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.
Tell Your Brain Who’s Boss
One of the nifty things about our brains is that they’re essentially slaves to our bodies. The brain reacts to the body as much as the other way around. If your heart’s racing and your adrenaline’s pumping, your brain will assume a certain emotional state and backfill the reasons for it later.
By that same token, you can tell your brain to chill the fuck out by managing the physical aspects of your fear response. That shortness of breath and heart palpitations are physical symptoms of your approach anxiety; remove those symptoms and your brain will think “Huh, guess everything’s fine now. Cancel the fear alert people, false alarm.”
Instead of trying to fight against the adrenaline shakes and jittery legs, let the feelings wash over you. Take a long, slow deep breath, hold it for a moment, then breathe out slowly. Do this again. And again. Slow your movements down; walk towards the object of your affection with slow, deliberate movements, almost as though you were walking under water. Relax your muscles and let your limbs dangle at your sides, as though you were being held up by a piece of string attached to the crown of your head.
You’ll start noticing that your heart rate will slow and the shivers will start fading away along with the approach anxiety. Why? Because you’ve used your body to tell your brain “Hey, everything’s cool,” and your brain cannot ignore this.
Embrace The Suck
As I started getting better with women, I noticed that I wasn’t as hung up on getting rejected, especially if I was approaching a woman cold. Experience had taught me that, despite what I’d thought for literal decades, the girls who shot me down weren’t sniggering at my slumped, retreating back… in fact, for the most part they forgot I existed as soon I as I was out of their eye-line.
I can’t begin to explain just how incredibly freeing this revelation was. The knowledge that I wasn’t being forever branded with a scarlet L made me realize that rejections didn’t matter. In fact, in the right frame of mind, rejections were a good sign: at least it meant I was getting a reaction at all. The harshest blow-outs were the ones where I was ignored entirely. The more over-the-top rejection, the better – if nothing else, it became something I could share and laugh about with my friends.
Once you embrace that rejections don’t matter, your approach anxiety eases naturally.
Speaking of which…
Take Sex Out Of The Equation
Approach anxiety is all about the fear of rejection and humiliation… so don’t let rejection be a part of the equation in the first place.
“Wait, isn’t that the whole point of approaching?” I hear you ask.
Yes, it is. Paradoxically, that is also exactly why becoming outcome independent helps you beat approach anxiety. When you go to talk to that cute guy or girl at the party and your approach anxiety kicks in, you’re worrying about the future. You’re thinking about potential outcomes; will she go out with you, will the date be a disaster, will a blow-job be on the menu, what would your relationship be like, what if she rejects you, will other people watch you get shot down and point and laugh?
Thinking about the future will only stres you out and cause your brain to get back to imagining worst-case scenarios.
Similarly, thinking about the past will inevitably start you thinking about all the times that approaching people went wrong, which will start coloring everything that you’re experiencing and expecting now.
So focus on the now. Yesterday doesn’t count and tomorrow never comes. By not worrying about whether you’re going to get a number, a date, sloppy make-outs, you’re able to focus on the experience and devote more brain processing power to being that charming motherfucker you know you are. Approach anxiety is all about anticipating rejection. If you aren’t concerned about the outcome, then whether you get rejected doesn’t matter. It’s just one more experience in a lifetime of collecting experiences and you can just roll onward.
You’ll be more at ease. You’ll be calm. You’ll be confident.
Everybody Feels Approach Anxiety
Look, the only people who says that they don’t feel nervous about approaching someone new are either deluded, sociopathic or liars. No matter how experienced or accomplished you are, you’re going to feel those annoying twinges of fear when you approach somebody. You’re not alone in feeling anxious. The only thing that matters is if you’re going to be one of the people who’s ruled by their fears or someone who conquers them.
Now stop reading, get over there and start talking already!
- Remember: Doctor NerdLove is not a real doctor. He doesn’t even have a bogus PhD from a diploma mill… yet. [↩]