09/12/2014 12:27 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

5 Steps to Get You From Shy to Sociable

bugphai via Getty Images

You feel lonely or left out. You want to make a change, but don't know how to do it. You want to reach out and expand your social circle, but are worried about the comments from the people you're typically around and can't begin to imagine how to get started anyway.

Consider this. When you take a car trip, you know where you want to go or you follow some type of directions; otherwise, you could be driving around all day. It's the same process for anything else you want to do in life; you just have to follow a different set of directions.

Try these steps to help organize your thoughts and set goals to bring yourself to a more comfortable social experience.

Begin with the end in mind; what will you need to do to turn this situation around?

  • Think about the characteristics you want in a friend: loyalty, honesty, kindness? What else is important to you? Put that on the list, too. You not only want those traits in a friend; you also need to display those traits yourself.
  • Watch the behaviors of other people with friends, people you admire; do they make eye contact, smile at people, initiate conversations, and are they supportive when their friends are hurt or upset? These social skills will be added to the behaviors you will want to start practicing, too.

Create an environment to support a positive mindset about achieving your new goal.

It's hard to make these types of changes to your personal behaviors; it won't seem natural at first. Some days you will feel frustrated and you need to be prepared not to let the bumps in the road become major hurdles or even worse, total roadblocks.
  • Collect and write positive messages that you can to tell yourself on those days when you might feel discouraged; positive self-talk can be very beneficial!
  • Post those positive messages where you will see them often. Great places to position motivational messages can be on your mirror, in your binder or wallet, in your locker, or on your desk. Some can even be used as screensavers.
  • Motivational statements can come from famous people, members of your family, books you read, or any other number of places. Get creative; add a picture to a slogan if that has a greater impact.
  • If you start to have negative thoughts, put the brakes on right away; that is the time to focus on your positive statements.

Create an action plan. You cannot control others; just yourself. You have to change something about your behavior to get the results you desire.

  • Practice your new behaviors of smiling, making eye contact, or initiating a conversation on people with whom you do not interact on a daily basis, like the mailman, a salesperson, the school secretary, or a receptionist.
  • Make a list of activities you enjoy and join clubs or organizations that focus on those interests. Pets, hobbies, sports, exercise, or volunteer work with your church or synagogue, a retirement home, or a hospital all provide opportunities for involvement. In addition to liking the activities themselves, engaging in something you already enjoy and know about will provide opportunities to contribute meaningfully to conversations.

Learn stress reduction strategies and techniques.

People who are not comfortable in social situations often experience stress and think negatively about what others might be thinking or saying. Give yourself the gift of knowing how to combat these habits.
  • Mindfulness meditation is used in hospitals, clinics, the military, corporations, sports, and, more recently, schools to help reduce stress and anxiety, decrease rumination and negative types of thinking, and reduce emotional reactivity. This would be a great support for you while you are taking this brave step to find greater happiness for yourself!
  • Learn and practice mindfulness of breath or sound to interrupt the negative patterns; enroll in a class to give yourself a built-in support group.

Don't be afraid to try something new.

Not everyone will be working toward your goal, or immediately know what you are hoping to accomplish. It doesn't matter if you are the only person heading in your direction; you know what you need, and are willing to take the steps to get there. Good for you; I can't wait to hear about your progress!

Dr.Wolbe can be contacted via her website at