Overcoming Shyness

Today is Day 4 of my 31 Days of Video Challenge.

In the video, I talk about overcoming shyness. This was a HUGE part of my life and personal transformation journey. From my teens to early twenties, I was invested in overcoming shyness and becoming a confident, outgoing person. Even after dedicating so much of my life to this area of personal growth, when I did finally make the full switch-over I discovered there was more to it than I ever realized, and that overcoming shyness was merely the first step in a process of learning to be truly myself.

In yesterday’s video I shared some of what my “shy” journey looked like. I was insecure about my appearance. I had extremely crooked teeth and wore glasses; later when I got braces and contacts I experienced a major boost in confidence; smiling more in public, no longer hiding behind my curtain of long hair and feeling much more at ease in my skin. Getting more comfortable in my body was tremendous in propelling me forward into becoming more socially comfortable. But it took years more to figure out how to project my growing inner confidence out into the world, especially since others perceived me as shy long after I stopped identifying myself that way.

All through high school, I worked hard to break out of my shell. I actively pushed against the confines my comfort zone, doing things that shy people don’t. I got up and danced at school functions. I volunteered to go first in class presentations. By senior year I felt I had grown by leaps and bounds.

It was a bit of a slap in the face, then, when the senior titles were out and I got voted “Most Shy”. It is kind of silly in retrospect, but at the time, I was so upset I went straight to the teacher in charge of yearbook and asked that it be kept out of the final copy. I didn’t work hard all four years of high school to be permanently labeled a “shy” person in print.

The summer after high school graduation, I conducted a personal social experiment to further break down my shy reputation. I drew a mustache on my face (waaay before mustaches were cool, btw), and proceeded to walk down the main street of our small town to the library. It was extraordinary to see others’ responses. People squinting at me in confusion as I approached, then breaking out in huge grins. They’d make a jovial comment and go on with their day. I was blown away. Suddenly it dawned on me that all that was really required to break through the shyness was to not be afraid to be noticed, and to simply find ways to stand out. 

In college, I worked up the nerve to cut my long hair into a short “flapper” bob, and dye it jet black. My bold hair acted as the mustache had; it made me more noticeable, and others interpreted me as a not-shy person without me doing much more than show up. I also wore vintage clothes which regularly spark commentary and conversation. These physical things relieved a bit of effort on my part. Simply through my appearance, I was able to convey the kind of person I wanted to be and the world responded to it. I got involved in the film club on my college campus and was elected president; soon everyone knew me and I had a larger social circle than ever before. My transformation from shy and quiet to confident and outgoing was finally complete.

Exercising social courage had now become a habit. I learned to override the feelings of fear and nervousness to approach people and do daring things; I would get up in front of crowds, be the first to introduce myself and the one leading conversations. But something interesting happened along the way. I had pushed so far outside of my comfort zone that I began to leave my real self behind. I lost my center. For the first time in my life, I started needing others’ validation of me. Even though I could make new friends easily, I rarely felt a genuine connection with them. I had developed social confidence. Yet inside, I was lost. I didn’t really know who I was anymore.

I again found confidence by stripping away the artifice and reconnecting with who I was on the inside. My vintage style, although the perfect catalyst for my transformation, no longer resonated; I had outgrown it. I found a new relaxed style in leggings and comfy shirts. I grew my natural hair back out. I stopped forcing myself into bold social actions and instead eased my way into the background. I took a well earned break. I found my comfort zone and discovered it was a nice place to be after all that effort to leave it.

It was a more organic confidence than I’d had before. No longer needing to prove to myself or the world that I wasn’t shy, I felt much more at ease. I experienced a second blossoming when I returned to my natural self. Before, I had been scared to talk about spiritual concepts and personal growth, afraid to be misunderstood or judged. I started to open up about those things and it was such a relief; I felt like I was truly being me for the first time in my life. That real me began to shine. I took up physical fitness pursuits that gave me a whole different feeling of confidence in my body. New and old friendships took on a more authentic, relaxed quality. And instead of accepting every social challenge that presented itself, I was able to say “No” to opportunities that didn’t feel good, and say “Yes” to the ones that did.

* * *

If my experience is relatable to you, if you’re struggling to transform into the proverbial social butterfly you long to be, I want to give you a break down of the techniques I used to overcome my shyness and become more outgoing and confident. Hopefully it will help you in your own journey.

Techniques to overcome shyness
& be more socially confident

Affirmations & positive self-talk
– Affirm to yourself that you are confident, outgoing, amazing. Be gentle and kind with yourself, and most of all patient; it is so important to care for yourself and be really self-supportive. Being hard on yourself will slow your progress and make it more difficult to change.

Wear your confidence – Literally, wear confidence; put on colors and styles that stand out (but that still match an aspect of who you are!); get a new haircut or dye it. You can always go back to neutral or natural later on…

Use a talisman – I used a charm necklace as my go-to confidence booster; it had an Aries ram on it (my astrology sign). When I put it on, I immediately felt calmer, more courageous. It reminded me who I wanted to be, and acted as a sort of magical talisman to invoke the qualities I was working to develop.

Find a group with a common interest – Connect with others who share a passion of yours. Becoming president of my college film club made all the difference for me; it brought me around people who shared my love of movies and we had common ground from the start. You can join a club, a meet up group, or a class. Just be sure it is actually in person; social media doesn’t count in this. Extra Tip: Remember and use people’s names.

Step out of your comfort zone – Do things that shy people don’t do. Be the first to introduce yourself; learn how to make conversation; volunteer to go in front of class or an audience; participate in social functions; dance in front of a crowd; walk down the street with a mustache! Any time there is an opportunity to do something socially daring, do it. Keep focused on your goal of becoming confident and outgoing; face your fear, and the nerves will get easier and easier to override. Most people hold themselves back because of social anxiety; they’re afraid to be noticed and to stand out; they’re afraid of looking silly, being judged. Don’t let that stand in your way. Be who you want to be.

Techniques for being authentic
& holistically confident

I realize with this second list I’m contradicting the above advice, but this is the 2.0 version. Once you’ve overcome shyness, you’ll see it as an artificial barrier between you and the world. Break that barrier down and you will pave a clear way to truly be at ease in your own skin, without any tools or techniques. (Maybe you can get to this next-level without going through the steps I did, and more power to ya if so!!!)

Go natural – Natural hair, no makeup (if you’re a woman… or a man; no judgment), clothes that are comfortable and feel good to be in.

Rest & relax – Take time for yourself to reflect and recharge.

Express yourself – Share the things that matter most to you, the deeper, meaningful stuff. The stuff you might be afraid you’d be judged for. Put yourself out there. Tell your story. Be honest. Do it creatively through song, dance, art, writing, or some other medium. Express who you are with your lifestyle too. Take on a fitness activity or sport, or start a new hobby that reflects an aspect of your best self.

**Trust your gut – This one did not make it into the video I recored, but I want to share it here because it really made a difference for me when I got to the point of needing to discern between social opportunities I wanted to pursue and the ones I did not. I paid closer attention to my intuition. Before, if I felt nervous, uncomfortable or resistant to a social situation, I usually interpreted it as something to force my way through, “feel the fear and do it anyway!” (Note: I did not do this if it was a matter of personal safety!) At the time it felt necessary to push against because my feelings about socializing were tied up with shyness and timidity. However, as I gained confidence in myself,  I didn’t need that approach anymore. I eventually rearranged my line of thinking to be that if something did not appeal to me, if it didn’t feel good or wasn’t fun, generally I didn’t do it. If I wanted to stay at home and watch a movie or call it an early night rather than go hang out, I did that, and no apologies. I honored what I wanted to do, and didn’t feel pressured to socialize every chance offered to me. So… When you feel a yes, say yes. When you feel a no, say no. Learn to recognize the differences, and understand the reasons behind the way you feel.

One final note to conclude all this for the time being . There is a kind of running joke on the internet that it comprises of mostly introverted people who suffer from debilitating social anxiety, hate to leave their home and go anywhere where there are humans; who prefer to stay safely indoors, alone with Netflix and their cat.

Using introversion as an excuse to avoid the world all the time is b-s. There I said it.

As far as I’m concerned, the only meaningful difference between an extrovert and an introvert is simply this: Extroverts recharge by being with other people, introverts recharge by being alone. That’s it.

I’m telling you this to emphasize your ability to be confident, outgoing, socially adept, and still be an introvert.

It is important to honor yourself when you need to be in quiet and solitude. But it is just as important to get yourself out into the world, to share who you are and what you have to give. You have gifts this world is waiting for. You have something special to offer. Don’t keep it hidden at home alone in your pajamas watching Youtube videos. Unless it’s my Youtube videos. 😉

Become who you want to be. Be who you are.

“The highest courage is to dare to appear to be what one is.” ~ John Lancaster Spalding

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