Decrease Social Anxiety in Just Minutes a Day

Try these mini-experiments to increase social confidence.

Posted Sep 16, 2013

Okay, I'm a little embarrassed about that title. But seriously, there are things you can do to get over your social anxiety that don’t take much time. Today let’s talk about using mini experiments.

Try to remember back to the science classes you took in school. Remember the steps for conducting experiments? First, your state your hypothesis – in other words, what do you think will happen? Then, you design some type of procedure to test the hypothesis. You record and examine the results to see if your hypothesis is supported, or if alternative explanations need to be considered. You can approach your anxiety in the same way, making mini experiments to test your beliefs. Let’s look at a few examples.

I had been working with Gail for several months on overcoming her social anxiety. She had made some progress in feeling more comfortable with the social demands at her job. But she still didn't have many friends to do things with on the weekends. She did a lot of her errands on Saturdays, but on Sundays she often found herself bored and depressed.

During one session Gail talked about a movie she really wanted to see, but she said there was no way she’d have the nerve to go alone. When I asked her why she said, "No one goes to the movies alone. It's all couples or groups of friends. People would think I'm a loser if I was there by myself."

I didn't think she would listen if I simply told her I thought at least some people went to the movies alone. Instead, I asked her when was the last time she’d seen a movie. She couldn't even remember the last movie she'd seen in a theater. Because of her fears, she'd always waited until they came out on DVD or watch them later on Netflix.

This was the perfect opportunity to conduct a mini experiment. I wanted her to test for herself her "hypothesis" that no one goes to the movies alone. We devised a plan whereby she arrived at the theater several minutes late for a movie she wanted to see. She didn't think she could tolerate standing in line or waiting in the lobby by herself. By going a little late, she could miss some of the crowd. After she had her ticket and was inside, she was to sit in the back row on an end, so she would be free to leave after she collected her "data."

Gail's job was to count the number of people sitting by themselves. If the light was such that she could notice anything about these people, she was also to jot down her observations. Did they look like losers? Were they acting like losers? Were they doing anything to call attention to themselves? Or, were they just sitting there watching the movie? She was also to observe whether anyone appeared to be staring at these lone movie watchers.

When I saw Gail for her next session, I crossed my fingers that there were in fact a few people there by themselves. Sure enough, Gail had counted 12 people who were watching the movie alone. She laughed when I asked if any of them look like losers, and said, "I don't know. I got so into the movie I stopped paying attention to them." Gail anticipated my next thought when she added, "I guess since I wasn't paying attention to them, no one would really be paying attention to me."

You can develop mini experiments to test all sorts of beliefs you may hold. Here's another example to help get your creative juices flowing.


Lacy claimed that everyone in the grocery store engages in friendly conversation with the checkout person. She hated the task of buying groceries specifically because she felt stupid checking out. She could never think of anything "appropriate" to say.

What she thinks other people are thinking:

The checkout person must think I'm rude because I don't say anything. The people behind me must think I'm strange because I don't talk.

Mini experiment to test this:

Go to the grocery store and stand in a place where you can see the checkout lanes. She could pretend she's waiting for someone. If this is too difficult, she could go through the line, but make sure she doesn't look down like she usually does. She should consciously notice how many people are smiling and talking to the checkers. How many are staring off into space, looking down at their phones, or trying to keep their kids from tearing apart the candy display?

New way she could view the situation:

People might not think I'm rude. They might think I have other things on my mind. Or they may not be thinking anything at all.

Now it's your turn. Try a few mini experiments, and see what you discover.


Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you 
from doing all the things in life 
you’d like to.

–Ask, by The Smiths (Read how we named our blog.)


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I am the co-author of Dying of Embarrassment, Painfully Shy, and Nurturing the Shy Child. Dying of Embarrassment: Help for Social Anxiety & Phobia was found to be one of the most useful and scientifically grounded self-help books in a research study published in Professional Psychology, Research and Practice. I’ve also been featured in the award-winning PBS documentary, Afraid of People. Greg and I also co-authored Illuminating the Heart: Steps Toward a More Spiritual Marriage.

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