As a recovering social recluse, one of the things that often held me back, and still occasionally trips me up, was that I spent too much time actively ignoring what went on around me.
Whether I had my nose in a book or sat listening to music while staring out the bus window, I was never paying attention.
It was after I picked up mindfulness meditation that I started to understand just how much I had disconnected myself from the world around me.
But it was driven home to me through a relationship where she would constantly point out people who needed help, or needed a seat on the bus more than us, or people checking her out, and all kind of things I totally missed.
I started wondering what else I missed.
It was a lot. People smiling at me. People making comments clearly inviting me to start a conversation. Profound ideas. Peoples moods and frustrations - including from people working for me, for whom I could have resolved their frustrations easily had I listened.
There were opportunities to engage socially everywhere, many of which were - in terms of my social anxieties - "low risk": Opportunities that even my anxieties would not stop me from taking advantage of.
This is (one more reason) why you should meditate.
Learn to notice the flow of conversation and emotions around you. Learn to notice when you can lend a hand, and possibly start a friendship. Learn to notice when someone is reaching out and want human contact - it happens more often than you think.
I firmly believe that any time you spend learning to be more aware of your surroundings will pay of tenfold in improving social intuition as well as in reducing anxieties around talking to strangers.