Approach anxiety is a term used to refer to the fear of starting a conversation with a stranger. Approach anxiety is most commonly experienced while dating, or in our romantic lives; however, it can also be experienced in friendly or platonic settings. In this article, we will focus on overcoming approach anxiety to talk to someone you're attracted to.
To overcome approach anxiety, one must learn to manage their fear of rejection. Learning body language and how to recognize attraction can reduce approach anxiety significantly by making conversation with a stranger feel less "risky." Practice makes perfect, and approach anxiety drills can help to eliminate the fear over time.
Approach anxiety can be experienced regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Since this article comes from personal experience, much of it is written from the perspective of a man approaching and dating women. Feel free to tweak my advice to fit your own situation.
Now, let’s overcome approach anxiety!
Understanding and Overcoming Approach Anxiety
Anxiety can take many different shapes and forms, varying considerably from person to person. Yet at least one fact about anxiety remains consistent: The first step to dealing with it is understanding it. In this regard, approach anxiety is no different from any other anxiety.
If you haven’t already, consider checking out our article explaining why people experience anxiety in the first place. This will give you a solid foundation of knowledge to build on.
Basically, anxiety is our brain’s way of trying to keep us physically and emotionally safe.
For most of us, approach anxiety stems from a fear of rejection. Although we know today that no harm will come to us from being “rejected” by the pretty girl or handsome guy we approach, we still feel anxious. Why is this?
Well, many years ago when our brains were still evolving, “rejection” or “humiliation” could cause one to be abandoned or cast out from the tribe. This would mean having to fend for oneself in an ancient, hostile environment. Back then, this was a totally legitimate fear.
Nowadays, the same threat of abandonment and death may not exist, but it remains hardwired into our neural circuits nonetheless. Logically, we understand that we are not going to die; we know that the worst-case scenario is a bruised ego and some friendly teasing from our buddies. Yet, to the primitive part of our brains, this rejection can seem fatal.
So, intuitively, the first step to beating approach anxiety should be to overcome our fear of rejection.
Overcoming Fear of Rejection
I’ve already written an article about overcoming the fear of rejection, so I highly recommend giving that a read before going forward.
If you don’t have time for that, here are some of the key takeaways from that post:
- Don’t think of it as “rejection” – sometimes it’s simply not a good match.
- It’s impossible to know what’s going on in a stranger’s life. There are a million reasons why you may be rejected, many of which have nothing to do with you.
- Rejection is not failure. It’s an opportunity to learn, improve, and grow.
- You can’t be everyone’s type; no one is.
- Everyone gets rejected from time to time. Yes, everyone.
- By actively stepping outside of our comfort zone – even intentionally seeking rejection – we can expose ourselves to our fears and overcome them with time.
- Psychotherapy and pro-social anxiety supplements can help us better deal with a fear of rejection.
How to Get Women to Approach You
Alright, with our fear of rejection behind us (or at least more easily managed), we can get into the practical stuff. Now we can start discussing exactly what you can do on a night out (or during similar social settings) to start up a conversation with someone you’re attracted to.
Before we start approaching women or men that we’re attracted to, let’s take a few baby steps. First, let’s see if we can get people to approach us instead. Wouldn’t that be nice?
For the sake of my own sense of identity, it’s important to me that I mention: I am not a pick-up artist. I find that stuff extremely cheesy and cringeworthy. Please don’t waste any of your time reading that garbage. If anything, you can think of this as advice from a cool older brother who did well with the ladies in his day– but none of that toxic PUA nonsense.
With that essential disclaimer out of the way, let’s get started.
Fish Where the Fish Are
Let’s start with something easy.
If you go to a bar and there's only one person there that you’re attracted to, it’s going to put a ton of pressure on you to talk to them. You’ll constantly be looking for the perfect time to approach them, questioning whether they’re there with someone already, and just generally doubting yourself. Playing baseball is a lot harder when it’s one-strike, you’re out.
Instead, I recommend fishing where the fish are. If you’re looking to meet men/women, go somewhere you know you’ll find plenty of them. Better yet, go somewhere with a ratio of men to women that’s in your favor; Lady’s Night at the bar could be an obvious choice for some. The college I attended consisted of 60% female students – best chapter of my life.
When there are more of a certain gender in a social environment that facilitates dating/hooking up, the majority naturally becomes more competitive. This tends to make the majority gender more sexually aggressive and more inclined to meet strangers, talk, and flirt than usual.
If you’re a man looking to meet women, do yourself a favor and don’t start out at a local biker bar that’s 80% men. Pretty simple stuff.
The “Pretty Boy Post Up” Method
When I was 18 years old, during my freshman year of college, I was where many of you may be at now. I didn’t have much experience with dating, but I was determined to overcome approach anxiety and talk to any girls I was interested in. I knew how to tell when a girl was interested in me, but I didn’t quite have the confidence to walk right up and talk to them yet.
So, I thought… how could I get girls to approach me instead?
A few friends and I came up with a surefire method that worked for us almost any night we went out to our college bars. We jokingly called it, “The Pretty Boy Post Up.”
Yes, the “Pretty Boy Post Up.” It’s okay to laugh, we knew how big of tools we were for calling it that, even then. But the thing is… it worked. Almost any night we did this, we’d have a few groups of cute girls come over and talk to us throughout the night. Here’s how it works:
- Gather a Group of Friends. Ideally, they’re on the same page about wanting to meet some girls or guys. This works best at a bar since people are already loosened up and amenable to talking to strangers; but other locations can work as well.
- Find a Place to Sit or Stand and Chat Together. Depending on where you are, this can be at a table, at the bar, or even on a dancefloor. Ideally, this location is one where you can clearly see the room and the room can clearly see you. I liked standing in a small circle in the middle of the bar because it felt less closed-off for anyone who wanted to walk over and join in the conversation.
- Enjoy Yourself with Your Friends. This should be genuine; you shouldn’t have the mindset of “we need to meet girls to have a fun/successful night.” Meeting new people will be great, but don’t neglect the value of your friends’ company.
- Make Sure You and Your Group Look Fun. Most guys who are looking to meet women at the bar tend to look boring. They’ll constantly scan the room with a blank look on their face or, even worse, be glued to their phone the whole time. Keep your phone in your pocket, and don’t constantly scan the room like a lion looking for a gazelle; that will get you noticed in a bad way.
- Exaggerate the Fun You’re Having. Don’t get me wrong, you should be having genuine fun, but… I used to exaggerate it a bit. Laughing a little bit harder than usual at a friend’s joke, holding my smile for just a few seconds longer so the girl at the bar can see me at my best, that sort of thing. It makes you and the people in your group look more fun and interesting than all the other guys sitting silently scrolling through social media. People are drawn to fun and interesting.
- Keep Positive, Open Body Language. Now that people are noticing you, it’s important to look approachable. Nobody goes over to dance with the guy standing against the wall with his arms crossed. Make it easy for strangers to approach your group by leaving some space in your circle or at your table. You don’t need to be a body language expert to figure this out, just look friendly.
- Make Occasional Eye Contact with Whoever You’re Attracted to. Don’t be creepy about this; there’s a fine line between smooth and creepy. When we’re attracted to someone, our eyes naturally and frequently tend to wander toward them. If you catch eye contact with someone multiple times, it’s a good sign they may be interested in you (either that or you’re annoying them). If you’re confident they’re interested in you, you should flash them a smile or even invite them over to you. I used to like to look over to the girl I was interested in while already smiling naturally from a friend’s joke. It just feels natural and smooth that way; give it a shot.
As its name implies, the Pretty Boy Post Up involves hanging out in one area and looking pretty as can be. Acting like a human Venus fly trap, the hope is that you can get your crush to come to you. Is it a perfect method? No. But it’s a great start for anyone looking to build dating confidence.
If you’re doing this correctly, you’ll start to notice increased eye contact and interest from the people around you. Gradually, you may even notice groups of girls gravitate closer to your own group, a likely subconscious indicator of interest.
Have fun with this method and enjoy your time out with your friends. Don’t stress too much about the outcome, this is more about gaining some social and sexual confidence.
How to Approach Women (or Men)
With some confidence under your belt (no pun intended), the next step to overcoming approach anxiety is to start approaching. Here are my top tips for how to approach women or men at a bar, or any other social setting.
Tip #1 – Look for Indicators of Interest if Possible
Reading body language is one of the most important skills you can learn for dating and other forms of social interaction. For overcoming approach anxiety, this skill is especially important. By learning to recognize when someone is interested in you, you drastically improve your success rate when approaching women or men.
People have many tells that reveal when they are interested in someone, but the most relevant for overcoming approach anxiety will be eye contact. As we discussed earlier, our eyes naturally and frequently gravitate toward people we find attractive or interesting. In fact, studies have found that even babies tend to stare longer at attractive faces!
If you notice someone looking at you or making eye contact several times, they might just be attracted to you. Break the ice with a smile, and if they reciprocate, your chances of success upon approaching them will be considerably better. I promise you, the eyes tell you everything you need to know.
Tip #2 – Give Yourself a Count Down to Act (3… 2… 1… Go!)
Don’t fall victim to paralysis by analysis. If you’re thinking about approaching someone and trying to muster up the courage to do so, chances are you’ll psych yourself out.
When something gives us anxiety, our best bet is to act quickly before our negative thoughts begin to ruminate. I’ve found this to be true with anything that makes me uncomfortable: giving a presentation, cliff diving, or asking a pretty girl on a date; these are all things I prefer to do quickly and without hesitation, before anticipation anxiety takes hold.
To help you with this, give yourself a count down. I like to count down mentally from three. One… two… three… GO! Your anxiety and stress will only increase the longer you wait. If you can’t act right away, find the next person you’re interested in and try again.
Tip #3 – Don’t Make it Weird
Don’t make it weird. Sounds simple, right?
What I mean by this is not to feel like you need to approach a woman in Casanova-mode. If you’re a real romantic or a smooth talker, do what works for you. But don’t feel like you need to approach women with an immediate and blatant sexual/romantic vibe.
It’s perfectly okay, and often easier, to approach women in a friendly manner. Don’t worry about the “friend zone” for now, you’re just meeting someone new. If there is chemistry, it will reveal itself throughout the course of your conversation. If not, you’ve still made a new friend, and taken an important step toward overcoming approach anxiety.
Tip #4 – Don’t Ask for the Phone Number or Social Media Until You’ve Earned it
Something that makes me cringe is when a guy goes straight up to a girl and asks for her phone number or social media details. Some people see this as confidence, but I see it as tacky.
For the most part, I consider this a waste of time. Very rarely will something fun or interesting come from having a complete stranger’s phone number; most likely you’ll exchange a few texts, and ghost each other within the week (or night).
“Getting her phone number” should never be the goal when overcoming approach anxiety and approaching women. The goal should be making a connection, whether friendly or romantic. If you really hit it off, talk for a while, and decide it’s worth meeting up again in the future – then, and only then, have you earned the right to ask for her phone number or social media info.
What NOT to do When Overcoming Approach Anxiety
We’ve talked a lot about how to approach women when overcoming approach anxiety, but how about what not to do? Here are some of my absolute no-no’s:
- Approaching Women from Behind – Creeping up behind a girl to dance on her at the club is weird, creepy, and probably illegal in most places. If you want to dance with a girl, approach her from the front, never the back.
- Cornering Them – Many men don’t even realize they do this, but just be aware of the position you’re putting a girl in when you approach her. Make sure she doesn’t feel cornered, trapped, or isolated from her friends; don’t be creepy.
- Sexual Harassment – I have enough faith in my readers to know I don’t have to explain this one. Keep your hands to yourself unless they’re invited elsewhere. Also, catcalling is a loser move.
- Not Picking Up on Negative Body Language – Just as important as knowing when a girl is interested is knowing when she is not interested. If they’re frequently looking away, on their phone, or have closed-off body language (crossed arms, legs facing away from you, etc.), take the hint. Don’t keep someone locked in a conversation they’re not interested in. On to the next one.
Exposure Therapy: Overcoming Approach Anxiety Drills
Elsewhere on the site we discuss exposure therapy in detail. This is, by far, the best way to eliminate any fear. I suggest reading our full article on exposure therapy to better understand how it works, but I’ll give you the basics here for now.
Exposure therapy is the purposeful effort to gradually expose us to the source of our anxiety. Over time, repeated exposure lessens, and eventually eliminates, our fear of the subject we are being exposed to. We can do this gradually by taking small steps that slowly expand our comfort zone and decrease our anxiety levels.
I’ve come up with some drills for overcoming approach anxiety that can help you through this process. We are going to start with some easy steps that gradually increase in difficulty. Repeat each step as many times as necessary until it no longer causes you anxiety and you feel ready to take the next step.
Here’s what I recommend:
Drill #1: Ask for the Time or Directions
Let’s start simple. All I want you to do is approach a woman and ask her for the time, or for simple directions. If you’re at a shopping mall, for example, you might ask where the bathrooms are, or a nearby ATM.
If this first drill is already making you uncomfortable, you can warm up by asking the same question of someone you are not attracted to. To start, it could even be someone whose gender you are not attracted to at all. Eventually, though, I want you to work your way up to asking people that you are attracted to.
It’s a simple, harmless question. Nobody will think you are weird or creepy for asking for the time or for directions. And that’s all I want you to do here. Ask for the time, say "thank you," and walk away. Don’t overcomplicate it. Repeat this approach anxiety drill as many times as needed until it causes you little to no stress at all.
Drill #2: Ask for Her Favorite Local Recommendations
Next, I want you to do the same drill over again, but now I want you to add another step to it. After asking for the time or for directions, I want you to ask for local recommendations.
Once she’s provided your simple directions (to the nearest bank, coffee shop, etc.), you can ask for some local recommendations. You might say something like this:
“Thanks a lot! Sorry, I’m (totally new here / just visiting). Do you have any recommendations for (night life / activities / must-try spots)?”
For now, you can ask your question, get your answer, and part ways. Do this a few times until you’re comfortable with it, and in the next step we’ll go a bit deeper.
Drill #3: Engage in Small Talk for a While
For this approach anxiety drill, we are going to do exactly what we did in approach anxiety drills 1 and 2. Now, however, we’ll try to keep the small talk going a bit longer.
After getting some recommendations, see if you can keep the conversation going a bit longer. If she names some bars for you to check out, maybe ask her which one’s her favorite and why. Does she have any crazy stories from that bar? Tell her a crazy story about a time at your own favorite bar. Ask her if she’s going out at all this week. Tell her that maybe you’ll see her at that bar (Obviously doesn’t have to be a bar, any recommendation you’re discussing works fine here).
Not only will this help you to overcome approach anxiety, but it will also help you to read body language better. Try and be mindful of how she engages in the conversation. Don’t mistake politeness for interest. Let her go with a friendly “Thanks a lot, take it easy!” if you notice she is slowly trying to walk away or otherwise disengage from the conversation.
At the same time, keep an eye out and learn to recognize any signs that she may in fact be interested. If she stops to give you her full attention, laughs often, and otherwise contributes to or extends the conversation, she may be interested in you.
Practice this a few times but don’t put pressure on yourself to “close” with any sort of phone number, social media exchange, or date. Remember, the goal of these drills is simply to overcome approach anxiety. Even if she doesn’t seem interested, it’s still a step in the right direction.
Drill #4: Ask for Her Phone Number or Social Media Details
The last and final approach anxiety drill is to, finally, ask for her phone number (or similar social media exchange). You should only do this after completing all the steps in drills one through three.
After small talking for a while, you will likely have some idea of whether the conversation feels natural or forced. It’s usually obvious whether someone is uncomfortable, or fully interested and engaged. If she seems interested and you’ve been talking for a while, ask for her information. You don’t need to set a date right there; you can simply suggest keeping in touch and hanging out some time; maybe at that favorite bar she mentioned.
This is where rejection can occur, but I don’t want you to stress about that too much. Keep in mind, your goal here all along has been to conquer your fear of approaching women, and to that end, you have succeeded.
Everyone can be expected to be hit with an “I have a boyfriend,” or “Sorry, you’re not really my type,” from time to time. Expect it and embrace it.
Repeating these drills as needed is a surefire method for overcoming approach anxiety. If you’re ever having a hard time with a step, feel free to slow down and practice an earlier drill a bit before moving forward. In time, you’ll have this down and it’ll seem easy.