If there’s one thing I remember from school, it’s the terror of arriving in the mornings.
I remember clearly that walk over the school courtyard, feeling everyone’s eyes on me like lasers scanning my every move.
I used to become so self-conscious that it felt like I’d forgotten how to walk. I had to manually control every move my body made and was certain that now, people didn’t just look, they probably took notes and had discussions about what a strange breed I was.
It wasn’t until one of my last years in school that someone told me something that permanently changed how I viewed things.
He said, “When we arrive at school, no one notices how others look because they’re too concerned with how THEY look”.
That comment applied so specifically to my situation, that I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The following morning, I decided to try something I’d never done before.
I decided to study everyone else in that courtyard.
To my surprise, people did totally different things than looking at me.
People looked nervous, fixed their hair, tried to catch a glimpse of their reflection in the school windows (in the corner of their eyes, so that no one would notice).
At that moment, I made three realizations:
Realization 1: People are incredibly concerned about themselves, so concerned that they have a limited ability to take note of others
I later in life learned that when they DO notice someone else doing something weird, they’re often just relieved that they aren’t the only one who does weird stuff.
Realization 2: When I realized how uncomfortable most people are, I became more comfortable.
This is a weird psychological phenomenon: Imagine walking into a room of people who you know are the most confident, socially savvy people who’ve ever walked this earth. You probably feel intimidated.
Now – imagine walking into a room full of people who are anxious, who will wonder what you think of them, who wish they could become more confident. Now you feel more confident.
What happened at that courtyard was that I’d put the others down from the imaginary pedestal I’d assumed they all were up on. When I took them down to my level, they stopped intimidating me.
Realization 3: When I focused on others, I became less self-conscious.
When I forced my attention out of my own head and paid attention to those around me, I automatically became less self-conscious. There’s a simple reason for why this works: Our brain can only focus on one thing at the time.
Since then, study after study has confirmed this: When test participants are instructed to focus outwards they feel less self-conscious and more confident. (As a side-effect, they also become better at making conversation, because when they focus on others or focus on the conversation instead of their own performance, it’s easier to come up with questions that you can build the conversation on.)
Click here: Learn how to make interesting conversation with anyone.
The next time you feel like everyone’s looking at you, do this:
- Analyze the people around you.
- Think about how most of them are nervous and self-occupied beneath their confident surface.
- Notice how liberating it feels to move the spotlight over to them. They are humans, too!
But what about conversations? When I opened my mouth around strangers, I felt like they would judge my every word.
I later learned that I was overly afraid to make mistakes and show weaknesses.
I didn’t want anyone to know how anxious I felt around strangers or how my head came up with crazy thought loops about what to say or what people would think of me.
What helped me overcome this fear was daring to share those insecurities with others, starting with people I trusted.
It felt really scary and vulnerable in the beginning, but in the end it made me realize that I wasn’t alone, that people didn’t judge me and that I was OK even with the “crazy shit” going on in my head.
This kind of open sharing made me stronger because then, I worried less about hiding my weaknesses.
One of our community members, Mathilda, bravely shared this about one of her fears:
“I’m insecure about not sounding smart enough. Sometimes I forget the words I want to say because of my anxiety and overthinking.
I feel like I lose track of what I was going to say and sometimes find myself cutting it short because I get so nervous.”
Another one of our community members, John, shared this:
“Every time I leave my house, I become extremely aware of myself. I keep worrying about how I’m being perceived by other people, especially by girls I find attractive.
I feel as if I’m in the spotlight and everyone is looking at me. I should probably worry about other things but you can’t argue with this brain of mine.”
I hope this story can inspire you to share a weakness, too.
So, write down in the comments: What are YOU afraid of being judged for?
Also, do you see someone else in the comment you share a fear with? Reply to them and let them know that they’re not alone feeling like this.
We’re all in this together.
1. Ruscio, A. M.; Brown, T. A.; Chiu, W. T.; Sareen, J.; Stein, M. B.; Kessler, R. C. (2008-01-01). “Social fears and social phobia in the USA: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication”. Psychological Medicine. 38 (1): 15–28.
2. Zimbardo, P.G. (1977). Shyness: what it is, what to do about it. Reading (MA): Addison-Wesley.