Do social interactions really need to be as difficult as some people think? For a growing proportion of our society, a lack of confidence in social situations is an everyday reality. Periods of low self confidence are experienced by most people at some point in their lives, and one manifestation of this is social anxiety.
The emotional turmoil of finding yourself stuck in an environment with people you don’t know, not knowing what to say without embarrassing yourself, but increasingly conscious of the awkward silence – it’s the stuff that nightmares are made of! Overcoming that first hurdle and having the confidence to put yourself out there, to start up a conversation, can be a daunting concept. But take a moment to learn from this young man, who through sharing his passion, opened up a new world.
“Putting yourself out there takes courage, but believing you have something worthwhile to say makes it so much easier.”
Nine year old Alex* receives regular tutoring for his English and Maths. Alex is mildly autistic which, in his case, makes it difficult to focus on topics which don’t interest him. He’s fallen behind his classmates in these two core subjects, and his confidence has plummeted with his test scores. Alex also struggles to form friendships as he is uncomfortable in social situations.
Alex may lack knowledge in English and Mathematics, but he knows more about planes than anyone you’re likely to meet. He can identify a low flying plane and give you its model and country of manufacture without missing a beat. Planes are Alex’s passion. Do you remember having that passion as a child? Whether it was dinosaurs, a football team, a now-embarrassing glam-rock band, we all had something that we knew about inside-out and enjoyed sharing with others. Take a moment to mentally pinpoint one of your passsions, past or current – we’ll come back to it.
So, very quickly after meeting Alex we learned about his adoration for all things aeronautical. By harnessing this passion, we were able to work with Alex in a way that he could truly enjoy (you wouldn’t believe what a difference it made just changing ‘oranges’ to ‘passengers’ in a math equation). Not only is Alex’s math and english improving now that it is being taught in collaboration with a subject he is interested in, but his confidence is improving too.
Last week Alex made his first real connection to another child since the school year began. Seeing a child in his class reading a transport book, he had the courage to share his knowledge on planes, engaging the other child in conversation. They already have a playdate lined up for the weekend.
But you see, while social interactions can be genuinely scary for us as adults, there’s no reason we can’t take a page from Alex’s book and turn communicating with each other into childsplay. You may feel as if you’ve lost the passion you once had as a child, but I guarantee you that it’s still there. Whether it’s a book, TV series, or something you’ve been reading about in the news, find something you feel you can speak about with confidence and then look for an opportunity this week to discuss it with someone outside of your comfort zone. Ask that woman ahead of you in the queue at the cafe whether her book is any good. Remark on how terrible that radio news bulletin was to the other person in the waiting room. What is the worst that can happen?
Putting yourself out there takes courage, but believing you have something worthwhile to say makes it so much easier. Yes, perhaps you’ll be met with a blank stare, other people are awkward too. But maybe that moment of bravery will result in a stimulating conversation, a moment shared between strangers; or who knows, maybe you’ll even be arranging a playdate of your own.
If you think you’d benefit from professional support in tackling your social anxiety, call Nelumbo Consultancy today to speak to one of our team.
*not his real name