Many people repeat the anti-confidence mantra “I’m shy” on a regular basis. It’s often based on the flawed idea that this character trait is inbuilt and permanent. The good news is that our personalities are flexible, when we allow them to be.
“Neuroscience techniques can be used to influence behaviour, improve memory and confront fear.”
– Marcus Clarke
Even though shyness may feel like it’s permanent, it’s not a life sentence.
What Causes Shyness?
No one is born shy, although some people will have genetic tendencies towards shyness. How you turn out in adult life will come down mostly to your early experiences. Overprotective parents who prevent their kids from dealing with social situations, a bad rejection, bad self-esteem from a lack of support or bullying, and isolation can all contribute.
Here’s the good news:
As adults we can retrain our brains to deal with social situations differently. Our brains can physically adapt to new situations. That means that no matter where you’re starting from you can adapt and build new social skills.
“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”
– Jim Rohn
It’s easy to get tunnel-vision when we feel that a personality trait is who we are, but we’re not trees. We can change. Even shy traits we’ve possessed our entire lives can be altered. It’s not easy, but if you want it bad enough you can “get into the gym” and train your mind to see the world differently.
How can I Build Social Confidence ?
Have you ever said, I’m too shy to start a conversation or I’m not confident enough? Well here’s the bad news:
Action precedes confidence. To become confident in our social lives means we need to do the thing we lack confidence in, first. That’s almost a cruel joke that nature has played on us, but it’s the way we learn. A lot of confidence comes down to competence. That means that we’re good, or good enough, at any given task to feel confident about it.
When we know how to do something it takes the awkwardness out of it. We don’t have to fumble around looking stupid. We don’t have to rack our brains trying to figure it out, we know how to do it. This massively contributes to confidence.
This is where the simplicity of shyness reduction comes into play. It’s not an esoteric or mysterious journey to build social confidence, it’s mostly about learning and practicing new skills.
We’re lucky in that we can train ourselves to overcome shyness in the school of life. That is, if we’re willing to accept its lessons and persevere through uncertainty.
Keep reading to the bottom for specifics on how to train a more socially-confident you.
How Long Will it Take?
Your guess is as good as mine. Not a satisfying answer but each individual is going to have a different experience. Some people will learn faster and excel in their social connections, while others will take more time.
According to Josh Kaufman, bestselling author of The Personal MBA, a new skill can be learned in as little as 20 hours. That’s not bad, but in terms of mastery, it will take a whole lot longer. Especially when learning how to deal with uncomfortable emotions and the chaotic non-linear nature of socializing.
Here’s the best way to look at your journey to becoming less shy: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You may not be able to get to the finish line quickly, but who cares? You’ve got the rest of your life to improve, and no matter which peaks you reach, there will always be another one you can conquer.
People who get hyperfocused on logistics, such as time, will often fall off the map. They’re looking for the quick fix or magic pill which will make them feel different. It’s not comfortable to deal with unhelpful habitual reactions to uncomfortable emotions, so they want the quickest way out.
What happens when they don’t find the silver bullet? They quit. “I tried” is the usual rationalization, but confidence isn’t a one-off pursuit. It’s an ongoing exercise.
Keep track of your progress but always remember that there isn’t a finish line. Use a journal so you can look back on what you’ve accomplished and motivate yourself to keep moving forward. There may not be a finish line but there are markers of progress.
Stop telling yourself “I’m shy”
Shyness is a trait which is reinforced as a personal identity by far too many people. It changes from a bad habit or gap in social skills to something that people don’t want to let go because they feel it is them. As soon as you add an “I am” to shyness it becomes much more difficult to let it go.
Detach from the personal identity to allow room to grow. Instead of saying “I am shy,” start telling yourself, “I sometime experience shyness” or “I’m becoming more confident”.
When shyness becomes an identity it acts as a barrier to change. Choose a flexible identity based on where you want to go, not on where you’re starting from.
Social training to break the shyness mold
Now we get into the practical aspects of training ourselves to be more confident.
Most of these work well when done together, but you can build up from easiest to most difficult. Taking on too much too soon is a recipe for quitting.
Instead, take consistent baby steps and spread out each challenge, moving on to a new one when you’re ready. Ready, but not comfortable. Each new challenge will stir up new anxieties, but facing them is how you overcome them.
Train yourself to look at things differently by reframing anything negative that comes to mind. If you say “I’m shy” then reframe to “I’m working on my confidence.” If you say “I can’t” then reframe to “I will try to” or “I will be able to.”
Even encounters with negative people can be reframed more positively. You might deal with a customer service rep who gave you a bad look and attitude. Maybe they just broke up with their partner, or had a fight with family.
Always look for the positive angle whenever negative habitual thinking comes up.
To start being more social, say “good morning” or “hi” to people you pass by on a walk. This simple exercise will get you out of your head and make it more comfortable to talk to strangers.
Opening conversations with observations
I like calling this “striking the flint” because it’s about sparking up conversations. It’s based on making simple observations and commenting on them.
When you run into people, whether it’s at a crosswalk, in a café or walking down the street, simply observe the environment or person, then comment.
Is it exceptionally hot out? Say that. He’s wearing a nice suit? Ask him where he got it from. I’ve sparked up conversations from the most mundane topics. You’ll be surprised at how many people will jump into a conversation when you make the effort.
Public speaking training is one of the best things out there to learn social skills and overcome shyness. You’ll learn to deal with the attention of getting on stage in a small group of students. That makes easier to deal with.
You’ll also get feedback to get better, learn how to project your voice, and how to use other communication tools. Many of the same skills you learn from public speaking apply to one-to-one conversations too.
Learning how to deal with your nerves from someone who already has an action plan is a shortcut to success. Instead of reinventing the wheel, you can get a roadmap from someone who’s already been there. Your confidence coach will also act as leverage to keep you accountable and stay on track.
A lot of people experience shyness in the dating world. Self-consciousness, a lack of dating skills and experience, and past experiences can get the adrenal glands going when trying to start a romantic relationship.
A dating coach can help calm your nerves by teaching you ways to use body language, eye contact and advice on how to meet people and have great dates. Just like with any coach, you’ll also get accountability that will help you follow through.
Business networking events provide rooms full of social people who are eager to chat. You can also learn new skills or ideas for your business or career.
Watch the most confident people in the room and learn from them. What are they doing that comes across as being confident? What’s their body language like? Facial expressions? How do they introduce themselves to people?
To get your own conversations started, try “What brings you here?”
This is a short list of things that can be done to overcome shyness. Anything that puts you in contact with other people counts though, so you may want to choose activities that you enjoy.
Put it on your calendar so that you’re not depending on whatever whims you have that day. Anything that gives you leverage will help you follow through and keep confidence building out of the recycling bin of ideas.
Eddy is a dating and confidence coach who specializes in building confidence and overcoming shyness. He helps guys crush personal obstacles to become the kind of men that women desire and men respect. Contact Eddy to learn about confidence and dating coaching: firstname.lastname@example.org