Of course you have social situations you aren’t comfortable with. Everyone does and it’s a normal part of personal growth. Whether you’re a teen, a young adult, an adult in your 20s or older you’ve probably had more than your share of awkward and embarrassing situations.

Chances are that won’t ever change. As life goes on, you’ll master many of the situations that make you queasy only to have new ones come into your experience with equal unfamiliarity and discomfort.

That’s life!

For many, the temptation is to run away from any situation that makes your palms sweat, your heart pound, your mouth go dry, and you’re brain scream “GET ME OUTTA HERE!”

Here’s the bad news.

Before you smoothly and strategically scadoodle your way out of these agony-inducing situations you need to know that the more you run away from situations that scare you the more you build on your fear.

Eventually these situations end up causing extreme discomfort and in worst case scenarios can lead to social anxiety and phobias. That’s why it’s important to face what you fear on a regular basis to keep the irrational fear from building up into something that is difficult to manage.
There’s something else you need to know.

Whether or not you have a tendency to take the bull by its horns and jump right into these nerve-racking situations is a good indication of if you’re on the path to reaching for your full potential.

Why is that?

People who reach their full potential WILL face more than a situation or two that causes their knees to rattle. And they must break through the fear to get to the next step.

If you choose ‘running off’ as a way of dealing with discomfort, you’ll create a nice little pattern for yourself that will keep you feeling stuck. You’ll learn it’s better to back away any time you approach something new that has a higher threshold of discomfort than you’re used to handling. You’ll end up shutting yourself off into the same ol’ uneventful life without many interesting opportunities. And it will make you feel as if your ‘life’ has it in for you!

What to do about it?

Since you can’t erase these uncomfortable situations from your life and since they appear to be a prerequisite for bigger and better things to come, you need a plan handy (and an exercise to practice) for handling social situations you aren’t all that comfortable with. Over time, these situations will become easier to handle.

Here it is:

  • Accept it: When approaching a situation you know makes you uncomfortable, you have to make the decision to accept that you will be uncomfortable. As long as you refuse to welcome the flustering feelings, you won’t stick around long enough to break through any of the levels of fear. Instead, focus on the idea that this will get easier over time.
  • Pay attention: Pay attention to the conversation more than you do to that never ending discouraging voice in your head. If you get lost in your thoughts, you’ll freak out when you suddenly realize you have no idea what the group is talking about. You’ll feel double the urge to make a swift exit.
  • Practice: Practice that which makes you uncomfortable. Why put yourself through the pain? It’s the ONLY way to gain confidence and overcome your dread and terror.
  • Commitment: This is something you need to commit to consistently for a period of time. If you try handling uncomfortable situations 3 to 4 times a year you’ll end up telling yourself: “I just couldn’t overcome the fear!” You’ll be doing yourself an injustice. If you make a mistake you must pick yourself up immediately and try again and again. If you don’t have enough ‘social opportunities’ to face your social fear then you MUST MAKE the opportunities. Join some local groups that share the same interests as you. Improvement will only come after trying repeatedly.
  • Exercise:

    No one has ever reached their full potential by running away from what they fear most. Only those who muster the courage to master their fears will reach the stars. Here’s an exercise to help you (this will be much more effective if you use a pen and paper to record your answers so you can re-read them):

    1. Identify the social situation that makes you really uncomfortable (e.g., walking into a room alone, networking, speaking about yourself to people, being the only one in a group without knowing anyone, etc.).
    2. Pinpoint and understand why this situation makes you nervous. What’s the fear? What’s the worst that could happen? Do these situations happen to other people? Why is it OK for other people to flop but not for you? What makes you different from others?
    3. If the absolute worst happens, will this situation completely ruin your life? Why would it ruin your life? In what way? What’s really ruining your life? Your mistakes or your fear of trying again?
    4. Ask yourself: What’s really keeping you from facing your fears? The fact that your life will be ruined or that you just don’t want to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation?
    5. Are your fears of “the worst” exaggerated? For example, does the intensity of your fear match the intensity of the consequence? If the fear is exaggerated, who is in control of your life? You or your emotions?
    6. Are you willing to go through some discomfort to get over this fear? Are you willing to feel the discomfort? (The only way this will work is if you answer a firm “Yes.”)
    7. Now face it. Today! Find a little situation that makes you uncomfortable (even if it means going to your local coffee place and asking someone if they have change for a 20). If you wait for the next situation to come up to test your determination you may forget your commitment to your new personal development project. Why would you forget? Because the fear and anxiousness has a way of making people forget their attempt to change. And fear and anxiousness certainly has a way bringing up past failures in order to talk people out of their resolution to change.
    8. Keep practicing this uncomfortable social situation about 3 to 4 time a week. It will get easier and your tolerance level will rise as you realize many of your fears are just imaginary. Re-read my point above on “commitment.”
    9. Use a journal to record your experience. Log your before and after thoughts, anything you found surprising, any ‘notes’ you need to remember for the future, etc. This will help you keep track of your progression and it will be physical evidence of how much of your fears were only based on the chatter in your head.

    The only way to handle the situations you aren’t comfortable with is by practicing how to deal with them. Little else works as well as direct exposure.

    Remember that we all have social situations we are uncomfortable with. But it is only those who are WILLING to deal with the discomfort (note, I didn’t say ‘able’...we are all ‘able’ but may choose not to) that break through and reach for their full potential.

    Best Wishes in Your Journey

    Author's Bio: 

    Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA, Toronto Life Coach for Women, motivates teens, young adults, and adults in their early to mid twenties 20s to approach life with desire, confidence, and passion. Her areas of work include identifying negative thinking patterns, self-awareness, low self-esteem and self-confidence, self-image, bullying, and goal setting.
    Working with young adults to raise self-esteem, confidence, and motivation.

    For more information visit www.lifecoachintoronto.com