The problem with overcoming shyness and its extreme form social anxiety is that your feelings dictate your behavior.
It is all too easy to tell someone: “Just stop being so shy and talk to everyone like you talk to me.” Well, I am sure most shy people would love to stop but for some reason we feel intense fear.
Therefore, we need to use some tricks to shape our behavior in a way that allows us to open up to the world and interact with others comfortably and openly.
If I was able to overcome shyness, so are you.
I always was an extremely shy person who struggled from social anxiety.
Here is a best off:
- I would pay my brother to reserve tickets at the cinema because I was too afraid to talk to a stranger over the phone.
- When I was 18 a friend asked me “Julian, why do you never look people in the eyes?” – I obviously avoided eye contact for 18 years and had no clue I was doing it.
- I felt extremely uncomfortable in public places, especially bars and clubs. I would lie my best friends in the face just to avoid going to these venues.
- When I threw out the trash I would listen at the door if my neighbor was outside. If she was then I waited until she was gone.
In short, I was shy and I hated it.
I intuitively believed that confronting my shyness could be beneficial, but how could I do it? I needed some sort of force that would make me do it.
Step 1: Identify areas of shyness
Shyness is situational. That means you can be a completely outgoing person in one area of your life but be shy like a deer in another.
In order to reduce your shyness, you first have to know when it occurs.
For example, my main areas were:
- Talking over the phone
- One on one conversations
- New/unknown situations
- Going out to bars and clubs
- Meeting new people
Now stop reading, pick up a notebook and a pen, and start writing.
A commitment (in this case) is something that forces you to take action even though you don’t want to.
It could be a friend you don’t want to disappoint, or losing respect in the eyes of your mentor, or money you have to pay if you don’t follow through with your plan.
I have experimented with different commitments. Some worked extraordinarily well, others didn’t.
- Many people have paid money upfront and will become angry if you don’t deliver. (e.g., concert, speech, public event, webinar)
- You will make a fool out of yourself if you don’t show up. (e.g., radio/TV interview)
- You will screw up a potentially life-changing opportunity if you don’t do it. (e.g., job offer, party invitation, once in a lifetime opportunities)
- You will lose respect in the eyes of a person you respect highly.
- You have invested a lot of time and effort and don’t want it to go to waste.
- Telling your loved ones all about your plans even before you have started.
- Risking substantial amounts of money.
- Every form of self-punishment – physical and psychological.
- Apps that post embarrassing messages about you.
Step 2: Use new communication methods to commit yourself
If you are like me, then you probably feel much more comfortable sending a stranger an email than meeting them in person or cold calling them.
Email, text, private message and chat have made it easy for shy people to communicate with the rest of the world. However, instead of avoiding uncomfortable situations by relying on these impersonal methods, we should use them to reduce shyness in situations where an in-person meeting or a phone call yields better results.
Let’s assume that you recently attended a speech but were too shy to talk to the presenter afterward, even though you wanted to get to know her.
Email to your rescue.
To get in touch with the presenter, you could send her an email and ask to meet after her next speech.
If she agrees then you almost have to talk to her no matter if you are afraid or not. If you bail on her she will think negatively about you and probably won’t give you another chance.
Approaching a stranger and asking for something can be overwhelming for many shy people. But when you use email, text, or pm to put a foot in the door, you will be amazed what you can do.
Step 3: Confrontation
Confronting your shyness is a surefire way to reduce it. But to make confrontation work for you, it’s important to put yourself in situations that are uncomfortable but not frightening, not too easy but challenging.
The graphic below should give you a good idea.
Another practical example:
Like I mentioned before, talking over the phone was always something that scared me to the bones. To overcome my phone shyness I would send people emails or texts like this:
I would like to talk to you about [XYZ]. Please give me a call at xxxxxxxx as soon as you get the chance.
Do you see the process?
- Identify area you want to improve – talking over the phone.
- Use communication methods you feel comfortable with to commit yourself – if someone calls me I have to pick up the phone sooner or later or else I will look like an idiot.
- I constantly confront myself with what I am uncomfortable with. The more I practice the more comfortable I will feel in similar situations in the future.
Sometimes it can be challenging to find good commitments. My advice: try to work on one small area of shyness at a time. If you choose a huge area like overcoming your shyness around people in general it’s much harder to come up with an action plan than when you want to become more comfortable in let’s say one on one conversations with new people.
Be specific and the creative ideas on how to commit yourself will come.
This Method has had a dramatic impact on my life. I can honestly say that none of the things I am proud of now would have been possible if I hadn’t committed myself to doing them in the past.
Try it yourself and never look back.