One of the hardest things I've faced in my life was overcoming social anxiety. Often, I knew how I'd like my life to be different, and I recognized how I'd behave in a world where I had unlimited confidence. Some part of me knew what to do, but anxiety stopped me from doing it.
Getting past that anxiety and starting to develop true inner confidence and self-acceptance was tough. And not just tough as in the way our society views hard work, but tough in the way that only comes from challenging the core of how you view yourself as a person. Tough doesn't even begin to describe the obstacle of challenging all your assumptions about how you were raised, who you are now and, essentially, what it means to be you.
When I look back at my own development of assertiveness skills, I was initially operating with some subconscious scripts in my head that held me back.
During moments of self-realization, I could tell that I was more motivated by avoiding pain than I was motivated by going after rewards. To some extent, all of us are averse to risk in this way; universally, losing $20 hurts more than the joy we get from gaining $20.
But while this risk aversion exists deep within human behavior, some people are more in favor of taking action toward the things they want, while others focus on what could go wrong. I fall into the latter category. It's the same idea of playing not to lose versus playing to win, and when you fall firmly into one camp, you have to overcome a ton of friction to behave like someone in the other camp.
So where does this come from? There's some scientific evidence that suggests we have a biological predisposition to be one way or the other. And our childhoods also play a role.
A lot of us grow up not feeling like we have a legitimate right to put our needs before others. Instead of asking for what we want in a healthy, assertive way, we learn there's less friction when we put the needs of others above ours. We walk on eggshells to avoid conflict, and sometimes, it's not even avoiding something as strong as conflict. It can look like avoiding any kind of uncomfortable interpersonal situation.
Only partially aware of these ideas, I took baby steps to push myself out of my comfort zone. I purposely put myself in uncomfortable situations. I embarrassed the hell out of myself, as inner confidence teaches you to do when you're improving your dating life.
When you follow the right process and learn from the right mentors, progress happens. You don't always see it during the tough times, but progress is inevitable when you prioritize taking action over everything else. Things have gotten better for me, and I couldn't be more grateful to be able to say that social anxiety will never hold me back in life the way it used to when I was in my late teens and early 20s.
And I'll be clear: The goal isn't to eradicate your feelings of anxiety. The goal is to transform your relationship with anxiety. Top performers don't worry about anxiety, even though they feel it just like the rest of us. They just view it differently. Athletes get “in the zone.” Public speakers talk about being energized by their audience.
Anyone who tells you he or she doesn't feel fear is full of sh*t. Because that's the thing about negative emotions: We feel them the most strongly in the areas of life for which we care the most deeply. If I didn't care about having close personal relationships then I would never feel approach anxiety. If I didn't care about getting along with others, then I would never feel uncomfortable when I have to assert myself and say things others might not like.
So what script do I have now in my mind that I didn't have before? It's one idea:
You have a right not to justify yourself to anyone.
I'll say it another way: You have a legitimate right to show the world who you are.
Your needs are valid. Your needs, preferences and desires are all equally important to everyone else's wishes. We're so often taught that it's selfish to express our desires, and as a result, we become passive.
The idea that it's selfish to express our desires is bullsh*t. There's nothing selfish about fully expressing yourself. And if you're not violating the rights of others, there is nothing wrong with showing others who you are fully. Ever.
Your survival depends on you speaking up for what you want.
That means going up to that person you think is cute, and letting him or her know how you feel. That means telling your boss what you're worth as an employee and tactfully negotiating for the salary you deserve. That means setting limits and enforcing boundaries with people in your life.
The antidote to feeling like you have to justify yourself to the world is a healthy sense of assertiveness. Assertiveness is about asking for what you want in a way that respects your relationships with others, maintains your self-respect and is neither passive nor aggressive. Building assertiveness requires changing your thinking and developing new actions.
Reading posts like this and examining your thoughts are two crucial steps for getting the ball rolling, but alone, they're not enough. They MUST be followed by consistent action. Especially in this domain of life, that action is uncomfortable as hell for guys who were taught to be passive.
Being human means that you have values, desires and goals, and yes, that you need things from other people. You do not ever have to apologize for your existence, or justify why you want something.
All you have to do is pursue your values wholeheartedly, and don't ever let your subconscious scripts get in the way of building and expressing your confidence to the world.