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Why Shyness Is Not A Personality Trait (And 12 Ways You Can Overcome It)

“Oh, she’s just shy.” Hearing this as a kid seems pretty normal right? But what about hearing this as an adult? It feels limiting, uncomfortable, and even a little embarrassing. It feels like being trapped in your own skin and a struggle to connect with others, even when you want so badly to. 

But we don’t take shyness all that seriously do we? Sure, shyness seems a little awkward and not everyone really understands why someone would feel so shy in a seemingly normal scenario, but most people grow out of it right? Some people, do but for many of us it can create a lot of struggle in our adulthood. 

Shyness can render some of the same characteristics of those who experience social anxiety disorder. People experience varying degrees of shyness, from occasional levels of discomfort around people in new scenarios, to painful feelings of constant stress and habitual patterns of avoidance.

Shyness can get in the way of having a normal social life. 

Shyness can become a barrier between communication in relationships.

Shyness can scare you away from asking for help.

Shyness can stop you from knowing your worth in the workplace.

What if I told you being shy isn’t a personality trait and that we have the ability to create a different way of being? 

Where does it come from?

The root of shyness comes from a number of factors and can show up in both childhood and adulthood. Modeled behavior at home can create a timid, anxious young mind. Significant emotional events that range from an off-hand comment made in 6th grade to a traumatic life event like losing a loved one can have substantial impact on someone and how they perceive the world around them. And of course, general societal conditioning can influence the way someone feels about themselves and the way they think they “ought to be.”

Simply put, shyness is learned behavior. The beautiful thing about this, it can be unlearned.

So, is shy the same as being introverted?

We commonly lump introverts into the shy category, but they actually have nothing to do with each other. Introvert and extrovert are personality traits and categorize someone’s preference to be social or alone. Extroverts prefer to be around other people more than they prefer to be alone. Introverts prefer more alone time than socializing with others, and feel energized by spurts of solitude. There’s nothing about an introvert or extrovert that determines how shy or confident you are.

You can be the quietest person in the room, someone who doesn’t necessarily like to speak up with others and feel completely at peace with yourself and confident and capable in your abilities. On the flip side, you can be the loudest, most outgoing person in the room and still lack self-confidence. We often confuse arrogance that some extroverts present as confidence, and quietness that introverts present as shyness. Introvert or Extrovert, shyness is present when we feel like we can’t let all facets of ourselves show.

Shyness isn’t the problem. It’s the symptom.

There’s generally an underlying reason for what triggers shyness and you can begin to uncover the problem by exploring the question,  “What is the thing I am trying to avoid right now?” Our brains are constantly trying to protect us from the unknown and things that frighten us, so we often act and think illogically to help us avoid feeling that very fear. This creates avoidance patterns within us that enhance shyness and create an internal operating system. By creating awareness around why you may feel shy and what you fear, you can then begin to take steps to resolve it.

 

Here are 12 ways to combat shyness.

Change your posture

By simply standing up tall, raising your chest, rolling shoulders back and raising your chin, you can boost your feeling of confidence, self-assurance and feel more energized. Research shows that people are more likely to believe traits about themselves when they have good posture versus bad posture. Plus, how can you see all the beautiful opportunities ahead of you if you are always looking down?

Preparation

Want to feel more confident at speaking, socializing or just being around others? Prepare! The more you can practice your ability to use your voice, speak your mind and take chances, the easier it becomes. Using a journal to write things out before you do them is a powerful practice. Whether it be a presentation you give at work, or a social event you’re stepping into, write down your about me, what you do for a living, talking points and anything else you want to be able to effectively communicate. Then, practice it! Having a dress rehearsal in your car during your morning commute is the best place to practice speaking. You’re alone, nobody is watching you, and you can record yourself if you need to. Try it!

Envision it

As humans we are incredibly talented storytellers and have a wonderful imagination. We also tend to use this to our disadvantage by playing out all the scenarios of how it could go wrong. But what if it could all go right? Use your powerful mind to envision the way you want any experience to go. How do you want to present yourself? How do you want to feel? How do you want others to feel after their experience with you? Do this, and watch what unfolds for you,

Take action

Break the shyness cycle and take some action. When we fear a situation, we then avoid it, then by avoiding it, we increase our levels of anxiety. That anxiety produces more fear-based thoughts and feelings and then the cycle is repeated. If you want to break the cycle, it’s done quickest by acting instead of avoiding. One of the best ways to overcome feelings of shyness, fear and anxiety is to do the thing you are fearing. Rip off the band-aid. You’ll be amazed at how free you feel afterwards.

Say “thank you” instead of “I’m sorry”

Do you find yourself saying “I’m sorry” a lot in emails at work or just in general? Operating from a place of shyness often makes a person feel as if they are the inferior person in the room or easily in the wrong. By shifting your language to “thank you” you can still show appreciation in a learning experience while not making yourself out to be someone who is always mistaken.

Focus on other people in the room

It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in the thought that everyone has eyes on you or is judging your every move. This is a big fear that shy people try to avoid when going into social situations. But let’s be honest, everyone is worried about themselves! Energy goes where your attention is focused, so by shifting your focus off of yourself and placing that energy on other people in the room, you inevitably spend less time and energy worrying about how you look, how you’re being perceived, and can then create genuine connection with others. 

Take deep breaths

Think of your breath as an instant pathway to anxiety relief. When worry and anxiousness start to build up inside of us, our breathing becomes rapid and shallow, allowing only the upper part of our lungs to receive oxygen. By taking in deep, intentional breaths and exhaling with purpose, we can oxygenate our entire lung capacity which helps to slow your heart rate, create a sense of calmness and release negative emotion stored in the body.

Ask questions!

We often think asking questions makes us look dumb, but in fact it shows genuine interest. Next time you are in a room with someone who is socially comfortable or a good conversationalist, pay attention to the quantity and quality of the questions they are asking. It’s quite easy to steer a conversation and socialize when you have questions in your back pocket. Go into social situations with the intention to get to know one or two people and ask them questions that you’d genuinely like to know the answers to. No small talk here!

Smile

Seems simple enough, right? Give a fake smile enough time and it will turn into a real smile. You can’t feel joyous and anxious at the same time!

Use music as a tool

You know that feeling when your favorite song comes on the radio or at a party and you just lose yourself in the moment? Bottle that! Music is a powerful tool that we can use to boost our vibration and lighten the mood in an instant. Keep a song or two handy and blast them in your headphones before heading into a situation that might typically bring out your shy side.

Have a back-pocket mantra

If you were asked to identify all the things you don’t like about yourself you could spew those off pretty quickly, right? What about all the things that make you amazing and capable? Negative self-talk gets really loud when we are feeling insecure, so having a back-pocket mantra to boost yourself when you need it can do the trick. Repeat it over and over until you feel shyness begin to dissolve. Try these:

“I have everything in me to have everything I want.”

“I am wildly capable.”

“It is safe for me to be myself.”

Stop identifying with being shy

You can change your environment and your behaviors, but the real transformation happens when you change your belief about yourself. Starting today, you’re no longer someone who calls themselves shy. You no longer need to use that language to identify yourself and describe who you are. The more you affirm your belief that you are shy with language and thought, the stronger the identity becomes. You get to create who you want to be. So, who do you want to be?

There will always be moments you revert back to shyness because life will always present you with the unknown. Keep pushing. Keep choosing your identity and choose to make scary decisions.

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