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 at 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 two 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 become 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)
How does this apply to you?
The next time you’re about to enter a social setting you feel self-conscious in, try analyzing the people around you instead of thinking of how you might come off. See what that makes you feel.
I’m excited to hear your thoughts and comments about this. Have you had a similar experience that I’ve had? Or have you tried this method? Let me know below!