ANSWER: When it's intentional.
One of the best-known and most effective treatments for a phobia is exposure therapy. If you have a fear of riding on elevators, then it's not uncommon to be prescribed a course of riding on lots and lots of elevators. Of course, touching the elevator button might be the first step, then looking inside the car, then reaching for the door, and so on. All of this can take awhile, but that's okay. Treatments of longstanding conditions need to go at their own pace. But you can quicken the pace just by taking action. We've all experienced the magic of just doing something, rather than trying to do it. Phobias are little more than stories we get stuck inside. The reason some people are phobic and some aren't is because we all have different stories we tell ourselves (and different stories that tell us).
When it comes to dealing with the symptoms associated with social anxiety--a story many of my clients would like to get unstuck from--exposure therapy can also be very effective. After all, what is social anxiety other than its own special phobia? Dealing with people, whether they are loved ones, coworkers, classmates, or strangers, is hard for the socially anxious folks I know. While intellectually, we know that the opinions others might hold of us don't matter, it feels like they do--even if we rationalize that they aren't thinking of us in the first place!
The fact is that people are too busy and too self-absorbed to care about us one way or another. It's true that some do waste time making uncomplimentary judgments of others to distract themselves from their own self-doubt. (If you fall into this camp, you might consider stopping this.) Of course, some people actually like us, or approve of us, or think we're amazing. Many of us have been told by the people we feel anxious around that we are great at our jobs, articulate, even exceptionally personable! But those are thoughts, and as we've seen, feelings have a way of not matching our cognitions.
We batted this idea around and it made perfect sense to us. As a theoretical concept. Some of us had experienced similar activities in which a friend challenges us to do something embarrassing in the form of a challenge and we do it to prove we are not a coward. Inevitably, dares are significantly more palatable than truths. One member pointed out a fact that several of us could relate to: When there is a witness--especially if there is video recording involved--and the intent is to entertain the witness and ourselves with some act of weirdness, it's much easier than when we are acting alone. I myself, when on a spring break road trip with close friends, both proposed and performed such embarrassing challenges. We called them tasks. They ranged from simply yelling, "Yreka!" as we drove through the California town of the same name (my friend Paul refused to do this or any other task), to trying to order a pitcher of gin and tonics at a diner, to asking a ranger at Redwood National Park, "Hey, is that a giant sequoia or is God just happy to see me?" (Jaclynn had no problem with this one.)
Living with intention creates possibilities where there were once limitations. When we turn our attention to the actions we know are necessary to move us forward we take back the power we gave up long ago. If you have a fear of people, won't you try getting rejected tomorrow? And will you let me know when you succeed at it? And how it feels to take control? You may be as surprised as the people you encounter. You may even be pleasantly surprised. As Maxwell Smart used to say, "It's an old trick, but it just might work!"
Speaking of synchronicity, five days after posting this, I heard a radio story on this very topic. A guy in Canada calls it Rejection Therapy! Click the Logo to hear it: