The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid. – Claudia Johnson
Are You Feeling a Little Shy?
Shyness is an awkwardness and an apprehension that some people feel while approaching or when being approached by other people. These people have a desire to be outgoing and to connect with others on a social and emotional level. However, they find this impossible because they can’t seem to handle the anxiety that comes with human interaction.
Before proceeding, it’s important to point out that shyness is not the same as being introverted. Introverts actually feel energized spending time alone doing their own thing. They aren’t afraid of social situations, but rather simply prefer to be by themselves. Social situations drain them emotionally, while solitary activities energize and spark their creativity.
In contrast, shy people desperately seek the acceptance and approval of others. This makes them extremely self-conscious and fearful of being judged, ridiculed, criticized, humiliated, embarrassed, and rejected. They have a negative self-preoccupation and often evaluate themselves and their own ability in very limiting ways. In fact, when it comes to social situations they expect that they will make mistakes and fail miserably to connect with others on a meaningful level. Their unhelpful thoughts and beliefs about their social interactions make them feel extremely insecure. And yet, one of their most endearing traits — that of being a thoughtful listener — is a vital part of any meaningful social relationship.
The Consequences of Shyness
Being overcome with shyness is never good for your social growth and development. Not only does it cause you to purposefully avoid social situations, it can also lead to isolation, sadness, loneliness, regret, and depression. In fact, every time you avoid a social situation you are at that moment depleting your reservoirs of self-confidence. And the less self-confidence you have, the less likely you are to give your opinion, to make new friends, to take advantage of social opportunities to further your career or attain your desired objectives.
We all have goals and objectives that we would like to attain. It’s unfortunate for shy individuals that the vast majority of these objectives require the help of other people. This means that to bring their goals to fruition they must venture out into the world and make social connections. And if they are unable to do this, then they will end up living a life full of regrets and unfulfilled promises.
All of these consequences can lead to a very problematic life. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. If shyness is currently directing your decisions and actions, then it’s not too late to make some pivotal changes starting today. The journey, of course, won’t be easy and it will take some time and effort. However, with a desire to make these changes stick and a commitment to upgrade your social skills, you can certainly turn your life around.
4 Steps for Overcoming Shyness
Overcoming shyness is not going to be a walk in the park. This isn’t an easy process. There are many fears and anxieties in the mix, and as such you may very well need to work through each of them individually. However, as with everything that’s of value, you will certainly make progress as long as you’re diligent and follow the process step-by-step.
Here is the four-step process you can use to help you overcome your feelings of shyness:
Step 1: Gain Clarity
Your very first step is to identify what it is you would like to achieve. Your desired objectives should initially be very simple and straightforward. For instance, you might set a goal to ask a stranger a question. After this initial encounter, you could set another goal to have a two-minute conversation with a stranger. Then from there, you would set additional goals that will help you make even more progress. Ask yourself:
What is my end goal?
What would I like to be able to do socially?
What is my initial goal going to be? How can I get the ball rolling?
What goals must I progressively set to get to my end goal?
It doesn’t matter what your objective is, as long as you are clear about it and it helps you become more confident in social situations. Your end goal, of course, might be to connect and network with hundreds of people at a networking event sometime in the future. However, you will certainly need to build momentum progressively over time before this event, or otherwise, you might end up being struck with fear and anxiety on the day.
Having identified your goals, you must now acknowledge the obstacles that are currently holding you back from taking positive steps moving forward. Ask yourself:
What specifically is holding me back from attaining my end goal?
How do I feel about this?
When it comes to shyness your obstacles are often internal and psychological. You might very well have unhelpful thinking styles that are dominating your thought patterns, or you could have limiting beliefs about a particular social situation, or it could come down to very narrow expectations of the social situation you are in. It’s very important that you are clear about each of these obstacles before moving forward. Ask yourself:
What specifically am I thinking about when it comes to this social situation?
What specifically am I saying to myself about the social situation and/or about my ability to handle this situation?
How is thinking and talking to myself in this way hurting me?
What about my beliefs? What do I believe about this situation?
What do I believe about myself in this situation?
What do I expect will happen when I enter this social situation?
Answering these questions will provide you with an in-depth understanding of your psychological tendencies when it comes to this particular social situation. The greater clarity you have about these things, the more effectively you will be able to work through these roadblocks successfully.
Step 2: Challenge Your Assumptions
It’s now time to take the answers you explored in the previous step and begin challenging your assumptions. We are of course assuming that the way you’re thinking and feeling about this particular social situation isn’t practical or helpful, and as such there must be a better way to think and feel about these potential scenarios. Explore these possibilities by asking yourself:
Is this a realistic way to view things?
Am I potentially ignoring or overlooking the facts?
How else could I view this situation?
It’s very possible that you are simply not seeing things clearly. You might, in fact, be viewing the situation in a very unrealistic and unhelpful way. There could potentially be things that you’re overlooking, and this is causing you to feel uncertain, fearful and anxious.
If you are finding it difficult to view the situation in a different light, then it’s important you seek out other people’s opinions, perspectives, and views. Find a trusted friend who makes you feel comfortable and secure, and ask them for their opinion and perspective about the social situation you are struggling with. Ask them to help you see the situation through their eyes. Mentally walk in their shoes for a moment and experience what they are experiencing as they make their way through this social situation.
The more helpful perspectives you gather about this social situation through your own explorations and by asking other people, the less of a hold your limiting beliefs and unhelpful thinking habits will have over your decisions and actions. However, even if after all this you are still feeling somewhat hesitant and reluctant, then ask yourself:
What’s the worst that could happen?
How will I handle this worst-case scenario? What’s my plan of action?
Who could potentially help me get through this?
Normally the worst that could happen isn’t as bad as you make it out to be. In fact, the worst-case scenario will rarely occur. And if it does, then at least you will be prepared for when it arrives. This alone can help you gain the necessary confidence you need to take a small step forward towards beating your feelings of shyness.
Step 3: Take Small Steps
You should now be ready to take small consistent steps daily towards your end goal. You must, of course, begin slowly and build momentum over time. This is very important. Jumping into things too soon can quickly raise your anxiety levels, and as a result, you will immediately retreat into your comfort zone. To avoid this scenario, be sure to set realistic expectations.
Even if you took the time to thoroughly prepare for this social situation, it would still be reasonable to expect that you will feel a little anxious and that unexpected challenges might arise. This is okay. It’s okay to feel anxious. Anxiety will help you raise your levels of alertness. In fact, everything you do for the first time, or even things that you haven’t done for a long time are often riddled with anxiety and a little tension. These emotional experiences will eventually pass. However, it will take some time and you will need to gain some experience. The more experience you gain the greater confidence you will muster moving forward.
As you make plans to take small daily steps towards your end goal, take time to consider the following:
What specifically will I do socially today?
How will I do this thing?
Where specifically will I do it?
Who will potentially be there?
How long will I do it for?
When drawing up your plan of action it’s absolutely paramount that you take all these questions into consideration. These questions will allow you to be very specific about the small steps required to reach your end goal. For instance, you might decide to go to the supermarket and ask three strangers questions about an item in their shopping cart. You will do this in the shopping aisle and you will interact with each person for a total of 30 to 60 seconds.
Once you have achieved your goal for that day, reward yourself and plan to take another positive step moving forward the very next day. However, be sure that tomorrow you do a little more. Maybe tomorrow you will speak with five people and ask them two or three questions about items within their shopping cart. Maybe you could even set a goal to talk with them for up to 90 seconds at a time.
As mentioned earlier, unexpected things will happen. People will not always be responsive to your questions. Some people might, in fact, be in a rush and don’t want to strike up conversations with random strangers. Other people might be having a very bad day and as a result, they might be rude or ignore you all together. Don’t take this as a personal attack. These people are not out to get you. They are simply having a bad day and being rude and sometimes hurtful is a helpful way to release some tension. Just ignore these people. Walk away and find someone else you can talk to.
Step 4: Learn from Your Experience
The final step of this process is to learn from your experience. You might, therefore, choose to come home after your shopping expedition at your local supermarket and sit down with a pencil and pad and write out your thoughts, feelings, and observations. In fact, here are some questions you might like to ask yourself about your experience:
How did things go today?
Did I accomplish what I set out to do?
What worked out well for me?
Where did I struggle?
What unexpected challenges did I face?
How did I handle these challenges?
How else could I have handled these challenges?
How could I improve things the next time around?
What will I do differently tomorrow?
What could I do more or better tomorrow?
There are many questions you could potentially ask. Hopefully, these questions can get you started.
In the end, the most important thing is to learn the lessons from the experience you had today, and then to bring those lessons forward into your tomorrows. That’s the only way you will learn and grow and make progress to overcome shyness.
Preparing Yourself for Social Situations
There are certain things you can do on a daily basis that will help you feel more confident, self-assured and positive when it comes to putting yourself into social situations. Let’s take a look at some of these areas in a little detail:
Strengthen Your Physiology
How you use your body influences how you feel. How you feel influences your perceptions, and your perceptions likewise influence the decisions you make and the actions you take.
When in a shy state-of-mind, you will tend to be very hesitant. You will breathe in a shallow manner and your movements will be extremely cautious. How are you ever going to make any progress socially if you approach social situations in this way?
Instead of being in a shy state, choose to be confident. In fact, fake your confidence. Have you ever heard of the saying: “fake it till you make it”? Well, living this way can be rather handy. Therefore instead of moving your body like a shy person would practice moving your body as though you were confident and secure in your own skin. Ask yourself:
How would a confident person move their body?
How would a confident person stand?
How would a confident person sit?
How would a confident person’s body act in social situations?
What about facial expressions? What would they look like?
The answers to these questions will provide you with the guidelines you need to make the necessary adjustments to your physiology. However, it’s not enough to just know these things, actually take time to prepare and practice moving confidently at first by yourself, and later when in the company of others. If you need help, then simply close your eyes and visualize yourself in your imagination as being confident in social situations. However, don’t stop there. Also visualize being courageous, curious, patient and optimistic. All of these traits will help transform your physiology and help you to approach social situations with far more confidence and self-assurance.
Initially, these changes will feel unnatural and forced. However, over time you will actually gain real confidence, and that’s when you will no longer feel as though you’re moving or acting unnaturally. Your confidence will simply become a part of who you are in social situations.
Stay Calm Under Pressure
When in social situations, you will have a tendency to feel a little anxious and uncertain. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with anxiety. However, it doesn’t need to be this way as long as you prepare yourself in advance.
Learn all you can about how to keep your emotions cool, calm and collected during pressures situations. This essentially boils down to developing the necessary emotional coping skills you will need when faced with criticism, rejection and when you make social missteps or mistakes.
You must face the fact that you will be rejected and you will make mistakes. It’s important not to dwell on these things. These things are a part of life and a part of growth and development. Learn from them and move on. Your past is only there to help you make better decisions in the future, not to make you feel miserable about yourself in the present moment.
There are many things you can do to keep yourself focused, centered and mindful of the present moment. One of these techniques is called progressive muscle relaxation. It can be used at times to help calm your body and center your mind. It works by progressively relaxing each muscle of your body starting from your toes and finishing at the tip of your head. It’s something that’s best accomplished lying down, however it can also be done standing up. Just close your eyes for a few moments and observe as a wave of calming energy projects from the earth into your toes and up through your body.
During these moments you are drawing your attention to the present. You are no longer thinking about what others will think, say or do. Instead, you are focusing on being mindful of the moment. And this is what will help calm your emotions and allow you to gather your thoughts and move through the social situation with far less emotional upheaval.
Avoid Trying to be Perfect
There is no such thing as perfection. You will never be perfect. You can only do your very best and your very best will result in very different outcomes depending on the day and the social situation you find yourself in.
Don’t be hard on yourself when you make mistakes. Mistakes are a normal and natural part of life. In fact, the only way you’ll ever learn is when you make mistakes. It’s all a learning process that takes time, patience, dedication, and effort. You will eventually get there, and you will not be perfect. That’s perfectly normal. Nobody is perfect, no matter how things appear on the surface.
Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
Comparing yourself to other people when you’re lacking in confidence will only dishearten you and make you feel absolutely miserable. Instead, compare yourself to the best you can be. And even the best you can be will be different at different times. All you can do is try your best and then learn from this experience to do even better the next time around.
Don’t Label Yourself as Being “Shy”
Labeling yourself as being shy will often result in acting shy. Instead label yourself as confident, passionate and purposeful in your actions. Every day you step out into this world you are on a mission. There is real purpose and reason behind each of your actions. You have goals to achieve and things to do, and interacting with others on a social level is just a part of your job.
Remember that the labels you give yourself are nothing more than beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are of your own making, while other times they are based on other people’s expectations of you. For instance, other people might have told you more than once that you’re shy. Initially, you might not have labeled yourself in this way. However, over time as more and more people labeled you as being shy, you have begun to believe this, and your initial introverted nature has turned into a social phobia that is interfering with your livelihood.
If you have a set of limiting beliefs that are causing you to view yourself as a shy person, then work through these beliefs by yourself or talk with someone about them. Ask a close and trusted friend to question this belief to help throw doubt in your mind about the validity of believing and thinking in this way.
Spend some time educating yourself about how to improve your social skills, your social etiquette, and your ability to handle conflict. Find out what you must do to become more assertive and confident. Also, learn more about human nature and body language.
All of these skills will help improve your understanding of social situations. Likewise, they can help provide you with the confidence you need to work through awkward social challenges far more successfully.
6 Ideas for Taking Positive and Proactive Action
Once you have done all the groundwork, you are now ready to step out into this world and begin connecting with people on a social level. This, by all means, doesn’t mean that you are out of the woods and won’t fall back into your old patterns. This could very well happen, and as such you must prepare for this possibility. What it does mean is that you are ready to continue making progressive steps that will help you gain the confidence you need to make your way successfully within this social world.
Here are some suggestions that will help you keep building the momentum you need to overcome your feelings of shyness:
Make an Effort to Meet New People
Every day you get out of bed, make a resolution that you will go out and meet new people. This, of course, doesn’t mean you must go out of your way to introduce yourself to someone new. It doesn’t need to be this difficult. Instead, when you visit your local store to do some shopping, choose to talk to the clerk or to another customer. While you’re walking your dog smile at a stranger and ask them how their day has been. Or if you’re at the gym, volunteer to help someone with their workout, or ask a stranger to give you some pointers and tips to help improve your workout regime.
Meeting new people is easy and can be quite effortless without you needing to go the extra mile. However, you will need to at the very least make an effort to get out of the house. You can only meet new people in the world outside the boundaries of your lounge room.
Seek Out Positive Role Models
Regularly take the time to seek out support from people who are confident and socially active. Use them as positive role models to help you continue developing your confidence in social situations.
Having friends who are socially outgoing will encourage you to get out more often and connect with others. These people will not only provide you with a good example you can follow, but they can also introduce you to other like-minded individuals who can become part of your growing support network.
View Everything as a Learning Experience
No matter what happens to you, view it as nothing more than a learning experience.
Things will not go as you had expected. In fact, things might at times work out much worse then you expected. And that’s perfectly okay. It doesn’t matter what happens to you as long as you use this experience to help you grow, develop and improve yourself in the future.
Guidelines for Socializing
There are certain things you can do that will help you develop deeper and more meaningful connections with other people.
For starters, while you’re socializing make an effort to smile more often. Smile sincerely from the heart as you listen to people. Your smile will make them feel more comfortable, and they will likewise become more responsive to you and to the questions you ask them.
The one thing that’s more powerful then a smile is the focus, attention and the eye-contact you give another person while conversing with them. Giving good eye-contact doesn’t mean staring at the other person. You have to be gentle with your gaze and show the other person that you’re interested in what they are saying.
It’s also important to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that encourage more than a “Yes” or “No” answer. These questions are often insightful and dig ever so deeper into the conversation. They will get the other person talking about their life, problems, and circumstances in fascinating and unexpected ways. And once you have them there talking about themselves, continue building by asking even more open-ended questions to help stimulate further conversation.
Finally, focus on being helpful. Most people are only thinking about themselves and their problems. It’s rare to find someone who listens insightfully to your problems and then offers to help in some way. Help by giving advice; help by sharing your own experiences; help by introducing them to someone who might be able to assist; help by sharing an inspiring quote; help by giving them a title of a self-help book, etc. There are many ways to help. Just be open to the possibilities.
Don’t Over-Analyze Situations
Remember that it’s important not to take things personally. Everyone has their bad days, and some people are just naturally grumpy, rude and inconsiderate of others. No matter what these people do and no matter how they respond to you, don’t take it personally.
It’s also important not to try and over-analyze the situation by justifying how and why things transpired the way they did. Getting lost in these kinds of details will only derail your efforts. Instead, focus on moving on and building your confidence through repetition and consistent effort over time.
The more times you talk to a stranger, the more confidence you will have while talking with strangers. The experience you gain will help reduce your feelings of anxiety, and over time you will acquire the confidence you need to hold a conversation with a stranger without much effort and emotional turmoil.
Join Groups and Volunteer Your Time
There’s probably no better way to overcome shyness then to join a group of like-minded individuals who share your passions and interests. For instance, you could join a hobby group, a book club, or a discussion group in your area. Partaking in these groups will provide you with an opportunity to begin feeling more confident in social situations.
If however, you want to raise the stakes a little, then you might like to join a theater company or a small production house where you will be encouraged to fine-tune your acting skills. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, then another great option is Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a worldwide public speaking organization. It’s for the beginner, intermediate and advanced speakers who want to improve their craft. However, it’s not just for speakers. It’s for anyone who wants to improve their confidence.
The great thing about Toastmasters is that you can join the group and there’s no pressure for you to participate. You can participate at any time and in whatever capacity you choose. It’s all up to you. Sit and watch other people overcome their fears of public speaking first, and then when you’re ready, join in at your pace. Not only will you get a chance to speak within a group setting, but you will also get an opportunity to connect with other like-minded people on a personal level.
Finally, sometimes the best environments for connecting with other people is when you volunteer your time to a good cause. The great thing about this option is that your work (the time you volunteer) becomes your social learning playground. Nobody is going to judge you, nobody is going to criticize you. It’s all about serving a greater cause, and everyone’s help is greatly valued and appreciated.
As you can see, there are many opportunities available to help you overcome shyness. Take them, use them, embrace them. There is a world full of possibilities and potential. It’s up to you to grasp it with open arms and a big fat smile on your face. Leave shyness in the past and embrace a more positive, exciting and extraordinary life.
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Super-Power Ways to Hulk Smash Your Shyness @ Pick the Brain
- 7 Strengths Shy People Have @ Life Optimizer
- 8 Essential Tips for Overcoming Shyness and Making a Good First Impression @ ZenHabits
- 10 Tips to Overcome Shyness @ Abundance Tapestry
- 20 Ways to Overcome Shyness @ Think Simple Now
- How to Finally Overcome Shyness @ Dumb Little Man
- How to Overcome Shyness @ Psychology Today
- How to Overcome Shyness @ People Skills Decoded
- How to Stop Being Shy and Become a Social Champion @ Lifehack
- Overcoming Shyness: How to Feel More Confident @ Tiny Buddha
- Overcoming Shyness in Five Easy Steps @ Uncommon Help
- Turning Shyness into a Strength @ The Change Blog