If you’re lonely, you probably hear the same advice from everyone from your mother to your nosy neighbor: “Just get out of the house and meet people.” That’s easy for them to say, but it’s not so easy if you are shy or introverted. It can be even more challenging if you have Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, or social anxiety. Here are 4 steps you can take to get out of the house: Research, Reconnaissance, Reinforce Baby Steps, and Reward Yourself.
- RESEARCH Go online to find a group that fits in with your interests. It might be a lecture series at a university, a book club at the library, an animé club, or game night at the local comic book store. Find out when and where they meet, and put it on your calendar. (Don’t forget to set an alarm to remind you in plenty of time to get there and find a parking spot.)
- RECONNAISSANCE If you feel anxious about going to new places, drive past the place where the group meets before the meeting date. Check out the parking situation, and take a look at the entrance to the building. Now it will be more familiar, and less daunting, when you go to the event.
- REINFORCE BABY STEPS If you find it difficult to leave your home to go out, give yourself permission to start with baby steps. Don’t expect that you will go to the event at first, just gradually get accustomed to the process. Here are some baby steps if you’re especially anxious about getting out, but you can skip any steps that you don’t need.
- DAY ONE: When it’s time to leave for the event, get dressed and leave the house, locking the door behind you. Stand for a moment, knowing you have leapt a hurdle, then go back inside. That’s all you need to do the first time, and you succeeded! Go to #4 and Reward Yourself.
- DAY TWO: Leave the house and get in your car or go to the bus stop. That’s it, you’re done for today! Proceed to #4.
- DAY THREE: Go to the location of the event, then back home. You don’t need to go inside yet if you’re not ready. Reward yourself for another step forward!
- DAY FOUR: Go to the event and walk inside. Either walk back out again and go home, or sit in the back and stay for part of the event, slipping out quietly when you feel you need to get away. That’s okay, you weren’t planning to stay for the whole thing at this point, so you deserve your reward.
- DAY FIVE: Go to the event, go inside, and stay for the entire event. You did it!
AND MORE: If you have anxiety about talking to strangers but you also want to meet people, you can add additional steps for:
(a) making brief eye contact and smiling or nodding at someone,
(b) saying hello, or
(c) starting a conversation about the topic of the event. Remember every time you do something difficult, go on to #4:
- REWARD YOURSELF At every step of the way, plan what you will do to reward yourself after you come home, whether it’s coming back from standing on your front porch or returning home after attending the entire event. You might pick up a latte on your way home, or save a favorite video game or television show for after the event. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it should be something you will look forward to. Acknowledge that it’s not easy getting out of the house and going to new places, and congratulate yourself.
You deserve it!