Throughout my life, I was a shy guy. In my early twenties, I acted like a cool guy to hide my shyness. I didn’t speak much and didn’t get involved a lot. 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 get involved. I wanted to enjoy an exciting social life.
The World Wants 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’re also denying yourself the rewards of 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. Critical conversations, business or political negotiations, and talking to 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 demanding 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.
Shoot for the Stars!
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 spotlights directed to 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 is one of the least demanding exercises to overcome shyness. Visualize yourself in social situations that are outside of your comfort zone. Get into the feeling.
Your emotions don’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined. Think about a vivid dream that made you feel intense emotions. The dream wasn’t real, but your feelings were.
Try to create a reality in your mind that triggers the feelings associated with shyness. You can get better at doing that with practice.
Once those feelings are triggered, stay with them without trying to change, escape, or suppress them. After a while, their intensity will decrease by themselves. This method of dealing with unpleasant feelings is called the Letting Go Method.
Visualize yourself handling the situation at 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. The more you visualize, the more confident you’ll feel in real life.
Courage is not the lack of fear. If you had no fear, you wouldn’t need any courage. Courage is “feeling the fear, and doing it anyway,” as the name of the book by Susan Jeffers suggests.
Graduated exposure means getting out of your comfort zone to the extent you feel some fear, but not to the extent you feel panic, and doing that over and over.
Every time you get out of your comfort zone, you extend it a little. This is how you cultivate world-class courage in a single year.
The farther you go out of your comfort zone, the faster you’ll improve your confidence in social situations.
The opposite is also true. The more you stay in your comfort zone, the more it shrinks. This is called positive feedback loop.
Here’s a list of steps to practice graduated exposure.
- Make a list of activities that are out of your comfort zone, the longer the list, the better.
- Sort your list from the easiest to the most difficult.
- Visualize yourself doing the easiest activity.
- Go out to the field and do the easiest activity.
- Use the Letting Go Method to deal with the unpleasant feelings in the steps 3 and 4.
- Repeat the steps 3, 4, and 5 with the next activity in your list.
- Add new activities to your list regularly.
You can use your imagination to come up with your own original or derived exercises.
In the book Goodbye to Shy, Leil Lowndes offers 85 ideas and exercises to overcome shyness. My favorites are joining a club and traveling.
Join a Club
My favorite club is Toastmasters International, which is a public speaking club. It’s very affordable, friendly, and accessible to people with different levels of communication skills.
They have regular meetings and speech contests. That way you’ll be exposed to different activities that are out of your comfort zone but fun.
The idea 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.
My second favorite activity is to get out of my comfort zone when traveling. In vacation destinations, everybody is 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 services in restaurants, shopping malls, etc. For example, if you enjoy the service in a restaurant, take a minute to tell the staff that you appreciate 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 salesperson.
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.
In the past, 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 inner power. I didn’t need anything external. That holds for you and everybody on this planet.
Fear vs. Excitement
Your body registers the fear and excitement the same way. If your mind feels positive about what’s about to happen, you feel excitement. If it feels negative, you feel fear.
Whenever you feel fear, make a decision to feel good about what you’re about to experience. That way, you’ll turn fear into excitement.
Don’t try to suppress the stress. Stress is your body’s response to support you in a critical situation. Use it as a fuel. Get empowered by it.
Don’t Hide Your Nervousness
A good deal of your social anxiety comes from your fear of others noticing your nervousness. Trying to hide your nervousness intensifies your anxiety.
Let that fear go. Let people see that you’re nervous. So what?
Imagine you’re listening to a public speech. Which one is more exciting to listen to? A speaker that is so comfortable that they’re almost going to fall asleep? Or a speaker that is speaking intensely because of their nervousness?
Immersion is the opposite of graduated exposure. It’s jumping into the deep end of the pool. That way, you’ll experience the worst that can happen. Once you deal with that and get over it, you can deal with any situation.
If you want to get over your shyness and social anxiety as soon as possible, pick the scariest activity in your list, and do it.
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!
- 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.
Overcoming your shyness and social anxiety requires changing your mindset and practicing in the real world.
You need to become aware of your limiting beliefs such as “I should hide my nervousness,” and replace them with empowering beliefs such as “it’s OK that people notice my nervousness. It shows that I care.”
When it comes to practice, you have two choices, graduated exposure and immersion. In graduated exposure, you get out of your comfort zone one step at a time. In immersion, you face your greatest fear right away.
Whatever approach you choose, remember that the only difference between fear and excitement is your attitude. You can switch from fear to excitement just by switching your attitude from negative to positive.
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.