Can you remember the last time you stepped into a room full of strangers and felt that self-conscious and awkward feeling rush over you? Or wanting to approach someone for business, but feeling too hesitant to actually do it? That anxiety in the pit of your stomach in social situations? Does it always feel like something is holding you back?
Regardless of whether you are introverted or extraverted, we can all relate to that feeling of shyness at some point in our lives. Socially, we tend to have the misconception that only introverts experience shyness, but that is not true. Shyness has more to do with being uncomfortable with one’s self, especially around other people.
The Three Components of Shyness
According to Dr. Bernardo J. Carducci of the Shyness Research Institute, shyness has three components:
- Excessive Self-consciousness: You are overly aware of yourself, particularly in social situations.
- Excessive Negative Self-evaluation: You tend to see yourself negatively.
- Excessive Negative Self-preoccupation: You tend to pay too much attention to all the things you are doing wrong when you are around other people.
How to Overcome Shyness
We’ve all experienced different variations of shyness, and through practice and increased awareness we can learn to overcome it. The following are tips that have helped in overcoming this uncomfortable feeling.
1. Understand Your Shyness. Seek to understand your unique brand of shyness and how that manifests in your life. Understand what situation triggers this feeling and what are you concerned with at that point.
2. Turning Self Consciousness into Self-awareness. Recognize that the world is not looking at you. Besides, most people are too busy looking at themselves. Instead of watching yourself as if you are other people, bring your awareness inwards. Armed with your understanding of what makes you shy, seek within yourself and become the observing presence of your thoughts. Self-awareness is the first step towards any change or life improvement.
3. Find Your Strengths. We all have unique qualities and different ways of expressing ourselves. It’s important to know and fully accept the things we do well, even if they differ from the norm. If everyone was the same, the world would be a pretty boring place.
- Find something you are good at and focus on doing it. An identifiable strength will boost your natural self-esteem and your ego, helping you better identify with yourself. It is a short-term fix, but will give you the confidence you need to break your self-imposed barrier of fear.
- See how your unique strength gives you an advantage. For example, my friend Amanda, an introvert, is a naturally quiet person who prefers to spend time alone. She learned that she listens better than others listen and notices things that others miss in conversations. She also discovered that her alone time has given her a better understanding of herself.
4. Learn to Like Yourself. Practice appreciating yourself and liking the unique expression that is you. Write a love letter to yourself, do things you enjoy, give gratitude for your body and its effortless functions, spend quality time getting to know yourself, go on a self-date.
5. Not Conforming. Trying to fit in like everyone else is exhausting and not very much fun. Understand that it is okay to be different. In fact, underlying popular kid’s public displays of coolness, they too are experiencing insecurities, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. Accept that you may not be perceived as the most popular social butterfly, and you may not want to be either. At the end of the day, being popular will not make you happy. Accepting your unique qualities can set you free.
6. Focus on Other People. Rather than focusing on your awkwardness in social situations, focus on other people and what they have to say. Become interested in learning about others, and probe them to talk about themselves. You can try pondering the question while interacting: What is it about this person that I like?
7. Releasing Anxiety through Breath. Anxiety and fear can feel overwhelming if you are practicing to become more assertive in order to overcome this fear.
- One simple technique to calm this anxiety into manageable bites is taking deep breaths with your eyes closed, while concentrating on just your breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly while clearing out all thoughts.
- Another technique is from yoga: counting as you inhale and then as you exhale. Slowly leveling out your inhale and exhale duration. Four count for in and four for out. Once your breaths are leveled, add an extra count during your exhale. This means slowing down your exhale by just a tad as compared to your inhale. Continue for a few minutes until you are comfortable, than add another count to your exhale. You can easily do this in the bathroom, or in a spare room of when you need it.
8. Releasing Anxiety through Movement. One way of viewing anxiety is that it is blocked energy that needs to be released. We can release this energy through physical movement.
- Exercises like jogging or walking will help to re-channel some of the blocked energies, but also helps by pulling you out of the situation and shifts your state of mind. This refreshed state of mind will help by adding perspectives to things.
- Another effective technique is a simple muscle meditation and exercise. Sit down or lie down. Bring awareness to every part of your body, starting from your toes and moving up your body to the top of your head. At every part of your body, tighten the muscles at the center of awareness for three to five seconds, and then relax. Repeat this until you get to the top of your head. Remember to breathe.
9. Visualization. Visualizing yourself in the situation as a confident and happy person helps to shape your perception of yourself when you are actually in the situation. Close your eyes, sit back somewhere relaxing, listen to some relaxing music, imagine yourself in a scene or situation, and see yourself the way you would like to be. In this scene, how do you feel? What do you hear? Do you smell anything? Are you moving? What do you see? Get all your senses involved to make it real.
10. Affirmation. Words can carry incredible energy. What we repeatedly tell ourselves, gets heard by our unconscious mind, and it acts accordingly. If we repeatedly tell ourselves that we are incapable, and too shy to do anything, we will become increasingly aware of evidence to back up this ‘fact’, and our actions will always match what we tell ourselves. Similarly, if we repeatedly tell ourselves that we are capable, confident, and wonderful human beings, our unconscious mind will likely surface the awareness that gives evidence to this new "fact". While, we can’t lie to ourselves, positive visualization and affirmation are helpful in placing us along the road of positive thought patterns.
Please visit my blog for a discussion on why we experience shyness and bonus tips on how to overcome it.