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 and chipping away at your fears and insecurities 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 weak spots. 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 develop them. You have to practice. If aspects of being around people makes you really nervous, lowering that anxiety isn't something you can do in a week.

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 cultivate them. But when it comes to people skills we're sometimes too quick to ask things like, "What's the one conversation tip to make everyone like me instantly?"

Common forms of supposed magic pills for social issues

A way to quickly get the perfect mindset

Your attitude can have a big effect on how well you do in social situations. If you're in a positive, self-assured mood you'll do better than if you're in a negative, self-conscious one. Most of us have memories of being unusually confident for a while, and doing better socially because of it. This leads some people to believe that all they need to do is figure out how to be in the right headspace all the time, and amazing social skills and bottomless confidence will just flow out of that.

Some magic bullet advice promises to change your mindset in an instant. It often takes the form of supposedly profound insights or mental reframes that will get you to have an "Aha!" moment and never look at the world the same again. Of course it's possible to improve your confidence, get rid of your insecurities, and heal your mental baggage. But it takes time to learn about yourself, chip away at your inner blocks, and have real world experiences that reinforce a healthier self-image.

There's no miracle self-help exercise that will unleash your hidden potential in one fell swoop. It may feel like that's possible because there was that time you went to a party and for some reason you felt bold and uninhibited, and everyone loved talking to you. However, just because you mysteriously felt psyched up once or twice doesn't mean there's some speedy trick to 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 work toward it.

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

Super-helpful knowledge

Some people hope there's advice out there about, say, how to make conversation or manage shyness 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 "on paper". You have to practice in the real world 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 unearned rapport, status, friends, popularity, and romantic partners.

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 refined 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 player just needs to get in better shape and practice the fundamentals more. Once they have that down, the confidence, advice, and sneaky 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.