It is the first of November, which means end of the October Challenge. As mentioned last month, I decided to have a conversation with a stranger every day of October. When I mentioned it to some of my friends, I received varied reactions. Some said it was interesting, some didn’t understand why I was doing it and some even asked what is so hard in it?
To give some background about myself, I am an introvert and I am super uncomfortable in social gatherings and interacting with strangers. Many people fail to understand how introverts work. Few have asked me “But you talk well with X and Y. You can’t be an introvert”. Just because I talk openly with one or two persons, it doesn’t mean I am not an introvert.
Introverts have their own circle of comfort and they allow only a few people into that circle. Roman Jones calls it the Introvert’s Hamster Ball and explains it beautifully in his infographic comic.
Conversational Decision Tree
Whenever I am going to have a conversation with someone, I mentally prepare myself with all the possible questions and answers. I start having the conversation with them in my mind and start building a Decision Tree. And I go multiple levels deep and have this complex mind map ready for any direction the conversation might go to.
Many times, the conversations doesn’t even go that deep and I would have wasted over thinking about the conversation. But I have always been prepared and I felt safer that way.
I have tried many ways to be more social. Watched YouTube videos and read books. I even paid money and bought Ramit Sethi’s Course “How to talk to Anybody”. The first week’s task in his course is to make small talk with people who serve you (who are paid to talk to you) – the barista in coffee shops, taxi drivers, etc.
And that was the reason I started this challenge. I wanted to see how I react when I go out of my comfort zone and talk to a stranger. I did learn a lot by experimenting in this one month than in my lifetime. It was well worth the experience.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Halfway through October, when researching on ways to strike a conversation with people, I came across a medical disorder called Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). There are minor differences between Introversion and Social Anxiety. Social anxiety, defined as the fear of being judged, thinking that you are going to do something stupid or make a fool of yourself.
To give you an example from my life couple of weeks back, I was filling fuel for my car and I was standing and watching the fuel attendant filling it. It was an easy place for me to talk to him about anything. I was looking at things to speak about and I noticed that the fuel pump had various lights for different sensors/meters and one had a “Battery Warning” light.
I began to be curious about the pump and many questions started coming up. Does the fuel pump have batteries? How would it work if there was a sudden power cut? Will the meter reset? I wanted to ask these questions to him and I mentally started preparing how the exchange would happen. I started practicing in my mind on what to ask and what he would reply and my question for that and so on. The Decision Tree was building in my mind and I soon guessed most of the things that will happen. And I started worrying about what he will think about me asking these kind of weird questions.
I didn’t talk a single word to him and went back to the car defeated. I was having all the conversation in my mind and didn’t let my curiosity take me on an adventure. Instead my logical brain stopped me from talking because it was content on being safe.
Am I Introverted? or SAD?
Do I have Social Anxiety Disorder? I don’t know. I guess not, as I don’t have any problem talking in front of an audience. But no one can be sure unless they get diagnosed by a doctor. And even the best psychiatrists have failed to diagnose mental health issues. So I would probably not go talk to a psychiatrist and I would never know if I have SAD.
But I do want to take small steps to make sure that I reduce my anxiety and be able to talk to strangers or people who I meet. Whatever it is I have these kind of social skills training is effective in fixing these problems. I will continue with this challenge, without any of the hard rules.
October Challenge Results
Enough about introversion and social anxiety, lets see how I performed. Of the 31 days in October, I had conversations with stranger on 22 days and the remaining 9 days I didn’t. Some days I was in home and didn’t even want to go out and some days I didn’t talk even though I had opportunities.
Anyway I am going to track this challenge even though October is over. I am sure my social skills will improve with continuous practice and following the remaining of Ramit’s course.
For November I had thought of a few challenges. I am working on building some small product for the ProductHunt November Month Hackathon. I thought I can have a daily coding challenge. But building a product isn’t all coding.
Then I realised that I have failed in writing new articles here regularly. And November being the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I don’t have the skills/interest to write a novel, I decided to write one article per day for every day of November in this site.
I will be writing about product design, marketing, copywriting, and more and if you want to be emailed as soon as I publish an article, do sign up with your email address below.
Also published on Medium.