Ever wonder what people are thinking about you?
Do you ever see a group of people chattering and laughing, and wonder if they're talking about you? Then, do you wonder whether they're saying good or bad things about you?
Are you ever talking to a woman, and you say something that could be interpreted the wrong way, and suddenly you feel really awkward and feel the need to explain yourself?
It's called self-consciousness, and it's a really bad habit.
I was really self-conscious when I started out in the game. I think smart, analytical types fall into self-consciousness a lot easier than others, and as a really analytical guy, I was constantly trying to guess what people thought of me.
It was like I had a mental video camera (or a mirror) pointed at myself, playing back everything I did, so I could make sure I was coming off right. Sometimes, at night, I would sit and play my "tapes" of that day, wondering what I could have done better, or beating myself up over things I said.
Then I turned the camera off, and my life got way better.
As it turns out, that video camera wasn't doing what I wanted it to do. I used it to try and improve myself, to make people like me, but it didn't work. It didn't make me an attractive person, and it didn't give me good feedback on what others thought of me. In fact, it just messed me up, and getting rid of it was one of the best things I've ever done.
At first, though, it seems like the video camera would be a good idea. Self-consciousness is, basically, being concerned about what others think of you, and of how you "come across." I'll be the first to agree that how you come across is really, really important. Why wouldn't having a little mental video camera help you come across better? There are several reasons.
First, people don't judge you nearly as harshly as you judge yourself. The fact is, 90% of the time when two people meet, each person is thinking "I wonder what [the other] thinks of me, I hope [the other] likes me." They're so worried about themselves that they're not passing judgment.
Think about how often you pass judgment on others; now think of how often you're worried about others passing judgment on you. Personally, unless someone is being a total idiot or is really awesome, I rarely think much of someone I just met. 95% of people fall into the "yeah, they're okay" category, and the other 5% is split between "ugh, this person sucks" and "this person is really cool."
Basically, if you're concerned about what people think of you, 95% of the time you're wasting your time.
Second, people actually like others better when they're showing their flaws and not apologizing for them. You're better off being "yourself," saying a few things here or there that are moderately dumb, and handling those mess-ups with grace, than you are trying to be flawless.
Self-conscious people are boring and sterile. They don't say anything funny or interesting because they're afraid of saying something wrong. Interesting people are willing to say something wrong here or there, as long as the overall interaction is fun.
Third, that little video camera uses a lot of brain power! I actually used to stutter and run out of things to say when I was self-conscious because I was constantly multi-tasking. Once I took all that brain power I was using to analyze myself and applied it to my conversations, my conversational IQ went up by 20 points in one night. My wit and reaction times went up dramatically once I didn't have to filter my actions through my self-consciousness filter.
So, how do you deal with self-consciousness? There are a bunch of different strategies, some of which work better for different people. I recommend that anyone who has issues with self-consciousness should try all of these, and find out which works best for you.
The first thing you have to do is realize, logically, that self-consciousness is counterproductive and wrong, and be able to recognize when you're being self-conscious.
But, convincing your logical brain that self-consciousness doesn't work is pretty easy compared to teaching and training your subconscious and emotional mind to stop a destructive thought pattern.
The best way to get over self-conscious thoughts is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations and blast your way through. Public speaking is a great way to do this. And of course, meeting women, either during the day or at a bar, is the best way to get over this.
Also, I highly recommend improv classes for eliminating self-consciousness. Next to going out and pushing yourself into meeting women, this is the best thing you can do. Improv classes are pretty much designed to break down self-consciousness. Basically, they involve making a fool of yourself in front of a small group of people who are also making fools of themselves. Oh, and you have to be clever at the same time - it's pretty tough.
Finally, one thing that worked really well for me was shifting my attention. I took that part of my brain that was trying to guess what people thought of me, and I devoted it to observing how people were reacting. I started focusing on watching a woman's face, and not speculating about what might be going on in her mind. So if I said, for example, a joke that was a bit rude, and I was worried that I had offended her, I would look into her eyes. If she looked like she was getting offended I would say "aww, Sarah's so nice, she's totally offended" to diffuse the situation. If she laughed at the joke, though, I'd just keep going.
This is important because you still need to be conscious of how people perceive you if you want to be socially calibrated, but self-consciousness is not the way to do it. Watching body language and reaction is objective and reliable, whereas self-consciousness is subjective and unreliable. By watching how a person reacts, instead of trying to guess what she's thinking, you can do a much better job of knowing what is going through her mind.
And most of the time, she's just enjoying the ride.