Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

How to Stop Being Shy

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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.

Chapter 1: Mindsets that quickly can make you less 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.

A person you see: “I wonder what she might do for a living?”

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

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

Shyness is a feeling like any other feeling: (hunger, tiredness, boredom, etc).

You can stay awake even if you’re tired, study even if you’re bored, and 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: “I will go there and people will either ignore me or laugh at me,” you can think “I will go there and 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 (I named mine Bob) and allow it to be there. When I stopped fighting Bob, he got more friendly and manageable.

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 that cause the problem.[5]

If you saw someone who acted completely normal but blushed at times, how would you react?

I wouldn’t give it much thought: If the person acts normally, you would assume they blushed for some other reason: Maybe they blushed or sweated because they were hot. Some people just shake a little sometimes.

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 eventually will help you overcome your shyness.[7, 8]

However, allow yourself to leave after 1 hour. That’s enough time to overcome the initial anxiety, and short enough to not 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. “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 that something good is happening

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]

Make a reality check: If a confident person did the mistake you did, would they mind?

If you came to the conclusion that they wouldn’t mind, it can help you see that your mistake was less of a deal than it felt like.

What’s a confident person you know that you can think of? You can pick someone you know or a celebrity. Then ask yourself “What would Jennifer Lawrence think if she made the mistake I just did?”

11. Remind yourself that people can’t know how shy or nervous you are

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. Remind yourself that you stand out less than it feels like

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]

Chapter 2: 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 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 to not 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!

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. Preferably it’s best to stay in an uncomfortable social setting or situation until your nervosity has decreased to around a 2 on a scale where 10 is your worst level. 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. Grade how scary situations are so you don’t get overwhelmed

List down 10-20 uncomfortable situations with the most scary 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 the 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 avoid scary things without even knowing.

It could be:

  • Helping with the dishes at a party to not have to talk to anyone
  • Not talking about yourself to avoid people’s attention
  • Drinking alcohol to feel more relaxed
  • Wearing makeup against blushing

We can get addicted to 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 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 that and realizing that nothing bad happens makes us less worried about making mistakes.

Examples: 

Walk through a mall wearing your T-shirt in and out.

Make a statement you know is wrong

Wait at a red light until someone honks.

8. Look for ways to get to know new people if your current friends are toxic

See if you can make new friends if your current ones are putting you down.

Having supportive friends can make a huge difference when it comes to confidence.

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

Many of the tips in this guide has 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. I’d recommend it over a workbook if you have the money to spare and you have trouble motivating yourself to work on your own.

References

  1. Hirai, M., & Clum, G. A. (2006). A meta-analytic study of self-help interventions for anxiety problems. Behavior Therapy, 37(2), 99-111.
  2. Gellatly, J., Bower, P., Hennessy, S., Richards, D., Gilbody, S., & Lovell, K. (2007). What makes self-help interventions effective in the management of depressive symptoms? Meta-analysis and meta-regression. Psychological medicine, 37(9), 1217-1228.
  3. Forman, E. M., Herbert, J. D., Moitra, E., Yeomans, P. D., & Geller, P. A. (2007). A randomized controlled effectiveness trial of acceptance and commitment therapy and cognitive therapy for anxiety and depression. Behavior modification, 31(6), 772-799.
  4. Campbell-Sills, L., Barlow, D. H., Brown, T. A., & Hofmann, S. G. (2006). Effects of suppression and acceptance on emotional responses of individuals with anxiety and mood disorders. Behaviour research and therapy, 44(9), 1251-1263.
  5. Anthony, M Martin, Swinson, Richard P. (2008). The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook Second Edition pp. 162. Oakland, CA
  6. Jordan, A. H., Monin, B., Dweck, C. S., Lovett, B. J., John, O. P., & Gross, J. J. (2011). Misery has more company than people think: Underestimating the prevalence of others’ negative emotions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(1), 120-135.
  7. Hofmann, S. G. (2008). Cognitive processes during fear acquisition and extinction in animals and humans: Implications for exposure therapy of anxiety disorders. Clinical psychology review, 28(2), 199-210.
  8. McNally, R. J. (2007). Mechanisms of exposure therapy: how neuroscience can improve psychological treatments for anxiety disorders. Clinical psychology review, 27(6), 750-759.
  9. Buzzell, G. A., Troller-Renfree, S. V., Barker, T. V., Bowman, L. C., Chronis-Tuscano, A., Henderson, H. A., … & Fox, N. A. (2017). A neurobehavioral mechanism linking behaviorally inhibited temperament and later adolescent social anxiety. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 56(12), 1097-1105.
  10. Nelson, T. (2007). “To err is human”: The effects of anxiety and contextual emotion on error-related negativity (Doctoral dissertation).
  11. Derryberry, D., & Reed, M. A. (2002). Anxiety-related attentional biases and their regulation by attentional control. Journal of abnormal psychology, 111(2), 225.
  12. Breines, J. G., & Chen, S. (2012). Self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(9), 1133-1143.
  13. Savitsky, K., & Gilovich, T. (2003). The illusion of transparency and the alleviation of speech anxiety. Journal of experimental social psychology, 39(6), 618-625.
  14. Macinnis, Cara & P. Mackinnon, Sean & Macintyre, Peter. (2010). The illusion of transparency and normative beliefs about anxiety during public speaking. Current Research in Social Psychology.
  15. Gilovich, T., Medvec, V. H., & Savitsky, K. (2000). The spotlight effect in social judgment: An egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one’s own actions and appearance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(2), 211.
  16. Anthony, M Martin, Swinson, Richard P. (2008). The Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook Second Edition pp. 156. Oakland, CA

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

Follow on Twitter or read more.

Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

Follow on Twitter or read more.

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

Follow on Twitter or read more.

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Comments (2)

  1. Dorothea

    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.

    • Viktor Sander B.Sc., B.A.

      That means a lot to me. Thank you <3 And best of luck!