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Stages You Can Go Through As You Improve Your People Skills

I've observed that people seem to go through different stages as they work through their social issues. I'll lay them out so you'll have a better idea of some things that may come up for you in the future, and to possibly make you feel better if you currently feel stuck in a bad place.

The obvious disclaimer is that no one really goes through concrete, isolated stages in a concise, tidy order. They're more just a way of illustrating general ideas. The actual process varies between people and is much more disorderly and blurred together. Not everyone will go all the stages either (e.g., if your people skills are half-decent you may only experience later ones). Certain things may not apply to you. You may experience aspects of several stages at once. You may be in different stages for different parts of yourself (e.g., with most people you're okay, but with certain types you're much more behind).

Here they are. (Also, after writing them I found they fit that classic progression from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence fairly well):

The Blissfully Ignorant stage

This describes a lot of awkward people in high school. This is when your social abilities are lacking but you're not all that aware of it yet. What I should note though is even at this stage, there may still be areas where you're doing okay. It's not like you're a total social failure in every way possible, or that you're a bad person just because you're a bit awkward. It's just that on the whole there are a lot of pieces you could stand to tune up.

Insecure, Down In The Dumps phase

At some point you'll start to transition away from blissful ignorance as the magnitude of your weaknesses hits you. You now realize that your social skills aren't as good as some people's, and you're missing out because of that. This stage is characterized by depressed feelings, from mildly mopeyness to being really, really down. You may never really experience this stage, and instead jump into the later ones, or it could be relatively mild or short-lived.

Hitting bottom

This doesn't happen to everyone either, but many people who have recovered from their social ineptitude remember a specific time where they feel like they hit bottom. What happens is the difficult nature of your situation just hits you all at once and you crumble. It may be triggered a particularly tough social failure, or just the realization that your up-until-now half-hearted attempts to change won't work.

As rough as it is to go through at the time, it's usually an ultimately positive experience, because you can finally start on a path to seriously improving yourself. You now fully realize where you stand in life and that you need to do something about it. You'll often start tackling your problems in a more dispassionate, systematic way.

Temporary Over-confidence phase

This is another one that doesn't happen to everyone. It comes up when you first start getting serious about improving and you find some advice that seems really helpful. For a while you can think that just because you've read the information and understand it intellectually, that you're actually skilled in real life.

The Rocky Ascent, Mood Swings stage

This phase occurs when you start seeing some initial results, and are committed to improving, but your actions and thoughts are still influenced a lot by your unproductive habits and weaknesses. You're moving towards to a place where you'll be over your problems, but the ascent has a lot of ups and downs. The biggest characteristic of this stage is swinging moods. One day you'll be doing fairly well and you'll feel super human... Then something bad will happen and you'll feel moody and discouraged... Then you'll feel fired up again and like everything is going to be A-okay from here on out... Then you'll feel like it's all hopeless again and that you're backsliding...

What makes this stage so emotionally trying is that when you're in the middle of it you can't see the larger picture. That's why little things that are quite trivial in hindsight seem to carry so much importance. Whether someone says 'hi' back to you when you greet them isn't a big deal at all, but at the time you don't know how relatively important or unimportant it is compared to other things, so you blow it out of proportion.

What helps is having a realistic idea beforehand about the path ahead of you and the progress you can make. If you know you've still got a year or more of work ahead of you, you won't get so freaked out if you're not magically cured overnight. It also helps to pull back from your day-to-day battles and focus on your overall growth. In the grand scheme of things you're slowly creeping upward, even though within one day or one week your fortunes swing wildly. Think of a stock that fluctuates a lot in price but still ends up being worth more at the end of every year.

The Coasting To The Finish Line phase

You reach this stage when you feel like you've gotten over the hump and things are finally starting to click into place. You may still have a lot of work to do to get to the level you want, but it doesn't feel like such a struggle anymore. If you continue to put in the time you know you'll get there sooner or later.

Temporarily Swinging Far To The Other Side phase

When some people finally get the hang of previously unpolished skills like the ability to mingle and have fun at bars they'll spend a while really exploring that new side of the social world and their personality, before eventually settling back into a pattern that's more in line with their true temperament. A guy who's a cerebral homebody by nature may get better at partying, make a bunch of shallow night life friends, and go clubbing every weekend for a year or two, until he gets it out of his system, realizes his old tendencies are fine, and switches to going out only occasionally.

When people do this, they're partially just excited by the novel new opportunities they've opened up. There may also be an element of their wanting to prove to themselves that they can be that outgoing party person if they want to be. It's not the healthiest motivation, because not being a party animal doesn't make you a lesser person, but they have it regardless.

The end (sort of)

There's never really a clear end to working on your people issues - you can always improve further - but one day you'll get to the point where you've more or less got the kind of life you want and you don't need to dwell on how your social skills are doing every minute. You can hang out with your friends and have a good time without really thinking about how you do it.