A good friend of mine likes to ask me, "Where are you, and where are you going?"
He asks this because he believes that life is a journey. The person you were yesterday is different than the person you will be tomorrow, because the person you were yesterday was not shaped by today's experiences. You will change as you go through life.
But how you change is up to you.
You will be changed whether you spend your weekend watching TV or helping a family build a home, but it is your choice that determines if you pick up the remote or the hammer. Unfortunately, it's hard to make the decision to change for the better. It's easy to put off a beneficial change until later, or to give up as soon as the change becomes difficult.
That's why it's important to know where you are, and where you're going. When you don't, it's like trying to make a long journey without a map. You won't have the first idea of how to start, and you won't know if you are drawing closer to your goal or just walking in circles.
But if you understand where you are and where you want to go, then you can draw a map. You can plan for the journey, and prepare yourself for the obstacles that you might face along the way. The journey may still be a long one, but you know you will not give up, because you are focused on your destination.
In social skills, knowing where you are means that you understand what your current social strengths and limitations are, and you understand how those strengths and limitations affect your life. And knowing where you're going means you have a concrete set of social goals, and a plan for reaching those goals.
I have some questions to help you find out where you are and where you're going, and I encourage you to think through them in depth. Let the questions inspire your thinking, and don't worry too much about how you respond to each question. There are no right or wrong answers; the questions are only there to guide your thinking.
Where are you?
- What are your social strengths? Social strengths are the positive elements you bring to relationships and social interactions. They can be social skills, but they don't have to be. Being loyal to your friends or having a genuine desire to get to know others both count as social strengths, even if they might not be social skills.
- Think about the best relationships in your life. These might be current relationships, or relationships from your past. What were those relationships like? What made those relationships so good? How did those relationships affect your life?
- How have you tried to improve your social skills in the past? Have those methods been successful? If so, what made them successful? If not, what would help you be more successful this time around?
- What are the current gaps in your social skills knowledge? What are the elements of social interaction that you don't understand, or that you struggle to do successfully?
- Why did you decide to start reading Improve Your Social Skills?
Where are you going?
- What are the practical areas of social skills that you want to improve? Practical skills are the nuts-and-bolts of social interaction. It's stuff like making conversations flow smoothly, understanding how other people are feeling, and avoiding needless conflict.
- What are your "short term" goals for social skills? Some examples might be making a new friend, having a fun time at a social event, or deepening your relationship with a specific friend. These should be goals that you think you could accomplish in the next few weeks or months.
- What are your long term goals for social skills? Some examples might be having someone you consider a close friend or feeling completely comfortable in social situations.
- Who are the people who can accompany you on your social skills journey? These might be friends, family or mentors who can encourage you, act as a sounding board, and provide a safe place to practice your social skills.
- What is your motivation for embarking on this journey of social skills improvement? How can you help yourself stay motivated, even when the journey becomes hard?
I encourage you to write down your answers to these questions, and return to them on occasion as you progress through the guide. As your understanding of social skills improves, your understanding of where you are and where you are going will change too. Take the time to ask yourself "Where am I, and where am I going?" every so often, and you will make sure that you keep growing in the right direction.
Also, remember that even slow growth is growth. It might take you a long time to accomplish your goals, or even to see clear progress. But don't give up. Every time you try something new or learn a new skill, you are making progress. Learning social skills is a journey, not a race. The speed that you accomplish your goals is not important; what's important is that you keep journeying forward.