LEVEL 0: By yourself
Sit or stand 18 inches away from a mirror (use preferably a large mirror to mimick a normal situation where two people would facing each other).
Focus on the face and make eye contact with yourself. Pay attention to how it feels to look directly at the eyes, is it uncomfortable? Are you restless? Do you notice if your eyes dart away from the eyes of your reflection? How long can you maintain eye contact?
Now, explore other areas of your face in your reflection. Move your eyes to the cheeks, the mouth, the forehead, and notice how it feels and how long you are able to maintain your gaze in that area? From time to time, go back to the eyes, and notice how it feels. Do you feel more comfortable or do you quickly look away?
Continue this exploration until you find yourself getting more and more comfortable keeping eye contact with your reflection. There is not a particular length of time for eye contact as everyone is different, and therefore you do not need to time yourself, just focus on feeling comfortable looking at your eyes and face.
LEVEL I: Family members
First practice this exercise during meal times. Regardless of who is talking at the table, focus your eyes on their face and eyes. Repeat the exercise above by first looking at their eyes, then moving on to other areas of their face and going back to their eyes.
When you talk to someone at the table, make sure you practice the same exercise. Focus your gaze on their eyes and face every time you say something to anyone, even if it is as banal as asking for the salt.
Once you feel comfortable with the exercise, move your practice outside of meal times to all other situations. Anytime you are talking with a family member or are talked to by them, focus your eyes on their face and eyes.
LEVEL II: Total strangers
A strangers could be the person delivering your meal or your groceries, it could be a neighbor you never talk to, or a barista or waiter(ress), etc… Whenever you are engaged in a conversation with them (even if it is just to say “thank you” or “Good morning”), make sure your eyes are gazing at their face and eyes.
Since this type of interaction would likely be short, try to focus on looking at their eyes first and for as long as possible.
An added benefit to this exercise would be for you to initiate a conversation with them.
LEVEL III: Friends or familiar people not related to you
This level is likely the hardest part of this entire practice, because this is the typical situation where most of the negative thoughts of social anxiety are generated. Therefore, it is important that you practice diligently.
This level involves friends, classmates, peers, authority figures, work colleagues, supervisors, managers, bosses, your barista or server, if you frequent the same place all the time, etc…
Repeat the same steps as in level 0
Also try to initiate a conversation with them while maintaining your gaze towards their face and eyes.