Afflicted with shyness
When he was young, Robert, my older brother, was so painfully shy he couldn’t bear people looking at him. It was fashionable for women to wear coats that fitted snugly at the top, flowing out towards the hemline. If anyone spoke to Robert, he’d use Mom’s coat like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. He’d lift Mom’s coat and hide underneath it until the person had gone — or Mom forced him out of hiding!
Fortunately, Robert is no longer shy. I’m not sure whether this was because fashions changed, or he just grew too big to fit underneath Mom’s coat!
Do you suffer from shyness?
Many people can recall experiences of feeling shy; perhaps feeling discomfort in a room full of unknown people, the first day in a new job, a first date, etc.
Symptoms of shyness include fear in social situations, inhibitions, worrying about people’s impressions of you, as well as feelings of anxiety.
But the self-application of the label “I am shy” can be extremely debilitating
People who consider themselves shy often believe they’re stuck with being shy.
However, shyness is not a ‘condition’, but behaviours that result from an individual’s thinking patterns.
Maybe you are happy with your shyness
If you consider yourself a ‘shy person’ — are you happy with this label? This is a serious question because often being shy can have many secondary gains that make it worthwhile to remain shy. If others consider you shy, they might not expect you to contribute to discussions — and that allows you to sit on the sidelines. It forces other people to engage you in conversation, so you don’t have to take the initiative.
If you think about it, there might be other gains from being shy. So, if you’re happy with your shyness, my suggestion is that you embrace it wholeheartedly.
Being shy doesn’t mean you can’t experience great relationships or outstanding work achievements.
However, if you want to get over your shyness, here are some ways to begin that change.
I recommend starting with number one and working your way through the whole list:
1. Stop telling yourself you’re shy
Instead, remind yourself of times when you weren’t shy; counter-examples. Recall times you’ve been able to say what you wanted to say in a way that was comfortable. Analyse those occasions to determine what made you were doing or saying that lead to the feeling of comfort. Then do more of those.
2. Look at people
When you’re out, glance up rather than at the ground. Look at people’s faces. Smile and say ‘hello.’ The worst thing that can happen is that they respond! Even if they ignore you; you won’t turn into a warty, black toad. Whatever their reason for not responding, you can almost guarantee that it’s got nothing to do with you! After you’ve smiled and said ‘hello’, congratulate yourself for having taken this step, notice how good that burst of confidence is, and anchor it (see step 3).
3. Learn how to manage your emotional state with an anchor
This is a genuinely useful, simple, and effective technique. By learning how to manage your emotional state, you can be your best more often. Click here to learn how to do it.
You can’t experience confidence and shyness at the same time — unless you want to be confident in your shyness!
You could also anchor a sense of high self-esteem.
4. Realise that individuals you don’t know, don’t honestly care about you
Sorry, but they care about themselves. As Andre Dubus said,
“Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.”
It’s not! And that should make you feel more liberated already!
5. Stop talking to yourself and start talking to others!
If you are shy, there’s a good chance you spend a lot of time talking to yourself. Your internal conversation may go something like this: “Those people are so smart, confident, outgoing etc, what could I possibly contribute to the conversation? I’ve got nothing to say. I don’t lead a very exciting life. People will think I’m an idiot!” etc, etc.
Not only will you lose track of the conversation because of your own internal drivel, but the quality of your self-talk will affect your confidence (see articles: Negative Self-Talk: How to Stop it and Start Feeling Better and How Words Affect Your Health)
If you really, honestly, have nothing to talk about, start reading some books, watching some films, learning a new hobby, or taking some courses. Make yourself interesting.
6. Stop making horror movies in your head!
This often occurs in conjunction with no.5. So, as well as talking to yourself, you make pictures of what you don’t want to happen; people ridiculing you, ignoring you, imagining yourself tripping over your words — or some furniture. Instead, make pictures of people hanging on your every word, laughing when you make a joke, and nodding in agreement.
7. Focus on others instead of yourself
This perhaps sounds harsh, but it’s not meant negatively. The thing is, you can only experience self-consciousness if you deliberately focus on yourself. When you put 100% of your focus on the people you’re engaged with, you’re paying attention to what they say. You can’t feel self-conscious and shy, because your entire brain is attending to them.
8. Talk about what excites you
When you’re naturally enthusiastic about something — and provided you don’t engage in numbers 5 and 6 — your voice will resonate with a natural rhythm and pitch that will make your conversation both interesting and absorbing.
9. Build your self-esteem
With good self-esteem, you can stop worrying about the approval of others.
What others think about you is none of your business, anyway.
When you feel good about yourself, others’ opinions matter less. And oddly, when you don’t need approval, you’re more likely to win it!
You can build your self-esteem and overcome shyness by making a list of your good qualities. Ask your close friends what they love about you (email them if you’re too shy to ask them face-to-face). Review your CV to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved and the skills you’ve gained.
10. Develop your communication skills
Most people learnt English at school. But many never learned to communicate effectively, especially when relationships aren’t going the way they’d like them to go.
Read books, do a course or get some coaching. Then practice. Ask yourself, ‘Under what circumstances is it easy for me to speak up?’ Put yourself in those situations more often so you gain experience, and then implement those skills in situations where you’ve struggled in the past.
11. Notice the way you think about others
Recall a person you’d like to converse with, but where your shyness is preventing you from taking that first step. Where, in your mind’s eye, do you locate them? For example, do you perceive them as relatively close, or further away? Are they higher up than you, or lower down, to your right, to your left, or behind you? My guess is they’re located up above you somewhere so that you’re obliged to ‘look up to them.’ If you find this is the case, move them down — again in your imagination — so they’re on the same level as you. Read more about how your Social Panorama affects your relationships.
12. Learn to build and maintain rapport
If you want to engage with someone, learn how to build non-verbal rapport. It’s something you probably do naturally with people you know and like. By learning to use the skills consciously and subtly with people you don’t know, you’ll create a sense of connection and trust. Find out more about rapport.
Reading an article won’t fix your shyness. But by now, in all likelihood, you understand how you’re creating your shyness. It’s important to put some, or all, of these lessons into practice regularly, so you change the habits that got you to where you are now.
What’s the alternative to remedying shyness?
There could be three alternatives
- The most obvious is that you continue to do what you’ve always done. You live with shyness but embrace it.
- Come and learn some skills to build your self-confidence and communication abilities.
- Wait until someone invents a real invisibility cloak, a lá Harry Potter — then you could use it like Robert used Mom’s coat — hide underneath until the world goes away!
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