will fix all your problems right away.

Also, there's a difference between knowing something intellectually, and being able to pull it off in real life. Just reading advice, no matter how good, only makes you know it in the 'on paper' sense. You have to practice in the real world as well before you can get the execution part down.

A variation on the perfect piece of advice is an insight or observation about socializing that's so profound that it instantly alters your perspective for the better, giving you a permanent boost in your confidence and charisma. I'm pretty sure at this point that nothing like this exists. At best, any seemingly life-altering insights will give you a fleeting charged up feeling.

Manipulative techniques

The third type of magic pills are techniques that supposedly allow you to manipulate people's psychology and "hack the system". Sometimes these ideas are portrayed as being pretty benign and small in effect. At other times they're sold as super secret all-powerful methods that let you exploit the tendencies in people's minds in order to effortlessly gain undeserved rapport, status, friends, popularity, and relationships.

Some of these techniques can help in little ways here and there, but their effectiveness is often highly exaggerated. Many of these exaggerations come from a misunderstanding of how much people's psychology can be affected and toyed with. The claims may also come from beliefs or systems that are incorrect and pseudo-scientific. Sometimes these concepts are over-hyped because someone is simply trying to sell you something.

Everything in my experience has told me there's no cheat code to doing better socially. Of everyone I've met who I'd consider more likable, charismatic, and respected than average, I always saw them that way because they were the real deal. Their interpersonal skills and self-confidence were just more together than most people's. They had more going for them. There were legitimate reasons others looked up to them.

Sports analogies personally help me grasp the idea that there's no shortcut to getting better social skills. Imagine someone who wants to be a dominant, highly skilled basketball player, but they're terribly out of shape, and can barely shoot or dribble. Now imagine someone promised that:

Of course none of that would work. First, what's being promised isn't even deliverable. But even if it was, it wouldn't change the fact that the person just needs to get in better shape and practice the fundamentals more. Once they have that down, the confidence, advice, and tricky tactics may help, but the main factor in their success will always be how competent they are in the basic, straightforward skills required by the game.