For a long time, I had this problem…
I’d research what charming, well-liked people did to be so successful socially. But once I knew what to do, I’d often feel even more anxious and incompetent.
I’d go out to use what I’d learned but then chicken out and say nothing. Either that or I’d act so awkward, people just thought I was weird. In the end, I still didn’t accomplish what I wanted, which was to connect.
I began to wonder if something was just wrong with me. I mean, I knew what to do, but I couldn’t pull it off. It was like all the advice that worked for the successful people didn’t work for me.
Have you experienced something like this too?
Well, here’s what I figured out about why this happens and how to get past it.
Knowledge is NOT Power
Well first off, if you’re learning better social etiquette you’re on the right track. It’s important and it can help.
And second, if you’re still failing even though you “know what to do,” it’s NOT because something is wrong with you or because others just get it and you can’t.
No, the main problem here is, you may be thinking of learning in the wrong way.
Probably not what you were expecting, huh?
Let me explain.
See, I used to think if I only knew the “secrets” socially successful people knew, I’d be successful too. But unfortunately that’s not how it works is it?
I was the same.
Even though I learned “what to do,” that knowledge was next to useless on its own.
Because just knowing what to do DOES NOT mean you are automatically able to DO it. Now that probably makes sense as you read it, but I think many of us forget this in real life. We think of learning as just gaining knowledge. We think knowing the “how to” is the end of the line.
It’s not. There’s more to it than that.
But it’s this common error in the way we view learning that causes us to get discouraged when we fail. And when we get discouraged, we start doubting ourselves. And that leads to us giving up.
So I think if you were to view learning in a more constructive way, your expectations would be more realistic and you’d make more progress.
Behavior Change IS Power
There’s a life changing principle I now live by which I’d like you to consider.
Knowledge IS NOT Learning. Learning is Behavior Change.
I didn’t come up with this concept. And unfortunately I don’t remember where I first heard it, but I’ve found it to be accurate.
What it means is, you haven’t really learned something until that knowledge consistently finds its way into your behavior. This means not only do you KNOW how to be more friendly, for example, you’re also confident and capable enough to DO it.
And the only way to achieve this, to learn something at the behavioral level, is to DO it over and over and over again.
Think about it:
- Can a first year med student confidently perform heart surgery after just reading a textbook?
- Can a gymnast flawlessly execute a parallel bars routine after reviewing the moves only once?
Of course not. Because just knowing what to do doesn’t mean they have the ability to do it. They need to practice, right?
- The med student must work on cadavers, practice incisions, see what veins look like in the body, etc.
- The gymnast must build strength, practice individual moves then string them together, etc.
Through all of this training, both the med student and gymnast are making mistakes. They’re failing daily, sometimes in small ways and sometimes big. But they’re also learning from those failures and adjusting their approach, often subconsciously.
They’re learning at the behavioral level.
Learning Conversation Skills is Like Learning Any Other Skill
When you first learn a new social skill or mindset, you go out and try it. And guess what? It probably doesn’t go that well.
Because you freaking never tried it before that’s why!
C’mon go easy on yourself. You can’t expect to perfectly execute the skills and mindsets you’ve learned right away. You’re awkward and uncertain because it makes perfect sense to be.
Your behavior, your ability to EXECUTE the knowledge you’ve gained, is what needs to develop. And it’s through actually applying your knowledge repeatedly, making mistakes then adjusting, that you develop that ability.
Knowledge alone won’t get you through most conversations.
Conversations are too chaotic and you can’t sift through your knowledge fast enough to use it in the moment. That’s why the knowledge needs to be ingrained at the level of your behavior.
Again, the best way I know to do that is through repetition.
What if You HAVE Tried A lot But Still Fail?
So all this makes sense if you’ve just learned a new “technique” or mindset or whatever right? Maybe you tried it once and it was awkward.
Again, it’s just that you haven’t practiced enough to become comfortable and confident with that skill.
But what if you HAVE tried the same social skill over and over again and it’s not working? And for that matter, what if you’ve intended to try several times but can never bring yourself to go through with it?
Well here are two ideas that may help:
- Try practicing in less intimidating places. Places like clubs, bars and even cafes can be highly intimidating for shy and socially awkward people. Practicing there is like being thrown in the deep end when you can’t swim. Since it’s so far out of your comfort zone, you become too anxious. That anxiety makes you awkward and wrecks any positive learning you might otherwise get. Either that or it’s so intimidating you don’t even try in the first place. Instead, try practicing your knowledge on people and places that don’t intimidate you as much. That way you’ll get the “form” down first. Then you can ramp up the intensity.
- Tend to your limiting beliefs. You may be failing constantly because you expect to. Maybe you have a deep seated belief you’re a loser and no one will like you. So even when you’re trying to improve, you subtly act like you expect people to dismiss you. So guess what? They do. Just like with skills, mindsets become a part of your behavior when you repeat them to yourself. So by reminding yourself of your qualities (and of the fact most people will likely accept you) EVERY TIME you feel inadequate, it eventually becomes part of your beliefs. Then you’ll naturally start behaving more in line with those beliefs.
I believe a lot of us have swallowed the marketing hype. We assume improving socially is an instant process; that if we only had the right secrets we’d succeed. Well, there’s bad, ok and better knowledge. But in the end, ACTION is what makes all the difference.
(Image courtesy of Edward Townend via Flickr)