Originally answered on Quora...
How do you deal with exclusion?
Think of your life like a garden.
I work with a lot of people who identify as introverted, or who struggle with some degree of social anxiety, and to help them, I teach a practice that I call “social gardening.”
Here’s a quick 101 on how it works.
Think of your life like a garden…
It has four simple resources...
- soil - your life, hobbies, personality and interests
- seeds - potential relationships, which you invite into your garden
- plants - growing relationships, which are hopefully healthy and growing
- water - This is your time, and attention, which are limited.
And you care for your garden through four simple activities...
- soil improvement - make the soil as good as possible, which means investing time and attention in yourself first. Become someone that people want to be friends with.
- choosing & planting seeds - an active process of choosing who you invite is much more effective than the passive approach of waiting to see what seeds blow into your garden.
- watering - choosing which plants to give your valuable attention to. The ones you water are the most likely to grow. Stop watering them, and they will probably die.
- weeding - removing bad-fit relationships from your garden. This is essential because they tend to consume a lot of resources, and make it very difficult for the flowers & vegetables ( relationships that are good for you ) to grow.
Gardening v. Hunting & Gathering
Most people approach their social life like hunters & gatherers, taking whatever they can find. They are often hungry, and are stuck with whatever they get. Occasionally they luck into it's a bit of good food, but most days they're chewing on tree bark.
The gardening approach is far more rewarding, with far less effort, and you get to grow the kinds of relationships that you actually want in your life.
You, the gardener, decide which seeds / relationships you want to plant and nurture.
Starting your Garden
To build a good garden, start with the soil, by working on yourself and creating an interesting life that you love. Whatever you’re into, or curious about, go try that.
And then, invite others to join you.
“Hey I’m going to a comedy club / dance class / hiking / cooking class / fishing trip / gym… want to come along?”
There’s zero guarantee that any one seed will grow in your garden - that part is not under your control… but when you keep planting good seeds, in good soil, some of them will definitely grow and soon your garden will be packed.
The better the soil is, and the better the seeds you plant are, the better your garden will be, and you can continually improve both.
Why it can be difficult to join other groups
Most of us have seen a group of people, and thought...
"Hey they're cool, I'd like to be a part of that."
Sometimes that feels surprisingly difficult to achive.
The reason is that this approach is the opposite of Social Gardening - it's like trying to plant yourself in someone else’s garden.
That can be challenging, because at this point, the people who tend that garden don’t know yet if you’re a flower or a weed. It takes time for them to decide whether you'd add something to their little community, or take something away.
If they are social people, their social life is probably already quite full, so they are quite wary of weeds and investing in poor-fit relationships.
The key question then is,
What do you bring to their garden?
Don't take it personally, it's really not about you. If that particular connection isn’t happening, then it probably wasn’t a connection that would have improved your life.
Create your own connections.
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