Social Anxiety Treatment: CBT & Intentional Mistake Practice (an example)

Social Anxiety & Intentional Mistake Practice (CBT - Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)

Believe it or not, channeling your inner Bart Simpson can actually help you fight social anxiety.

When I was a kid, one form of mischief that was briefly popular in my neighborhood was crank calling strangers. Usually, the bravest kid in the group would pick up the phone, and with the encouragement of all the other kids in the room, would dial a random telephone number. A brief, very Bart Simpson-esque conversation would then ensue. Usually it would go something like this:

Kid: Hello, ma’am. I am conducting a brief survey for the Grocer’s Association. Do you have a minute to answer a quick question?

Stranger: Of course. How can I help you?

Kid: I was wondering if you have Sara Lee in the freezer.

Stranger: Why, yes I do.

Kid: Well then let her out!!!

We would then bust out in laughter and hang up the phone, leaving the recipient of our phone call both perplexed and annoyed. This process would typically repeat itself two more times before we got distracted by something more entertaining.

It’s pretty interesting to consider in retrospect.  What strikes me is this:

  • Typically, the bravest kid in the group would make the first phone call.
  • However, once the ice was broken, kids of nearly any temperament would then follow.
  • Even kids who were shy by nature became emboldened after making just a few phone calls.

In this situation, just as in any other social anxiety-related situation, practice helped.  Even if you feared potential embarrassment at first (e.g., freezing up, not knowing what to say, stuttering, tripping over your words), these fears quickly dissipated with practice.  Moreover, the social nature of the prank was able to quickly transform what might have been a troubling, socially-awkward situation into something more game-like.  It’s simply harder to feel afraid when you’re trying to one-up your friends.

Of course, friends are also good at helping keep anxiety in check. For every kid prone to catastrophizing, there’s another laid-back kid who would set the record straight.

Social Anxiety & Intentional Mistake Practice: CBT in Action


As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, one key to recovering from social anxiety is something called “Intentional Mistake Practice” (IMP).  

For some individuals with social anxiety, engaging in intentional mistake practice can be one helpful component of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for social anxiety.  IMP gives you the experiences you need to recalibrate your thinking about social situations. In reality, other people are far less critical and are less aware of our behavior than we are. In fact, we are often our own worst critics.

Via cognitive behavioral therapy for social anxiety, you’ll come to learn (and believe!) that even if you’re not perfect, the worst WON’T HAPPEN, and you’ll be okay. Social anxiety can be daunting, but it can be defeated.

I’ll discuss this social anxiety treatment strategy in more detail in subsequent posts. You may also want to check out our social anxiety CBT-based treatment groups.

What intentional mistake exercises have helped you challenge your social anxiety?

Questions? Comments? Tales of childhood hijinks that helped you fight social anxiety? Feel free to share below.

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