I noticed something weird’s been happening to me.

Social distancing rules are lessening, and I’m starting to see new people. But there’s one problem:

My socializing muscle has atrophied.

It’s like I’ve forgotten how to:

I spent so much time in my home that I forgot how to be outside it.

So if you feel a little bit more awkward than usual, you are not alone!

What Happens When I Don’t Socialize?

In 1962, Michel Siffre descended into a deep, dark cave in Texas, where he would live underground, alone, for more than 6 months.

Armed with a torch and his trusty clock, Michel counted down the days, and as time passed, he was barely able to “string thoughts together.” His isolation was so bad that at the five-month mark, Michel became so desperate for company that he tried to make friends with a mouse!

The bottom line is, we NEED to socialize. And if you don’t, you’re going to be, well, a bit awkward.

Here’s an analogy: If you take a break from any physical activity—such as going to the gym or running—for a year, you’re going to have to slowly train those muscles back up because you haven’t practiced.

I want you to think of socializing the same way—we have to slowly rebuild those muscles!

You wouldn’t expect to take a year off from daily running to all of a sudden start running a marathon, would you? So when you start socializing again, keep this in mind:

Be kind to yourself. Be gentle.

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The Problem with Post-Pandemic Friendships

The pandemic has wiped out many categories of friendships. I used to have a lot of casual friends:

  • friends of friends
  • people I’d see at work parties
  • people I bumped into around town

But I don’t see them anymore! My casual friendships have been wiped out.

But here’s the silver lining:

This gives us an opportunity for a Friendship Fresh Start!

What is a fresh start?

A fresh start is when you mentally wipe away your past history in favor of new current and future circumstances. A fresh start allows us to mentally reset and be clear about tackling new goals in the future.

Oh yes, fresh starts work (but there’s a catch)! Here’s some science, explained with baseball:

In one study, researchers looked at professional baseball players to see how they would perform after a fresh start.

But do baseball players get fresh starts in their career?

Yes! It turns out, baseball players actually can get a fresh start on their batting averages (the number of balls hit out of the total number of times they bat) whenever they get traded to a new team. Complete reset, ground zero.

So after analyzing baseball players’ batting averages after their fresh starts, researchers found 2 important things:

  1. When players’ batting averages were lower than their league average (i.e., bad past performance), they had a 3.8% increase in batting average after a trade.
  2. Players performing above average had a 5% decrease after a trade.

In other words, fresh starts work if you had bad past performance.

Which is great for all us awkward, recovering post-pandemic people! Woohoo!

So how do we get a fresh start? Let’s get to the nitty-gritty:

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Step #1: Choose Your Date

To really maximize your fresh start, try picking a “temporal landmark.” These are special days such as holidays that seem more meaningful to you.

Temporal landmarks work because they motivate us to accomplish our goals more than picking any random old date, according to research. Want help picking a special date?

Try one of these:

  • Monday: People are more likely to accomplish their goals if they start on the first day of their working week.
  • New Year’s: Who can miss this one? It’s the start of a new year! Woop-woop!
  • The beginning of a month: Starting on the 1st is a great way to remember things!
  • A birthday: Your birthday, a friend’s, or a close family member’s—which date can you easily remember?

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Step #2: Your Blank Slate

Now, as you move out into the world, I want you to think of it as a blank slate:

  • you’ve got more choice
  • you’re more motivated
  • the world seems ripe with new opportunities

So I want to do a little activity with you. As you begin to think about your friendships for the next few weeks, months, and years, I want you to think about who you want to have in your life. 

Fill in the blank:

  • I want more friends who ________.
  • I want to spend time with people who ______.
  • I wish I knew more people who ______.

Action Step: Pull out a pen and paper. I want you to split the paper into three columns. This will be your Blank Slate:

Who

In the very first column, write at the top “WHO.”

These are the people you want to spend time with, the long-term friends—people you want to spend the next few weeks, months, and years with.

Who do you want to have in your life? Who do you want to call during a time of need? I only want you to put people on here who you look forward to interacting with.

No more default friendships! These are people you’ve always been friends with just because you live in the same building or because you haven’t thought about it and you just “are.” None of those toxic friendships, those ambivalent friendships, those friends who doubt you, those friends who tear you down.

If you don’t have enough people, I want you to put types of people. People you want to meet in your line of work, your soulmate, a hiking buddy, people who share your hobbies.

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Where

In the second column, I want you to put “WHERE.” As we begin to get back into our friendships, we have to set ourselves up for success.

But one thing I realize is that I am not my best self all the time. On a Friday night, after a long work week, all I want to do is sit on my couch and watch some brainless TV.

Can you relate?

So I realized one thing—when I would set up double dates on Friday nights, I noticed I was completely drained. This was especially true after the pandemic!

So I want you to think about WHERE are the times and the places you want to interact that set you up for success. For example, I love to go on hikes and talk. So for me, I recharge when I invite a friend to go on a little hike or walk with me. I also love to go to my favorite local coffee shop, where it’s cozy and quiet and easy to make conversation.

This sets me up for success, as I love to have an agenda and mastermind or discuss business goals here.

Pro Tip: Don’t dive in deep! Can you just imagine signing yourself up to a conference with 500 people? I can’t! That’s a marathon, and I’m not ready for that yet (and you probably aren’t either!). So I want you to keep this metaphor in mind:

Dip your toes slowly into the pool of socializing.

Keep your “WHERE” column realistic, and don’t dive deep into marathon running yet.

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Why

When you have a bad social situation or get completely turned down, do you tell yourself, “I hate this! I’m going home and never coming out again”?

This is where the “WHY” column—the last column—comes into play. It’s so easy to forget the why, but we have to constantly remind ourselves that we need to connect to other human beings.

We need to hear and learn from them, to share experiences, and to laugh together. So in this very last column, I want you to make a list of at least three reasons why you want to bring these people back into your life:

  • What do you want to feel?
  • What are you looking for?
  • Is it to get accountability?
  • Is it to get camaraderie?
  • Is it to play more?
  • Is it to laugh more?
  • Is it to explore new things together?
  • Is it to meet your soulmate?

What’s your why?

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Step #3: Connect!

If you’re like me and your social muscle has atrophied, you are not alone.

I am here for you! I’m going to make sure I put out lots of content and lots of videos to help you retrain that muscle. I’m going to be your personal trainer for that social muscle.

We’re going to work it out together so you are ready for that social marathon if and when you decide to run it.

I would love to help you get started with my free training to learn more about People School today. To find it, head on over here!

And if you’re brave enough, feel free to leave a comment below with your 3 columns! I’d love to see them. Good luck with your socializing!

About Science of People

Our mission is to help you achieve your social and professional goals faster using science backed, practical advice. Our team curates the best communication, relationship and social skills research; turning into actionable and relatable life skills. Science of People was founded by Vanessa Van Edwards, bestselling author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People. As a recovering awkward person, Vanessa helps millions find their inner charisma.

3 replies on “Post Pandemic Friendships: How to Overcome Bad Social Skills”

  1. Leslie Creasman Banks

    I survived a stroke. It happened almost an exact year ago. The pandemic seemed to level the field, to me.
    I was on a downward spiral (prior to stroke) & rarely had an opportunity to socialize.
    So this article has been comforting. Thx.

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