I’ve been described as shy and awkward for as long as I can remember. But something happened last year that pushed me over the edge to where I just couldn’t live that way anymore.
Early in the year, I was making progress in many areas: working toward goals, eating right and exercising, not abusing drugs or alcohol… I felt great, physically and mentally.
Then my son (6 y/o) was invited to a friend’s birthday party. I was freaking out (being shy). I hadn’t met any of the other parents, and had no idea what would be expected of me at the party.
But after the initial horror of arriving and finding a good place to stand, I got to talking with another dad. We hit it off right away. It felt great to have made a new friend.
Fast-forward about a year. I was still making progress toward goals, but far less consistently. I wasn’t abusing drugs, but had started drinking heavily again. I’d stay up all night most nights, and then try to balance myself out by day with energy drinks and sugar.
My son got invited to another party.
Right from our arrival, I was shaky and all over the place. I couldn’t connect with anyone. I felt trapped in my anxious mind.
I even tried talking to that same dad from the previous party, but we just weren’t clicking.
It was having those 2 parties juxtaposed that made me realize something important: My state at the 2nd party was actually my state most of the time—nervous, imbalanced, goofy, needy, anxious, awkward, and incredibly shy.
I knew I had to change, so I started researching shyness and social anxiety. I listened to audiobooks, read studies, and basically dug as deep as I could into myself and my own experience.
I’d like to share 4 things I learned that I believe can help you.
1. You need to be a person first—someone others can connect with; so get your life right. Take care of yourself.
You’re never perfect; but just always be moving steadily and gradually in the direction of the life you want. Otherwise, you have nothing to contribute to any relationship.
Taking care of yourself and making progress toward your goals won’t stop you from feeling anxious or shy. But whenever you are forced out of your comfort zone and have to interact, there will be something there for the other person to connect with.
2. In her book, How to Talk to Anyone, Leil Lowndes shares that the purpose of small talk has nothing to do with the words being said.
Casual conversation isn’t about getting your point across.
Small talk is for the experience of making vocal music together with someone else in time, back and forth.
So let go of whatever you think you’re supposed to say.
Approach conversation the way musicians approach a jam session, ready to feed off of one another’s energy and timing.
This tip has completely transformed how I feel about small talk. I used to dread all interactions with unfamiliar people; but I now find myself honestly looking forward to communication’s chaotic dance.
3. Practice showing a great deal of respect to everyone you meet and interact with.
It might not feel natural at first to call strangers or colleagues “sir” or “ma’am,” but doing so robs social anxiety of its legs to stand on.
There’s an unconscious assurance that those you show respect to are completely unjustified in judging or discrediting you; and that helps you stop worrying about it so much.
4. Feel your shyness. Experience it to the full. Don’t fight against it.
Shyness or social anxiety (like all anxiety) boils down to a story you’re telling yourself. In this case, the story is: “They’re going to see that I’m not _________ enough.”
Now, the feelings and story are going to happen (if you’re shy). But if you tell yourself, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” you start to envision ways to rise above or overcome the anxiety. The unfortunate result of those attempts is you end up obsessing over the very lack your social anxiety convinces you is so apparent.
Instead, just admit, “Yeah, I’m feeling anxious right now. I’m worried they’ll think I’m not _________ enough.”
That way, the anxiety is free to come . . . but also go.
And if you’re using tools 1-3 above, you find that those anxious feelings return less and less as you build confidence and watch relationships improve.