Today I met up with a dear friend of mine, rocket scientist and Udemy instructor Martin Georgiev. We spoke about the new online business that he is building up and about his aim: helping men in overcoming social anxiety.
What started as a business brainstorm ended in Martin sharing the most important part of his life story to the point where I was tearing up while diligently taking notes like the eager student that I am.
He has given me permission to share his story with you, for which I am incredibly grateful.
The problem lots of men experience
(Please note that a lot of what’s to come can apply to women just the same as men. For the sake of simplicity and to respect gender differences, we’ll focus on men here.)
As we grow older, we become more self-aware. But this self-awareness comes at a cost. What happens is that, in the words of Mark Manson, we start giving a fuck about other people and how they perceive us.
This awareness radically changes our behaviour and our thought-processes and lies at the root of social anxiety.
Much like Martin and yours truly used to experience, a lot of men experience the following emotions in social situations:
- Low self-esteem
- Lack of confidence
- Unable to speak
- Wanting to hide in the closet
- Feeling small
- Wishing their father was there to protect them
- Wish they could become invisible or teleport someplace else
In more tense or scary social situations, their physical symptoms include:
- Dry throat
- Chest pain
- Shallow and fast breathing
- Blushing (or becoming tomato-red)
- Shaking knees
- Standing unstable (like the ground has disappeared underneath your feet)
- Losing your words or train of thought
How Martin overcame his social anxiety
Martin is aware of both these emotional and physical symptoms because he has experienced all of them himself. He used to feel exactly the same.
What Martin did to overcome this is:
- He became aware of the fact that he had a problem
- He decided that it was time to solve this problem
- He took action
Little at a time, he managed to overcome his social anxiety. I’m going to explain how he did it.
Looking for the opposite to be true
Martin started asking himself: “Am I socially awkward all of the time?”
The answer was a clear and resounding “No”.
Around friends and family – people he knew and felt comfortable with – he was very much at ease and laughing and joking a lot.
This made him realise that ‘socially awkward’ was definitely not a static trait that could be attributed to him all of the time.
Because he realised he had the ability to feel comfortable around some people in some situations, he knew it must be possible to feel comfortable around other people in other situations as well.
This realisation alone boosted his confidence.
He started stretching his comfort zone
Martin started reading personal development and pick-up art books, following programs and immediately put into practice what theory he had learned. Pretty soon, he started to experience the first real results:
- He got a girl’s telephone number (while completely sober)
- The first kiss with a girl (whom he didn’t invest months of time in)
- Chatted with strangers on the street
That’s when he realised:
“For all of my life, I thought had to pretend to be someone else in order for other people to like me, which in turn messed up my connection with them, because they could feel it was fake.”
He stopped drinking alcohol
He had been using drinking as a crutch, so he could temporarily forget about his lack of self-confidence which, in the long run, made him even less self-confident because he knew that at the times he did feel self-confident it was fake, artificial. Using alcohol to feel more comfortable is a vicious circle.
He realised he had to stop this because it was a form of denial, of cover-up for the real problem. So he set out to improve his social skills forever, instead of creating a temporary substance-induced state of artificial confidence.
2 Possible ways to change
There are 2 popular ways to overcome anxiety that psychologists and therapists use :
- Flooding: extreme exposure to whatever it is that one is afraid of
- Systematic desensitisation: gradually exposing oneself to whatever it is that one is afraid of
Martin combined both methods at the same time.
During the week he would gradually put himself into situations where he could work on his social skills. At the university, on the street and in bars.
During the weekends however, he would perform a comfort-zone crushing challenge together with friends, so that he could always go back to his group and feel safe and protected, which is important.
Both methods combined, in his experience, allow you to make a real change and provide you with faster results
“You’re pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible.”
Becoming a connector
He started meeting up with new people sober, during the daytime and before long, that became his biggest source of pleasure in life. It was so much fun and so gratifying to just have a little chat with people around you everywhere. So disarming.
He quickly noticed that other people were struggling with the exact problem as he had been, recognised himself in this, and started helping them out by sharing his recent experiences with overcoming social anxiety. By doing this, he allowed other people to feel exactly how he wanted to feel, because he knew what it is like. Others started to feel warm and welcome in his presence and simply wanted to be around him.
“Everyone has inside this brave and playful child, who simply wants to interact with others.”
So he started introducing people to each other and became a connector. Everyone thought he was born like this, with amazing emotional intelligence and social capabilities, but he knew that that was far from the truth and explained to people what kind of transformation he had been through.
It was much like a slim person who all of the sudden goes to the gym 4 times a week and looks completely bulked 6 months later.
That person wasn’t always like that. He started with low weights and gradually increased the weight. Slowly but steadily getting stronger.
But it didn’t always work…
Then he noticed that at some days he was able to go out, talk with strangers and feel comfortable and other days he couldn’t even thought he physically felt the same, wore the same clothes and had slept just as well the night before.
So why was this? What was causing this variance?
This is Martin:
“It is not simply about the mechanics of the social interactions, but about something deeper. Something on the inside.”
So he started reading about psychology, belief systems, and self-esteem.
He discovered that his own limiting beliefs were the real problem. During the days were he showed up and couldn’t do it, he realised that the problem was deeper than not daring to approach people in the street.
Instead, he had to get the voices inside his head under control. Voices telling him that:
- He wasn’t good enough
- He might succeed short-term but will fail long-term
- He was just the same old insecure Martin acting that he was not
Until one fine morning…
Martin decided to try out meditation. Because in a lot of the books he read about human psychology and the brain, the same point was being made: meditation is good for you. Not just good, but relatively to the time-investment, side-effects and costs; insanely good.
He tried it out and after his first session – for the first time in his life – he felt that he no longer needed anything from the outside world. There was no need to prove himself. No need to impress others. He felt that he was quite good enough as he is and was completely at peace with the situation he was in.
While before, he always felt like he had to put on a show, to look around, gauge the responses of others and act a certain way. Before, he always felt that something was lacking.
Now, he is no longer hoping to gain anything from the interaction anymore. He is not seeking anything. Not needy. From meeting a stranger, you don’t need anything. What if he doesn’t like you? (And there’s a good chance because you are different and new!) It does not matter because you’re not looking to gain anything from the interaction and your sense of self-worth does not depend on its outcome.
The 6th level of Maslow’s pyramid of human needs
Martin went from a scarcity-mindset, doing things to compensate for whatever the voice in his head told him he was lacking, to a sufficiency-mindset. The feeling that he is good enough as is.
Regular meditation allowed him to connect with other people for the sheer joy of connecting. Because, in his own words:
“We are social beings, we are wired to connect.”
It is not about personal development, self-improvement, continuous self-actualisation or whatever you want to call it. It is about self-sufficiency. That, is the ultimate form of self-development.
More about Martin
You can find out more about Martin on his website Charmfinity.com, where he shares his tips for overcoming social anxiety. He is currently active in our Mastermind group together with Dutch entrepreneurs Peter Viveen (active in the niche of, among other things, kunstof kozijnen) and Niels Peekstok.