18 Exercises to Overcome Your Fear of Meeting People

January 21st, 2015 by Nick Notas 19 Comments

Nervous man approach anxiety

Everybody wants the ability to introduce themselves to someone they find attractive. Yet many of us struggle with this endlessly.

We have “approach anxiety” so deeply rooted that no one else can help us conquer it. Because the only proven way to crush our fears are through our own experiences.

You need to show your brain that…

  • You’re fully capable of approaching new people.
  • Many of them will respond positively and want to meet you. Even when some aren’t interested, they’re often flattered and polite.
  • Whatever happens, you will be just fine and stronger because of it.

A lot of people never learn to overcome approach anxiety because they believe they have to start with full approaches and full conversations. However, anything that pushes your comfort zone and gets you in front of new people is progress.

This is called systematic desensitization. Start with something easy that still gives your anxiety real-world exposure. Once you’re comfortable, increase the difficulty. Rinse and repeat until you’ve conquered your fear.

Look at the anxiety exercises below. Pick 1 or 2 that you think are doable but still challenging.  Go out and do them for the next week. Hold yourself extremely accountable. Once you’ve accomplished that, move onto the next set of exercises.

Different methods will work for different people. So whatever works for you, do it. Just try them with people who intimidate you. 

Remember, all these exercises are only meant to get you started. Be proud of every step you take. Don’t measure your success on whether or not you’re hitting it off with every single person.

Reminder: This isn’t just for men. If you’re a woman wanting to learn to approach — awesome! The same advice applies.

Don’t even talk to anyone

  1. Get out of your house. This is the first step if you have a severe case of anxiety. I’m not joking. You just need to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by people you could talk to.

    Take a walk outside and get some exercise. Take in the sights and look at the architecture. Go to a bar and commit to talking to no one. Just have a drink and people watch. Go to a place or event where you’d have fun no matter what — a concert, pool hall, museum exhibit, or a coffee shop to read.

  2. Become comfortable with eye contact and smiling. Practice making eye contact with people on the street, in shops, and at the bar until it feels natural. If they make eye contact with you, smile back at them (if you aren’t already). Try to not break eye contact until they do first.

    This exercise reinforces that many people will want to engage you if given the chance. 

Talk to people while virtually eliminating the chance of rejection

  1. Greet everyone. Hold the door for someone and say hello. Walk down the street and say “How are you?”. When they respond, wish them a good day. Or even just “Good morning!” or “Nice day, isn’t it?”.

    You’ll see how many people walk around with serious expressions on and instantly light up when someone greets them. It makes peoples’ day to have a human connection.

  2. Actually talk to working people. Speak with store clerks, cashiers, bank tellers, baristas, and any other employees you meet. They generally have to be polite with you and are the safest bet to practice conversation. The goal is to get past the simple hello.

    Ask them about their day. Talk about the game. Make an observation of something around you (humorous or interesting). Then push yourself to hold conversation for more than a few seconds.

  3. Give genuine compliments. Find something you genuinely appreciate about a stranger (shirt, sunglasses, bag, scarf) and compliment them on it. Do this in passing with a confident voice and a smile.

    After that, you can try going up to someone and complimenting them directly. Once they acknowledge the compliment or say thank you, you can wish them well and leave the interaction.

  4. Set your own time limit and walk away from them. For many, their approach anxiety is not so much about the actual approach but the fear of rejection and having to maintain conversation. So let’s avoid both of those problems.

    Commit to leaving all your interactions after 30 seconds to a minute. For example, at a bar you can say, “I’m going to get a drink and catch up with friends. Maybe we can continue later.” During the day, “I have to get going. It was nice meeting you, have a good day!”

Be curious

  1. Ask functional questions. Imagine you were lost in an unfamiliar place. You probably wouldn’t feel nervous for asking someone for directions, right?. That’s because you’re not trying to get that person’s approval. But when we see someone we want to connect with, we have this mindset of “winning” that person over. Suddenly, we become terrified.

    So instead of having the objective to succeed, just aim to get information from people. Ask for the time. Ask for directions to somewhere like a store or train station. Get an opinion on the new Starbuck’s latte or the clothes you’re trying on at a store.

    If you don’t need any of these things, just fake it for now. This isn’t meant to be a long-term solution but it gives you the practice you need to move onto real approaches.

  2. While traveling, be a (non-annoying) tourist. This is my favorite way to make friends in new places and subsequently meet new romantic prospects. I try to avoid using the internet to plan my trip and force myself to rely on locals. This has brought me great friends and experiences in San Francisco, New York, Quebec, Dominican Republic, Aruba, and more.

    Ask someone where you can get the best coffee or cocktail. Ask them about the non-traditional sights you should see. Ask them where the best hiking or biking trails are. Or ask what cool events are going on during the week.

    Almost everyone responds warmly to this. They want to share their culture with someone who’s enthusiastic to learn about it.

    Often, the conversation leads to them asking about you and then inviting you to join their friends later who have activities planned. You can even subtly suggest it like, “I’d love to hang out with some fun people and get to experience the best this city has to offer.” You’ll be surprised at how many people extend an invitation.

Quiet your mental chatter in the moment

  1. Call out your excuses. Whenever we see someone we want to talk to, our brain feeds us lies out of fear. “They wouldn’t want to be bothered.” “She’s not my type.” or “I didn’t want to talk to her anyway.”

    Challenge your BS in the moment. “How do I know they don’t want to meet new people? They’re at a bar to socialize.” “I have no clue if she’s my type, I don’t even know her yet.” or “I do want to talk to her, otherwise I wouldn’t be stressing out over this.”

    Deconstruct your limiting beliefs and leave no room for excuses. Just…

  2. Admit you’re scared. If you’re still making excuses, accept you’re just afraid. Our anxieties are often worsened when we try to avoid them or fight against them.

    Reinforce to yourself that it’s okay to be scared. Tell yourself, “I’m just nervous and that’s okay. This is normal. Everyone feels this way and there’s nothing wrong with that.” Confidence isn’t the absence of fear, it’s taking action in spite of the fear.

    Relax and breathe deep. Slow your heart rate. Pull yourself out of “flight mode”. Don’t worry about going up to anyone for a few minutes. Just chill.

    When you’re feeling better, you can try again. Repeat as necessary. Trying to try is still progress.

  3. Talk to yourself in a silly voice. Another tactic for getting over your internal monologue is repeating your fears in a silly voice or accent. This can take away the intensity, get you laughing, and show your brain how absurd its’ worries are.

    Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we’re just talking to someone, not going to war on the battlefield.

Have fun, play games, and bet your friends

Put your money where your mouth is

  1. Put your money where your mouth is. Give a friend you trust $60 while out together. For every person you introduce yourself to, they give you $20 back. If you don’t approach, you lose your money. And you have to be serious about it.

    Almost every time I’ve done this with clients, they succeed. As time goes on, they become less focused on needing to approach and more focused on getting their money back.

    If losing $60 won’t motivate you, increase the wager to something that will.

  2. Challenge a friend to a game of words. Decide on a single word for both of you. Or you can pick a word for each other. Choose something funny (not vulgar) or obscure — like canoodle or firetruck.

    The first person who can use the chosen word in conversation, wins.  You can wager a round of drinks, lunch, or anything else.

    For example, “Wow it’s hot. Someone needs to get a firetruck up in here!” “Aww, don’t you just want to canoodle with him?”

  3. Pretend to be a fictional character. Think about a “cool” TV or movie character like Don Draper. Doing this with a friend is really fun. My friend used to pretend he was John Travolta in Pulp Fiction while I acted like Hank Moody in Californication. Embody their voice, demeanor, and mannerisms.

    Become them for a night and go talk to people. Give yourself permission to act eccentric and fail as them. If you have an uncomfortable or awkward experience, people are dealing with the character. They aren’t rejecting you.

  4. Laugh your ass off. You can do this by yourself or with the help of a friend.

    Say the silliest stuff you can imagine in your head that makes you giggle. Act like a goofball and psych each other up. People-watch and make humorous or absurd observations about them.

    This isn’t to be mean-spirited but to take the seriousness out of the situation and relieve anxiety. It also helps take the person you want to meet off your pedestal.

Avoid overthinking

  1. Distract yourself when going out. Listen to music with headphones. Take photos of buildings and nature. Window shop. Think about what you want to make for dinner. Brainstorm ideas for your new project. Make a mental checklist of your errands for the day.

    I don’t want you focusing on approaching until the second you’re about to approach. Walking around thinking, “Oh god, I need to talk to people. I have to introduce myself to someone.” creates a massive amount of pressure.

    You already know that if you see someone you like, you’ll want to talk to them. So there’s no point in indulging in those thoughts any further.

  2. Follow the “yes” or “no” rule. Along with distracting yourself before approaching, I don’t want you to agonize over the approach when you see someone. Staring at someone for 10 minutes while cycling through your fears is paralyzing. Instead, we need to bypass that completely.

    Let me ask you, how quickly do you know you’re physically attracted to someone? Probably under a second.

    So while you’re out distracting yourself, you’ll notice a potential person to approach. I want you to evaluate “yes” or “no” in your head (whether or not you’re attracted to them). If yes, immediately lead with your body and just start moving in their direction. Tie the word “yes” to just taking steps.

    This way you won’t have enough time to make excuses and talk yourself out of it.

  3. Don’t approach after 3 seconds. If you see someone you want to approach and can’t after 3 seconds, walk away. It’s not a big deal. Don’t agonize over a missed opportunity. Don’t beat yourself up about being a failure. It’s demotivating and reinforces a belief of scarcity.

    There isn’t a finite amount of people to talk to. You just didn’t approach one person, there will be another chance 2 minutes later. Live with a mindset of abundance. Just commit to trying again with the next opportunity.

These exercises are meant to show you that no one is judging your success, only you. If you stumble or face a rejection, you aren’t losing — you’re winning. You can always take more shots.

I promise that if you stick with this for a few weeks, your anxiety will lessen dramatically and it will become manageable. Then you can move onto full approaches and connecting with new people on a deeper level.

You are not an anomaly. I’ve watched this work for hundreds of people and it will work for you. You just need to be patient and put in the effort.

  1. Mark Belden on January 21, 2015

    Great information! I particularly like step 10 of Admit your fear. A lot of people preach that you can get rid of fear and it will magically disappear forever. I don’t find this to be true. I think fear can be a powerful motivator.

    Your mentality of owning your emotions and reframing is awesome. I’ve learned that if I acknowledge my fear, and ask where is it coming from, and what is it trying to tell me – I can settle my fear down very rapidly. A lot of times this means writing it down and putting the words in front of me. That way I can stop the mental warfare going on inside my head.

    Fear is a gift of life. It means you’re alive, you’re still breathing.

    UFC fighters will admit they are absolutely terrified before entering a fight. Even though they put on a show and act like they are tough, they are literally scared for their life. It’s this type of fear that can be transformed into positive energy and into action.

    Excellent post Nick!

    • Nick Notas on January 21, 2015

      Thanks Mark. Fear can definitely be a powerful motivator. It’s all about your frame of mind.

      Approach anxiety never truly goes away. There will be some new person at sometime in your life that gives you butterflies. But with these exercises you can build reference experiences, learn to manage that anxiety, and use it to push you forward even while scared.

  2. Brian on January 21, 2015

    I’ve been putting this off for way too long. This was the motivation I needed, no more excuses. Thank you Nick!

    • Nick Notas on January 21, 2015

      You’re welcome Brian, happy to motivate you. There’s no better time than now.

  3. jackson on January 21, 2015

    I’m gonna start at step 1 and see how it goes haha. I like how you split it up into bite sized pieces though, thanks!

    • Nick Notas on January 21, 2015

      Any action is good action Jackson (I like the way that flows haha). Just focus on one step at a time and keep at it.

  4. Brian on January 21, 2015

    Another suggestion might be, find a bar that has an activity like a darts league or pool or whatever. That way, you’re in a bar, around people, with something to do, you have something to talk about, and there is no pressure. You’re just there, having fun, making small talk, playing games. Then go on a night by yourself to have a drink at the bar. Drink and watch TV. Do that a few times and you’ll realize no on cares or notices you, so whatever social pressure you think you are under to perform and act like you own the place is an illusion. Then go back another night and casually talk to the person on your right or left with no pressure to have a long conversation, just see how far it goes.

    Now, if I could only discover the key to breaking into groups I’d be set.

    • Nick Notas on January 22, 2015

      Excellent idea Brian. That’s what I trying to get at in #1 but you fleshed it out perfectly.

      Do something you would enjoy regardless of an objective. Immerse yourself in that environment. Eventually, your anxiety calms down and you realize there’s no pressure / no one is starting at you or judging you.

      As for groups, I touched lightly upon it in this article (last two sections). It’s something multiple guys have asked me about so maybe it’s time for me to do a post on it.

  5. Bo on January 22, 2015

    It’s quite funny that I am totally opposite with 17 and 18. I don’t have problem with even with minutes in 18, but I hardly find a girl attractive and first sight and I see lost of them getting more attractive after watching them for short amount of time.

    So it’s quite hard to make a move when I have only a moment to decide.

    • Nick Notas on January 24, 2015

      Hi Bo,

      So then just commit to walking up to women you MAY think are attractive and give them 5-10 minutes. By then you should have an idea if you’re feeling more attracted. If you go out for 2 hours, you should be able to have 5-10 short conversations and find someone you genuinely like.

  6. Tommy on January 22, 2015

    I have two problems about the smile thing.

    First of all, I kind of find it difficult to smile out of context. In certain occasions, even if I think about something funny, I just can’t genuinely smile. It’s not because I’m sad or anything, I just find it very difficult sometimes which annoys me because I want to be able to smile at people.

    Second thing is that I’m a little self-conscious about my smile. I don’t really like the way that my smile looks, and if I catch myself smiling in the mirror or something when I’m laughing and joking around with my friends, I kind of feel like my smile is obnoxious and just ugly-looking. This is bad because then when I’m talking to girls I get the urge to force a more attractive smile even though it feels uncomfortable and unnatural.

    Thanks as always.

    • Nick Notas on January 24, 2015

      Your first hurdle may be subconsciously tied to your second. You have to accept the smile you have. Unless you work on fixing it later (which is possible) it is who you are.

      I have Invisalign right now due to a cross bite and the studs are noticeable when I smile. But I don’t let it bother me and it hasn’t affected any of my interactions.

      You may think it’s ugly but I highly doubt it. Many famous people have imperfect smiles and carry a certain charm to them. If you wear it with genuine enthusiasm most people will react to it positively.

      Practice in the mirror. It will feel uncomfortable and unnatural at first but it will get easier. I used to have a hard time naturally smiling for pictures and such but wiht enough practice it’ll become second nature.

  7. Tri on January 23, 2015

    Hi, I always have a big problem with finding a place to meet people. I know it’s supposed to be easy but I live in a really small town, which is very dead. There are no people outside, in fact if I take a look around I can’t see a single person in my range of view and propably far wider distances even.
    Thanks to your advise I have become more confident and I can actually approach and smile at people now, thanks for that.
    But outside of weekends I can’t seem to find a place to actually meet people. Even during weekends there is barely anything happening around here. So I tend to fall back into hanging out with friends only, which is not going to help me in any way.
    So imagine you are in a small town and people only hang out with their friends. The only people who you do meet are very few and mostly don’t even respond to a simple “Good morning.” because that is very rare around here. How would you go about meeting people? I feel like that is all I can’t seem to get right.

    Thanks for your great advise, you really helped me and I feel like in time I will be sucessfull.

    • Nick Notas on January 24, 2015

      You’re very welcome, thanks for reaching out. My first step would be to check out the busiest places in the area: a mall, bars/clubs on weekends, and local events or meetup groups.

      Unfortunately, if you’re in a very small town, you may have to go elsewhere to meet more people. Try to find the biggest city within 25 miles of you and see what’s going on there. It may limit you to certain nights or weekends but it might be your best option.

  8. Seby on January 23, 2015

    Hey Nick,

    I would really like to be able to talk to guys that I see every day [Number 4, e.g. at the grocery store], but I kind of don’t know what to talk about. Often there is nothing special happening and I feel kind of caught up in the daily routine. I’m sometimes even afraid of being impolite when maintaining conversation for more than a few seconds. (I hope you understand my point.)
    By the way, I’m from Germany, don’t know if that makes a big difference.

    Hope you can give me some suggestions!

    P.S.: You are doing a great work!

  9. Chad on January 23, 2015

    Awesome content … while I’m quite good at talking to strangers, being busy working away at my business lately has made me isolated, so I will be trying some of these tips soon!

  10. Abu on January 30, 2015

    Wow just came across this blog yesterday and the very next day i am already more able to approach people, Thanks Nick

  11. John Taylor on January 31, 2015

    What really helped me get better at meeting women was really examine my sticking points. You see a beautiful woman that you want to talk to, but it seems so hard to actually walk up to her and start a conversation. So I worked on instead of actually saying something to her. Just walk up to her. It trains your mind to see an attractive woman and actually move your feet so you’re in close proximity to her. From there you can work on the next step and the next…

  12. Mink Hansen on February 4, 2015

    Hi Nick,

    I was wondering, you know when your walking down a sidewalk or on the lines of that, and a person cuts right into your view, about 100ft out. I tend to stare straight on or something on the side of me maybe if im willing, I will say Hi …..What do you suggest?