(This article ended on /r/seduction on Reddit - thanks for all the comments; they're sure to provide inspiration for more posts)
The importance of eye contact is vital to understand.
But establishing good eye contact is something that can really be a problem for people suffering with social anxieties. As a result a lot of us are really bad at it.
It's essential to deal with it. Pay attention as you walk around next time you're out, especially as you deal with people. If someone don't give you eye contact, or have shifty eyes, it automatically gives you a negative image of that person.
You don't want to be that person, especially not if you want to come across as a masculine, assertive man.
All it takes to fix, unless your problem is severe enough to warrant medical attention, is gradual exposure.
Exercise 1: On the street
As a beginners exercise, determine fixed times when you will practice. Do try to improve your eye contact at all times, but keep these fixed times in your diary and set an alarm. Give yourself no way of forgetting. Make sure that at these times you'll be able to spend time outside.
The first time, walk around with one goal only: Meet the eyes of as many people as possible over your allotted time - aim for at least half an hour, more if you can.
Make a note of how many you manage to meet the eyes of, as well as what you feel. Pay special attention to how strong your resistance is to keeping eye contact, and roughly how long you manage to keep it. Don't force it.
Determine a minimum number of people you might be able to get eye contact with in the time alloted, and how long you expect to be able to keep eye contact consistently.
Second and subsequent times, you go out and get eye contact with the number of people in question, for the amount of time you've decided you can handle each.
You keep notes as before, and try to exceed the amount of time to keep eye contact with at least one second per person.
The goal is to get the time increasing slightly each time.
Also, when you do feel you can't hold it any more, aim to move your eyes slowly to the side, rather than jerking your head around. Pay attention to any "nervous ticks". E.g. I used to jerk my head to the side, and then quickly make some hand or shoulder movement while jerking my head to the other side, as if I had been "caught" and was looking nervously around to pretend I was looking at other stuff.
Aim to get eye contact with at least 10-20 people.
Repeat this until you can comfortably hold eye contact for at least 5 seconds on average, and have other people look away first about 2/3 of the time at least, especially women.
Do show some caution - it's ok to break of eye contact with people who seems aggressive; some guys in particular have a big problem being on the receiving end of strong eye contact from other guys; sticking to women might be a safer bet.
If you feel ok with it, smile after a few seconds. If they smile, always aim to returnn the smile.
Exercise 2: Catch her looking
Once you can complete the above, repeat, but when she looks away, look away slightly too, but keep an eye on her peripherally, and see if you can "catch her looking". If she looks back at you, catch her eye again and smile. Hold eye contact again, and repeat this exercise until you can hold eye contact the second time over for at least 10 seconds when you catch her looking.
Getting the number of people up in this case might be harder.
Exercise 3: Shop assistants
This one is easy, and you can probably do this one in parallel with exercise 1:
Whenever you go to a till, have the money ready, and keep eye contact. If you can do it, say at least "How are you?" and pause, while holding eye contact and smiling.
Break eye contact briefly as needed to enter your pin or find cash, but make a point to always look up and get eye contact again when you can. E.g. while your card is being authorized.
Get eye contact before leaving and say "have a nice day" or similar.
Practice this until it comes automatically.
If you're not used to eye contact, you will notice dramatic changes. Even if you are, your shopping experience might get transformed. In my experience, most people working the tills at shops get ignored. People stare at their bags or the till or their wallet, and generally ignore them totally.
When you give these people eye contact, a smile, and the opportunity for a tiny little exchange, you're in many cases brightening their day up far more than you'd imagine, and you'll see it. You'll get beaming smiles and bright, happy responses and often they'll fall over themselves to help you.
I first understood the power of this a few years ago when I first started on this journey, and made a conscious effort at it for the first time. I went from having no conversations with staff at the place I bought my lunch, to having them fall over themselves to tell me personal details, and being far more helpful and friendly, practically over night.
Where none of them would give any sign of recognition before, they'd suddenly spot me when I was heading for the tills, and open up a new till for me if there wasn't one available. They'd say hi to me when passing me in the isles, and they'd smile brightly at me.
While you're giving them a lot by treating them as humans rather than robots, they'll give you as much or more back in the form of boosted self confidence, and just a plain great feeling of seeing the happiness you're spreading.
In any situation where you have a customer - service employee type relationship you'll tend to find that a lot of people never give eye contact or acknowledge them, and doing so is both easy, because you're in a situation where your mind is far more likely to tell you it's acceptable, social anxieties be damned, than it is in the case of strangers you don't have any reason to deal with, and highly effective because they are happy to get contact.
You'll also get a lot of confirmation that eye contact is ok, through regular enthusiastic responses.
Exercise 4: Signal a shared conspiracy
When you can do exercise 2 in particular, it's time to try to escalate. This is on the assumption that you don't feel ready to approach. If you can approach a woman, then hold eye contact and do just that - I'll deal more with eye contact during conversations some other time.
Escalating eye contact in a flirty way can be a killer skill. Start by learning to get over your fears so you can experiment. Some of these you might find cheesy. Doesn't matter.
Silent body language signals are a key component of flirting, and men are horribly bad at flirting (you'll find as you get better at reading people, that women flirt, or think they flirt, with men all the time, even when they don't really mean anything by it, but most men are oblivious until they get really blatant about it).
Flirting through body language is a playful way both of having fun even when nothing will ever come of it, and of creating or increasing attraction that you will be able to capitalize on as you sort out other parts, such as approach anxiety.
Flirting is in many ways about creating a shared "secret" or "conspiracy" between you, that creates excitement, and that implies clandestine communication. Think of the ways you'd communicate quietly with a friend when you shared a secret and were almost bursting while you were around others, because of your conspiracy. Strive to recreate that fun with body language.
Try the following:
Follow the recipe for exercise 2. When you catch her eye contact, attempt to make yourself do one of the following (rotate between the ones you can do, and try to incorporate more of them as you go):
- Just smile normally for a few seconds before looking away.
- Tilt your head slightly and smirk. See how obvious you dare make this (both the head tilt and smirk)
- Smile and give her a little wink.
- Smile, then gently bite your lips a little bit.
- Smile, bit your lips then tilt your head and smirk.
- Stick your tongue out at her a little bit.
- Bring a couple of fingers up to your face and slide them slowly over your chin while looking at her as if you're trying to make up your mind about something and smirking.
- Flash a huge grin at her.
Practice these in front of a mirror. Note that these are not intended to be enough for you to get away with not being the one that approaches, though some times you might intrigue her enough to approach you. They're intended to be a way for you to get comfortable with being increasingly obviously flirty and/or goofy while holding eye contact.
As for the other exercises, write down how long you could do it, what you managed to do, her reaction, how it makes you feel, and - if you were unable to do one or more of these, try and then write down how it made you feel. Re-read your notes and use them as a basis for aiming to do a little bit better each time.
Keep doing this until you can elicit reactions from her on a regular basis. E.g. smiles, make her embarrassed enough to go red and look down, have her copy what you do, etc.
Exercise 5: Don't blink first
Now you're definitively ready to make it a challenge to have her look away first.
As you become adept at giving signals and making it obvious to her that you're sharing something, you need to get to the point where you can keep playing around with it.
Don't stare her down, but this time, try not to be the person to look away first as often as you can. To do this in a playful way:
- If she keeps looking, try to engage her in a back and forth play by using the techniques from exercise 4.
- Escalate the intensity by stepping up to the more direct reactions, e.g. biting your tongue, sticking your tongue out at her.
- If she keeps looking without looking away, try to make her laugh or otherwise break concentration. E.g. pull a face if necessary. Play with it - find what works for you.
- When she looks away, "catch her" again and make it even more obvious. Keep this going for as long as you can.
- At any point, if you're ready for it, walk slowly up towards her, while keeping eye contact.
- If you're not ready to talk to her, see if you can get the courage to play the mysterious stranger: Write down your phone number and your name, very obviously, put your finger to your mouth in a "hush" gesture, walk past her and hand her the scrap of paper.
Keep trying this for duration - e.g. see how long you can keep it up. Do periodically ensure eye contact is broken. If you manage to keep it going for more than 30 seconds or so, play with giving her a "signal" and looking away for a little while and restarting. Practice until you figure out when and how long it's ok to look away while still easily getting contact again and where there's still noticeable interest from her when you do (if you time this right, you ought to see interest having increased when you regain contact).
Especially attempt to regain eye contact and emphasize the "conspiracy" if you do something funny/weird/"bad", or can mime out something that'd be in that category if you did it. E.g. pretend to pin something to someones back while winking at her. Or motion to something funny/ interesting.
The goal of this exercise is not to succeed in seducing her with eye contact and pulling faces, though seducing a woman wordlessly with just eye contact and other body language is certainly possible. The goal is to get you comfortable with flirting with your eyes as the primary tool, and to get you to a stage where you enjoy looking at a woman and playing with her, and where you're taking charge of the situation.
Focus on the eye contact, and try to empty your mind while you do it. Chances are decent, though it is by no means guaranteed, that you will find that focusing on the eye contact will help you overcome other barriers, and you might suddenly find yourself doing things you didn't think you'd dare, such as approaching. Especially if you create a "shared secret" type contact, as many people find that it creates a feeling of familiarity that short circuits what obstacles your mind would normally throw in your way.
Last, but not least: Have fun! This will be nerve wrecking at times if you're bad at eye contact, but it will quickly start becoming almost addictive to see how far you can push it. Eye contact is "low risk" in the sense that rejection is almost always no worse than having her pull a face and look away, and usually it's way milder.
In fact, a last little challenge for you:
Start trying to figure out what her reactions means, especially when she looks away.