One of the hardest parts of meeting new people, for men and women, is that initial approach. Whether you’re in class, at the bar, hanging out at a party or at the bookstore, the idea of approaching that hottie you’ve had your eye on for a while sends shivers down your spine.
You take a step towards her, trying to figure out what you’re going to say. Your heart starts to pound. Your mouth goes dry as your palms start to sweat and your thoughts start racing. You manage to go through hundreds of worst-case scenarios in your mind, each worse than the last, in seconds. You freeze in place.
You’re suffering from approach anxiety. And it’s holding you back from meeting that hot girl or guy.
Approach anxiety is a particularly apt phrase created by the Pick-Up community to describe the feelings of anxiety and fear that we feel when we attempt to meet strangers that we’re attracted to. It covers the gamut from mild nervousness to full-blown panic at the very thought at trying to go up to an attractive man or woman and introduce ourselves.
It’s not terribly surprising that people suffer from approach anxiety. After all, you’re going up to someone – sometimes a complete stranger, sometimes someone you only know obliquely – a classmate, a regular customer, the hot barrista or store clerk – and trying to persuade them into being interested in you romantically and/or sexually. To the socially inexperienced, it can feel like you’re being judged, not just on what you have done at this specific moment but on everything that makes you who you are.
Approach anxiety is all about avoiding fear and conflict and how humans respond to fear stimulus. If you want to get over approach anxiety, you have to learn how to handle that fear and overcome it.
So let’s talk about just how you do that.
Don’t Try To Talk Yourself Out of Approach Anxiety
You know as well as I do that the worst thing that can reasonably happen if you approach someone you’re attracted to is either a low-key rejection or worse, complete silence. As bad as you can imagine things going, you know logically that it’s all in your head and you really should just get off your ass, go over there and introduce yourself.
The problem is that you’re trying to logic your way out of fear and when your amygdala decides to have it’s say, logic goes right out the window.
In fact, trying to reason yourself out of feeling approach anxiety could be the worst thing you could do. To start with, you can come up with any number of perfectly reasonable arguments as to why you should approach her and introduce yourself… but failing to act will just make you feel like even more of a loser which just reinforces that maelstrom of negative emotions and associations are swirling around in your brain.
Then there’s the fact that while you’re busy arguing with yourself, you’re not actually approaching anyone. You’re just as frozen in place by fear and indecision. Meanwhile the target of your desires has moved on and you’ve lost your window of opportunity.
Desensitize Yourself In Advance
Desensitization via graduated exposure is a common treatment for many types of phobias and anxiety disorders, and it can work for your approach anxiety as well.1
I’ve recommended practicing approaching strangers before, and it’s one of the best ways of getting over approach anxiety. Pick a fairly public place with some sizable pedestrian traffic – a busy shopping street, the campus quad, the mall – and start making low-investment approaches to people, especially women. You start small: asking what time it is or directions to somewhere near by. It doesn’t really matter where you’re trying to go – you’re learning to desensitize yourself through repetitive actions. As you get more used to the idea of approaching attractive strangers, you raise the stakes just a little. Now you’re not just asking for directions, but you want to start a short conversation – you’re a tourist or new in town and you want an opinion on the best Thai restaurant in town or a cool bar. Maintain the conversation for a minute or two, say thank you and leave.
Wash, rinse, repeat. The more often you practice approaching people, the more natural it will feel. As you get used to talking to strangers, continue to challenge yourself. Start making small-talk with the people you encounter every day. As you practice, you’ll start noticing that you aren’t feeling that adrenaline-dump-racing-heart panic response as much as you used to.
Now, in fairness, this is a process that can take months, if not years. It can be difficult re-training your brain to not freaking out at the very idea of approaching people you’re interested in… but the end results are completely worth it.
Follow The Three-Second Rule
Now, while trying to desensitize yourself to approach anxiety over time is a great idea and offers permanent results, sometimes you need to know what to do right now. The problem with approach anxiety isn’t the fear itself, it’s the way you react to it.
It’s the way you let it freeze you in place. The longer you’re stuck, the worse it gets. You start psyching yourself out of talking to her at all and end up missing your chance and slink off with your metaphorical tail between your legs.
So instead, don’t give your fear a chance to lock you up. Instead, follow the three-second rule: as soon as you see someone you’re attracted to, you have three seconds before you have to approach her. Any longer and your brain has all the time it needs to start freaking you out and providing you with all of those nifty worst-case scenarios that leave you drowning in your own fear-sweat.
The three second rule forces you to push forward, even in the face of your fears. It changes your immediate reaction from paralysis to movement. You may still strike out, sure… but you can’t get the date without making the attempt in the first place.
Plus, as an added benefit: you don’t look like a creeper while you’re stuck in place staring at her.
- Remember: Doctor NerdLove is not a real doctor. He doesn’t even have a bogus PhD from a diploma mill… yet. [↩]