My TEDx talk: Turn Social Pressure into Social Flow - A practical framework to unlock your power with people.
Do you ever stress out at parties for no reason?
Do you ever walk into a room of strangers and feel a knot in your stomach?
Have you ever abandoned an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone new because you didn’t know what to say?
If you have, you’re not alone. I know exactly what that feels like and as it turns out… so do most Americans.
Shyness. Anxiousness. Worrying what people think about us. These impulses are hard wired into our operating system. They date all the way back to the stone age. Back then, if we said something “wrong,” we risked being ostracized by our tribe and getting kicked out of our community. For most of human history, this was a literal death sentence.
So, social anxiety is a baseline survival instinct. It’s our brain trying to keep us safe.
Fast forward to modern times. Nowadays, this impulse turns normal social interactions into “fight, flight or freeze” scenarios. We take this survival instinct too far and it inhibits our ability to show up with people the way we want.
That’s not an opinion, research backs it up:
According to Psychology Today, 60% of people in America currently identify as shy (Psychcentral). That’s around 190-million people who often feel awkward and inhibited around people.
This isn’t isolated to social life. Workplace Solutions found that 60% of businesses can’t find enough job candidates with the interpersonal skills they need.
So what’s the end result of all this shyness, social anxiety and awkwardness? People don’t know how to communicate. When they don’t know how to communicate, they don’t connect. That’s why it should come as no surprise that CIGNA health recently found that “HALF of all young Americans feel lonely.”
While those stats are alarming, they are not the only reason that I’m compelled to write this post.
I’m writing this post because I know these feelings all too well.
While I spend most of my time these days leading a company, facilitating retreats and giving keynote presentations, these impulses ruled much of my early life.
I know what it’s like to stress out at parties for no reasons.
I‘ve sweated my way through conferences.
I’ve powered through dry mouth during huge presentations.
I didn't approach people I wanted to meet because I felt shy, unworthy and like I wasn't smart enough, funny enough or interesting enough.
Those were some tough times. As I look back, the truth is, I’m grateful for all of it. Here’s why...
I’ve always thought of a “calling” as looking back to where you struggled in your life and using the skills you now have to support people who are facing the same challenge that you endured. When we use our struggle to be of service, we turn our own challenges into something bigger than ourselves. We turn it into a sense of purpose.
Now, I get to use my experience and all those years I spent struggling to create the thing I wish I had! I get to create the things that helps people turn their social discomfort into something productive.
All that time worrying about what other people thought of me led me to become a student of interpersonal dynamics and communication.
It helped me to figure out that while these impulses like awkwardness, inhibition and anxiety are inherent to the human experience, how we respond to them is completely up to us.
To help people respond powerfully, I was inspired to create a simple framework that anyone could use to turn social anxiety, into Social Flow. Social Flow is the ability to create a flow state with people.
I just released my TEDx talk that introduces the three question framework that you can use to transform pressure into powerful communication. Next time you feel that fight, flight or freeze impulse, it will show you how to pick social flow instead.
What is Social Flow?
Flow is the peak state of human performance.
You know what it feels like. Think back to the last time you were so absorbed in something that time started to fly by. You were so immersed in what you were doing that your action became easy and effortless? Maybe it was playing sports, hanging with your kids, or dancing. Whatever it was, that feeling where you were one with what you were doing...that was a flow state.
Researchers have figured out that we can create these optimal states by focusing our attention on specific triggers, including:
Intrinsic motivation: Intrinsic means doing something because you like and enjoy it. It has its own value - not just because it is a means to a specific end/outcome/result.
Present moment: Focusing on what is happening right now, no concern for the past or prediction of the future.
Control: Paying attention to the things you can impact and forgetting the rest.
Clear goal: There is an understanding of what you want, but you’re not focused on it in the moment.
Please notice: These four factors have one thing in common. They are INTERNAL motivators. You have control over them.
Like a flow state, Social Flow is possible when we focus on these internal motivators and what we can control in social situations.
I imagine that you’re probably reading this and saying to yourself…”I get it, but how do I actually do this? “
The practice of Social Flow is built on three questions. When you ask these questions, they are going to help you focus on what YOU can control, instead of worrying about what you CAN'T control - which is what other people think of you.
Side note: Like we talked about above, it helps to have some idea of an outcome you want before you go into important social situations (especially business ones). That could be anything from, “To relax and enjoy myself,” to “I want to meet at least three potential investors.” If you don’t have some reason for being there, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to access Social Flow.
Ready for those questions?
How do I want to show up?
What do I want to know?
What do I want to share?
Let’s go deeper into the three questions so you feel comfortable applying them as soon as you’re done reading this.
“The Framework” - An introduction to three prompts
1. How do I want to show up?
Instead of focusing on what other people may be thinking or feeling (that’s external) - this question helps you to focus on how you want to feel (that’s internal).
We can always test whether or not or our actions are internally motivated by using the External vs Internal prompt. Simply ask yourself, “Am I doing this because I want to be, or because I think someone will like it.” If the latter, come back and ask yourself how I want to show up.
If we don’t know how we want to show up in social situations, we are basically waiting for other people to take the lead and entertain us. Take responsibility for creating your own experience - it sdtarts by getting clear on how you want to be.
When we put our attention on our intention, we create the experiences we want.
**This isn’t some woo woo positive thinking nonsense, Research has shown that this type of “positive priming” can have a significant impact on the types of behaviors that people express.**
Q2. What do I want to know?
When you are truly curious, you will replace a compulsion to impress with a desire to learn.
Before your next interaction with someone, ask yourself, “What am I most excited to learn about the person I’m about to meet?” - I call this prompt the Curiosity Compass because it will help you navigate any social situation.
After you ask the question, try to come up with at least three things you’d like to know. Maybe you want to know what they do for fun, what their dream job is, or what they’re most looking forward to.
When you train your curiosity, you learn to bypass surface level chit chat and ask questions that you genuinely want the answers to. When we do this, it is easy to be present and engaged in conversation.
Outside of asking the above prompt, you can train your curiosity by articulating your Big 5. These are 5 questions that represent your fundamental curiosity in people. What are the 5 things you generally want to know about people when you meet them?
My personal Big 5 are:
What are you most excited about?
What is most challenging right now?
What do you care about right now?
What have you learned recently?
What is your dream? If you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
One of the great things about these questions is that while they stay the same, the answers will change forever.
With training, your curiosity can become a superpower that gives you the confidence to be with anyone and trust your ability to contribute value. It is the secret to turning small talk into meaningful conversation that everyone wants.
Q3. What do I want to share?
Confidence is not the result of external validation or saying things that people want to hear.
I’ll always remember a mentor of mine named Lauren when she said, “confidence is the result of telling the truth and respecting yourself.”
At first, I didn't agree with it. I thought nope, confidence is being self-assured and not worrying what people think."
But the more I thought about it, I realized she's right. Sharing our truth is not always the easiest thing to do, it is natural to worry that our truth will offend someone or cause them to not like us.
Then I laughed, realizing that the pressure we put on ourselves to be likable is what keeps us anxious. That anxiety means we're trying to please people and that their opinion of us is what matters.
F*ck that, OUR opinion of ourselves is what matters, and if we're telling our truth and showing up in a way that's in integrity and feels right for us... that's TRUE confidence.
When you ask yourself “What do I want to share,” you go deeper and connect with what you’re actually feeling and interested in discussing. When you speak from this place, your communication becomes magnetic and you’ll have more energy to be with people because you're not faking it.
The “curiosity compass” points your interest outwards, towards the people you are going to meet. This prompt is all about pointing your curiosity inwards, to check in with what is real and meaningful for you.
Go ahead, ask yourself these questions right now:
What am I most excited about right now?
What is my priority right now?
What am I currently interested in learning about?
See how this taps you into the moment and what is real for you? Or, Was it challenging for you to come up with answers? If the latter, remember that when you think critically about your ideas and feelings, you become more capable of expressing your truth with the world.
With practice, you will learn to express what you’re feeling, create your own fun and have interesting conversations wherever you go.
On top of that, life is too short for small talk. If you want to evolve the dialogue in your relationships, you need to go first.
P.S. - Sharing your truth is not an excuse to be mean. Ask yourself, is this kind and does it feel important. If the answer is no, then maybe this thought is just for you.
The deeper work of Social Flow - Transform Limiting Beliefs
So, now I’ve shared the core framework that you can use to turn social anxiety into Social Flow.
But, there’s one thing that we need to address for this framework to be complete. You know what it is? That little voice in the back of your head that is subtly telling you all the reasons this won’t work. Maybe it sounds like...
“People won’t care about what I have to say”
“I’m still going to feel nervous or awkward”
“Maybe with my closest friends, but certainly not with everyone, or at work.”
Remember, this voice has been hardwired into your thinking and it’s simply trying to keep you safe. When you become aware of this voice, consider this...the future you’re living into determines the present you’re living in.
Read this one more time and let it sink in.
Here’s an example:
You have a mountain of work due tomorrow at your job, how do you feel? Most likely stressed.
You have a 7-day vacation coming up tomorrow, how do you feel right now? Most likely excited.
Our perception of our surroundings and what the future holds has a tangible impact on what we think we are capable of. Check out Ellen Langers “Counterclockwise study” for the research that backs this up.
To open up the possibility of trusting yourself with people and tapping into Social Flow, we need to address the foundational beliefs and story that precedes our interactions with people.
Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of this internal dialogue, it is happening subconsciously.
What you think will happen: “I’m not going to like people here or this is a waste of time”
How you’ll show up: “This is going to be draining or I wont be charismatic/fun to be with”
What other people will do: “These people aren’t going to be interested in talking to me”
How the world works: “ I need to be liked to be successful, or I can’t be completely honest with people.”
Next time you are feeling anxious, uncomfortable or inhibited, RECOGNIZE that it's probably because you are living into a story of what you think the future holds.
If your feeling is the result of this type of failure forecasting, use the “reality check” prompts to remove the charge from your story and drop back into Social Flow.
Is this story/belief 100% true?
How do I show up when I accept this belief/story as true?
Is this belief/thought helping me to show up how I want to?
Could the exact opposite of this belief be true?
From this place of disarming the belief we ask “How do I want to show up?”
Here’s an example of using the “Reality Check” to relieve the anxiety of going to a big entrepreneurship conference that I feel intimidated by.
Undesired thought / fear = “I’m not smart or funny enough to be interesting to these people and I need to try hard if I want to connect.”
Is the feeling 100% true? No, there is no way to know that.
How does this thought/anxiety make me show up in the world? Anxious and self-conscious.
Is this thought helping me to accomplish my goal? Absolutely not
Could the exact opposite be true? Could these people actually find the real me interesting. Yes, sure.
So, how do I want to be? I want to be present and joyful.
The reality check shows me that the story I’m projecting has no basis in reality. This REALization immediately decreases the anxiety that it triggered in me. Now, I can go back into the Social Flow framework without letting the story control how I show up.
If you’ve been dealing with shyness or anxiety for awhile, it may take awhile to retrain your brain to not experience the visceral feeling of anxiousness with people. In the meantime, Social Flow will show you how to minimize those undesired feelings and embrace the pressure so you can turn it into something productive.
Bruce Lee famously said that “Courage is not the absence of fear, it is the ability to act in the presence of fear.”
As it relates to people, I’ve always believed that confidence is not the absence of anxiety. It is the ability to express yourself in the presence of it.
An important closing thought here:
As humans, we do the types of things that align with the type of person we think we are. We can’t create new behaviors if our underlying beliefs don’t support them.
Why am I emphasizing this?
While tools and techniques can help, if you truly want to transform how you show up with people...you need a new story.
You need to get rid of the old labels and stories ("I'm shy. I'm always nervous around people. I hate networking.") and adopt new stories that are aligned with who you are today and how you want to be in the world. (When I am honest, I create space for other people to be. I embrace vulnerability as a means to connection. I love being with people.)
When we take the time to replace these old stories, we allow ourselves to interact with the world as we are...instead of who we used to be.
We’re just getting started
If this resonates with you, I hope you’ll keep in touch.
This is just an introduction to Social Flow and over the coming months I am going to be sharing additional posts that go deeper on each prompt and the various applications of Social Flow
In future posts, I’ll show you how we can use the Social Flow framework in different situations, including:
Asking for what you want at (at work and at home)
Packaging ideas and selling
Meeting new people
Building community and meaningful relationships
Having hard conversations
Wayne Dyer once said “Don’t die with your music still inside of you.”
It made me realized another reason that this work is so important. We don’t want to get to the end of our lives with our truth still inside of us.
I’ve come to believe that one of the greatest regrets people have at the end of their lives is not what they wish they had done, but who they wish they had become.
What if who you REALLY are, is exactly what the world needs?
Social Flow isn’t about manipulation or surface level techniques to influence people.
It is about sharing our truth to feel confident and inspire others.
It is about developing a deeper connection with ourselves and everyone we meet.
When we do that, everybody wins.