Whether you are reserved, timid or just painfully awkward, the first thing you need to know is that there is nothing wrong with you. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard quiet people apologizing or making excuses for their own shyness. They end up feeling so guilty about missing chances to get out of their comfort zone that they drive themselves crazy.
Each time they miss out on one of these opportunities, the pressure and fear begins to build until eventually things that only seemed a little bit uncomfortable will cause them so much anxiety that they can’t do them at all. It might feel like you’re the only one in the room who’s struggling with this intense pressure, but you couldn’t be more wrong.
In fact nearly everyone struggles with these same anxieties at some point but with enough practice, they learn how to avoid letting them affect their behaviour.
It is true that some people struggle more than others, but having social anxiety doesn’t make you any worse than anyone else. You have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel guilty about because at the end of the day the only person you are affecting is you.
When you’ve struggled with social anxiety or awkwardness for long enough, you’ve probably started labelling yourself as a shy person. You might have even told someone that “am just like that” or “I can’t help it” but most of the time neither of these things are true.
Imagine you decide to go to a concert to meet new people thinking you’ll make some friends with similar interests. After the concert ends you are standing in line to get some food when you hear a couple of guys behind you talking about how much they liked the band. You know everything there is to know about this band. So, you could easily jump into the conversation at any moment but you never actually open your mouth.
The next day you meet up with an old friend and you don’t hesitate to tell them everything about the concert and the missed opportunity at the end. You rant for twenty minutes about all the cool things you could have said to those guys until your friend asks “why didn’t you just go for it?” And you respond “I don’t know, I guess am just a shy person”.
If you were actually a shy person, would you have instantly come alive when talking to your friend? My point is that you shouldn’t use words like shy or awkward to sum up your entire personality because there are plenty of times when you are the exact opposite.
Around your family, for example, you might be talkative, energetic and goofy despite struggling to say two words when you are out in public. When you label yourself as “shy” like that, you’re pigeonholing your entire personality.
So, next time you are into this situation, say “I was just being awkward yesterday”. By changing your phrasing, you can avoid living up to any of the negative expectations you create for yourself.
When you are trying to summon the courage to step out of the comfort zone, what kind of things are you think about? Are you searching for an entertaining story to tell or maybe a talent to show off?
You might think that the best way to be outgoing is to prove that you are worth looking at and listening to, but is that actually how we connect with people?
Even if you did impress everyone in the room what would you actually gain from that? The truth is that you might actually be looking at these social interactions all wrong. Instead of investing so much energy into making people like you, you should be focusing on how you could show others that you like them.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to step into the spotlight to escape your shyness. People generally love to talk about themselves. So, you can and should use that to your advantage. If you laugh at their jokes and ask a lot of questions, you will make a great first impression without having to become the centre of attention.
Also read: 5 Simple ways to make people like you
While making comparisons is generally unhealthy no matter what you are trying to improve on, it’s especially detrimental for people who struggle to come out of their shell. Comparing yourself to someone who is more extroverted or less socially awkward can lead to unnecessary stress, anxiety, and most importantly, low self-esteem.
For many people who struggle with shyness, low self-esteem is one of the biggest reasons why they have trouble interacting with others. It cripples your confidence, causes self-doubt and stops you from ever coming out of your comfort zone.
So, if you want to overcome your shyness – you should first work on building your self-esteem by learning to trust and take pride in yourself.
Say you got invited to a social event for a new job; all your co-workers are going to be there. So you are excited to try to know them better. When you get there you see a group of people talking and laughing so you think about joining in but then you start worrying about all the things that could go wrong.
They might not remember your name, they may be laughing at you behind your back, or maybe they just don’t like you. With all these possibilities swirling through you, you end up being too scared to even try.
An efficient way to mitigate this kind of anxiety is to make a list. Whether you write it on a scrap of paper or on your phone, it’s important that you give your list some sort of physical form. There you should write all the negative outcomes that you are worried about.
By simply organizing your fears, many of these situations won’t seem nearly as intimidating, especially because you can plan ahead to avoid bringing them to life.
People who struggle with shyness tend to make the same common mistakes. They see a great opportunity to socialize but they end up talking themselves out of it. They feel terrible about passing up on the opportunity and ultimately convince themselves that it was the only chance they’d ever have.
But like most forms of self-improvement, overcoming shyness isn’t about making one big bold statement; it’s about taking small consistent steps forward. So, you have to keep creating opportunities to be social no matter how uncomfortable they make you.
If you don’t want to throw yourself into the deep end, you can make it easier to socialize by bringing a friend with you. Even if they are standing on the other side of the room, simply seeing a familiar face can ease your nerves and motivate you to keep pushing. If your friend is more outgoing than you are, you can also use them to work your way into conversations.
Once they’ve started talking to someone, use your friend as an excuse to join in. Eventually, your friend might get a drink or go to the bathroom giving you the opportunity to try to lead the conversation.
While all this can be really helpful, there is one downside to bringing an outgoing friend along. People who struggle with shyness tend to use their extraverted friends as social shields. While it might seem easier to simply hide behind your friend wherever you go, it’s actually hurting you in the long run by making you more insecure and codependent.
If you don’t have an outgoing friend to bring along, you can also relax your nerves by socializing in places you are already familiar with. When meeting new people, you’ve got enough to worry about without adding the environment into the mix. If you do, you will end up wasting hours simply trying to feel comfortable in this new space.
Instead, find an environment where you know you can feel at ease and learn how to be extraverted there. Believe it or not, this is the same strategy that all kinds of entertainers and politicians use to perform or deliver a speech in front of a large audience.
They become incredibly familiar with a particular location whether it’s on stage or in front of a podium and are great socialites when they are in that specific environment even if they’d be shy and awkward everywhere else.
Powerful body language can make all the difference when you are learning to overcome your shyness because even if you can’t control how awkward you are, you can control how awkward you look.
Things like standing up straight, uncrossing your arms and legs, and making eye contact will all help other people feel more comfortable around you which in turn helps you feel comfortable around them.
Not necessarily because you can actually use powerful body language to fool yourself into acting more confident. When you look approachable and secure, other people will treat you that way. So, your behaviour will naturally rise to meet their expectations.
This strategy sounds a bit counterintuitive but teaching others how to overcome their shyness can really help you deal with your own. You might be one of those people who has read every article and watched every video but still can’t seem to make any progress.
Even if you know exactly what you are doing wrong, you just can’t escape the same awkward behaviours, but as the old adage goes - those who can’t do teach. You may have tried this technique the last time you were studying for a test because many people find that they understand information better when they have to explain it to someone else.
Teaching forces you to make connections and answer questions you may not have ever thought to ask. By helping someone else make progress, you also get to see your own advice in action, which can give you the confidence to do it yourself.