I know exactly why you clicked to this article: you are fed up with feeling like you’re not being heard. Notice I said “feeling”, because the condition of shyness is based largely on the perception of self that is more negative than the reality. But I’ll get to that later.
I went from being afraid to speak up even in front of my friends (!) to giving the commencement address for my university in front of thousands. I say that not to brag (well, maybe a little) but to prove that breaking free far beyond your fears is completely possible. It takes years of practice, mind you, but it’s worth the work. I’m going to outline what exactly you need to do to beat your shyness into submission.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you have to plan conversations, you’re not doing it right. Skilled workers of the rooms at networking mixers, fundraising parties, and other galas have action plans to get what they need out of the event. It’s time to make your action plan. Think of a couple of generic questions that focus on the other party in a conversation, i.e. “How is your day going?”, “How is work?”, “What do you do in your spare time?” and use them on everyone you possibly can, from strangers to acquaintances to friends, EVERY day. Never go a day without asking someone these questions. And yes they are admittedly boring questions, but you need to take baby steps to become more comfortable in social situations. Soon you’ll realize you’re practicing this step without even meaning to, and from there you can pose more interesting questions.
Focus on Everything but Yourself
Let’s not mince words: stop worrying so much about yourself. Shyness is only the perception that you cannot speak confidently, not the actual inability to do so. The key is to stop thinking of yourself as shy, as that will only cause you to actualize those thoughts. Get out of your own head, and turn your attention outward. The world is full of interesting people and things: become fully invested in it, every hour of the day, and you’ll become too busy to stew over your shortcomings.
Realize Everyone Has Problems Speaking
You’ll notice this more as you practice focusing on others: everyone messes up. When it comes to a conversation, it’s amazing how much we shy people will notice our own mistakes when speaking, while we put other people involved on a pedestal. They become actors in a scene out of classic Hollywood: witty repartees zing back and forth, smiles twinkle, and no one misses a beat. As your shyness recedes, you’ll realize just how terrible almost everyone actually is at conversing. And since you are actively improving your skills, pretty soon you can pass them in speaking talent.
Put Yourself in Situations that Force You to Perform
Get in over your head. The only way to grow as a person is to muddle your way through difficult situations. Teaching is one excellent avenue for overcoming shyness: you must speak clearly with confidence, or your students will have no confidence in what you say. If you are a shy extrovert (of which there are many!) host get-togethers at your home. For the introverts here, find a small club for a hobby of yours and actively participate. Keep placing yourself in positions where you have to force yourself to speak confidently, and eventually it will come naturally.
Plan to Improve Your Flaws, and Focus on the Positives
Many self-help advisors suggest that shy people should make a list of all the positive aspects of themselves, and look at that list every day. Great advice, but let’s take things a step further: we must admit our flaws as well, as it is always possible to improve. The key is to not dwell on our faults, but create an action plan to address them, perform those actions, then let it be. This step helps greatly when you catch yourself with negative self-thoughts: remember that list of positives, that you’re actively improving your flaws, and leave the doubt behind.
Honestly, if you are shy, chances are someone has noticed, and maybe even called you “awkward” or “weird”. Then again, everyone on the planet has been called a name. It’s time for some tough love: you are not the only person who’s been made fun of. Once you realize we’re all in the same boat, it’s easier to stop caring what others think. And when you start taking specific steps to improve yourself, insults become so meaningless you can laugh them off. The moment someone calls you “weird” and you just shrug, smile, and say “yeah I guess I am! Keeps things interesting.” is the moment you’ve made it.
Shyness likes to put up an illusion. From one perspective, it’s a great, smothering swamp monster that threatens to overwhelm and hide the true you from others. Looking at it from a less self-conscious point-of-view, it becomes a timid little demon that you can scare into a corner of your mind. You won’t become a social butterfly overnight, but with determination and persistence, you can eventually express who you are without anxiety. I’ll be writing a lot about this topic in the future, as it is an obstacle that you must confront from many different angles.