Using Social Momentum To Build Stronger Social Skills

“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort.”

-Charles J. Givens, bestselling author

It’s no secret that I am a fan of using points and data to facilitate change in myself.

I first used an idea like this during senior year of college when I was finally starting to break out of my ‘shell’ and feel comfortable in settings where I didn’t know many people.

Most of this growth came while I was an intern with the Columbus Blue Jackets; it was my first time in an office environment and I was intensely intimidated by both the corporate setting and the people around me.

I became obsessed with coming off as professional and winning the approval of my bosses and the other full-time employees. I had such a strong filter on my words and actions that I was just a shadow of my real self, and still feel that only a few in the office got to know the real me.

Once, I even had a teary-eyed phone conversation with my brother out of pure frustration about how my lack of social skills in the office were going to cost me a good recommendation when I began to apply for full-time jobs.

I would berate myself with cynicisms like “how the hell do you expect to work in public relations if you can’t actually relate publicly to anyone?” over and over.

Thankfully, as I looked for ways to improve my social skills, I came across a simple game that helped me become much more proactive and comfortable in starting conversations.

When I was walking around the office and would pass someone in the hallway, the kitchen, the elevator, wherever; for every possible social situation where I avoided an interaction, I would subtract one from a running tally I kept in my head (that started at 0 at the beginning of the day). Every time I initiated an interaction- even if it was just saying ‘hi’- I would add one.

Eventually ‘hi’ turned into much more adventurous greetings such as “Hey [name], how’s it going?” and “What’s new and exciting?”

Sounds simple, but I don’t think I ever finished a day in the red, and it taught me the valuable lesson that a big part of being social is about momentum. Like playing a sport, warming up properly can make a big difference.

The more momentum I gained on a particular day, the less and less I had to think about what I would say, and the more I could feed off the energy of the previous interactions.

For the first time in my life I started to believe that I could be one of those super social guys that could start conversations wherever he went without skipping a beat.

As an introvert this exhausted me at first. But that in itself served as a clue that I was improving, for I was putting myself in unfamiliar situations where I was exercising ‘social muscles’ that had been seldom used before. I was growing.

The same principle can be applied to going out. If your first interactions that night are with the friends you meet up with at the bar, chances are it is going to take a little bit of time and effort before you find yourself on the same ‘level’ as them (unless you are an extrovert I suppose).

I try and ‘warm up’ for a night out by small-talking to cashiers on the way to wherever I am going, or I will call a friend or chatty family member when I am driving. The more I chat people up, the more my brain and my mouth become attached, and everything I say comes more naturally.

As I do the 90 Strangers experiment, it’s an unequivocal fact that the third conversation I start in a day comes much easier than the first and second ones. By then I am feeling good and ‘in the zone’ and ready to start conversations four, five, and six.

For these reasons, I always tried to avoid having job interviews early in the morning before I had a chance to talk several people. I also always tried to use the secretary as a ‘warm up’ while I was waiting around for the interviewer.

I know as much as anyone how much it sucks feeling ‘socially handicapped’. But the beautiful thing is that you have a world full of strangers to practice on with no consequences.

It’s like the biggest, most complex video game you’ve ever played; the difficulty is set to hard, but you’re in sandbox mode and can try anything you want.

Whether it’s becoming more social or creating any other change you would like to see in yourself, the trick is figuring out how to keep yourself motivated long enough to build momentum. Momentum over time=habit.

For me, I know that if I want change, I have to figure out how to make it a game.

What tricks have you used to change yourself?

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