How To Stay Motivated To Improve Your Social Skills And Make Friends
Many people who want to improve their social lives struggle with motivation to keep working on the issue. They want the end result, but have a hard time sticking with the process required to get there, whether that's practicing their conversation skills, going to random events to try to meet people, or facing their fears.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's very common. If you're in this boat, it doesn't mean you're weak or broken. Changing can be difficult and scary, so it's natural to not be gung ho about it around the clock.
In terms of attitude, a lack of motivation can look like any of the following:
- You clearly feel unenthusiastic or apathetic about the whole thing. It all feels like a chore.
- You believe you're driven to make friends or overcome your shyness, but yet you don't seem to be getting much done.
- You think it would be nice to have a better social life, but the thought of actually working toward it fills you with indifference.
- You constantly beat yourself up over not being more motivated, but that doesn't get you moving.
- You feel like fixing your social life is something you Should do. A part of you resents having to work on these issues.
- You're not totally sure if changing is a good idea.
- You're not sure if change is even possible. You feel really pessimistic and hopeless at times.
- You're afraid of the things you'll have to do to get better, like asking people to hang out, which has always made you nervous. It's hard to push yourself to do the things you need to do.
- You go back and forth between being psyched up to change and not being so sure about it. The shifts may seem random, be triggered by mini victories or setbacks, or vary depending on the time of the week.
In terms of your outward actions, poor motivation can appear as:
- Little to no real world effort to change. You've technically started the life project, but aren't doing much to move it forward.
- Inconsistent effort. On some weeks you get a bunch done, but may let months go by where you hang out back in your comfort bubble.
- You can consistently do some easier, more entertaining tasks, but can't get yourself to do some tougher, but necessary, ones.
- You did a lot of work at first, but your efforts have trailed off.
- You've done some earlier steps, but have stalled out on the next one. You've been procrastinating on it for months.
Broad types of motivation issues
While those are the overall symptoms, at their core motivation struggles fall into a couple of categories:
- The process of reaching your goal is difficult and unpleasant in some way - It's nerve racking, it takes too much time, it's a hassle, it's not particularly fun, it's discouraging, and so on.
- You don't actually want the end result, or at least a part of you isn't sure about it. You may feel forced to make more friends by society's expectations. You may be trying to become popular to overcompensate for an insecurity you picked up as a kid, but know deep down it isn't what you really care about.
Ways to improve your motivation to overcome your social problems
Motivation issues can be complicated. It's not just about finding some shallow peppy phrases you can repeat to psych yourself up. Stuff like that can only give you a short term boost at best.
Sort out your overall goals
Spend some time thinking about what you really want socially
It's easy to end up chasing social goals you don't actually care about. As I just mentioned, society is full of messages about what a happy, socially adjusted person looks like. They have tons of friends, they're outgoing and chatty, they love big group activities like parties, and so on. It's easy to unthinkingly absorb them. It's also fairly common to form goals that are an attempt to overcompensate for baggage you picked up as a kid., e.g., "I'll become super funny and respected to cancel out that no one liked me in middle school." You may not care the slightest about popularity, but a part of you thinks that's the path to feeling better about yourself.
Take the time to consider what you truly want. What social activities do you find genuinely fun, and which ones can you take or leave? What would your social life look like if you knew no one would ever judge you? Would you stop drinking at clubs, since you don't like alcohol, but still go to them to dance, because the only thing holding you back there is a fear of being mocked for not being good enough at it?
Take a look at this article and see if anything in it rings true:
You may still have some blind spots and not unearth all your overcompensating or externally imposed motivations in a few hours of thinking. Sometimes it takes a while to work through the baggage that covers up the wishes of our true selves. However, even if you can catch even some of it, you'll be in a better place.
Note that when this step is done, you might end up dropping goals you never actually cared about in the first place. While that can be freeing, it can also be stressful in its own way. It's scary to know you're not going to go after what your culture tells you you should want. You may be judged for going against the grain and staying true to yourself. It can also be tough to think, "Now what?" after ditching a goal that's driven you for years. Like you may have pursued popularity all through your twenties, even if halfheartedly, and feel like there's a void once you've let that go. Give yourself time to feel these uncomfortable feelings, and trust they'll pass in time.
List your reasons for wanting to improve your social life
If you've only just kept them in your head, putting them into a formal, tangible list may help your reasons for changing sink in. It can give you a North Star to refer back to if your motivation dips. No, one list won't singlehandedly keep you going, but even a little bit of help is worthwhile. Ideally your list will only have items on it that you truly, deeply care about, and which are realistic. Though even a pie in the sky, overcompensating fantasy can get you moving.
Remind yourself change is possible
These can help if your motivation slips due to feelings of hopelessness about whether things can work out at all.
Know that building a social life, improving your social skills, or becoming less shy are all totally realistic, reasonable, achievable goals
You may have barriers in your way, like living in a small town, or not having money, or struggling with your mental health, that make your goals seem out of reach, but plenty of people in your circumstances have made friends or become more confident. No, not everyone can become ultra-popular or charismatic, but no one needs these things to live a fulfilling life. If you believe you do, that's coming from childhood baggage which is telling you'll only be good enough if you're amazing.
Realize you have tons of time to meet your goals
Don't get down on yourself or fear the worst because you haven't figured everything out by your 21st birthday. It's not unusual for younger people to feel like their window to solve their issues is rapidly closing on them, but it's not true. Check out this article:
Manage your fears around trying to change
A lot of poor motivation comes down to wanting to avoid feeling the uncomfortable emotions trying to change can evoke, anxiety being the main one. A few people's social goals don't involve them doing anything scary, but for most fear is the reason they haven't already achieved them. There are all kinds of sub-tasks that may stir it up, like asking someone to hang out, opening up to a friend, or even just having a conversation, period.
Take steps to make facing your fears easier
You can't avoid feeling nervous altogether. There are things you can do to take the edge off:
- Learn a bunch of anxiety regulation and coping techniques, such as deep breathing, or learning to sit with and tolerate the feeling.
- Make a plan to face your fears gradually.
- Do smaller, easier tasks in between bigger, scarier ones to keep your momentum going. For example, you go to a big social meet up every weekend to practice meeting strangers, which takes a lot out of you. Rather than do nothing in between, you go to one or two small, friendly meet ups during the week where you know everyone and can relax.
- Implement a mix of mood boosting lifestyle changes, like regular exercise, to cut down the overall amount of anxiety in your system.
Work through your old baggage which fuels your social fears
If you're excessively afraid of rejection or judgment it's probably because of difficult experiences you had as a kid that you haven't fully worked through, like being bullied or having critical, unpleasable parents. It's not just classic childhood rejection or teasing that can give you lifelong social fears. You might have old, unconscious beliefs about what could go wrong if you became more socially successful. For example, you may not even know it, but deep down you believe your family will abandon you if you become too likable and assertive.
This is the farthest thing from an overnight project, but you can unearth and work through those painful memories and take away their ability to still drive your thinking and emotions in the present day.
Make the process of doing the tangible tasks needed to meet your goals easier
Fear aside, working on your social goals can be tiresome in other ways, leading to procrastination and half-hearted effort.
Practice with activities you enjoy
Trying to make friends or chip away at your social anxiety can be tough at times, but it doesn't need to be an unnecessarily Spartan grind. As much as possible, do things you like doing. If you want to meet new people, sign up for a class you're already interested in, rather than one you couldn't care less about, but may have more members. If you want to practice making small talk, but hate bars, don't go to a pub to try to chat to someone, just because that seems like the thing to do.
Use incentives for tasks where you need a little push
Not all of these may work for you, so experiment to see if one nudges you more than the others:
- Give yourself rewards for big steps, like facing a major fear
- Limit yourself from fun activities until you do your work on your goals for the day, e.g., not playing video games until you've chatted to some people that afternoon
- Make yourself accountable to someone, like a friend, therapist, or support group
- Share your intentions publicly. This one can go both ways. Sometimes it gives you a push to live up to what you told everyone you'd do. At other times it creates too much pressure, or you get a faux-sense of already accomplishing your goal just by talking about it, and so feel less driven to actually go do it.
Find a balance between pursuing your goal and focusing on other things
Wanting to make more friends or feel more self-assured is great, but it doesn't need to turn into a joyless slog that consumes all your free time, energy, and mental bandwidth.
Do little things to boost your mental state
As I said, these things alone won't keep you motivated if there are deeper objections at play, but they can still be part of the mix.
Use straight-up sources of motivation
For example, books or videos full of hands-on advice or other peoples' success stories, anything that gives you a sense that change is possible. Just be aware of how it's making you feel, and drop anything that backfires and causes you to think things like, "These guys progressed so much faster than me. I give up."
Remind yourself of what's going well
Consider how far you've come and what you can do that you couldn't before. Celebrate your small victories. I know no one can totally control how they think in this area, but as much as you can try not to dwell too much on your failures, setbacks, periods of slower progress, or how you haven't reached your ultimate goal yet. If you need to, think about these things a little if there's something practical you can learn, but leave it at that.
Do what you can to recover from setbacks
For example, you thought things were going well with a newer friend, then she suddenly stopped returning your texts. That blows. Give yourself time to feel sad about it, and maybe take a break. At the same time, try not to jump to inaccurate conclusions about what it all means, like that no one will ever love you. Remind yourself you're on the right path on the whole, even if not every little thing goes perfectly
See this related article: How To Handle Social Rejection
A generally related article:Overcoming Laziness And Inertia Toward Working On Your Social Problems