Dealing with approach anxiety
Approach anxiety is an unusual phenomenon: it is irrational and unbeneficial yet remains a very real experience for a lot of people!
Approach anxiety is the manifestation of a number of physiological and emotional symptoms we get when we decide to actively meet a stranger. The time where this is most significant – which is also what makes it highly relevant to the topics on this website – is when thinking about approaching someone we are attracted to.
Humans are social creatures and we live in a sophisticated world of several billion people, yet there are still common scenarios where we find it abnormal to approach a fellow human being and instinctual responses take over our logical desires in those moments.
There are probably a few naturally confident men and women, socialised at an early age, who are reading this and cannot relate to this feeling of approach anxiety. For the rest of us, I’m sure you can think of a time where you really wanted to meet someone, perhaps someone you are physically attracted to, and approach anxiety kicked in; else, you simply dismiss the idea of actively meeting people in this way altogether.
I’ve yet to meet someone, regardless of their situation or relationship status, that hasn’t had their lives enriched by learning to meet more people or overcome their anxieties. This article will explain where approach anxiety comes from and then detail a simple three-step method for overcoming it…
Where does approach anxiety come from?
There are many theories about where approach anxiety comes from but my own research shows it is a combination of learnt behaviour, evolutionary traits and cultural norms. These three causes can be broken down loosely to a fear of strangers, a fear of danger and a fear of rejection respectively.
Fear of strangers:
It is a big generalisation but there is definitely a correlation between people who have strong and confident parental figures and people who have anxieties by default. All behaviour is learnt and obviously our parents play a large role in where we learn the bulk of that behaviour from initially.
Approaching strangers is, for all intents and purposes, not “normal”, and so we learn from society around us whilst growing up that we shouldn’t do it.
Fear of danger:
Whilst related to a fear of strangers, the fear of danger pertains to the possibility that you will in some way be harmed if you approach the wrong person. Obviously this is largely redundant in modern society. Psychologists believe this feeling is an evolved yet outdated emotion originating from when we lived within tribal civilisations and interactions with unfamiliar folk posed a real threat of danger.
The physiological manifestations of an anxiety like the one we are discussing are actually inbuilt mechanisms to prepare for danger of this sort: tensing of muscles, increased heart-rate, blood-flow and perspiration to name a few. These are all wholly unnecessary in this day and age but also difficult to control in an instant.
Fear of rejection:
Anxieties can be described as compound emotions with several subsets, namely fear and vanity. The fear is that a given outcome will be out of our control and the vanity is that our self-image will be tarnished.
It is normally people at either end of the spectrum who struggle most with this fear of rejection. People with a high self-image, egotistical or verging on arrogant, will feel this fear of rejection as an ego-protection mechanism. People with a low self-image will want to protect their ego in this way as a means of damage limitation. Not doing something is often less painful than admitting that you cannot do it!
Both of these examples stem from having too much outcome dependence on the situation. If you get rejected and have outcome dependence it will reinforce the anxiety. On the other hand, if you genuinely have no outcome dependence then by definition you cannot get rejected and the anxiety is treated by our brains as a learning process.
How to deal with approach anxiety:
Unfortunately, like all anxieties, there is no instantaneous cure for approach anxiety (my job would certainly be a lot easier if there was) but there are ways to slowly ease our way out of it.
Like any learnt behaviour, it is the reinforcing of habits that teach us to act in a certain way in the first place, so understanding and relearning these habits is the only way to overcome them. Below is a three-step method for overcoming approach anxiety:
Accept Reject Act
Accept that you have this anxiety:
If you fully accept that you have approach anxiety and want to deal with it, you are one step closer to making the commitment to actually change it.
Reject any limiting beliefs:
Every plausible excuse you can think of for not approaching someone that you would like to is merely a limiting belief, regardless of the specific situation. These range from “The timing/situation isn’t right” to the most popular one, “I don’t know what to say”. Everyone knows that you can just say “hi” so it is not literally having nothing to say, it’s a limiting belief that you THINK you have nothing worthwhile to say! Reject any excuses and don’t pre-empt what people will think of you.
Action alleviates anxiety over time:
It was many years ago now but I still vividly remember the first time I plucked up the courage to purposefully approach an attractive woman that I had no prior acquaintance to. I was shaking like a leaf and was already envisaging her slapping me square across the face or equivalent. Ten minutes later after I had excused myself from our friendly exchange I felt foolish that I was ever worried, and this is exactly the same reaction I get from the students I work with in a dating coaching format.
It’s all very well being told that something is okay but it is only when we actually experience it firsthand that we start to condition ourselves to be comfortable with the situation.
These days, meeting people has become such an ingrained ability within me that wherever I am I find myself meeting new people without even consciously deciding to. It wasn’t without following my three-step process though:
Accept Reject Act
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from hockey star Wayne Gretzky, which relates perfectly to proactive dating: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” 🙂
This is great, best stuff on the subject I’ve read. I get approach anxiety a lot but for some reason when I have had a few drinks I don’t have it at all! Not if I’m really drunk though.
Do women actually get approach anxiety? I was always led to believe that they dont although no idea why.
Cheers for the top top post.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions as it slows self-consciousness. Whilst it can give a sense of false bravado, it doesn’t solve the problem in the long run. I know of a lot of guys who are very successful with women but use alcohol as a crutch, and as I explain in the above article, once you instil habits it is very hard to break them!
I would strongly recommend trying to break out of that comfort-zone and force yourself to have the same courage whilst sober, if only to prove to yourself that you can do it. I was actually teetotal for about six months a few years ago as a health experiment and it was during that time that I developed the majority of my confidence without a doubt!
As for women and approach anxiety, I believe that they do still have it but it is not such a pertinent issue. This is due to modern dating culture setting men up to be the ‘pursuers’. Hopefully some female readers will respond with some of their own experiences to answer the question fully.
Thanks for your comment and praise, 🙂
Wow, look at this! You’ve been busy, Samuel. 🙂
Nice article. Approach anxiety is an old friend of mine, as you know, and I’ve applied the things you talk about and they work. I’ve since discovered two other things that supercharge social ease: being in a social mood is my biggest. Cold approaching is like going to the gym and diving straight into squat rack. It’s going to be stiff. And not in a Ross Jeffries way.
Second, is regarding us all as being on the same team. Works wonders… it is almost sorcery. It’s also a brilliant cure for awkward dorks who regard women as a big blur of… robots with boobs, rather than unique human beings like we all are. When I’m genuinely curious about anybody as a person it’s so much easier to connect and the possible weirdo vibe exits the performance.
I look forward to reading your blog more thoroughly, Sam. I doubt it will be as good as the original articles I wrote, but you never know. 😉
p.s. shotgun a… no don’t worry about it. Do you still speak to Jo?
Why hello there Mr aghast blast from the past! Thanks for checking back at this merry domain! 🙂
I agree that getting in a social mood is a useful concept for some guys; those in particularly analytical professions for example can sometimes find it hard to adjust to a sociable mood in an instant. Not being ‘in a social state’ is still generally an excuse our brains feed us when we feel out of practice or overwhelmed in a social environment, even for a short period of time. Aside from decidedly introverted people there doesn’t have to be a big shift between being on or off state. I guess it depends on how much someone wants to engage in the people around them in general, rather than only with specific social intentions.
Your second point is a great point. A lot of guys do put women on a pedestal and in doing so it is impossible to not have outcome dependence, ulterior motives or disingenuous interactions. That is one of the main issues I had with the old model we used to teach at Lovesystems, as it was about accepting and conforming to women being of ‘higher social value’. The mindset you describe is far healthier.
Thanks for commenting and I hope all is well with you,
PS: Jo will always have a special place in my pa… heart! 🙂
Well you asked for a female opinion so ye shall get one 😉
You’re correct in saying that men have to do most of the work (it must be hard being a man ay :p) but what us women have to do is far harder. We have to present ourselves in both looks and attitude as approachable yet not tooo easy, else we’ll get every boy and his dog approaching us.
Whilst only on rare occasions will I approach a man I fancy, I would say that is because it is personality that attracts us women a lot more than just hunk looks. I can’t approach every man I see to check such information so what other option do us women have? 😉
I think the balance is about right as it is. The guys who are already confident enough to approach me are probably the kind of guys I want to date right? As for everyone else, well they can learn how to be more confident in that way as you know. Let them absorb your wisdom and then I am more than happy to meet them all the same 😉
I hope we get to cross paths in real life one day, any plans to come to the states in the near future? x
ok I winked a lot there but I don’t want you getting any ideas 😉
Howdy Kim, I’m afraid I’ve already extracted the ideas I choose from your excessive winking, thanks. 😉
You make some fabulous points and it’s great to have a female perspective on things. That’s interesting you mention about the effort women must make to seem approachable. A lot of men will miss a lot of the cues or not act on them though (even obvious ones such as prolonged eye-contact) so there is still value in women taking a proactive approach towards these situations too. I do think it is best for men (and women) to think that ALL people are approachable though because to be honest, they should be, and usually are!
I like your interpretation of how the guys with the confidence to approach you and be sociable are more likely to have face-value attractive qualities. As you say though, being able to present yourself in this way is definitely learnable without having to change your core personality. It’s about getting the chance to convey your personality without any unattractive filler and hopefully that’s something that women can appreciate just as much as men.
Thanks for sharing your insights Kim, 🙂
Oh and although I haven’t finalised anything yet, I do indeed have plans to be in the USA at some point in 2010! 🙂