14 ways to be less self-conscious

Scientifically reviewed by Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D.

Last updated on

When I was younger, I often felt self-conscious and socially awkward. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to become a Behavioral Scientist was to be better socially.

If you often feel anxious and embarrassed, this guide is for you. It will give you the tools you need to be more relaxed in social settings, get out of your head and into the conversation.

This guide is for anyone who’s feeling overly self-aware, but examples are geared toward adults in work or at college.

Note: Sometimes, the underlying reason for self-consciousness is social anxiety. If this is the case for you, here’s our list of the best books on social anxiety.

Let’s get started!

1. Focus your thoughts on others and not yourself

Self-consciousness comes from being overly concerned with how people see us. We worry that we won’t be seen as smart, attractive, or that others are judging us.

It can be exhausting, and with too little evidence to support the argument in either direction, we go straight to the most negative conclusion.

To get out of this pessimistic mindset, try shifting your attention to the people around you and your environment.

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Focus not on what others think of you but on learning about the people you’re with. Make it a point to find out one thing about every person you meet. It could be their job, their major, or what they did on the weekend.

The objective is to get out of your head. Put that energy into the people around you rather than into feeding an inner dialogue that’s holding you back.

2. Question your inner critical voice

It’s easy to believe the negative voice inside our head is always right. But have you tried questioning it? You might find out that it has little to do with what’s real.

Check the evidence from your life:

Can you recall a time you did something that proves your inner critic wrong? For example, if your voice says, “I always mess up around people,” remind yourself of a time when you did just fine.

Ask yourself if what you are feeling is reasonable. Or, are you letting a perception you think others have of you, run the story in your head?

3. Know that others notice much less than we think they do (The Spotlight Effect)

In an experiment, students were asked to wear an embarrassing t-shirt.

By the end of the day, the students who wore the shirts estimated that 46% of the class had noticed. When polled, only 23% of their mates actually had.[1] In other words, their embarrassing t-shirt was only half as noticeable as they had thought.

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What feels mortifying to us is usually having little to no impact on others. People are caught up in their own thoughts and struggles, too busy to worry about ours. The best thing we can do is remind ourselves that no one cares as much as we do, and even our own filter is not a perfect lens.

4. Know that it’s better to talk freely and say something stupid than to say nothing at all

I remember talking to a girl I was crushing on when I was in high school. She was talking about how her brother liked a band, and like a crazy person, I said, “Ya, I know.” Like somehow, I knew what group her brother liked. My crush looked at me strangely but kept going.

Did it make any difference to my crush? Not really. At this point, I can laugh about it, but at the time it felt humiliating.

Try turning the tables on the situation. Would you care if someone blurted out something silly? Or would it just pass you by without giving it extra thought? It’s better to talk freely even if you say something stupid every once in a while. The alternative is to always guard yourself, and that can make you come off as stiff and aloof.

5. Be mindful of your feelings rather than trying to fight them

Emotions tend to cling harder when we fight them and weaken when we accept them.[2]

When you are anxious, and feeling uncomfortable in a social setting, what are you thinking about? How does thinking about that make you feel? Happy, sad, nervous, jealous? What’s your body doing when you’re in your head and feeling awkward at a party? Are you sweating, jumpy, yawning a lot (a reaction to nerves)?

Simply accept how you feel rather than trying to change it.

Now focus outward. Talk to someone. Ask them how they’re doing. What brings them to this party/event? Do they know anyone? Then check your head. How do you feel when you’re talking to someone? Do you get any less nervous as the conversation goes on? If you were blushing, has it subsided yet?

Practice going back and forth between your inner thoughts and how you feel when you are talking to others. See if you feel better when you’re in your head, listening to your internal dialogue, or when you’re spending your energy on others.

6. Focus on your positive traits

This isn’t “think happy thoughts, and you’ll be fine.” Instead, you want to base your self-worth on your real, positive qualities rather than cynical and questionable self-talk. This is what we know is true:

  • You have talents and abilities that give you fundamental value.
  • This combination of characteristics makes you unique and memorable.
  • You are worth spending time with and knowing.

Try to list your concrete skills like your mathematical ability, you’re a good writer, you’re multilingual, you’re a great cook. Then there are your personality traits. You’re kind, honest, genuine, funny, enthusiastic, etc.

Even if you can’t make a full list today, write one positive quality down every day and then review the list every week. When you have a comprehensive list, read it every day. You’re training your mind to focus on what you do well and to be able to access it quickly.

7. Make sure you’re reading the situation right

Negative experiences can teach us to be on guard and defend ourselves from criticism and hurt. This can affect how we perceive the world and the people we encounter.

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Those of us who are overly self-conscious might believe the world will judge us harshly because that is what we’ve experienced. However, as I’ve pointed out, people don’t care that much about how we act or what we say. Every new person you meet thinks of you as a blank slate.

When you’re in a scary social situation, ask yourself, “Is there a chance my past experience is affecting how I’m seeing this interaction? Is there another, more realistic way I can approach his conversation?”

Believe people will be friendly, and most of the time, they will be. If not, it says more about them than you.

8. See yourself as a social observer

People watching is fascinating, and it shows us how our basic humanity makes us all messy, foolish, and funny. Go to the mall, grab a coffee/tea, and watch people walk with their friends. Listen in as they sit beside you and talk, or as they chase their kids down the hall.

Now notice their body language, their tone of voice, and eavesdrop on what they’re saying. What we’re doing is training you to switch your focus from yourself to others and to think objectively about what you’re witnessing.

Are people relaxed or stilted? Is their posture good, or are they slouching? When they talk, are they quiet, or does the volume go up and down with excitement? The more we see others being their imperfect selves, the more we’ll realize this is what ‘normal’ looks like.

Go into this observer mode when you walk into a room of strangers. It can help you be less self-conscious.

9. Take for granted that people will like you and they are more likely to

This one is about the mechanics of being seen as confident rather than inhibited or self-conscious. When we feel uncomfortable, it can make us talk softer, hug our bodies with our arms, and speak faster to get the words out and move the focus off us as soon as possible. It can make us seem aloof, and even if we don’t intend to, it makes us less approachable.

Be confident and friendly right off the bat. Walk up to people with a warm smile and present yourself. If you’re uncertain about the details, look at how likable, confident people do it and learn from them. Assuming people will like you is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Assuming they won’t is, too.

10. Ask about people’s passions to take the focus off you

It’s easier to focus on someone else other than ourselves. When you meet someone for the first time, ask them what they do for fun. What are their hobbies, or do they have any pets? Listen carefully, nod, and give them signs that you are enjoying their story. Then add anything relevant that applies from your life. Things like your pets – what kind are they, their name, breed…or your hobbies. At the end of the day, you want to have a balance between learning about them and sharing about yourself.

The goal is to learn about someone else because it’s hard to be self-conscious when you’re focused on getting to know another’s interests and stories.

11. Make internal progress checks, not comparisons

Jealousy is a miserable emotion. It makes you feel small and worthless and sucks the joy out of everything. It’s like anger directed at someone else, but you are the one who feels crappy.

Avoid both overexaggerating someone else’s talents or trying to find flaws in them to make yourself feel better. No one is perfect, and tearing them down when you feel envious just retains the focus on you because you are still comparing yourself to someone else.

Here’s a thought: What if we were OK with the fact that someone is more accomplished than us? When we accept this, it helps us see ourselves differently.

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Our value then has nothing to do with how successful we are or how good we are at something. We want to go from “I like myself because I’m good at…” to “I like myself.” (Period.) This makes our self-acceptance unconditional.

How do we accept that others are more accomplished than us and be OK with that? First, let that fact sink in, and allow all your emotions of envy and sadness to come to you. Accept those emotions rather than fight them. Now, you no longer need to fear them. Afterward, you will be less prone to comparisons.

Here’s another way to do it:

Instead of thinking, “Well, at least I’m better than them when it comes to X.” Say, “I’m not good at everything, which is OK because my value isn’t based on my achievements. I have value because I am 100% myself”.

Let’s talk more about how to be more self-accepting…

12. Make accepting yourself one of your personal goals

Self-acceptance is one of the biggest steps we take towards achieving self-confidence.

According to Aaron Karmin, MA, LCPC, a psychotherapist in Chicago, Ill, a person “who accepts [themselves] unconditionally as a worthwhile human in spite of [their] faults and imperfections does not experience the stress of self-consciousness.”.[3]

Here are some things you can do to accept yourself:

  • Decide how you are going to live your life. Will you let others define your personal image, your strengths, and your weaknesses? Try to move from blame, doubt, and shame to tolerance, acceptance, and trust.
  • Make a list of all your good points.
    • What do you do well?
    • What are you proud of accomplishing?
    • Whose lives have you made better?
    • Connections you’ve made with others.
    • Hardships you have overcome.

Review the list often, so you see your progress and acknowledge your gifts.

  • Take an inventory of the people close to you.
    • Are they good for you?
    • Do they reinforce negative self-talk?
    • Do they criticize or demean you?

Consider eliminating all the negative influences in your life.

  • Surround yourself with a positive support group of people who celebrate you.
  • Forgive yourself. If you made a mistake, realize you did your best with the information you had at the time, or you simply made a bad choice. But now you chose to move on and forgive yourself.
  • Silence your inner critic. Just because it’s hard to hear doesn’t mean it’s right or 100% true. If you wouldn’t talk to someone else like you speak to yourself, why is it OK to do it to you? You’re human like everyone else. Treat yourself as well as you treat anyone else, if not better.
  • Move on from your unrealized dreams. You can’t change the past. All you can do is move forward and continue to pursue your current goals.
  • Help yourself see how you make others’ lives better. It’s harder to see yourself in a harsh light when you acknowledge all the good you do.
  • Let it go – You can’t control everything. It’s not resignation. It’s a realization that your energy is better spent elsewhere instead of railing against the things you can’t change.
  • Try to solve your problems one at a time. First, step outside your head where all the worry and self-doubt resides. Take a dispassionate look at what you need to do to move past each issue. You could even try imagining that the problems you’re facing are someone else’s (if that helps you get away from your internal thoughts). Ask yourself what advice you’d give them (yourself) to help?
  • Practice Self-compassion – accept your flaws and love yourself anyway. Simple words, but for most of us, it takes years, if not a lifetime to master this step. The more you do it, the better you’ll get in every respect.
    • Even though you may not have much experience being kind and compassionate with yourself, you will start to believe these good things you’re telling yourself. Especially if you keep this positive internal monologue up. In many instances, it took years to get to this place of insecurity. It will likely take weeks and months to see progress and make permanent changes to your mental habits.

13. Practice thinking about other’s needs

Try doing thoughtful things for others. Consider their struggles, worries, dreams or regrets. When you do, you take the focus off yourself and you’ll connect with them. This will help you be less self-conscious.[4] It will also show others that you are caring, and you value them. Done selflessly, it will bring good things back to you.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Smiling at someone after you meet them. It could be a friend, family member, or acquaintance. Let the smile happen as you talk to them, so they know you are smiling just for them because it grows after you say, ‘Hi.’
  • Hold a door for someone.
  • Give a spontaneous compliment.
  • Bring a friend or co-worker cookies or a pre-made dinner if they are sick or need a pick-me-up.
  • Pay it forward. Pay for the coffee or drive-thru meal of the people behind you.
  • Keep your area tidy and organized if you work in an open-concept office.
  • Send cards for different occasions or for no occasion at all.
  • Give someone 100% of your attention and note what they say so you can follow up later. (Ask them how ‘it’ went. Make sure they are OK afterward.)
  • Consciously spend a few minutes every day thinking of the things you are grateful for.

A word of caution: Do not do these things to gain others’ approval. That puts the focus back on you. Do it out of sincere consideration for others. The purpose of the exercise is to focus on others and their well-being. When you do, you’ll become more compassionate and less self-conscious.

14. Consider talking to a Therapist

If your self-consciousness is inhibiting you or is a result of social anxiety, a therapist can be helpful. Having social anxiety is more common than we think, and deciding to understand and address the effect it has on your life is brave. A Psychologist or a Therapist will help you talk through your feelings, find out where they originate from, and give you the tools to unpack them and move forward.

Contact your insurance company or doctor for recommendations.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (443)

443 thoughts on “14 ways to be less self-conscious”

  1. I’m afraid of being perceived in a negative light but Honestly, it’s not so much that, as it is an inability to string together a response and project it out loud.
    I absolutely cannot process thoughts while having a conversation and I unfortunately come across as unfriendly.

    Reply
    • I feel afraid of talking to people not sure why I always think they think badly of me or think I’m weird as I’ve been on my own for so long but they don’t know that. I feel sometimes I just don’t know what to say. I’m scared of being independent and confident as I think something bad will happen!

      Reply
  2. I have lil bit problem in pronouncing alphabets like t or s or k as i have lispsing problem by birth , i was bullied for it in kindergarten school too.
    Although it has become much better but i still feel like that whenever i try to socialize that they must be judging me inside or pitying me or they are gonna ask me about it.

    Reply
    • I always get butterflies, racing heart and shake. I feel like when I’m having a conversation I need to excessively swallow because I’m going to choke on my words. I get really embarrassed if I can tell someone knows I’m anxious in social situations. My face goes red and I always think people are watching me. I’m always looking out for facial expressions from others to give signals of how they feel about me, whether they see me as nice or they think I’m weird. People’s eyes really scare me, when I look into them I almost loose myself, everything just goes blank and I have to snap myself back to reality. Im worse with some people more than others. It doesn’t feel real sometimes, my body doesn’t feel mine because I can’t control the symptoms. I thrive from being alone, I love it but also hate it. People are just draining for me so it’s nice to escape and be alone, but it hurts when I have all these thoughts to not share them because I am alone. Which I choose to be. That’s just some of my social anxiety. Thank you for allowing me to share!

      Reply
  3. I can have motivation to try and start conversations with coworkers or strangers. But I always have the anxiety of everyone around is listening and watching. The mornings give me anxiety.
    I have more anxiety the longer I stay around people. There sometimes is an awkward silence and I feel most people would rather not be around me or try to escape it. Makes me feel like an extreme oddball.

    Reply
    • This seems relatable. It distracts me at times to have a conversation (even about regular old stuff) if other people are listening. Like if I have to make a phone call, I always try to find a private place. But the call itself isn’t necessarily the problem.

      Reply
  4. When I start talking in a group or in public, my greatest fear is what if just forget my words and stand speechless. Also when I start speaking, I’m too anxious to say what I want to say and in the process, I forget to listen to others.
    Thanks for the beautiful article.

    Reply
  5. I also feel self conscious in social situation and feels like Im in spotlight.I feel awkward to talk with strangers.I have awkward silence in btween conversation.This is my problem,Thanks Daavid Morin

    Reply
  6. I’m worried that people will judge something I say or do, and think less of me for being an anxious man. I’m also worried that they’ll judge me based on my appearance, and that they’re always thinking about me.

    Reply
  7. I’m extremely scared of starting a conversation with strangers and with people I even know. I’m scared that I’ll seem awkward or stupid when I talk. When I talk about certain topics I’m afraid that’ll come off as misinformed or dumb, and I’ll shunned for it. I understand that it’s okay to be wrong, but my anxiety and perfectionism block any of this reassurance. I want to be able to talk or argue for my beliefs without any of this negative thinking. Another problem I have is that I believe that I must be the funniest person in the room. That I need to be able to create any joke about any situation. I understand that this is a unrealistic standard, but every time I get into a conversation I can’t help but think this.

    Reply
    • You are not alone. I couldn´t have explained it better. I’m tremendously scared of being seen as dumb and boring. The worst part? I don´t only feel uncomfortable around strangers. I feel uncomfortable around my friends and some members of my family too.

      Reply
  8. Every time someone talks to me I get nervous. I can never focus on what the other person is saying because I’m too busy worried about what I’m going to say next or how I want the conversation to be done already. I feel like I come off as awkward. I feel like the person can sense that I am nervous/scared. I seem to never have anything to talk about. My mind goes blank. I really wish I can converse with someone without all this going on in my head. I want to feel relaxed and calm.

    Reply
  9. I’m always so worried that I will say the wronged thing and upset someone. I feel that I am always comming across as rude because I’ve missed some social cue and said the wrong thing in the wrong way. I don’t want to seem uncaring I’m just terrified and overthinking things. It’s hard for me to get out of my head long enough to understand what the other person is communicating. Conversations like this make me fell like I’m going to throw up or faint so I excuse myself to the bathroom or someplace else.

    Reply
  10. I’m worried that I come across as self absorbed, or that no one is interested in what I have to say. But when someone comes across as interested on what I have to say I worry on how to keep a conversation going

    Reply
  11. I’m afraid of people ceasing to like me. I’m ok talking with strangers most of the time because I know they’ll forget me. But when someone suddenly shows genuine interest in getting to know me, I feel like I need to escape. The feeling of someone getting to know me and then being disappointed in what they find scares me.

    Reply
    • OMG, I have the exact same fear. I usually can find the gut to talk to someone I do not know or join a group of strangers but then the fear of being rejected by disappointing them usually takes over and I start to withdraw; or I lose contact easily with people.

      Have you tried any therapy or techniques Lima?

      Reply
      • I’ve never been to a therapist. I decided to subscribe to this website only the other day. My plan is to first try the things here as soon as businesses open again. I was thinking that a church would be a good place to try since the people there are the same every week so itll he easier to form a friendship with them. Whenever I’m afraid of something I usually get over it by facing it head on. I used to be afraid of driving and avoided it for 6 years, but last year the only place that would offer me a job required driving. Now I’m fine with driving. I even messed up the first day and backed into a parked car.

      • @Lima, good for you that you learned how to drive!. I think these other things that we are able to overcome in our lives are testament that we will overcome this fear of rejection of who we are

        @ Jasmime: You’re not alone. That realization alone has helped me

  12. I am afraid of what I look like when I see someone I like. Am I fat, is my stomach bulging out. Do I look good in this shirt? etc….I also get nervous when speaking to people I don’t know.
    My face will get all red and most of the time when I am approaching someone or see an attractive girl, I Never know what to say beyond the Normal “Hi, How are you doing”. I am just lost after that.

    Reply
    • I’m afraid that my crush will judge me by who I am and what I do.I’m not sure if that’s his thing he always does or he just does it when I’m around or maybe something else.I once waved him goodbye when he was about to go home,when he saw me he looked at me first and waved back but,I totally lost it…. when he waved to me

      Reply
  13. Very insightful have had these feeling’s quite often. Unwelcome, Unworthy, And from time to time i get these feeling even in the middle of conversation. I would try and think of word to describe what i am saying and completely fall off topic or drop convo’ entirely. I don’t have a hard time talking too people i have hard time giving off the proper energy and body language to spark conversation. But do my best to acknowledge and listen to others when they speak and give interest or relation to what others speak about is the best way i have found to relate to others in social interaction. Then i have days of solitude and recharge if your like me then its quite draining of your mental and physical attributes. Thank you for your Email reminds me of time i would use these strengths to boost my character to my once so confident self. This criteria does work! but it takes time and motivation from within.

    Reply
  14. The thing which stops me going out of home and my inner voice always whisper’s ‘people will never accept me as I am nd if I’ll talk to them they obviously won’t listen to me and not only this but they will judge my conversation and make fun of me’.This is not only about my feeling,but it has practically happened with me many times that ppl have shown their feeling that how stupid is my conversation…so this is the main cause that let me to quit my collage and spending time in home alone and having weed to control the situation.

    Reply
  15. I have problems to look people in the eye. It makes me very uncomfortable, like I feel that they are judging me. It is a lot worse with woman than with man. Also I struggle with posture and positioning during conversations, like I feel that there is something wrong with me inside. And I also really feel this fear of rejections and criticism.

    Reply
    • I have a hard time looking people in the eye too. I have been using an app to boost my self-esteem/confidence, and I think it’s helping. If you are interested, it’s called Woebot, but I’m certain there are many roads to feeling stronger mentally. Good luck! I believe in you!

      Reply
    • I struggle with women more than men! I think that is due to being badly bullied at primary and secondary school by women!!

      Reply
  16. I am afraid of being judged for my acne I have it really bad. But I just think to myself, other people have this problem too. And it’s just a natural thing people have to deal with

    Reply
  17. What I am scared of is talking to someone and them not liking me. I don’t know why but I feel like they’re talking to me but they really don’t want to or they’d rather talk to someone else. I’m also really scared of talking to them and just not knowing what to say so we’re just awkwardly standing there like not talking. I just need to stop focusing on whether or not they like me and actually listen to what they’re saying so I can respond. I also have a question. When your hanging out with someone are you supposed to be talking to them the WHOLE time or is it okay to have like a minute of quiet? Idk

    Reply
    • I feel like that as well. I’ve even tried talking with a couple people at different times and they just walk away. I know in my head that is a personality or social flaw on their part but in my heart I feel I must have been really boring, unattractive, etc…

      Reply
    • I can absolutely relate to so many of these comments.. I honestly feel as though I sound “dumb” when I speak and it’s really affecting my social life.. I just started a new job and considering I’m with my coworkers more than not, I worry about what they think of me.. When we’re all together in a group setting I tend to clam up and I feel awkward.. I worry I’m going to be judged harshly by my peers.. I find myself comparing myself to a fellow female coworker, such as; her sense of humor is better than mine, she’s a harder worker, she’s well liked by all my other coworkers and I want them to like my company just as much if not more than hers, etc.. I want to feel more confident in myself and who I am as a woman.. I really want to be able to not worry so much about what others think.. I use to not care what people thought about me and I so desperately want to get back to “not caring”, but in a healthy way, ya know!?!

      Reply
      • I can relate to that for sure. Constantly comparing myself to others in my space make me feel more self conscious and it’s hard to stop that cycle. I also have a fear of the conversation ending and the awkward silence that follows. I worry that I am not interesting or informed enough for people to want to maintain friendships with.

    • I kinda have the same problem. But like, when I’m trying to find new friends on the internet I usually go on some where like Omegle but sometimes I want to go to a chat room and find multiple friends at once. But, when ever I try one out, I get scared they will just judge me on what I type or what I send. That happens a few times where the ppl judge me and throw insults at me. And also when I text I just text like a really little bit like one sentence at a time because I get scared they will judge me or tell me to fuck off.

      Reply
    • I feel the same way. I always feel like I have nothing interesting to say in a conversation and then get upset about how its so easy for other people to communicate. Even when I am in a conversation I just think that people are not interested in what I have to say and are bored.

      Reply
    • It’s healthy to have periodic silences. It gives you time to reflect on what the other person has did and gives them time to do the same. Anxiety makes us believe that’s a bad thing, because it gives them the chance to judge you. But it’s not a bad thing. It also gives them the chance to understand you.

      Reply
    • I appreciate your post Mary, because it’s spot on with my main struggles as well. What I’ve learned through therapy, and life experiences, is that it’s natural to have quiet moments. There have been times where I felt so awkward during a quiet moment, that I literally told the person “I’m sorry if this silence is uncomfortable”, and they have ALWAYS said “No, I’m not uncomfortable, I’m just taking everything in”. By me stating the idea of it being uncomfortable, it created an uncomfortable situation. I try to remind myself that when a conversation ends and becomes silent, they are 1. Taking in the environment (bar, bookstore, party, classroom, etc.) 2. Trying to think of something to add on to the conversation, or of something different to talk about 3. They are done talking about the SUBJECT, not necessarily done talking with you.
      For myself, I’ve come to see silent moments as a gift, because they’re great for transitioning into a new topic, or even saying “I need to use the restroom” to give yourself a mental break if you need to.
      Those few seconds of silence can feel terrifying, but it’s important realize in those moments that people are busy thinking about themselves.
      Once practice that helped me was, whenever I was in a silent moment with someone else, I just sat there and waited for them to say something. In the past, I was so quick to fill the air with a topic, but now I just wait, no matter how long it takes. By doing so, you get a glimpse of what they want to talk about, which you can build off on later.
      I hope this helps. Sorry for writing you a novel, but I think in this case, it all comes down to seeing silence as a gift rather than a threat.

      Reply

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