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What to Do When You’re New

How to be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

By Keith Rollag
  • Read in 13 minutes
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  • Contains 8 key ideas
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What to Do When You’re New by Keith Rollag

What to Do When You’re New (2015) is the result of Rollag’s 20 years of research on why people become anxious and stressed in new situations. It provides strategies for changing your outlook on new situations and offers techniques for handling such situations with comfort and confidence.

Key idea 1 of 8

Our biological and cultural evolution predisposes us to be alert and anxious in new situations.

We all have to be the newbie at some point: we change jobs, change residence, sign up for new classes and so on. But no matter how often we’re the new person in the room, most of us feel anxious about it.

And for good reason.

Throughout our biological and cultural evolution, we came to naturally fear the unknown. In prehistoric times, we didn’t meet many new people. According to evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar, it was normal, back then, to interact with only around 150 other people, and to encounter no more than 300 or 400 others in a lifetime.

If we happened to meet strangers or enter unknown territory, it made more sense to be anxious and aggressive, as it was unclear whether one would be stolen from or even killed. There was no evolutionary incentive whatsoever to remain calm in new situations.

According to experts on child development, we’ve retained this fear of strangers; infants, for instance, begin to show anxiety around unfamiliar people at six months of age. This feeling is then reinforced by parents and teachers, who constantly warn their children against talking to strangers.

At the same time, however, we have a fear of being excluded from groups. For more social species, like humans, there are powerful incentives to be part of a group, as exclusion can be dangerous. For example, when male monkeys are kicked out of their birth group and into the world, half of them will either be killed or die of starvation before they are able to find a new group.

These days, belonging to a group isn’t crucial to survival, but we still tend to long for inclusion. Modern culture fuels this by stating that only losers are incapable of finding a community.

So, we feel anxious in new situations and yet still want to fit in. How to solve this paradox?

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