You Don’t Need to Overcome Approach Anxiety

October 11th, 2013 by Steve Pavlina

Many people use the label approach anxiety to describe the fear of starting a conversation with someone new. This is a common fear, and many people identify it as a stumbling block that supposedly prevents them from enjoying a rich and abundant social life.

The truth is that working on overcoming “approach anxiety” is largely a distraction. It’s not actually a problem that needs to be solved to enjoy a socially abundantly life. It’s an imaginary obstacle that makes people feel inadequate, and then that inadequacy is used as a puzzle/distraction/diversion to avoid intimacy and to suppress other aspects of one’s personality.

The people I know who are really good at street approaches have all told me that they “virtually never” find a good connection that way. Results-wise this path is usually a dead end.

In my experience the people who become good at approaching and starting conversations with random strangers on the street, turn around and become “approach coaches.” In order to sell people on this skill set, they drum up feelings of inadequacy in people, making them think that this is an important and critical skill to develop in order to enjoy a socially abundant life. But the reality is that it’s more likely to lead to an endless treadmill of shallow connections with low compatibility.

Yes, you can get a high from facing your fears and doing random approaches. Yes, overcoming this hurdle can yield other benefits. If you buy into these benefits, then go do it quickly. You’ll make tons of progress within a week of dedicated practice. And then you can move on to more important matters.

But if one week passes, then another, and another… and then a few months… and then a few years, and you still find yourself thinking that you need to develop this skill in order to enjoy a richly rewarding social life, then you’re making a huge mistake and using this minor skill as a block to keep yourself stuck. So if you’ve been telling yourself that you have to overcome approach anxiety first in order to enjoy more social abundance, stop it.

Here’s a simple analogy. The skill of approaching random people on the street is similar to the skill of door-to-door selling in business. For some businesses that may be a valuable skill set, and there are books, videos, and sales trainers that can teach you how to do this. With some practice you could overcome your fears and resistance to door-to-door selling. But is this an important or essential skill that you really need to develop in order to succeed in business? Of course not.

You can obviously build a thriving business without relying on the skill of door-to-door selling. But it would be a huge limiting belief to convince yourself that you must become good at such a skill before you can allow yourself to have a thriving business.

This is essentially what people do with their focus on approach anxiety. It’s a minor and non-essential skill, but they use it as an excuse for not having what they desire — for years!

Oh, you know… I wish I could have a cool relationship and better friends, but unfortunately I have issues with social anxiety, so…

I need to commit myself to going out every day and practicing my social skills. Yeah… I should do that… Then I could finally be like those other cools guys. But first I should have a muffin… maybe banana nut… Now that’s a good muffin.

Wow… this coach does boot camps to help people learn how to approach random strangers on the street. It costs $4000 though. Hmmm… That would be really cool if I could afford it. But I can’t right now, so I’ll just have to wait. Maybe someday…

A few years pass, and the same lines are uttered once again.

How do you feel when you have thoughts like these? Inadequate? Not good enough? Not ready to have what you want yet? Still in learning mode, not in experiencing and enjoying mode?

Since I have a lot of friends who are already really good at this, i.e. people who’ve done thousands upon thousands of approaches, I asked some of them to candidly share what life is like on the other side. What I heard was very similar to what you might see in a person who overcomes their fear of door-to-door selling. It was a valid path of personal development, and they definitely got very good at it, and they were glad to have done it, but it didn’t actually give them what they wanted.

They got good at talking to strangers on the street, which was nice, but in the end they didn’t actually want to spend their days talking to strangers on the street. Getting really good at talking to strangers on the street didn’t help them create and enjoy the kinds of connections they really wanted, although some of them mistakenly thought it would help a lot. In many cases, investing in this skill actually distracted them from doing what was necessary to enjoy highly compatible, quality connections.

If you practice door-to-door selling a lot, you’ll get good at door-to-door selling. If you practice starting conversations with random people, you’ll get good at starting conversations with random people. But don’t assume that these skills will give you much more than that.

Based in part on these conversations, I realized that even if I made a big investment in this skill, it wouldn’t actually help me create the end result I was looking for. I wanted to enjoy close, intimate connections with highly compatible people — great friends, amazing lovers, heart-centered business colleagues. I didn’t want to spend my days hitting on people in bars and coffee shops.

So I shelved the idea of working on random street approaches and took a different path, focusing on the actual results I wanted. This worked. I got the results I wanted… quite abundantly in fact.

Instead of going out and approaching random strangers all day, I’m sharing espresso and deep conversation with a woman I adore, or cuddling each other tenderly, or having delightful romantic adventures, or enjoying dinner with great friends, or having soulful sex, or doing any of the other social activities I enjoy with people I like and who like me.

What’s the alternative to working on approach anxiety? Where could you focus your efforts instead?

For me the first step was to focus on my desires. Go deeper into identifying, clarifying, accepting, and owning what I’d really like to experience. I’ve written numerous articles about that already, so I won’t rehash it here.

If you catch yourself focusing on fears or blocks or limitations you think you need to overcome, stop doing that for a while, especially if you’ve been stuck working on the same blocks for years. If you haven’t overcome the block within 30 days after identifying it, now you’re just being lame and using it as an excuse not to keep moving forward. Put your silly block down, ignore it, and refocus your attention on your desires. Working on your blocks won’t motivate you to do anything but work on your blocks, and that’s an endless treadmill and a big waste of time.

I could worry about approach anxiety, or I could focus on my enjoyment of cuddling someone I really like. I could imagine sitting on my couch next to her, feeling the warmth from the fireplace, gently running my fingers through her hair, exploring her face with my fingertips, planting soft kisses on her cheek, seeing her smile, hearing a few Mmmmm’s from her, and relaxing into that warm and tender flow of energy between us. I could even imagine having a silly conversation with her about the guys who are going out and doing approaches on the street all day, thinking it will help them have an experience like we’re having right now. And she will roll her eyes dismissively at those silly guys, like she always does.

And then she’ll crack a mischievous smile and say in her submissively breathy voice, “Master, your slave is feeling naughty again.”

No approaches necessary.

What’s next with all this focus on anxiety? Do we need people to coach us on how to overcome cuddle anxiety?

Put your desires first. Your silly, sniveling fears don’t matter.

Second step. I learned to broadcast to the whole world what I want. The broadcasting itself is not actually the most significant part. The key is to release any lingering shame, fear, and guilt about having what I want. Broadcasting is a good way to test whether or not I’m there yet. If I can’t broadcast it yet, I know I still have some issues to resolve. Eventually as I lean into these desires more and more, I feel congruent enough to be able to broadcast without worrying about other people’s judgments or any other consequences. If I’m going to fulfill my desires, then this is a good test to see if I’m ready to accept the consequences of having those desires.

Thirdly, I modified my lifestyle so as to make it more naturally abundant in collisions with the types of people who are likely to be compatible with me. I’ve been doing a lot more traveling and speaking (and less blogging) for the past few years. When I travel I also prefer to stay with friends instead of in hotels. I go to more parties. I say yes to more group social invites.

I figured out where the good matches are likely to be clustered, and I put myself in those environments regularly. This works. I meet compatible people organically this way — people who are into self development, people who are into open relationships, people who like traveling. In these spheres, nobody really needs to approach. The compatibility is so high that people who are good matches typically attract each other like magnets. Much of the time, a mutual friend does the introductions. It’s pretty effortless.

If you don’t know where your best matches might be clustered, guess. You’ll guess wrong. Learn from it, and guess again. You’ll guess wrong again. Eventually you’ll find your way to your tribe. Just don’t sit around not guessing. You’re not going to figure this out through journaling and self-analysis. In the past I spent a lot of time in boring, awkward, and pointless social gatherings. That’s why today I’m able to enjoy stimulating, fun, and exciting social gatherings (while cuddling someone I like).

Fourthly, I learned to do specific invites for what I wanted, not for other B.S. fluff. If I want to cuddle a woman, I’ll invite her to cuddle. If I want to have a threesome with her, I’ll invite her to have a threesome. If I want to spend a day out with her exploring an art museum, I’ll invite her to go look at art. I have a lot of different interests. I like to honor all of them and share them with people. The key is to fully honor my desires in the moment.

No fake invites. No hidden agendas. I invite what I want. I let other people accept or decline. No convincing or persuading. If it’s not an enthusiastic yes, I’ll take it as a no. If one person declines, I’ll invite someone else.

If I’m not sure what I want, then I’ll invite someone to spend more time together and talk, so we can get to know each other better. I’ll talk about the kinds of connections I like most. I’ll ask that person what kinds of connections they enjoy most. I’ll find out how compatible we are up front. And I’ll be shamelessly myself. If I share something that’s a big part of my life, like open relationships, and the other person flinches, then I’ll probably talk even more about that instead of changing the subject — partly to see if they’re going to be scared off so easily and to find out quickly if they’ll be unable or unwilling to accept me completely as I am.

Fifthly — and this was the most recent lesson for me, which unlocked a powerful new level of abundance — I had to start giving a definitive no to invitations that weren’t actually what I wanted, even if they were close to it. I had to stop letting people try to convince me or talk me into things. As my friend Michael Lassen recently put this (paraphrasing): If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.

It’s so easy to get lost in the land of partial matches. We let people talk us into things that don’t really excite us. But “good enough” connections often leave us feeling hollow and disconnected. Say no to these, so you can focus on inviting some great connections instead. If it’s not working, give up quickly, and move on quickly. Don’t “work on the relationship.” If it feels like work, you’re not compatible enough.

What if you don’t know what you want? That isn’t a problem at all. Don’t turn that minor lack of clarity into another phony roadblock. If you don’t know what you want, that’s great. I often don’t know either. That’s the time to explore, experiment, and guess. You’re not going to know if you like something until after you’ve tried it, and even then, you may need to try it a few times to be sure. But don’t sit around like a stump pretending that you can’t take action just because you don’t know what you want.

I haven’t had breakfast yet. I’m pretty hungry now. But I don’t know what I want to eat. I’m confused. Oh no! Guess I’ll go hungry then… Poor me… If only I had more clarity… Maybe I should read another book to help me figure out what to have for breakfast… Maybe I should write a breakfast mission statement… Yeah, that’s it! I need to sit down and journal and figure this out…

That sounds really dumb, doesn’t it? Well, that’s how dumb you sound when you email me to whine about not being able to take action just because you don’t know what to do.

When you don’t know what you want to eat, you still manage to eat, don’t you? How do you accomplish that? Well… use the same approach for your social and relationship life. A bad meal isn’t the end of the world. Keep exploring and trying new things, and you’ll learn what you like. Then you can have more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.

If you’re really confused, then order something you know you’ll hate. I sometimes do this when I’m confused about what to eat. I deliberately make something I know I won’t like. Then I eat it anyway. It’s a good lesson to myself that I can never give myself permission to let a lack of clarity stop me.

When I exited my marriage in 2009, I dove into explorer mode, inviting all sorts of new connections and experiences. I’m still in that mode now, but I’ve also learned a lot more about what I like vs. don’t like. And so now I can do a much better job of inviting what I want and avoiding what doesn’t interest me. I now have a lifestyle that I love more than anything I’ve experienced before, but I keep experimenting. I continue to embrace the new.

What if you get into a social situation and feel socially disconnected? That’s completely normal. It’s feedback that you’re not in sync with the energies of the other people around you. It’s a sign that your intuition is working perfectly. If this happens a lot, it probably means you’re hanging out with incompatible people way too often.

Some people see this as a feeling of inadequacy. I think that more often than not, it’s a feeling of incompatibility.

Feeling socially disconnected doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to work on improving connections with people. In many cases that would be a very forced solution. The people I know who’ve tried that approach usually found it to be a dead end. Eventually they gave up… sometimes retreating even more than before.

If you feel socially disconnected, maybe that’s a sign to shed the partial matches that aren’t working for you. Stop investing in them. Let those old, increasingly incompatible energies fall by the wayside. Release the old first.

Then you can invite the new. Think about the types of people with whom you’d enjoy very natural connections with ease. Seek them out. Use the trial and error approach till you find your tribe. It’s out there, but you won’t see it while you’re busy tolerating partial matches and hoping they get better.

I often find that socially anxious people tend to prefer being very direct and honest in their interactions. Yet they often surround themselves with the most indirect friends and family. If they try being direct with those people, others will often take offense.

They’d rather connect with people who communicate their thoughts and feelings plainly and straightforwardly, instead of having to deal with the subtleties of getting around people’s social masks and shields.

I can handle myself just fine in a social situations where everyone is being very guarded and indirect, but I’d rather not deal with that if I can avoid it. I usually feel bored and listless in those situations; they feel fake, stunted, unnatural, and plodding. I prefer the company of people who communicate with simple honesty and self-awareness, and who appreciate it when I communicate likewise. I do enjoy some subtlety, but not the kind that involves wearing masks and disguising a hidden agenda.

Are approach anxiety (and various other labels) real problems that need to be overcome in order to enjoy a rich and abundant social and relationship life? No. You can work on those issues if you want, but don’t use them as excuses for not having what you desire. You can just as easily bypass these so-called blocks and do an end run around them.

Now for some breakfast!


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