When You Don't Know Where To Start Working On Your Social Issues
Some people who come to this site are more-or-less socially adjusted, and they're just looking for advice on a specific issue or two. For example, some adults find they're not as good at making friends as they thought they were when they move to a new city. For them, knowing where to start is simple. They just have to look up some info on the areas they're having a hard time with.
However, when someone is all-around socially awkward and insecure they may feel overwhelmed and like they don't know where to begin. For one, they may just identify a whole whack of issues they have. Also, the main social problem areas tend to be tied together, so you often can't work on one in isolation. For example, if someone tries to apply some tips to meet new people, their problems with shyness, lack of confidence, and unpracticed conversation skills may all pop up at once and demand attention. Here are my thoughts:
Realize you're going to be working on several things at the same time
This doesn't answer the question of, "Okay, but where do I start?", but realize that no matter where you technically decide to begin, it probably won't be long before many related issues crop up, and you suddenly have to juggle them. There's not really any getting around it. Socializing is multifaceted and draws on many abilities. You'll have to slowly build them all up together. That's not to say you can't pick a few priorities to concentrate on to a degree. It's just that socializing isn't like learning to build a house, where there's a logical order to the skills you'll need to know (e.g., pouring a foundation has to come before installing the eavestroughs).
Realize no matter what your approach, it will still take time
In a sense it doesn't matter if you start with one thing over another, because it still takes a while to get past social awkwardness, and you're going to have to get to the other issues eventually anyway.
Some options for where to start
With those two points out of the way, I'll still suggest some possible jumping off spots:
Dive in and figure it out as you go
This is a perfectly reasonable strategy, though maybe if you've chosen to read this article in the first place it's not entirely your style. Not everyone has to have a spreadsheet full of clearly delineated goals. Just start with an area that your gut tells you you should work on, and then adjust as you go. Like you may decide you want to get better at talking to people in large groups, and once you start trying to practice that you'll develop a clearer idea of where you get stuck and what else you have to focus on.
Figure out what your main goal is, and what skills are subordinate to it
This isn't always easy, but if you give it some thought you may realize you have one central social goal, and that any other aspects of socializing you'll have to learn along the way are in service to it. A simple example is a lonely person who wants to build a social life. They may also be shy and insecure, stilted when they make small talk, and living a life that's firmly in a rut. However, they view all these problems as limiting their ability to apply to make friends. When you have a core goal, you can start with the first tasks needed to achieve it, and then work on any other problems as they come up.
If you can identify some issues you can work on in isolation, start with them
Not every issue, big or small, is tied into five other ones. Some can be worked on in a more compartmentalized way. For example, someone may have a fear of a specific social setting, but their ability to interact with people in it is fine. They just have to do something about their self-contained nervousness in that environment. Someone else could have a problem with making eye contact - not because of any other issues, but because they never got in the habit of doing it, and now it feels weird to them.
Start with easier tasks first
Some people have a primary goal, and they'd rather begin on it right away, even if it's a more difficult one to achieve. Some readers may want to ease themselves into the process by starting with social improvements they can handle. What's easy and what isn't depends on the person, but in I find most people gauge the difficulty of social situations based on how much they're nerve-racking or discouraging. Others aren't that affected by anxiety, but find more technical skills, like making small talk, bewildering and mentally draining.
The site's three biggest sections (shyness/fears/insecurity, conversation, making friends) begin with a quick article listing the main actionable tasks for that area. Each of them has an estimated difficulty assigned to it. In a more general sense, here's an admittedly imprecise overview of what types of things are the easiest and the most challenging to work on:
- Doing background research that will benefit your social life in some way (e.g., reading up on classes and sports teams available in your community).
- Just researching social skills. Most of your results will come from practice and things you do, rather than facts you learn, but there are still benefits to be had just from absorbing some information. Like you may change your attitude or expectations about something after learning how your previous views were inaccurate.
- Doing things to improve as a person and indirectly become more socially appealing.
- Starting a new hobby that you'd want to do anyway, but which may give you some social experience as a side effect.
- Implementing various lifestyle changes, to brighten your mood, or increase your social options.
- Learning about and addressing your self-sabotaging thoughts, insecurities, and attitudes. Endlessly analyzing your thinking patterns in the absence of any other attempts to change won't do a ton, but it's still a useful piece of the puzzle.
- Processing the upsetting social memories from your past that fuel your social anxiety and insecurities. Working with a handful of mildly painful memories isn't too hard, but it's a longer, trickier project to root out and address all your childhood baggage.
- Practicing social situations that involve a skill component (e.g., maintaining a conversation). Of course, the harder the skill, the more difficult this will be.
- Getting into situations that involve facing a social fear. Smaller fears could be closer to the Easy side of the scale. Ones that cause significant anxiety can be quite difficult to get used to.
- Situations that involve facing a fear with a simultaneous skill component (e.g., approaching an intimidating group at a party, and then trying to talk to them, public speaking)
Also, within each of these broad categories, you could further break down the sub-tasks that are the simplest and most challenging for you to work on, e.g., within the Fear Facing category, you may find it easiest to get used to inviting people out, but quite hard to get up on stage and sing karaoke with your friends. It's funny, even as I'm writing this, it sounds like a hassle, to create this grand chart of what's easiest and hardest for you. That's why I say sometimes it feels simpler to accept the process of improving will be scattered and inelegant, and go with the flow.
It's okay if you don't feel like starting now, or not at full tilt
It takes work to improve your social skills. Not everyone is fully ready to change them yet. It's okay if a part of you wants to get started on getting over your awkwardness, but a bigger part is comfortable where you are. Or if you do start taking steps to change, there's no law that says you have to throw yourself 100% into the process. You could dip your toe in the water for now, and get more serious about it down the road.