How to Overcome Shyness

Throughout my life I was a shy guy. In my early twenties, I acted like a cool guy in order to hide my shyness. I didn’t speak much and didn’t get involved a lot. Acting cool was my cover to hide my shyness. I didn’t want people to see that I was nervous in social situations. I never spoke up or participated in social life. Deep down, I wanted to speak up and participate. I wanted to enjoy a cheerful social life.

We want you!

Shyness can come across as coldness, even arrogance. If you are shy, remember that there are people who want you to speak up and get involved. People want and need your social contribution. By holding yourself back, you are denying them your social contribution. Moreover, you are also denying yourself the rewards of an active social life: a better career, better relationships, and an overall improvement in the quality of your life.

Everybody is a little shy.

Even great public speakers become overwhelmed when they have to address a stadium full of people. Important conversations, business or political negotiations, and addressing a potential life partner make even the most confident people nervous. That’s why the society rewards the people who dare to go out of their comfort zones and act in these difficult social situations, no matter how overwhelmed they are.

Courage and Practice

Everybody has different confidence levels in different social situations and everybody can improve their confidence levels in every social situation, including you. If you want to succeed in any area of your life, including your social life, you need to adopt the growth mindset. Improving your social skills requires courage and practice.

Set Big Goals!

If you want to make a quantum leap, think big and shoot for the stars. For example, set yourself the goal that you’re going to speak in front of a stadium filled with people and huge spot lights directed towards you. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic this goal might sound to you. The bigger your goals are, the more motivated you’re going to feel, and the faster you’re going to make improvements.

Visualization

Visualization is one of the easiest exercises to overcome shyness. Visualize yourself in social situations that are outside of your comfort zone. Visualize yourself handling the situation at the hand courageously and confidently and succeeding at it. Then go out to the field and actually get involved in the situation that you’ve visualized about. The more you visualize, the more confident you’re going to feel in the real life.

Graduated Exposure

Courage is not the lack of fear. On the contrary, if you had no fear, you wouldn’t need any courage. Courage is feeling the fear, and doing it anyway. The key word here is graduated exposure. That means going out of your comfort zone repeatedly, so that you extend your comfort zone every time a little. You stretch yourself every time, but not to the extend where you panic. You need to feel some fear, but shouldn’t be frozen in panic. The more and the farther you go out of your comfort zone, the more and the faster you’re going to improve your confidence levels in social situations.

  1. Make a list of activities that are out of your comfort zone, the longer the list, the better.
  2. Sort your list from the easiest to the most difficult.
  3. Visualize yourself doing the easiest activity.
  4. Go out to the field and do the easiest activity.
  5. Repeat the steps 3 and 4 with the next activity in your list.
  6. Add new activities to your list constantly.

You can use your imagination to come up with your own original or derived exercises. My favorites are joining a club and traveling.

Join a Club

My favorite club is Toastmasters International, which is a public speaking club. It is very affordable, friendly, and accessible to people with different communication skill levels. I am a member of two clubs and participate in their speech contests. This way I am exposed to different audiences frequently. These activities are completely out of my comfort zone, but I am enjoying them. The idea here is to make friends with stress, take a deep breath, and turn your fear into excitement. Think about it as a trip to the thrill rides in an amusement park.

Traveling

My second favorite activity is to get out of my comfort zone when traveling. In vacation destinations, everybody is more relaxed and want to have fun. They are more open to social interactions with strangers. You can practice your social skills with people who offer service in restaurants, shopping malls, etc. For example, if you enjoy the service in a restaurant, take a minute to tell the staff members that you appreciated their service, and what you like the most. You could even find a job that requires a lot of social skills, such as becoming a sales person.

Stay Away From Drugs and Alcohol

Whatever you do, do not rely on drugs or alcohol. That’s a recipe for disaster. If you really want to improve your social skills, approach each situation completely sober. Using prescribed medicine isn’t my favorite either.

Once, I received a prescribed medicine to take my nervousness under control. I did well in a few presentations. However, one day, I was asked to do a speech without any prior notice. No preparation, no opportunity to take my medication. I was nervous, but I did OK. Most of my colleagues didn’t even notice that I was nervous. On that day, I figured out that if I had to succeed, I had to rely on my internal resources, my internal power. I didn’t need anything external. The same is true for you and everybody on this planet.

One Last Word

You can learn a lot about shyness and anxiety from books and articles, but the only way to overcome it is to go out of your comfort zone regularly and practice your skills in challenging social situations over and over. The books and articles provide only guidance. It’s up to you to do the work and apply those ideas in real life!

Bonus Tips

  • Imagine, everybody out there will be friendly, because they are!
  • Find yourself a hyper-social buddy and hang out with them. Model them, learn from them. Make this a competition. Try to be even more social than them.

Recommended Reading

In the book Goodbye to Shy, Leil Lowndes offers 85 ideas and exercises to overcome shyness. You can include these ideas in your activity list above.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.