Tips for Overcoming Shyness

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Most of us, if we are honest would like to feel more self confident. For some, it is situation specific, like interviews or delivering presentations, for others it is more general. Whilst shyness can be an endearing quality, excessive shyness can seriously impede us in our careers and relationships.

It is perfectly natural to be a little timid in unfamiliar situations. Most people experience nerves when they are going somewhere they haven't been before, or meeting someone new. But for some people excessive shyness is a crippling problem associated with deep feelings of social anxiety, an inability to speak in public, feelings of embarrassment, low self esteem and low self image. 

One of the main factors that feeds and reinforces excessive shyness is a deep need to be liked by others. We all want to be loved, accepted and feel secure, but when these needs become exaggerated it can lead to feeling extremely insecure in situations where these needs will not be met. As a result, those situations are avoided. However, it is often the perception of lacking safety that is the problem, not the situation itself. In other words the individual’s problem resides in what they ‘believe’ to be true about the situation, which may not be the reality. 

Our beliefs are closely associated with our sense of identity and as such we will defend them, even if they are holding us back. For example, the belief ‘you cannot trust anyone’ is going to seriously impede your chances of embarking on a fulfilling personal relationship. Most of the time we are not aware of our beliefs, but in many ways they dictate the quality of our lives. We can hold some beliefs so strongly that we will even sabotage ourselves so we can validate them. In my presentation skills course, I encounter people who hold the belief ‘that they are no good at public speaking.’ Unless this belief is scrambled, these people will be prone to sabotaging a presentation they may have to deliver, so they can simply say to anyone who will listen to them ‘sure I told you I was no good at presentations.’ 

Some beliefs are so active that they intrude on the individual’s ability to discern between what is going on inside their heads and what is actually happening around them. They run a movie in their mind that distorts and interferes with the accurate perception of their reality. For example you arrive at a party and you think everyone is talking about you, whereas this is unlikely to be the situation. 

For most people who want to overcome their shyness, what they really want is to be comfortable in social situations. But remember, confidence is not the same as being comfortable. You may not be feeling comfortable on the inside but you can portray confidence on the outside. 

5 tips for overcoming shyness. 

Remember to breath. When we feel nervous, our breathing becomes higher and faster in our chests. Do the opposite, breath slower and lower in your body and you will send a mixed message to your brain. 

Get interested in other people. Great socialisers and conversationalists make other people feel comfortable and interesting. How do they do that? By being genuinely interested in other people. When we are focused on our shyness we are focusing on ourselves. Practice asking other people about themselves, and concentrate on their responses. What they tell you about themselves, you can talk about again later, or on another occasion. 

Visualise. Rehearse in your mind what it might be like to enjoy a social event. Visualise interacting with people, having interesting conversations etc. If you know you are attending a party, an interview or delivering a presentation you may be in the habit of focusing on the worst outcome. Why not give yourself a break and focus on the best outcome. 

It’s okay to feel anxious Know that when you are trying something new, you are pushing your comfort zone, you are growing as an individual. We know when we are pushing our comfort zone because the border of comfort zone is fear, nervousness and worry. If we have issues or problems, the answers or solutions will always rest outside our comfort zone, beyond the border of worry, otherwise we would have resolved the issue already! 

Other people feel shy too Think of the amount of time you focus on worrying about what other people think about you. If other people operate the same way and the vast majority do, then they have little head space to be thinking about you, they are more concerned with how they feel they are being perceived! 

Progress comes from taking small steps. Set yourself the goal of acting confident at a smaller and less challenging event. Keep persevering and over time you will build up a list of successes which in turn will enhance your confidence levels and knock down your wall of shyness. 

James Sweetman is a Business & Personal Coach specialising in assisting businesses and individuals realise their potential. He works both on a one-2-one basis with clients as well as delivering workshops on a range of topics including Interview Skills, Communication Skills, Presentation Skills and Motivation. For more information on all his services