One of the things encouraged on Philip Zimbardo‘s site called The Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) is a Social Fitness Challenge, which comes out of the work of Lynne Henderson, Ph.D., Co-Director with Zimbardo of the Shyness Institute. Each of the 15 weekly suggestions for an activity starts with the following intro:
At HIP we believe in working on our Social Fitness through daily workouts. Just as a person exercises to condition their muscles and develop muscle memory, a person can do regular Social Fitness workouts to prepare themselves to act courageously, wisely, and compassionately in challenging social situations.
These various challenges can be much more useful than just encouraging your “inner hero” to emerge, however; they can actually help anyone who feels socially inhibited or awkward to learn to feel more comfortable with other people.
Below are each of the 15 suggestions in brief:
- Smile at 10 strangers to spread good will.
- Go out of your way to open the door/hold the door open for someone.
- Write down what you find interesting and valuable about a different person each day.
- Write down 3-5 things every day for which you are grateful.
- Give a sincere compliment to at least one person every day this week.
- Throughout the day, take short breaks to practice mindfulness through breath awareness. Be sure to sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Practice asking for help.
- Help someone feel included in a group setting.
- Share your deepest values with someone.
- Have a conversation with someone you don’t usually talk to.
- Write a letter telling someone how much you appreciate him/her.
- Let someone else go first.
- On the way to and from work/school, use all five senses to take in information about your surroundings. Share what you notice with a friend.
- Listen carefully to someone without trying to solve his/her problem.
- Introduce yourself to someone in your neighborhood.
Curiosity piqued? Go to the Heroic Imagination Project website and start The Weekly Social Fitness Challenge.
Henderson, by the way, is the co-author with psychologist Paul Gilbert of The Compassionate Mind-Guide to Building Social Confidence: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety (2011). “The program in this book helps you both accept your shyness as part of your personality and challenge your social anxiety when it keeps you from living the life you want.”
Zimbardo calls it “a must-read for everyone interested in the human condition—shy people and the rest of us, as well.”
Henderson’s co-author Gilbert developed the therapy model at the core of their book and is the sole writer of Compassion Focused Therapy (2010).