How to Overcome Shyness
What is Shyness?
For some, shyness is a momentary inability to connect with another person; speechless, mind blank, heated blush and an internal voice screaming, “OMG! I’m such a dork!” For others, shyness is a crushing weight pressing down. A python squeezing tighter around the throat. Sweat, heart palpitations, even blinding fear …
Fear of rejection. Fear of aggression. Fear of the unknown. Fear brought on by past trauma or humiliation. Fear that robs you of your voice, self-respect and social presence.
There is Hope
Fortunately, fear - and shyness - can be overcome. The following are practical exercises from personal experience that can help you reclaim your voice in the world.
Tips before you start:
Carry a stress ball or MP3 player with upbeat or relaxing music when you go out. Also, buy a journal that makes you feel good when you look at it. Keep track of your efforts. Review them when you need a lift in spirits. Use them to see how you can make improvements so the next time goes smoother.
The key is to take baby steps. Start small and work your way up to bigger social activities so you don't become overwhelmed or discouraged. Take your wins and revel in them. Use them to bolster your next steps.
Next time you're out in public, scan the crowd for someone that looks safe and pleasant. Then, smile and say hello as you pass by. That's it. Mission accomplished. That's a major victory when you're shy.
Random acts of kindness also help break the ice. If you see an old lady trying to reach something on a shelf, get it for her. If the guy in front of you at the cash register is short a nickel, hand him one.
When you've done this enough times that you're comfortable with it, try saying something random to a stranger that looks friendly. For example, when in the produce section of the grocery store I would make a comment about whatever fruit or vegetable I was looking at to the person closest.
I usually try to say something funny so they laugh. It's good practice for ice breakers and limited conversation, because you're only there for a brief time. There's no pressure on the situation, you can walk away at any time by smiling and saying, "Take care" or "Have a great day!"
You can turn it into a game to see how many people you can make smile or laugh before you go home. Each success and positive reactions from other people will help you build confidence so you can take your next steps.
Talk to your waitress, bank teller or cashier. Make a humorous remark about the dork she just served, ask a question, comment on the weather ("Hope you'll get to enjoy the sunshine before they day's over!" or "Lucky you - you're nice and dry today!"). This will help you expand your network of acquaintances so you're never really alone or talking to "strangers" when you're out and about.
The Second Step
Once you feel confident enough, try the "random comments" exercise when you're standing in line, waiting in a reception area, or strolling through the mall. You're likely to spark a short conversation out of it, but because there's no big commitment it's not as stressful as going to a function which is geared specifically for socializing.
About this time, you can start exploring various activities. I suggest taking a one day workshop on something you enjoy so you can practice conversations with people during breaks without long-term commitment. I found joining the local little theatre helpful and have seen others come out of their shell taking dance classes, music or vocal lessons, martial arts, etc.
The Next Stage
After you get a few situations like this under your belt, it's time to move onto small social events. If you can, invite a supportive friend or family member to watch your back. Don't turn your focus solely on your companion, though. Keep up the random comments to strangers. Your friend is just there to back you up or bail you out if you start to panic or find your self at a loss. When you're tired or starting to hit your limit, go home and relax. Celebrate your success.
This process is all about learning to trust yourself to handle social situations and building your confidence. Plus, you'll make some new friends along the way. It takes time, but the pride and good feelings that come with successful socializing are very much worth the effort.
A Personal PS
After going through this process myself, people often marvel at how "brave" I am to talk to strangers. I am frequently asked to speak publicly or give presentations, so not only has my personal life improved, my work-life has also benefited.
Sometimes, you may feel like you're not making progress or that things didn't go as well as you'd hoped. It's okay to take a step back for a breather. Have a nap, meditate, take a bath, exercises, watch a funny movie; whatever it takes to revitalize yourself.
During your break, take the time to recall your successes and how very good it felt. Remember how strong and powerful just a few moments of socializing made you feel. Revel in it. Draw, sing or write about that glorious feeling. Horde those victories and warm your heart with them.
Stick with it. Your confidence and command over your Self in social situations is a prize well worth the effort.
Best wishes on your journey!
© 2011 Rosa Marchisella