When invited to a social gathering, do you find yourself declining the invitation and regretting it afterward because you know you wanted to go? Does meeting new people make you nervous?
More often than not, you do this because you imagine being rejected or humiliated when you talk to people. You may also imagine standing in a corner all alone and seeing people whisper about you. When you think of these things, you may feel paralyzed and prefer to stay home rather than attend the social event.
Shy individuals are not comfortable in their own skin. You might have often noticed that when you are shy, you are also nervous, intimidated, and uncomfortable around others. When people see you behaving awkwardly, they become uncomfortable, and people do not like to be around an uncomfortable person.
Shyness is spending too much time in your head judging yourself on the basis of other people’s standards and opinions. You ruminate on how best you can act or behave in any given situation. This is nothing but a bad habit that needs conscious effort and practice to be changed.
You can use the following strategies to learn how to overcome shyness and be more confident in life.
1. Know your shyness. Try to understand your shyness. Try to see what triggers the shy feeling. What happens when you are shy? How do you behave and what are your thoughts when you feel shy? Once you understand your shyness, it will be easier for you to overcome it.
2. Become self-aware. To overcome shyness, you need first to understand that the world is not looking at you. Most people are busy looking at themselves. Hence, when around other people, become internally aware. Seek within yourself, observe your thoughts. When you become self-aware, it puts you on the fast track to improvement.
3. Take care of yourself. Taking care of yourself can make you feel confident. This includes taking care of your hygiene and appearance. When you dress well and practice good hygiene, you will be surprised by how much more confident you end up feeling. When you like yourself and believe you look good, you carry yourself differently. With increased confidence, you no longer fear meeting new people or striking up conversations with people you meet.
4. Discover your strengths. Find something you are good at and focus on doing that to overcome your shyness. See how your unique strength will give you an advantage over others. If you are someone who is shy but you are a good listener, people would love to talk to you. Knowing that you possess some unique quality will boost your self-confidence. It will help you accept yourself wholeheartedly.
5. Start liking yourself. Practice liking yourself to overcome shyness. Appreciate your qualities and love the way you are. Practice gratitude, do things you enjoy, spend quality time with yourself, and discover the real you by connecting with your inner self.
6. Accept yourself. If you try to fit in, it will be exhausting. You will have to accept the fact that it is okay to be different. Know that everybody experiences some kind of insecurity, self-consciousness, and awkwardness. It is not only you. Accepting yourself and your qualities will make you at ease with yourself.
7. Start focusing on others. Divert your attention from shyness and focus more on others. Sometimes shy people feel they should have amazing things to talk about. But that’s not the case. People love talking to you when they see that you find them interesting. Instead of focusing on your shyness, focus on others. Forget about yourself. Ask questions and be genuinely interested in others. Try to connect more with people by asking questions about their life. Others will get a chance to talk about themselves, and your attention will shift from shyness.
8. When in social situations, take a deep breath. Anxiety and fear can be overwhelming, and the next time you are anxious or fearful amidst new people, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Inhale and exhale slowly. Concentrate on your breathing counting to ten. Count as you exhale and inhale. Continue this for a few minutes.
9. Relax your muscles when anxious. Another way of dealing with anxious situations is to relax your muscles. Focus on one part of your body and become aware of your tension there. Tighten the muscles for 3 to 5 minutes and slowly release them. Start from your toes and gradually move to the upper part of your body. Keep breathing while you do this.
10. Start small. Instead of trying to address a large audience at a conference, start small. If you believed you failed when speaking at a big event, you might reinforce the failure in your mind that you are shy and awkward, not good at socializing. This could make you avoid socializing altogether. The more you see yourself successfully managing shyness, the more you will feel confident. Practice social behaviors with people you know or in settings you are familiar with. Start with making eye contact, introductions, small talk, asking questions, and inviting people over to your place. Don’t forget to smile and breath calmly. Gradually build your confidence and once you are comfortable and confident enough, try doing this in an unfamiliar space amongst a larger crowd.
11. Socialize more. Find opportunities to socialize with people who share your interests. Practice socializing with new people and getting to know them. You may be worried about being judged by people and such feelings can stop you from trying. Treat yourself like a best friend. Give yourself enough chances to be around people.
12. Practice talking. Be more talkative and express yourself more. Practice talking more openly at work, with friends and family or with complete strangers. Let your opinions be heard. Confident people are not afraid to talk, or do not fear being judged by others. They speak their mind irrespective of what others think of them. Talk to strangers at bars, restaurants, and yoga classes. Approach people and strike up a conversation. Ask someone out for a date. Even if you get rejected, at least it will give you a chance to meet new people. You are not expected to be liked by everyone. At least you will be facing your fear of chatting to others.
13. Take the help of conversations starters. The tough thing to do is talking to someone new. Get hold of some conversation starters in such situations like, “Where are you from,” “What do you do for a living,” or “How do you know the host?”Give a compliment, ask a question, or introduce yourself. Being ready with a conversation starter can actually make it easier to approach someone new.
14. Practice before you speak. When you are about to do something that you have been dreading, write down beforehand what you want to say. Say it out loud in front of a mirror. Don’t worry if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to be. Be proud that you gave it a try. The next time you practice, it will be better as it will be a little easier.
15. Talk more about yourself. People usually hesitate to talk more about themselves for fear of seeming boring or being judged. If you don’t talk about yourself, it’s difficult to continue with the conversation as after some time you will not have much to talk about. If you don’t share anything about yourself, you are giving the other person the impression that you don’t care about the conversation. Also, you are putting the burden on them to do all the talking. Avoid appearing self-absorbed by constantly talking about yourself. Instead, when you ask questions and you get responses from people, connect your experiences with their response and start talking about it.
16. Act relaxed. Many people are uncomfortable in their own skin, especially when they are in a new place. You will find them nervous, slouching, avoiding eye contact with a lowered head, sunken shoulders, and crossed arms. They behave as if they are out of place and are ready for the quickest escape. Whenever you are at a new place, feel comfortable, make yourself comfortable. By acting you are not shy, you will get rid of shyness. When you start feeling shy in any situation, say it to yourself, “I am going to start acting confident.” Act relaxed and be at ease with yourself. When you sit, expand your posture and take up more space. Release the tension in your muscles, open your legs, and spread your arm. Feel as if you own the place or do what you usually do when you are in a familiar space. When you change your uncomfortable posture into a comfortable one, your brain starts accepting it.
17. Make eye contact as much as possible. Making direct eye contact lets your conversation going. Eye contact lets you forge an emotional or meaningful connection during a conversation. Your level of eye contact lets the other person know how much you are interested in the conversation and whether he should feel comfortable continuing on with the conversation. You might have noticed that in a group conversation if a person is not being looked at, then he is less likely to talk.
18. Avoid escaping from an uncomfortable situation. When you face a fearful situation, avoid running away from it. Instead, face the situation. Introspect and turn the situation into personal growth. Become an observer and ask yourself, “What is it that makes you feel this way,” or “What caused me to feel this way?”
19. Start saying yes instead of no. Instead of saying no to everything, start saying yes. When you are saying no, you are creating a barrier. You are closing all the doors of possibilities instead of opening new doors. When you say no to any situation, you are losing out on your chance of meeting new people, facing new challenges, and exploring new situations. If you constantly put yourself in a crowded place, you will get used to it. This will raise your confidence level.
20. Stop negative post-mortems. Shy people often worry about not making a desired impression on others. They tend to believe that if they fail to come across well, they will suffer unpleasant consequences such as humiliation and shame. This is one of the reasons why they become nervous in large gatherings. Negative thinking reinforces faulty beliefs. Do you often go over what you said and think I shouldn’t have said that or I might have appeared boring to her? Did she leave in the middle of the conversation because I sounded stupid? Ask yourself whether this was the real reason or was there something else? But what you need to understand is that it’s okay to make mistakes and the more mistakes you make, the less it will seem to matter. So, you need to make a conscious effort to stop negative thinking.
21. Stop excessive comparisons. You usually tend to compare yourself to people who are very different from you on various parameters. You set excessive expectations by comparing yourself to people who are very different from you and then you wonder, “Why can’t I be like them?” You have a vision of someone else’s perfection and you expect yourself to fit into it. When you don’t, you beat yourself and label yourself a failure. Let go of the perfect image in your vision.
22. Know that not everyone will like you. There are people who think that if somebody doesn’t like them, it is a problem that needs to be fixed. The fear of 'people may reject you', sometimes stops you from doing many things. You think you would appear weird. Constantly trying to control people’s opinions about you is challenging and stressful. You are being unrealistic if you think that you can manipulate another person’s impression about you. Do not apologize or feel sorry for yourself when you are giving your opinions or making your wants known. Don’t be afraid of leaving a bad impression when you are doing or saying what you think is right.
23. Admitting you are shy helps. Admitting your shyness can reduce your anxiety and can help you relax. When you put what you are afraid of into words, you are making yourself aware of your feelings and rather than trying to push them away.
24. Focus on the moment. When you become mindful of the present moment, it will take your focus away from yourself. While having a conversation with someone, stop focusing on yourself, instead focus on the words, ecome absorbed in what the other person is talking about and watch their tone or expressions. This will automatically shift the focus away from you.
25. Do what is comfortable for you. Know what is comfortable for you and do it. Be around people who bring out the best in you. If you feel social in places or settings that you connect with instead of popular social settings, don’t try to force it on yourself. Don’t try to do what everybody else is. Do it only if you feel like.
26. Start journaling. Writing about the area of your life that’s troubling you can have an effect on changing your beliefs about it. Writing is a deliberate and rational exercise that lets you analyze the situation. It forces you to analyze your emotions with more logic and with a clear mind. When you write, you ponder over your thoughts and anxieties, and this helps you to put things in perspective. Write about the last social encounter when you felt shy. Write about your reaction, what were you ruminating about after the encounter, what were you thinking when you were self-conscious, and so? Include your last successful encounter and how can you manage the anxiety and stress during the next social encounter. Make it a point to journal your thoughts every day for 20 minutes.
27. Start visualizing. Imagine a social situation that makes you feel awkward. Visualize yourself as a confident and social person in such a situation. Visualization shapes your perception, and you start behaving like one when actually in such a situation. Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and imagine a situation and the way you would want yourself to be in that situation. Get involved to make it real.
28. Positive affirmations. When you repeatedly tell yourself that you are shy, you get nervous around people, and your mind starts acting it out accordingly. Your actions start matching up with your words. Similarly, if you tell your mind good things about yourself, it will start believing it and you will start acting it out. Tell your mind that you are a confident, social, and a capable person. While you cannot lie, you can repeat positive affirmations to yourself, and it can help you to obtain a positive attitude.
Note: The content has been edited and reviewed by Angela Webb, Licensed Psychologist.