Let’s compare working with our inborn natures to stretching a rubber band. Do rubber bands stretch? Of course they do. What happens if you try to stretch a rubber band too quickly or too hard? You will soon learn a painful lesson about why that’s a mistake! However, if you gently stretch the rubber band, it can stretch quite a bit. How can we “stretch” our inborn natures?

It’s simple, though that doesn’t mean it will be easy. We have to first acknowledge what it is we want to change, and then stick to a plan to change it.

Suppose you are “cautious” in your interaction style. You tend to be low in approach, low in activity, and generally high in task persistence. You might be high in negative reactivity – you might have strong reactions to relatively minor situations. You don’t enjoy being part of a large crowd, and you don’t like to try new things. Once you have accepted that this is how you are, you can work on it.

First of all, it’s useful to learn some social skills. If you are going into a new setting, like high school or a new camp, figure out what the other girls are interested in and learn about that topic. It doesn’t matter if you’re not terribly interested in clothing styles or the major play; learn about those topics if that’s what the girls you will be talking to are interested in.

Practice some ice-breakers or conversation starters. The best ones are those that show a genuine interest in the other person. If she’s wearing something attractive or unusual, compliment her on it and ask her where she got it. Notice the snapshots of her adorable baby brother on her loose-leaf and talk about your own niece. Set yourself a goal – I will talk to a new person today; I will give three compliments; I will start two conversations with someone I don’t know well. Stick to those goals and then reward yourself. As you find them getting easier, increase the goals.

Work on your negative reactions and tendency to catastrophize. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” What’s the worst thing that can happen if you go over to a girl you’d like to know better and chat with her? She might give you the cold shoulder, or laugh at you, or you might say something embarrassing. What’s the worst thing that will happen? Nothing. You’ll feel embarrassed. Everyone will laugh, for about five seconds, and it will be over. The nice thing about embarrassment is that it doesn’t last very long. And what’s the best thing that might happen? You might meet your new best friend!