Daniel Long discusses relationship issues and answers questions with help from friends in North America, Australia and African nations.
Shyness causes problems in every aspect of daily life. But with a little help and a determined attitude, shyness can become less of an obstacle. This article features tips to help prevent shyness from getting in the way.
Is Shyness a Problem For You?
There's particular days and events in every year when shyness causes the most grief. These are some of the days my tips are designed to help with:
- Valentine's Day.
- Someone else's wedding.
- Your birthday.
- The person you like's birthday.
- Every work day or school day. (Particularly if you work or attend classes with someone you really like.)
We'll get to my tips in a moment, but first let's reflect on the problems shyness causes.
1. Valentine's Day
For some with shyness, it is the one day in the year they feel comfortable enough to extend a hand with a card or flower. For many others, Valentine's Day is simply torture.
- Everyone's talking about it in the weeks before. Who do you like? Are you giving anyone a Valentine's gift this year?
- Shops are filled with constant reminders. In shop windows, down the aisles and even at the checkout. Ugh.
- The TV offers no escape. So many commercials for romantic gifts including lingerie. Even the story lines on shows where you least expect it contain obligatory Valentine gestures.
- On the actual day, it is tempting to stay in bed. You know you'll be faced with loving couples, hand in hand. Single red roses and bunches of flowers will be clutched or, worse, displayed on the desk opposite yours.
- Everyone asks if you bought a gift, received a gift, or are simply loveless. Sad but true, most people just don't understand shyness.
It is too hard to admit you bought a nice card but it is still at home. The one you bought last year is still unused. This year you wrote on a card, licked it and sealed it. Next year perhaps you'll slip one in a letterbox ... without your name it on it, of course.
How Is It For You?
2. Someone Else's Wedding
This is the pits. You're invited to the wedding of a friend. To rub salt into what is already an open wound, you're supposed to bring a date. Even worse is the wedding of a family member. You know there's going to be an endless stream of questions from aunts and uncles and cousins with ten kids.
- 'Who are you here with?'
- 'How old are you now?'
- 'I suppose you'll be next.'
- 'It really doesn't matter, but are you gay?'
Ah, the pressure. Aunt Enid doesn't take it well when you point out to her that gays can marry in many parts of the world now. And if you were gay, you'd still have a problem with shyness. Why don't people understand that?
3. Your Birthday
It's your birthday. Oh, jeez, another obstacle course to run. It is hard to know which part is the most painful. People running up to give you hugs and kisses? Or nobody remembering because your shyness prevents you from reminding them in the days preceding the big event?
The person you've been dreaming about plants a kiss on your cheek. It is hard to know if they're using the event as an excuse to kiss you, or if they just feel obliged to be nice because they feel sorry for you. Another year of telling people you're not planning a party. 'Shyness, remember?'
It is worth mentioning here and now before getting to the part with all my hints, that shyness is the problem, not the person. If you blame everything on shyness (instead of saying 'I am shy') it makes it easier to overcome the monster. But more on that shortly.
4. The Person You Like's Birthday
What a dilemma. The person you really like is probably expecting you to celebrate (or commiserate) the passing of another year. What does that involve exactly? How much effort is required? What's the best gesture a person with shyness can make?
If you make no effort, it will look like you don't care. But if you go over the top, you fear looking like a fool. The first step absolutely has to be figuring out just how much you really like them. If you fear losing them from your life more than you fear perhaps making a fool of yourself, you'll be happy to try my tips.
5. Every Work Day or School Day
Every day we go somewhere. In many ways shyness is relieved by the activities and forced interaction required at work, university or school. For instance when you are paired with someone by an authority figure to complete a task, there's no need to introduce yourself or make a cold approach. You have been assigned a task, and that task generally outweighs your shyness.
But what about all those other days when you're just wandering from your desk to the shared printer, from your workplace to the local coffee shop, between appointments or from class to class? They're the times when shyness bites.
Perhaps the most painful aspect of regularly attending work, school or university is when you develop a crush on someone you see every day. You're not sure if they like you and you lack the confidence to find out. (Don't worry, because that's an issue I often encounter online from readers and I've helped many overcome their nerves and successfully end up dating!)
Putting Shyness Into Perspective
Time to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. If you look at all the times shyness has caused you grief in the past and will likely cause you grief in the future, it is definitely a monster worth slaying.
Like any great fight, it requires digging in and finding hidden reserves of strength and determination. But we're all warriors in one way or another. Of course anyone going into battle requires training to hone their skills. So that's what you need to do now. Fine tune the skills you'll need in your battle against shyness. Here's how ...
My Shyness Remedies
It doesn't help when parents tell everyone their child is shy, paving the way for a lifetime of insecurity. So if you're a parent, stop it. And if you're one of the millions to whom the damage has been done, let's look at some remedies.
I know lots of people suggest getting blind drunk to release your inhibitions, but that's just plain stupid. You can't effectively go through life as an alcoholic, and it doesn't solve the problem.
My shyness remedies are simply things you can do to make it easier to communicate with people when you're sober. Exercises that reduce the fear element, and training to hone the skills you'll need when you go into battle against your shyness.
Here's a list of my suggested shyness remedies. In a moment we'll discuss them in more detail:
- Blame it on 'shyness', not on 'being shy'.
- Get used to the sound of your own voice.
- Talk to people. (I'll tell you how to pick the best people.)
- Accept yourself.
- Listen to the people who encourage you.
- Rally the troops.
- Pick your moments.
- Calm your nerves without alcohol.
- Be brave.
- Go to war against your shyness.
I'm about to share my thoughts on how and why these ten points can change your life. Once you understand them, I suggest you print the list and display it somewhere you're forced to look it every day. Choose one thing on the list each day to actively implement.
1. Blame It on Shyness
Instead of thinking of yourself as shy, distancing yourself from the problem can make the issue easier to tackle. That's why you should focus on fighting shyness, a condition, instead of fighting part of yourself. Have you noticed how many people who successfully lose weight make a shift and choose to fight obesity, letting go of their previous focus on 'being obese'? For some reason, it feels easier that way.
You currently experience reactions to social situations due to shyness. Your goal now is to distance yourself from those reactions and create a new way of reacting.
2. Get Used to the Sound of Your Own Voice
If you've spent a lifetime avoiding speaking in public, it is time to get used to the sound of your own voice. Think about this for a moment. Everyone around you has a slightly different sound. High or low pitch, loud or soft volume, different accents, different speech impediments. We all sound different to each other.
No matter how your voice sounds, it is perfect. Millions of people would love to sound like Sean Connery in his James Bond role or some other famous star of the stage or screen, but they don't. Each of us a beautifully unique sound when we speak. Perhaps you're not delighted with the way your voice sounds, or maybe you already accept it sounds just fine. Either way, you need to get used to hearing it.
Why? Because this is your voice and you'll be hearing it more often as you break free from the shyness that has kept you silent before now. You need to consider the sound of your own voice as part of your comfort zone. So let's get started:
- Grab a book or a magazine and read out loud. If there's a child or an elderly person in your life who would love to hear a story, be the person who reads to them. If you don't have someone to read to, read aloud to yourself.
- Read out loud at different times of the day, and in different locations. Lie in bed and read out loud. Sit at the breakfast table and read the words on the cereal box; loud and strong, even if you have food in your mouth.
- Talk to yourself as you drive your car. 'Today we're off to the markets. Here's what's on my shopping list ...' and 'Now I'm turning left so I'll put on my left indicator by pushing down with my hand.' Every time you see a nice car or a shop sign or anything else, comment on it. 'And there's a fast food drive through.' You should be able to talk for at least five minutes about your experiences at any number of fast food outlets or the many things on their menu. Tell yourself about it, as though you're telling an interesting story to someone else.
- Repeat lines you hear on the tv or radio. Anything that catches your attention will be perfect. Repeat the same line multiple times, at a different volume, at a different pace and with emphasis on different words.
- Sing in the shower. If you can't sing in tune or you're afraid other residents in your home will tease you, wait until they're out. Sing in the car, and any other private space. If you live on a farm, sing to the cows or the sheep or the goats. And don't forget to talk to them as you round them up and lead them through a gate. 'A big metal gate wide enough to let lots of you pass through on your way to the fresh green grass on the other side.' (Yes, you'll always spot something to talk about.)
- Record your voice on your phone as you read out loud and listen to it. Put in your earphones and listen to yourself speaking every chance you get. At least a few times each day. Occasionally remove the earphones and let your voice fill the room.
3. Talk to People
Shyness makes it difficult (for many near-impossible) to talk to people. Being nudged in the ribs and told to make a speech in front of a crowd would be a bit like being thrown from a boat and told to learn how to swim. So don't expect yourself to perform confidently until you've spent time in the shallows, developing your skills.
Once you're used to the sound of your own voice, it is time to talk to people. This bit gets easier with practice. Here's how I suggest you start:
- Approach people who don't know you, won't judge you, and whose job includes being polite to customers like you. For example:
- Someone stacking shelves in a supermarket. 'Hi, do you know where I'd find peppermint teabags?' Okay, so maybe peppermint tea is not your thing. Think of something else that's a bit unusual and not obvious the moment you walk through the door. You don't actually have to buy it. 'Hi, do you know if you sell coconut water?' When they answer, it is your turn again. 'Okay, thanks.'
- The lady serving in the local store. 'Have you been busy today?' Doesn't matter if it is yes or no. An easy response is, 'Yeah, there seems to be a lot of traffic / not much traffic on the road today.' Go on, be brave. Say, 'See you' or 'Thank you' before you walk away.
- Every time you enter a large store, ask for directions to a section that interests you.
- When you order pizza, instead of mumbling 'Hawaiian' or 'Vegetarian' ask for specific ingredients to go on a pizza you design for yourself. If they're not busy while you're waiting, ask if they've been busy today/tonight. Or ask if they sell many vegetarian pizzas. (Perhaps point out that you can't imagine a pizza without pepperoni or whatever.) There's no point trying to engage busy staff in conversation, but during a slow period they might welcome the chance to chat.
- When you're buying jeans or t-shirts or shoes or anything really, approach a sales assistant and ask if they come in different colors or similar designs. Get creative. Think of questions you can ask.
Sure, some sales assistants are really unhelpful. But that's life. Truth is, there's a very good chance you'll have a pain-free interaction with a complete stranger. Yay!
Go on, do it again. And again. Until you can confidently walk up to a stranger and speak.
The best part about this exercise is the people you speak to are not going to care what you look like or what you sound like or anything like that. You'll ask a question, they'll answer it. No big deal.
4. Accept Yourself
How often do you look in the mirror? Some people with shyness look way too often, being critical of what they see. Others dare not even peek, afraid of what they'll see. If you fall into either of these two extremes, it is time to change.
Here's some of the common behaviors of people with shyness, and my suggestions for doing things differently. Why change? Because one way or another you need to accept who you are. I'm willing to bet that others around you accept you much more easily and confidently than you accept yourself.
|Current Behavior||Changes to Make|
Always checking your reflection in mirrors or shop windows
Deliberately avoid checking your reflection. Look at the people around you instead.
Using a hair straightening iron or curling wand.
Step from your shower, brush your hair, and go.
Obsessing about weight.
Put away the scales.
Wearing clothes that conceal your body shape.
Choose one item like shorts to reveal your legs, or a t-shirt or short-sleeved shirt.
Always avoiding your own reflection.
Try on clothes in a shop with long mirrors. Get a hair cut and watch the hairdresser (and yourself) in the mirror.
Actively trying to 'blend in'.
For at least one week, try to 'stand out'. It might be as simple as a scarf you wouldn't usually wear or a bag you wouldn't usually carry. Something you like, but generally don't display in public.
5. Listen to People Who Encourage You
If you let shyness get in the way for long enough, people tend to stop offering encouragement. What's the point? It obviously makes you uncomfortable, so they stop trying. Instead of shutting them down or shutting them out, it is time to listen to what they have to say.
Yes, you might even need to invite their input. But that's not as hard as it used to be because you've been getting used to the sound of your own voice and speaking with complete strangers in a range of stores.
So here's your next assignment. Ask someone you trust (or a few people), 'Do you have any ideas for what kind of hair cut might suit me?' If they offer to come along with you, great. 'Yes, please. I'd like the company.'
If someone encourages you to attend a party, give it serious thought. 'Could I go with you? That would be easier than going alone.' Be honest and upfront. They'll appreciate it.
6. Rally the Troops
It is true that shyness gets in the way of many relationships, but it rarely gets in the way of every relationship. You might have been feeling like you're alone in the world, but it is probably not true.
Look around you. It is time to rally the troops. Friends, family, workmates or some of your fellow students are bound to have shown gestures of kindness to you in the past. Shyness can cause social blindness so be objective. Ask a trusted friend to help you identify who the easiest people are likely to be to approach and interact with as you start to implement your strategy for breaking free and doing things differently.
You want to beat shyness and become more confident socially. Yes, you can do it all on your own. But we all know it would be easier with supportive people by your side. Identify who you can trust to help you venture into uncharted territory and tell them you need their help.
Yes, you're going to have to talk with them. But that's okay. You have lots to tell them.
7. Pick Your Moments
As you begin to become active in social situations, you'll learn to pick your moments. Instead of forcing yourself to become the center of attention in a crowd, plan to ease yourself into a conversation with just one (or two) people.
Ignore anyone else and don't worry about yourself. Just focus on the conversation with the one person in front of you. Ask questions. You know you can do that. It is just like walking up to a stranger in a store and asking for directions.
This time you're hoping your questions might lead to longer conversations. So choose a topic you know a lot about. For instance, if you're a university student talking with another uni student, you could ask them what they're studying. Be prepared to talk about your own courses. If you live on campus, ask if they live in student accommodation. Be prepared to speak a bit about what life's like where you live.
If you're speaking with a tourist, ask about where they come from. How different is your part of the world to theirs? You could talk about foods and places overseas where you'd like to travel. Gee, you could even consider offering to take them sightseeing locally.
Perhaps you commute by bus or train. There's bound to be a few familiar faces at your bus stop or among the other passengers. Pick a good moment to begin a short conversation. 'The bus is late today. I hope you're not in a hurry.' You'll either get an answer, a smile, or be totally ignored.
Either way, it makes little difference. Perhaps they have their own issue with shyness or perhaps they're simply rude. You'll look like someone confident in their own skin, and that's a good thing. If you receive a positive response, say hello to them next time you meet. Or at least give them a nod to acknowledge their existence. They may well start a conversation with you next time.
Once you stop worrying about shyness, you'll begin to see lots of opportunities to interact socially. It will become easier to pick an appropriate moment to start a conversation with people you meet and those you encounter regularly.
'New hair cut. Looks good!' Short, sharp interactions break the ice. See how easy it is to distance yourself from shyness!
8. Calm Your Nerves
I'm not a fan of alcohol to calm nerves. In my experience it further complicates matters for anyone dealing with shyness. Yes, one drink can relax you. But one too many can turn you into a blithering mess. And you won't win any friends if you turn up to work or class smelling like a brewery.
There's lots of things you can try for settling nerves before a significant event. A long run followed by a warm shower works for some. Meditation works for others. Unfortunately though, the effects soon wear off and nervous energy can become overwhelming within a short time. Shyness is like that. It can suddenly manifest like a brick wall that stops you in your tracks.
One thing worth trying is 'Rescue Remedy', one of the famous Bach Flower Remedies from the 1930s. It has a long history and impressive record for calming nerves and helping people cope with stressful situations. Made from flowers in a grape alcohol solution, all it takes is about 4 drops on your tongue.
Try it for yourself and see how long it takes before it starts to work. One of my friends claims he's feeling much better within ten minutes. Another says it takes up to half an hour before he's feeling properly settled.
On the rare occasions I've used it (before making speeches because I hate making speeches), I've allowed half an hour just in case. To be honest, I'm much more confident on a stage after taking Rescue Remedy. Instead of feeling nauseous as I walk out from behind the curtains, I'm feeling more laid back and relaxed. It is hard to explain because it is a subtle feeling, but I definitely feel advantages. Sure, some people will insist it is just the placebo effect but that doesn't bother me at all. If the placebo can prevent me from feeling like I'm going to pass out or vomit, bring it on. Anything that helps me cope brings welcome relief!
Our Bottle of Choice
9. Be Brave
Your ultimate goal is to discard shyness and be better equipped to eliminate the kind of stress you once felt on significant days and during major events. Plus, of course, to be confident enough to cope with the stresses and challenges of daily life.
So let's return to our original list and consider how different your life will be if you effectively manage to hone your skills and progress from shyness to confidence. You'll have to be brave enough to tackle each of the steps along the way, but the promise of future rewards should urge you on. Here's your goals, in an ideal world:
- Valentine's Day. If shyness is getting in your way this Valentine's Day, make a commitment to be in better form before next year. Instead of feeling stressed and depressed, you're likely to have formed strong relationships with a variety of new people (including that special someone you mustered up the courage to get to know). With experience approaching new people and beginning conversations, you might get to the point where you're actually looking for advertisements suggesting romantic gifts!
- Someone else's wedding. When you receive an invitation with a +1 it will no longer cause you grief. Even if you're nowhere near planning your own wedding, you'll be able to call upon a close friend to accompany you on the day. You'll share the same kind of sense of humor and enjoying tormenting Aunt Enid together.
- Your birthday. Planning your own party and sending out invitations is a big task for anyone. Rather than inviting shyness to rear its ugly head again, the easier option is to befriend a few social butterflies and avid party planners. Then all you have to say is, 'Yeah, sure. That'll be fun!' when they offer to throw you a party. The new you will allow your face to light up and lean in for a kiss as your many friends and acquaintances arrive.
- The person you like's birthday. I'm sure you can't wait to have the confidence to suggest taking your crush out to dinner and a movie to celebrate their birthday. Grab a book and start reading out loud. You need to take the first step to reach your final goals.
- Every work day or school day. Imagine waking up each morning and being excited to start the new day. If you work or attend classes with someone you really like, you'll be able to chat with them and get to know them better. You're waiting for the right moment to invite them out, but you know it will happen. Why? Because you'll have the skills. You'll have had lots of practice!
10. Go to War Against Shyness
Developing the confidence to achieve your goals will take time and effort. Don't be disheartened if shyness seems to gain the upper hand from time to time. Understand we don't live in a perfect world and can't control how others will respond when we approach them. Sometimes you'll have a win. Other times you won't. One thing is for sure, the process of putting yourself forward gets easier the more you do it.
You're bound to have questions if you're trying to figure out if a girl likes you or looking for ideas to help get a guy to fall madly in love with you, so we may cross paths again. You can always include me among the friends you reach out to when you need encouragement. I generally respond promptly to comments on any of my articles.
Sometimes you're going to feel like you're failing. Simply take a deep breath and remind yourself that even the biggest extroverts sometimes feel the same way. That's life in the real world ... and as you leave shyness behind you, you're going to be an active part of it. So, are you ready to start your own personal war against shyness?
How Do You Feel About Shyness Now?
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a crush on a girl who is too smart. I can't talk with her because I’m too shy and I never do. My friends tease me. What should I do?
Answer: You can’t say someone is ‘too smart’. The world needs intelligent people to help make changes and solve problems, big and small. Yes, she might be smarter than you but that’s no reason to try and change her.
If you become more confident, you won’t feel threatened by her smartness. And if your friends are teasing you, just ignore them.
You and I both know the only way you can get to know her better is to talk with her. So I suggest you start reading out loud to get used to the sound of your own voice and do the other things I suggest in this article.
They really are remedies for shyness so give them a try and see how you go. I’m expecting you’ll be saying hi and asking her a few questions before long. Once you gain the confidence to start talking with her, it will become easier and there will be no stopping you.
© 2018 Daniel Long