I used to be a very shy person. Whenever I was around other people I would stress out. When in the company of more than one person, I was generally very quiet, and speaking to a group of even two or three friends was a difficult thing for me to do. But I overcame this painful shyness – not necessarily very consciously, but now that I look back over the past decade or so, I can see that certain things I did having really made a difference.
To be honest, I can’t now remember the feeling of being very shy in a lot of detail. Social phobia is no longer something I need to deal with. But, for a long time, it was a huge deal in my life so I fully appreciate the way people with this kind of shyness feel.
I’m not sure why I’ve become less shy. I think it is largely to do with consciously trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m certainly not a very outgoing person – I don’t suppose I ever will be; I guess there is a limit to one’s basic personality. But I am now very comfortable in the company of other people and I almost never feel anxious in front of others. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about dealing with shyness.
Use your subconscious
Everything starts in your mind and then becomes reality, so you need to install the right beliefs into your subconscious. This is THE most important thing you can do. Try repeating (out loud or in your head) ‘every day in every way I am more and more confident.’ Say it in the shower, on the way to work, in the supermarket, anywhere! You can also try using visualizations – see yourself being outrageously confident in social situations, feel how good that is! Or try self-hypnosis – this is my own favorite technique for embedding new belief systems into your mind.
Surround yourself with positive and supportive people.
I’m not taking about co-dependency here: you don’t want to hang around with other shy people who will help you justify your own shyness. But you do want to be able to rely on supportive friends, who will challenge you and push you but not mock you or criticize you. It’s hard to find people like this – if you have friends who can manage this tightrope act between support and criticism, you should hang on to them!
Expand your comfort zone
You’re never going to get anywhere without trying new things. If you can’t swim, you’re going to have to get wet; and that may be scary. But there comes a point when you have to take a deep breath and get into the water. Every time you do something new, it’s going to be a bit scary, but this is the only way to grow. So if you’re going to overcome shyness, you’re going to have to go out into the social world and put yourself in situations you might not be too comfortable with. The point is – keep challenging yourself. You don’t need to let fear hold you hostage.
One step at a time
Extending the swimming analogy, chances are you’re not going to learn to swim by jumping into the deep end – it’s too much, too soon. If you’re painfully shy, then standing up in front of 1,000 people to speak probably isn’t the best thing to do. Try five people. When you’re OK with that, try ten. Then twenty, and so on. There is a thing called ‘flooding therapy’ where you get suddenly and massively exposed to the thing you’re scared of in order to get cured – I’m skeptical. Maybe it will work in some cases and if carefully managed, but I suspect that it will usually do more harm than good. So take things slowly, just not too slowly!
Don’t take things so seriously
Shy people often take things far too seriously. So what if you make a mistake, if your voice trembles, if you forget your lines? So what if nobody laughs at your jokes? Is it going to kill you? I doubt it. Lighten up and keep things in perspective.
Shyness is pride
Someone I respect a great deal once told me that ‘shyness is pride.’ What he meant was that shy people spend too much time worrying about themselves and how they look in the eyes of other people, when they should be focusing on what’s outside, trying to do a good job, trying to add value to the situation. This is brilliant advice – start thinking about others and less about yourself. In fact, everyone else is actually thinking about themselves, too. Nobody really cares about you. So stop being so self absorbed.
Don’t over analyze
You are not going to overcome shyness by thinking about it. If you think about it, you will conclude that it makes no sense. But then when you find yourself in that social situation you are still going to feel the same way. Overcome any phobia isn’t a ‘brain’ activity – these things are inherently illogical. The only thing that counts is action. So get going – do the thing you fear and stop thinking about why it doesn’t make sense.
Be comfortable in your own skin
Try going out alone. Shy people are often not only uncomfortable with others, but also with themselves. So get out there – have dinner alone, go to the movies alone. It is my observation that the most confident people are happy being alone in public places.
Read the right books (and blogs!)
Read books that will help you with your shyness. Read about people who have overcome their own shyness. These will inspire you and help you to become more confident.
Getting over shyness takes time, but it can be done. It's a skill, an attitude, a state of mind, and it can be learned. Being confident and outgoing will make your life 1000 times better, so go to it! Don’t delay!