Leonard is a former teacher and principal who has also been a writer for the past two decades. Writing and animals are his true loves.
Whether you are a child, adolescent, or adult, being alone can be quite stressful. In fact, a 2014 study in the Journal of Science found that most people would prefer to give themselves a mild electric shock than to be alone. Consider the following passage to see if it rings any bells or stirs up hidden feelings:
She anxiously shuffles into the bustling cafeteria. People are busy talking, laughing, and slapping one another on the back. It is markedly obvious that they are very happy to be here with their friends. It feels as if all eyes are upon her . . . judging. She averts her eyes and looks for an empty table in the dimly lit corner. The thought that maybe today will be different and someone will come over to join her fleetingly crosses her mind. She sits and tries to block out the sounds of laughing and chatter around her as she takes a tiny bite from her sandwich. The bread catches briefly for a moment in the back of her throat before sliding on down. It is just another day of being by herself feeling small, insignificant, and utterly alone.
Being alone can not only be stressful, but it can also inhibit the personal and professional growth of individuals. Whether you enjoy being on your own or not, it limits a person's ability to network and build relationships with others. Those who are always alone can be seen as aloof and standoffish, thus creating a virtual, vicious circle. Considering the obvious significance of these factors, the question which instantly comes to mind is how does one avoid being alone in the first place?
1. Eradicate Negative Thinking
Perhaps the greatest impediment to meeting new people and building that crucial friend network is negative thinking. As long as your thought patterns are primarily negative, you will continue being alone in the future. To change such negative thought patterns can certainly be easier said than done, however. For instance, Judith Beck who is a psychologist and President of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy acknowledges that negative thinking styles can be genetic or the result of childhood experiences. She recommends acknowledging and accepting your negative thoughts as part of deliberate mindfulness meditation so you are able to challenge such pessimistic ideas. Trying to just ignore the thoughts will tend to produce the opposite of the desired effect and lead to an individual obsessing instead. However, by challenging and counteracting the negativity, productive steps can be taken.
Before approaching other people to introduce yourself to them, you may be worried about creating a bad impression and that they will find you annoying, boring or worse. Deliberately challenge such negative perceptions by making a list in your head of all the positive things you have done in your life. What are the great things you have done? Smash the cycle with a dose of positivity. This is also an excellent method to practice self-care. The truth of the matter is that most people you approach will also be trying to make a good impression on you. These people will be so focused on what they are saying, that they will not be paying nearly as much attention to your words as you may think. Relax and take it one step at a time.
2. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Believe it or not, the vast majority of people are very uncomfortable approaching groups and making new friends. It is not just you! If you are shy or introverted that uneasiness which many people feel will be greatly increased. Fear of rejection and making a bad impression will frequently prevent people from approaching others.
Instead, they will head to that empty table in the corner to sit alone. As long as this is the approach which is taken, the outcome will simply not change. However, by transforming this routine and making that critical move to ask others if you can join their group could be the breakthrough you are looking for. Most times this request will be met with a smile and positive response. If it is not, then the odds are that these are not the people you want to be associated with anyways.
3. Do the Groundwork and Build a Network
There can be little doubt that building a friend network with people you are already acquainted with is much less overwhelming than attempting this with total strangers. If you already know somebody it is far easier to approach them so you do not have to be alone.
The trick is that this network of acquaintances has to be grown and cultivated. Perhaps you know a classmate or work colleague and see them sitting with their friends in the cafeteria at lunch. This is the perfect opportunity to approach this individual and ask if you can join them. This will provide the ideal opportunity to not only get to know your classmate or colleague better, but you will be able to meet and connect with their friends as well. This is a great way to start expanding your friend network. The next time you enter the cafeteria there will be more people that you know and this process can be repeated as the network continues to grow.
4. Work on Your Conversation Skills
So you have taken that huge step by transforming your negative thinking into positive energy as you have stepped outside your comfort zone and joined a table group. While this is in itself a huge accomplishment, it will fall flat if it is not followed up by solid conversational skills.
If you join a group only to sit in silence, it will not be very long before you are sitting on your own again. This is the time when a person needs to be sociable and actively engage in the conversation. Find things that you may have in common with the other person and actively listen so you are able to show interest and engage in the discussion. People tend to love talking about themselves, and by encouraging them to do so by acknowledging and paraphrasing their opinions, a vital connection can be established.
5. Be Kind and Friendly
Let's be honest . . . nobody wants to spend time with someone who is not kind or friendly. These are two vital personality characteristics to have if you no longer want to be alone and start to build a friend network. Ensure you are always kind and friendly to others virtually every moment of every day. If you pass by them in the hallway, don't simply look down at your shoes, smile and say hello. The power of a simple smile can go a very long way. Also, don't be afraid to offer genuine compliments to people. If you find something about someone else which you genuinely admire let them know. This is about much more than being a simple "people pleaser." You are looking to connect carefully and truthfully as you observe potential new friends and acquaintances. People will see through fake tributes and insincerity in an instant.
6. Join Organizations or Teams and Accept Invitations
If you no longer want to be on your own the key is to make new friends and acquaintances. One excellent way to do this is to join clubs, teams or organizations. If you are in school this could include co-curricular sports teams or interest clubs. If you are an adult in the workplace there are numerous activities to join such as interest courses, volunteer work or adult house league sports.
Further, there are many online groups to connect with which can lead to real-life connections. Lastly, always try to accept invitations to go out to parties or clubs when offered. If you are an individual who constantly turns down such invitations, then those same invites will dry up very quickly. Your objective is to have more contacts so you no longer have to be on your own. Joining clubs and accepting invitations is an excellent way to succeed in this quest.
7. Invite Others
While you should always try to accept invitations from others in your effort to build your network, you should also begin inviting them to events yourself. This is a difficult step, but also a vital one. By inviting others out to do something on your terms, you have risen above the mere acquaintance level. It is wise to start slow and pick something which is not too intimidating. maybe suggest meeting at the local pub for adults, or offer to show off your new video game if you are younger. This strategy will essentially guarantee you a spot at that much-coveted lunch table.
8. Be Patient and Don't Get Discouraged
Building up a friend network is not always an easy process by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes you simply do not click with others, or even worse, you get the cold shoulder. It is important to note that this happens to everyone. Do not automatically assume it is all about you as there could be a variety of reasons that things don't work out. Remember to break that cycle of negative thinking. Simply be patient and try again with them or someone new. Not everyone is a perfect friend match so just be patient and persistent.
Undoubtedly, being yourself when there are numerous groups of people milling about can be stressful. While some people actually prefer being alone, they are nonetheless in the minority. Human beings are social creatures and rely upon this socialization for their very survival.
The key to avoiding sitting alone is to work on your relationship building skills and form friendship networks. There are numerous strategies which can be applied to make this happen. Get your head in the right mindset, step outside your comfort zone and before long that lunch table in the dimly lit corner will be a thing of the past.
The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking. Lesley Alderman. New York Times. 2017
The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking. Lesley Alderman. New York Times. 2017
How to Make Friends. A 12 Step Guide. Paul Sanders.
Add Your Thoughts:
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 12, 2017:
Great article. Being an introvert at my base, I can relate to the lonely feeling in a large crowd. Whenever I decide to step out of my comfort zone, I get through by timing myself. I think, "This is only for an hour" or however long I intend to do it. You give very helpful advice here.