I’ve identified that shyness is a significant barrier to me following my passion. So, what can I do to overcome that?
ThinkSimpleNow has a lovely article about shyness. According to them, my shyness falls into one (or more) of three categories: excessive self-consciousness, excessive negative self-evaluation, or excessive negative self-preoccupation. I would say that excessive self-consciousness and negative self-preoccupation definitely apply. I definitely become quite focused on anything I perceive that I am doing wrong in social situations, and can even dwell on perceived mistakes months, even years after an incident. I blow things way out of proportion. If I misspeak or forget someone’s name, I will be freaked out in front of that person for a long time.
It’s great to read that other people have similar concerns, and that most people are so preoccupied with their own issues that they don’t notice the little quirks that other people have. Being an INTJ through and through, I can intellectualize most things, but feeling the confidence on an emotional level is a huge challenge. So, what do I do to fix this?
About 10 years ago, I had a very distressing couple of years and an almost wholesale turnover in my social circle. I was forced to get out and meet new people, and I didn’t have any convenient, built-in social situations to do that in, like school. Due to the circumstances that led me to this place, I had super-low self-esteem, and that combined with my shyness made it really hard to go out and meet people.
So, I decided to treat socializing as an experiment. This fit me well – I can separate my ego from the situations using experimental controls, so I could try things to just see if they worked or not and not get too wrapped up in success or failure.
Experiment 1: Just Say Hi
I made a vow that anyone I saw for a third time, I would just smile and say hi to them – nothing more. No pressure to come up with further conversation. I figured, who is going to be offended if someone just says hi with a friendly smile, and it kept me from getting ahead of myself and panicking about coming up with further conversation. This experiment was a smashing success. I ended up making several long-term friends by starting with this approach, and expanding my circle of acquaintances (acquaintances! I’d never had acquaintances before!). For the first time in my life, I had a wide circle of people I could call up to just do random things.
Experiment 2: Props!
Granted, being a long-term shy person I was quite familiar with using props to start conversations already. But for the first time I made an effort to really see what worked best and to try to respond in an open, friendly manner (no point in using props to start a conversation if I freeze out anyone who tries to start talking to me). So, each time I went out and chose a prop, I’d make sure that I paid attention to which ones were most effective. In the end, my spiky red backpack was the winner. I’ve had people follow me for blocks in order to ask about it. By being open to talk about it, I was able to make myself more comfortable with random conversations, and realize that they can be just that – random conversations.
Experiment 3: Posture!
At night, I would go to coffee shops to read. While I was there, I would experiment with different postures to see if people would approach me more or less, depending upon how I was sitting. I know we hear it everyday, but it really is amazing how just changing your physical presentation can change how readily people will approach you. I found that if I sat with my back to a wall, facing out into the shop, shoulders back but relaxed, and frequently looked up and around, people would start conversations. Shoulders hunched, I became much less approachable. Facing the wall or with my side to the wall, less approachable. And if I never looked up, no one ever had the opportunity to strike up a conversation. Using props, like making sure I was reading a book with a provocative cover or something unique, helped. So did smiling.
The three most effective things I found from these experiments were:
- Smiling and saying hi to people got them to start conversations, taking the pressure off of me.
- Props rock.
- Your posture says a lot about how approachable you are.
These techniques all enabled people to approach me, but didn’t make it easier for me to approach other people. That’s what I need to figure out now.