How to Stop Being Shy (If You Often Hold Yourself Back)

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“I hate being shy. I want to be able to talk to people, but my shyness is holding me back.”

This is the complete guide on how to not be shy. Some of the methods in this guide are from the Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin M. Anthony, Ph.D. and Richard. P. Swinson, MD.

Sections

How to stop being shy

1. Know that people are full of insecurities

Take a look at these stats:

How common are our insecurities?

Know that “everyone’s confident but me” is a myth. Reminding yourself of this can help you feel less shy.[6]

2. Focus your attention on your surroundings

Ask yourself questions about what’s around you, people you meet, and conversations you’re having.

For example:

When you see someone: “I wonder what she might do for a living?”

During a conversation you’re having: “I wonder what it’s like to work in accounting?”

When noticing your surroundings: “I wonder what era this house is from?”

Keeping yourself preoccupied like this makes you less self-conscious.[11]

When you notice that you start feeling self-conscious, move your attention back to your surroundings.

3. Act despite feeling shy

Just like sadness, happiness, hunger, tiredness, boredom, etc., shyness is a feeling.

You can stay awake even if you’re tired, study even if you’re bored—and you can socialize even if you’re shy.

It’s often when we act despite our feelings that we achieve our goals.

Remind yourself that you don’t need to obey the feeling of shyness. You can act despite your shyness.

4. Challenge thoughts about worst-case scenarios

Many social disasters we worry about aren’t realistic. Challenge those thoughts by coming up with more realistic ones.

If your mind goes: “People will either ignore me or laugh at me,” you can think, “There might be awkward moments, but overall people will be nice and I might have some interesting conversations.”

5. Accept your nervousness instead of fighting it

Know that nervousness is normal and something most people experience regularly.

You can overcome your nervousness easier if you simply accept that it’s there rather than trying to avoid it.

When you accept it, it becomes less of a threat in your head and gets more manageable.[3, 4]

The next time you feel nervous, focus on the feeling, perhaps even give it a name and allow it to be there. When you acknowledge your feelings like this, they become less scary.

6. Act normally if you blush, shake, or sweat

Know that there are many others who shake, blush, or sweat who don’t care what others think of it. It’s your beliefs about the symptoms rather than the symptoms themselves that cause the problem.[5]

If you saw someone blush or sweat in a social situation, you probably wouldn’t give it much thought. If the person acted as though everything was normal, you would assume they blushed for some other reason, not because they were shy. For example, maybe they blushed or were sweating because they were hot.

Act like it’s nothing, and people will think it’s nothing.

7. Allow yourself to leave a party after one hour

Accept invitations even if you’re not in the mood. Spending time socializing is what will eventually help you overcome your shyness.[7, 8]

However, allow yourself to leave after 1 hour. That’s enough time to overcome the initial anxiety but not so long that you’ll have to worry about a never-ending night of awkwardness.[16]

8. Change the way you talk to yourself

Talk to yourself like you would talk to a good friend you want to help.

Being nice to yourself can make you more motivated to improve.[12]

Instead of saying “I always fail,” say something you know is more realistic. For example: “I did fail now, but I can remember doing well before, and therefore it’s reasonable that I’ll do well again.”

9. See shyness as a sign of something positive

The best way to overcome shyness is to socialize anyway. Our brain slowly understands that nothing bad happens, and we get less shy.[7, 8]

This means that every hour you spend feeling shy, your brain slowly learns that it’s an unnecessary response.

Don’t see shyness as a sign to stop. See it as a sign to keep going because you’re slowly becoming less shy.

Think, “Every hour I spend feeling shy is another hour toward overcoming shyness.”

10. Ask yourself what a confident person would do

People with shyness or social anxiety tend to be overly worried about making mistakes.[9, 10]

Do a reality check: If a confident person made the same mistake, would they mind?

If you came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t mind, it can help you see that your mistake wasn’t really such a big deal.

Think of a confident person you admire. You can pick someone you know or a celebrity. Then ask yourself what they would do in your situation. For example, “What would Jennifer Lawrence think if she made the mistake I just did?”

11. Know that people can’t read your thoughts

We think that people see how nervous, shy, or uncomfortable we are. In reality, it’s hard for them to tell. When people are asked to rate how nervous they think someone is, they rate much lower than the person rates themselves.[13]

Just because you feel nervous doesn’t mean that anyone else sees it that way. Scientists call this the “illusion of transparency.” We think that people can see the feelings inside of us, but they can’t. Remind yourself of this. It’ll make you feel less nervous.[14]

12. Know that you don’t stand out from others

We tend to feel like we are more noticeable than we really are. This is called the spotlight effect. It feels like we have a spotlight on us, but we don’t.

Remind yourself that you don’t stand out, even if it feels like that. It can be comforting to understand that we’re quite anonymous.[15]

13. Work on looking more approachable

If you look approachable, other people may respond more positively to you. This can improve your confidence. This means having a more relaxed facial expression, open body language, and smiling. Our guide on how to be more approachable and look more friendly may help.

Overcoming your shyness permanently

1. Figure out what made you shy in the first place

Ask yourself if there was a certain experience that made you shy.

Some shy people were bullied when they were young, got rejected, had parents who kept them from socializing, or had abusive relationships.

Realizing the root cause of your shyness can help you decide not to let those past experiences affect your future life.

2. Take responsibility for your situation

It could very well be that your upbringing has caused your shyness. But at the same time, you are the only one with the power to change it.

While your parents, upbringing, society, etc. have affected you, you are fully responsible for what you choose to make of the cards you’ve been dealt.

Instead of thinking, “I had bad parents so that’s why I’m this way,” you could think, “What can I do to make the most out of life despite my upbringing?”

Viewing life this way can be harsh, but it’s also empowering to know that you are the one who decides what happens next!

3. Stay in uncomfortable social settings longer

Nervosity always decreases with time. It’s not physically possible for our bodies to stay at peak nervosity forever.

Do things that make you uncomfortable until your feelings of nervosity have at least halved. Try to stay in an uncomfortable social setting or situation until your nervosity has decreased to around a 2 on a 1-10 scale (where 10 is extreme discomfort). This can take anything from a few minutes to a few hours, depending on the situation.[16]

Having several experiences like these (that start off scary but feel less scary when you leave) helps build your confidence. The key is to prolong how long you stay in these situations to decrease your shyness as much as possible.

4. Do what’s challenging, not terrifying

If you do terrifying things, the risks are that you can’t keep it up long enough for a permanent change to happen.

If you do challenging things that are scary but not terrifying, you’ll be able to stay in those situations long enough.

Ask yourself what social settings or situations are challenging to you but not terrifying.

Example: To Courtney, mingles are terrifying. But going to a friend’s dinner is only challenging. She decides to accept the dinner invitation but declines the mingle invitation.

5. Put yourself in increasingly scary situations

List down 10-20 uncomfortable situations with the scariest at the top and least scary at the bottom.

For example:

Speaking in front of people = high scariness

Answering the phone = medium scariness

Saying “How are you?” to a cashier = low scariness

Make it a habit to do more things that are low to medium scariness. After a few weeks, you can try working your way up the list.

Grading situations like this helps you improve your shyness without overwhelming yourself.

6. Identify and avoid your safety behaviors

Sometimes, we use behaviors to avoid scary things without even knowing. These tactics are called “safety behaviors.”

It could be:

  • Helping with the dishes at a party so you are too busy to talk to anyone
  • Not talking about yourself to avoid getting other people’s attention
  • Drinking alcohol to feel more relaxed
  • Wearing makeup to hide blushing

We can become dependent on these behaviors because we think bad things happen if we don’t do them. But you want to get rid of them to overcome your shyness.

Pay attention: What are your safety behaviors?

Go for a change: Go out without drinking, share something about yourself, avoid wearing makeup, etc.

See what happens: Did your worst-case scenario come true? Or was it less scary than you thought it would be?

7. Practice making small social mistakes

Shyness can come from being overly afraid of making mistakes.[9, 10]

To overcome this fear, practice making small social mistakes. Doing this and realizing that nothing bad happens makes us less worried about making mistakes.

Examples:

  • Walk through a mall wearing your T-shirt inside out.
  • Make a statement you know is wrong.
  • Wait at a red light until someone honks.

8. Meet new people if your friends are toxic

If your current friends are negative or putting you down, try meeting new people who will enrich your life.

Having supportive friends can make a huge difference when it comes to confidence. If you aren’t sure whether your friendships are unhealthy, read up on the signs of a toxic friendship.

One way to find new friends is to get involved in groups and clubs related to things that you are interested in. Read more here on how to make new friends.

9. Read a workbook on shyness

A shyness workbook is a book with exercises on how to think differently to overcome shyness.

Many of the tips in this guide have been taken from books here: The Best Social Anxiety and Shyness Books 2019.

Studies show that a workbook can sometimes be as effective as going to a therapist.[1, 2]

10. See a therapist

A therapist can be really good to overcome shyness if you have the money to spare and you have trouble motivating yourself to work on your own. Ask your doctor for a referral or try BetterHelp to find an online therapist.

Show references +

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

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  1. Any advice for someone who is shy because of a medical condition that affects the lips? I have an autoimmune condition that makes my lips peel and chap. It’s physically uncomfortable to smile sometimes. And I feel self conscious.

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  2. “You can stay awake even if you’re tired, study even if you’re bored, and socialize even if you’re shy.” True, now that you mention it. Yet it’s only natural to stay away from things we fear, until we become aware and can better control it.

    Reply
  3. I so appreciate how specific and concrete your advice is. This is what makes it possible for me to actually apply the advice, and thus benefit from it.

    Reply

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