Shyness…it’s sort of a catch all term for many people’s social phobias. It’s also a label that can be hard to shake, even when it is only true of your personality in certain situations. For others, it is almost a constant cloak, which serves to hide themselves from the world socially and protect the image that they have of themselves. It can also become a crutch or an excuse to not try anything new, take any risks, or even put yourself out there socially. At some point, many people get sick and tired of constantly feeling shy, but the question is how does one overcome and get rid of shyness?
A Bit of Background into My Own Shyness and Overcoming It
Growing up, I was labeled as a shy kid. My mom told me that I was shy, other family members, teachers, random adults, and even my peers as I grew older. I just sort of accepted the fact that I was a shy person and that I was limited to how much socializing I could do. I grew accustomed to feeling completely uneasy in certain social situations while being comfortable in others that involved close friends (during the school years when I had them, moving a lot from city to city as a kid, sucks). However, even at the best of times, it was never a 50/50 split. Most of my social interactions had me either nervous or at a loss of what to say or do around other people. Things only got worse, when I grew older, and attracting females had to become apart of the social equation.
It stayed this way until I was around 18 years old (well over a decade ago) and decided that I wanted to be done feeling socially awkward, having no real social life, being shy, and not able to have any type of relationship with women. For me, this meant that I was going force myself to learn how to talk to women, by going out alone to bars/clubs/social events and approaching women until I figured it out. Was this a brutal method to reduce shyness? Absolutely. Did it work? Well, yes, in many ways it did. (For any guys interested in improving this aspect of socializing, I wrote a whole book about it: Game without Games.)
Now, am I going to recommend anyone do the same, to get rid of their shyness? No. Even though this was a really effective method for me, it didn’t solve everything. Also, I eventually developed a false sense of confidence and self that got torn down, and sent me into a pretty deep depression…which wasn’t great. Plus, most people would not go down this kind of ‘forced socialization’ path, even if they knew it would benefit them. It is really hard, nerve-wracking, embarrassing, and the amount of rejection is just too much for many to handle.
Introvert vs Shyness
Lots of people tend to conflate introversion with shyness, when in reality, they are not the same thing. The presence of one does not mean the other will be present.
I am an introvert. I have always been an introverted person. I used to be shy. Getting rid of my shyness did not make me an extrovert, it simply allowed me to socialize whenever I felt like doing so.
This is important to take into account. Not everyone who wants to overcome shyness is going to go full throttle into socializing at every waking moment. Some just want to be comfortable when they encounter social situations but still retain a more introverted style of living.
Others reading this, will not only wish to slay their shy ways, but also become the center of attention when out socializing and have some amazing and event filled social existence. That’s cool too. It’s just going to take a lot more work.
Either way, it is important to figure out what you want, once you have dramatically reduced or overcome shyness. I’ve sort of taken a middle path. I will not go out for two weeks and then go out every night the following week. I think it’s important to strike a balance as an introverted type of personality, go out when you start feeling too stir crazy, and still give yourself time to recover with a solid period of alone time.
Why Do You Need Shyness?
Shyness tends to manifest itself in a variety of mental and physical symptoms. This can be general anxiety, physically shaking in social situations, not being able to project one’s voice, etc. To deal with the physical symptoms on an individual basis is fine, however, wouldn’t it be an even better idea to dig to the root of the problem? Inquire into why shyness is a part of your life and really examine what’s causing it?
By looking up, ‘how to overcome shyness’, you’ve already asked yourself in an indirect way, “What purpose does shyness serve in my life?” Really take the time to think about that. Is it benefiting you in any way? No. Did it once benefit you? Probably.
You’ve probably been feeling shy for your entire life. Now, it almost certainly hasn’t benefited you socially but it probably served useful to your psyche, at some point in time. For instance, I remember being shy around people as a very young child. It made me feel safe from a world that I didn’t fully understand yet and in which almost everyone was larger and towered over me. As a protective shell, it served it’s purpose for a time.
As an adult, it does nothing but hinder and limit one’s social potential and enjoyment. It’s essentially old programming that never got deleted. Much in the same way you (hopefully) aren’t currently running Windows 95 because it is now completely obsolete. The protective shell has now become a jail cell.
Back as a child, the shyness felt more like it was protecting the physical body from harm, as the sense of self really wasn’t fully developed yet. Now as an adult, the roots have dug in, and now the shyness protects the image/narrative that we have of ourselves. The true key to overcoming shyness is by letting go of the image/narrative that we have created over time and no longer trying to defend it from others.
Breaking the Status Quo
Creating change in one’s life is extremely difficult. Just think of how many people don’t succeed in their health goals, career goals, and trying to become better socially. The underlying process of all these paths are relatively simple. For instance, changes to diet and exercise result in fat loss or muscle gain or improved athletic performance. If one follows the path, then one will yield the results.
However, it isn’t that simple for humans, even following simple 1-2-3 steps still results in failure for a ton of people. Why? Our brains have a tendency to want to preserve the status quo, at all costs. We can get ourselves all motivated to try new things but when any adversity arises, the doubts start to creep in, we become emotional, and we think about quitting. Staying the same, is like being on autopilot, as you really don’t have to do anything. It’s all comfortable, whereas change is highly uncomfortable.
Social change can be particularly uncomfortable, as it involves other people, and a willingness to put your self-image on the line. During my time I spent approaching a lot of women, I learned that most men (and people as a whole) would almost rather do anything than crossing a room and starting a conversation with a stranger. Sure, not having anything to say once the conversation had begun is also a concern, but that initial action freaks people out.
How screwed up is that? We humans, have a natural inclination to socialize, seek companionship, and mate. This shyness, fear, and anxiety is so powerfully unpleasant that it overrides our natural desires. Feeling lonely was making me unhappy but in order to have the type of social life that I wanted, I had to push through these unpleasant feelings in the moment, despite my brain and body trying their hardest to stop me.
It’s a constant conflict, the need to change in the long-term in order to have a better life, versus the short-term physical and mental symptoms of shyness and anxiety. The latter will almost always win out if one is not proactive, as the short-term preservation of the status quo is easy…just don’t take action. Plus, we will tell ourselves that we will change our habits tomorrow, which never really comes.
What’s Involved in the Change?
Some common advice about getting past shyness and social anxiety is that you should build up some phony sense of confidence, memorize possible conversation topics, and then go out and talk to people. As I’ve said, I did follow this strategy, and while it does breed some success this method also sets you up for further disappointment down the line.
When I first started getting dates, making new friends, and getting invited to parties, I felt extremely ‘high’ on life. However, it was all dependent on a constant stream of positive validation. Any perceived slight, rejection, or shot to my ego would send me spiraling downward. This path while better than it was before, still wasn’t sustainable, and it made me feel as if I had to maintain this new image or character that I had created, at all times.
I hadn’t really changed all that much, I had reduced my shyness, while simultaneously building up a whole new edifice of ‘confidence’ that needed to be maintained. I’d really just added a thin layer of paint, instead of fixing what was wrong.
Our self-image and this need to maintain it, is a lot of what it stoking all of this social fear. By interacting with another person, I am opening myself up to potential shaming or criticism of my self-image. Meaning that, all of these layers of collected thoughts and experiences, are now open to closer inspection and may not meet the approval of those around me.
That’s a seemingly dangerous place to be in, is it not? Gasp! People might actually find out who you are and not like it? Or maybe they will? Or maybe they’ll be indifferent? Or perhaps, ‘who you are’, has never been a constant reality. As in, who you are is always changing, thus is not only completely malleable but also nothing that needs such constant protection.
I have come to understand that the absolute reduction of my shyness has stemmed from a combination of acceptance and letting go.
First, the acceptance is of accepting what is and not projecting a future outcome in my mind. Meaning, I know that each interaction that I have is subject to chance, and in each interaction I may receive responses ranging from: acceptance, rejection, and indifference, from whoever I am interacting with. While I can often use social skills to help influence a certain outcome, I have no control over the outcome. For example, I can be at my most charming, relaxed, etc. and still get brutally rejected by a woman. On the other hand, I’ve been accepted by women when I’ve been completely stuck inside my own head and nervous as hell. The variance of outcome is out of my hands.
This can be a difficult step to implement, as we often try to psyche ourselves up by saying that any given interaction is going to go extremely well for our social lives. No! This line of thought will only lead to dependence on the outcome of a social interaction for positive feelings. If it goes well, you feel happy. Bad, you feel sad. It’s then a never ending roller coaster ride, in which you never feel as if you’re enough. You’re drawing your value from the crowd instead of accepting yourself from within.
Second, is the letting go facet of this process, which is intertwined with the acceptance. You accept that you have no ultimate control over the outcome of social interactions, accept yourself as is (this doesn’t mean to not to make improvements of course but not to beat yourself up over any current shortcomings), and ultimately let go of the internal narrative.
The internal narrative is made up of all of our memories, thoughts, ego, and beliefs about who we are. Just like how our shyness is a protective shell that needs to be shed, this internal narrative can be let go of as well.
We constantly make our lives into our own internal story/film, in which, we are the hero, the director, the victim, producer, the loser, or whatever other role we can concoct. Life is not a movie and we are not the stars of any kind of story line. Many interactions will follow the same path, as we humans have certain social structure that we interact within, BUT there is also a ton of randomness and people simply aren’t always compatible with one another…so rejection is just a part of life. The crowds aren’t watching you, and most individuals are just as stuck in their own heads as you are in yours, which makes them ultimately not really care what you’re up to.
The internal narrative really only serves to limit us and make us want to stay on that easy status quo path. “Oh, that one person I approached five years ago was mean to me, I’d better not ever do that again. It might make me look foolish and hurt my image.” Remember, each interaction is it’s own separate event, and the outcome is independent of any that came before it. 1000 people in a row could reject someone, that doesn’t mean that number 1001 will also.
Add to the fact, that these narratives are built on lies we’ve told ourselves, poor interpretations, half truths, and one off bad experiences. Have you ever seen an object that you interpreted as a venomous snake or some other wild animal? Only when startled, did you take a closer look and realize that, it was just a garden hose or another type of inanimate object. What if you had never taken a closer look? Would you then be startled each time you saw a garden hose?
How many of these poor interpretations are currently clogging your mind? Socially this can manifest with us interpreting people’s body language and taking it to mean that they hate us. When in fact, they may like us or be completely indifferent. Some women, get labelled as being ‘bitchy’, because they have what is termed ‘Resting Bitch Face’. Just by virtue of how they look, they are socially labeled as unapproachable, even when they’re extremely open to having conversations with people and are in fact, extremely nice. I have this as a man, also. People think that I’m in a bad mood when, I could be just thinking to myself about what I’m going to eat later.
These sorts of misinterpretations happen all of the time and can have a huge impact on our willingness to socialize, if we make them apart of our internal narrative.
All right, I’m going to wrap up this section on internal narrative, as I could go on for 100 pages about this topic and I want to get into how to implement ideas into a plan to eventually overcome one’s shyness. It boils down to us building up stories and fears in our minds that don’t reflect reality accurately, thus leading to phobias and inaction, which we are going to attempt to change.
Moving Forward from Shyness
As you can tell, I approach shyness as a psychological and experiential problem, and not just one or the other. So to me, just going out and talking to people is not a viable solution in itself. In my experience, the greatest results came when I: worked on the mental side, learned more social skills, and practiced these skills and mental breakthroughs in real live social interactions. These don’t have to be separate steps, and in fact, work best when done in conjunction with one another.
The mental side involved the aforementioned process of acceptance of what is and letting go of my internal narrative. This freed me to allow my social life to become about expressing who I am and exploring the world and people around me. Which is in stark contrast to being nervous and constantly trying to protect some self-image I had of ‘who I was’.
This was done by reading extensively and doing breathing/meditation exercises, which helped me realize how much emotional BS, I was holding on to.
The following books are some that I found insanely helpful along the way. Having new information pumped into my brain, that contradicted the shyness and social anxieties, went a long way towards letting me relax and just be myself when talking to people. I never take anything that I read as gospel, but new perspectives can often shatter old ways of thinking. I would read one book after another, so that I wouldn’t fall back into old habits, until I could stand on my own without their support.
Next, I learned to meditate and breathe to help let go of stress and anxiety. I don’t take a spiritual angle with any of this, it’s merely a tool for my physical body and mind to relax and stop taking everything so seriously. Here are a few videos that are useful:
Overcoming shyness in itself is great, once you’ve mentally let go of all of your problems, you can interact freely with people. But there still is the matter of being able to hold a conversation and not come off as super awkward. Some people are shy but are actually quite socially adept when they get past their shy feelings. Others, are still very socially awkward. In either case, the next step is to further build those social skills and grind out reps by actually socializing.
None of this work means squat, if you don’t go out and push through all of those feelings that have stopped you in the past. While I will continually update the site, in order to give further tips and tricks for handling socializing with others; there is no substitute for first hand experience.
You have to be willing to repeatedly jump into the cold waters of socializing and get past the awkward feelings in order to get used to it. Yes, working on the mental side is going to make that much easier, but action is necessary to make true and lasting changes.
One thing that I always did while going out, was to focus on one aspect of my social skills for the night. For example, I figured out that I wasn’t listening to the other person enough, and always try to interject my points into the conversation. I was just waiting for my turn to speak and not caring about their needs. So, I began to focus myself on what they were saying and taking a genuine interest in their thoughts, which made the percentage of positive interactions I have rise considerably.
This changes the focus from trying to make an entire interaction be amazing and just allowing yourself to try to get better at one thing, which is way less pressure. I also allow myself to fail totally and just enjoy the moment. So, if an interaction is going poorly, I’m usually laughing on the inside at the very least and usually have a grin on my face. It’s hilarious to me, sometimes, I’ll just make things awkward on purpose for a laugh.
Overcoming shyness for good can take a lot of work depending on where you’re at with it right now. However, despite the struggle involved, it is a totally worthwhile experience. I love the freedom that I have nowadays, and thinking back on how it used to be, is like visiting the life of a entirely different person. You are not confined by these mental limitations, you can indeed get past this, and have an amazing time in the process. The question is, will you free yourself from these self-imposed chains?