I remember being 18. I was out into the world, with barely any belongings, no friends, and very socially underdeveloped. Even though I had no friends, I was desperate to make friends, so I encouraged myself to be outgoing when I was in social situations. In a way, I was very brave.

From there, I was thrown into many new social situations, which overwhelmed my senses and was very exciting at times. One new obstacle that I found constant in these new situation was that I had negative thoughts, sometimes before interactions, during interactions, and almost always after interactions. Before the interactions, I felt anxiety over choosing to walk up and talk to people. During the social situations, I would have a bad feeling about the interaction. After the interaction when I was home, I would replay dumb things I said over and over again and it haunted me for days after.

It is very likely that if you are on this website, negative thoughts affect you as well. Some call it the “self-critic” that lies in our minds. Through both increasing amounts of positive social interactions, time, and developing of confidence, I have been able to minimize the negative thoughts and now I want to share with you several techniques I used to help me cope with negative thoughts and to conquer negative thoughts and allow me to live a life without this mental obstacle.

Understand Negative Thoughts

You’re stupid. You’re so weird. These people think you’re a loser.

These are examples of negative thoughts that can pop into your head. There are many reasons for these thoughts. The main one is that we as humans are always focused on negative things. It is because as cavemen, it was negative things, both external happenings and self-critique, that we needed to pay attention to for survival. We can see this also in gambling: it impacts us much more when we lose money than gaining the same amount of money. It is also true of our lives: we focus on the negative parts without thinking about the positive pieces. This is human nature and it is important to recognize it. Negative thoughts may not be helping you, but if you understand that these are only thoughts, it will help you know that these thoughts do not determine you as a person or your outcome in life — just because your thoughts bad things about you, does not mean it’s true.

One term associate with negative thoughts is “rumination,” which is what mental health professionals use to describe deep thinking about your issues and its causes and how awful your situation is. You can also think of it as “getting lost in your own thoughts” (negative) or “beating yourself up.”

Tip #1: Override Your Thoughts

One of the greatest bits of information that I ever received was in an audiobook from self-help guru Brian Tracy that the human mind can only hold one thought at a time. This means that if you are intensely thinking about a math problem and someone punches you in the face, you will not be thinking about the math problem anymore, because your mental focus is now on getting punched and thinking of how to react. Here’s another example: if you are reading a news article about the economy on a website and then a pop-up of sexy girls in bikinis comes up, you temporarily forget about the article and instead, focus on the sexy girls.

Understanding this part of our mental capacity, the plan is this: when you see yourself having negative thoughts, do your best to override them. I once read a self-help book that told me to say “I like myself” every time those thoughts came up. I never found that useful. What I do instead is to go to the gym or read, because it is difficult to hold onto those negative thoughts when your mind is preoccupied with other thoughts, just like in the examples I gave above. In fact, doing ANYTHING is better than sitting down and allowing your brain power to be 100% focused on thinking these negative thoughts. In that case, you’re merely allowing your mind to dig a grave for your self-esteem in your mind. If you can’t think overriding thoughts, then do something that forces you to think about something else. Watch a movie. Vacuum the house. Go on a strenuous hike. Watch National Geographic documentaries.

It may take some time for the negative thoughts to dissipate completely, but trust me, if you keep your mind and body busy, the thoughts will eventually subside.

Tip #2: Be Mindful About Your Thoughts

If you can understand your thought process and be aware of your thought patterns, it helps greatly with your interpretation and handling of negative thoughts. That is the idea behind mindfulness and Mindfulness Behavioral Cognitive Therapy, a type of therapy that is practiced by psychologists and has been shown to be effective in managing emotions and mental issues (read more at APA).

Most people will have negative thoughts and they believe the thoughts, leading to misery. The mind is a powerful thing and when you feel bad, the mind says negative things about you, leading to more bad feelings, and a vicious cycle starts that wrecks self-esteem and mental well-being.

The same person can be mindful about their thoughts: that is, they understand the negative thoughts are happening only in the mind and it does not reflect what others are thinking. If you think “oh God, everyone is staring at me in the cafeteria as I eat by myself,” for example, being mindful would be to reflect on the situation, realize that everyone is too busy with their own lives to care what you are doing, and know that even though you have the negative thought, it is not the reality. Maybe if you said something odd, people would stare are you, but being mindful still, you understand it is only temporary and that 10 minutes later they will stop thinking about it and a week from now, they may not remember you talking at all. Eating alone is a great example, by the way, of a hurdle that I faced too and shows how something so simple can be a tremendous challenge to people with social insecurities and anxiety.

Being mindful is a great way to put life and social interactions into perspective — if you do something wrong, it is not the end of the world. In fact, the world has gone on and will go on no matter happens in your life.

Finally, being mindful means having some Emotional Intelligence. It means that you understand emotions are part of being human, you recognize why you have these feelings (possibly embarrassment, insecurity, or anxiety-provoking situations) and you accept that your feelings are normal to have. Ideally, we could just rid ourselves of these feelings… but that would also mean eliminating your ability to enjoy life, which is one of the major weaknesses of anti-depressant medication. So, if you can learn to identify these emotions and accept them, that will greatly relieve a lot of the fear/anxiety/pressure/insecurity you have.

Tip #3: Do Things Anyway and then Live with the Results

Reader, are you enjoying this article so far? Remember to not fall into the self-help trap though! You can read all you want, but without actual action and reflection, you do not actually grow as a person. With that, let me tell you about an embarrassing social episode I’ve had before.

When I was still in college, I ended up running into an acquaintance named Cherice, who I went to high school with. Remember, I was a social outcast in high school and people probably thought I was really weird. Cherice invited me to sit down and hang out with some other high school alumni. I went. I said hi. And we got into some conversation. Obviously, I was weird and overcompensated by being vocal and energetic. I forgot how, but I also said during the conversation, “as my Uncle Ben would say ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ “. Know that I don’t have an Uncle Ben and that was a Spider Man quote that I put into the conversation for some odd reason. I ended up excusing myself. Later that day, I wrote the embarrassing moment in my journal and while reflecting, I had a major face palm moment.

face palm social anxiety

I wanted to face-palm myself forever. I did not have an endless stream of confidence nor was I oblivious to other people — I was merely acting the best way I knew how, which led to being socially awkward. BUT, it was important for me to learn.

Reader, if you want to go on this path to become a Social Shiner, you will need these two things which I mentioned above in my story:

  1. You need to either have courage, push yourself, or short-circuit your “no” and say “yes” to invites, conversations, parties, and anything social. You will not ever develop experience without first getting into the door.
  2. You need to be okay being socially awkward as your learn social norms and gain experience. If you say or do something stupid, openly let everyone know that it was an awkward thing to do and be compassionate to yourself when you reflect on your actions later.

With these two things, you put yourself into more opportunities for social growth, while reflecting on what good you did and to not beat yourself up on what you did poorly/awkwardly, so you can live with yourself and then have the enthusiasm to go out and try again.

Best of luck.