In this article, we are going to be looking at one technique used by psychologists and therapists and applying it in a different context. Specifically, we’ll be using this strategy to overcome social anxiety to the point of becoming socially fearless. Sounds interesting, right?
Hypothesis testing is one of the key principles taught in cognitive behavioral therapy. As a form of psychotherapeutic intervention, CBT is used to treat a number of psychological disorders such as phobias, anxiety, addiction and stress.
Specifically, hypothesis testing is a part of a broader strategy called ‘cognitive restructuring’. The objective of cognitive restructuring is to help the patient change the way they think about certain events, emotions and feelings. For instance, it can be used to teach someone to feel a different way about spiders in order to eliminate a fear of them. Instead of focusing on the fact that spiders are ‘creepy’ and ‘fast’, focus on the fact that they’re harmless and actually quite furry. That is CBT in a nutshell.
The Role of Hypothesis Testing in Cognitive Restructuring
The problem is that it isn’t always this easy to just ‘change our thoughts’. It’s easy to tell someone to think of spiders as fluffy and harmless but much harder to actually believe it.
Likewise, telling someone not to be shy because ‘people are forgiving’ or ‘you’re never going to see them again’ doesn’t help them to overcome the emotion attached to their irrational fears. Most people feel anxious when speaking in public and yet objectively there’s nothing to be afraid of – we’re all civilized, you won’t get stoned for stuttering!
Hypothesis testing then is a tool that you can use to actually believe what you’re trying to convince yourself and that you can use to break down negative or limiting beliefs.
Here the ‘hypothesis’ is that belief and by testing it, we can show it to be unfounded.
How to Use Hypothesis Testing
To overcome a fear of public speaking using hypothesis testing, what you might do is to practice public speaking more often and thereby prove to yourself that nothing bad will happen. The hypothesis is that public speaking results in humiliation – but the evidence now doesn’t support this.
Really though, this is no different from exposure therapy. What we’re actually going to do then is to take it one step further by purposefully failing. Because really the fear is that you will stutter or ‘choke’ and then get laughed at or booed off the stage. Again, we’re going to ‘test’ this hypothesis and thereby show that it isn’t true. So to overcome a fear of public speaking, you would put yourself in that arena regularly (perhaps by joining a comedy club) and then by potentially delivering speeches awkwardly or in a way that would fall flat.
Becoming Socially Fearless
You can also use this to deal with a more generalized social anxiety. One way to do this is to walk into a shop where you aren’t likely to be a regular customer and then speak to the checkout assistant using a fake, bad accent. This would be humiliating under normal circumstances and indeed you might notice your heart rate get faster and your body temperature rise as you feel embarrassed and shy.
But once you’ve done this enough, you’ll find that you gradually become accustomed to taking these social risks. Furthermore, you’ll learn that there are no negative repercussions to publicly embarrassing yourself and you’ll get rid of those negative thoughts and ruminations that cause you not to speak up.
Eventually, by subjecting yourself to humiliating situations, you learn not to be humiliated. Because nothing bad happens!
And once you reach this point, you will be truly socially fearless. In turn, you’ll be able to approach anyone, to speak up in confrontations and generally to be bold, confident and in-charge.