Do you crave feeling more confident and comfortable when talking to people? If shyness is holding you back from making friends or excelling in your career, you’ll be glad to know that shyness is a learned behavior that needs changing!
What does it mean to be shy? Here is shyness defined:
Shy: Being reserved or having or showing nervousness or timidity in the company of other people. — Oxford Dictionary
Feeling shy in social interactions is more normal than you may think. Research shows that shyness is a universal phenomenon experienced by about 40% of people in the Western world and 60% of those in Eastern cultures.
In fact, some of the most famous people are shy: Mark Zuckerberg’s COO says he is “shy” and “introverted,” Bill Gates is a self-proclaimed introvert, and Warren Buffet advises fellow introverts to push out of their comfort zone to overcome shyness.
Fortunately, being shy is not a psychological disorder like social anxiety, but it still links to a greater risk for depression and social isolation. Unlearning shyness with a few behavioral shifts could radically transform your social life and mental health.
Disclaimer: We are honored to help you overcome shyness and forge deeper social connections! However, please note that the content in this article is not professional medical advice. If you are struggling with social anxiety, isolation, or mental health challenges, please consult with a licensed mental healthcare professional.
Here’s how to overcome shyness so you can experience more confident and enjoyable social connections.
Why Am I So Shy?
Shyness is a timid or bashful behavior one learns throughout his life through social interactions. Being shy is often characterized by feeling awkward, quiet, embarrassed, or nervous in conversation.
Feeling shy basically feels like this:
You may want to socialize, but you feel so dang nervous!
Shy people might have faced social stigmatization in their childhood, including bullying, name-calling, a fear of speaking in groups or being mocked for their introverted demeanor.
Even Beyonce used to be “very shy and a little awkward” and got made fun of by her peers:
The great thing about habits is that you can change them!
You could be shy because your parents regularly made excuses for your quiet or reserved demeanor when meeting new people and never taught you proper social skills.
You could also be shy because you feel self-conscious or have low self-esteem. Or you may be shy because you had a traumatic or humiliating social experience that you don’t want to repeat.
Regardless of the reason for your shyness, you can learn to embrace your authentic self and break out of your shell to build connections with others confidently. Here’s how!
6 Steps to Overcome Shyness
If you like being shy, then don’t change a thing! You do you, friend.
If you feel your shyness has held you back, then read on.
If most people are telling you all your life that you’re shy, overcoming shyness may seem daunting. Fortunately, with a little bit of observation, reflection, and practice, you can replace your “shy” social habits with self-assured social skills.
#1 Stop self-identifying as “the shy one.”
Your words are powerful, especially when it comes to what you call yourself. Research on “narrative psychology” shows that the way you identify yourself can profoundly affect how you act in social situations. Do you ever hear yourself saying…
I’m such a _____.
I’m too ___.
I wish I weren’t ____.
This can actually change the way you think.
Many shy people openly present themselves as “shy” because they have woven this adjective into their identity. You might have created this story based on childhood or adolescent experiences or things you heard from others.
Journaling Exercise: If you want to overcome shyness, it might help to begin creating a new story for yourself:
- Write out when you’ve noticed yourself self-identifying as “shy” and question its truth. For example, I constantly tell myself I’m too shy to approach others at parties. My inner voice says that I’ll just fudge the conversation and embarrass myself… but is that really true? When has that happened? Did they really judge me that hard, or was it my insecurity? Maybe deep down, it’s just my excuse for not putting myself out there… I don’t want to be lonely, but I won’t ever be able to meet anyone if I don’t put myself out there. Continue writing for as long as needed.
- Question where your shy stories have come from (maybe your mother always excused you from social situations by telling people, “oh, don’t mind her/him, they’re just shy,” or perhaps a childhood friend ridiculed you for being awkward in front of a group of people).
- Wait a few days, and then review your writing again.
- Consider how you can re-write this narrative. At the top of a page, write “This Is My New Story” and create a narrative for how you would approach a similar situation without being shy (for example, I feel totally relaxed when I approach random people at parties. I can be myself without fearing their judgment. After all, they are only human, and they probably aren’t paying much attention to my insecurities when they are so focused on my own. One conversation isn’t going to make-or-break my social life…)
Action Step: Eliminate the phrases “I’m shy” or “I’m awkward” from your vocabulary. Notice when you accidentally use this phrase to exclude yourself from socializing.
Consider replacing it with a positive affirmation such as “I like meeting new people” or “I am confident.” Here are 120 Positive Daily Affirmations for Happiness (backed by science)!
#2 Replace shy habits with confident social skills
Once you realize that shyness results from small habits, you can start paying attention to the little things you do daily that make you feel and look shyer.
People may be treating you differently simply because you act shy. Perhaps you avoid eye contact or talk really quietly.
You may avoid social interactions altogether because you feel so shy and caught up in your thoughts. Maybe you appear closed off to conversation, are constantly on your phone, or keep headphones on.
“Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.” — Stephen Chbosky, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower
To overcome shyness, you may need to replace these habits with more confident social skills.
Replace these shy social habits with confident actions:
|Shy Habits (Instead of this…)||Confident Social Skills (Try this…)|
|Overthinking your social interactions||Tell yourself “everyone says awkward things sometimes and nobody is ruminating over what I did or said”|
|Avoiding people in public||Make friendly eye contact or offer compliments to strangers|
|Closed off body language (ex: earbuds in, negative facial expression, arms crossed, etc.)||Signal that you want to socialize by turning your torso towards others, relaxing your arms, putting a smile on your face|
|Facing away from someone during a conversation||Turn towards people to appear more interested and present|
|Using your phone in public||Put your phone away when in social situations. Grab a drink instead if you don’t know what to do with your hands|
|Avoiding eye contact||Practice holding eye contact (begin with people you feel comfortable around)|
|Speak quietly||Talk at a moderate volume.|
|Poor posture or trying to look “small”||Roll back your shoulders and stand up straight. Learn these 4 body language tips for introverts and shy people.|
|A rapid heart rate or sweaty palms before talking to someone new||Practice deep breathing to relax your mind before socializing or carry around a handkerchief to wipe off the sweat|
|Harshly judging yourself after social interactions||Work to quiet your inner critic by changing your internal self-talk|
|Difficulty accepting compliments||Smile and say “thank you” when someone compliments you and consider complimenting them in return|
Pro Tip: One of the easiest ways to start practicing overcoming shyness is with local baristas, bartenders, waitresses, or other food service workers. These people interact with the public regularly and are typically quite easy to talk to. After all, it’s their job. Practice being less shy by saying “hello” to your barista and asking them how their day is.
#3 Model the habits of socially skilled people
Studying people is not only fascinating. It taps into your neurological framework to help you model the behaviors of outgoing people.
Because shyness is behavior habit-based, you can gradually shift your actions by observing how socially confident people engage in conversations.
In Vanessa Van Edwards’s book, Cues: Master the Secret Language of Charismatic Communication, she analyzed highly charismatic people. She found patterns – highly sociable people use specific cues (or social signals) to signal to others.
And here’s the good news: Anyone can learn charisma cues, and they can help you overcome shyness.
There are 96 cues to learn, but the most important ones for overcoming your shyness are:
- Postural Expansion: Maximize the space between your earlobes and shoulders. This is a signal of pride and confidence. It should also make it easier to take deep breaths. This both looks more confident and will help you FEEL more confident.
- Slightly Higher Volume: Research has found that confident people tend to speak with a slightly higher volume when feeling passionate or engaged. If you agree with someone or want to make a point, imbue your words with confidence.
- Ask open-ended questions: Confident people do not have to talk a lot; they have to ask the right questions. For example, notice how to interview host Ellen Degeneres leads her social interactions with compliments. She asks a lot about the other person and focuses directly on them as they talk. She exudes authentic laid-back energy with open body language, good posture, her palms revealed, with plenty of eye contact and smiles while the other person talks.
Action Step #1: Watch YouTube videos or TV Shows of highly social and well-liked people. Put yourself in the shoes of a scientist studying their behavior.
Action Step #2: Instead of zoning out or staring at your phone in public, start observing how socially skilled people interact around you:
Are they making strong eye contact?
What do their posture and body language look like? (Are they standing up straight and confident, or do they look more nervous and reserved? Watch the video below about 4 Body Language Tips for Introverts and Shy People)
- What is their tone of voice? Are they speaking quietly or more loudly?
- Do they pause to think before speaking?
- Do they give cues that they are interested in listening to the other person? (For example, nodding their head or saying “mhm” as the other person talks).
It’s a lot easier to overcome shyness when you take note of the social ingredients used by others and mix them into your habits and personality. Take note of how shy people act versus what socially confident people do.
#4 Take 5 slow, deep breaths before social interactions
Whether you get sweaty palms, an increased heart rate, or butterflies in your stomach, it’s very common to feel nervous before socializing. Calming your body down before talking to someone new can help you feel more relaxed in conversation.
In her book, The 5 Second Rule, motivational speaker, and author Mel Robbins explains how the physiological responses of feeling anxious or nervous are the same as feeling excited.
Your body goes into “fight or flight” mode and releases many stress hormones to try to protect you from a scary situation. But the truth is that socializing doesn’t need to be all that scary.
It also helps to remember that most people are overanalyzing the social performance that they probably weren’t even paying attention to little mishaps you may ruminate over in your head.
“Shyness has a strange element of narcissism, a belief that how we look, how we perform, is truly important to other people.” — Andre Dubus
In reality, people tend to focus on themselves in social situations.
Action Step: Instead of telling yourself, “I am so nervous to talk to my crush,” consider saying, “I am so excited to talk to this person.” Your body doesn’t actually know the difference.
Next, take 5 slow deep breaths before approaching somebody for a conversation. Deep breathing is scientifically proven to reduce heart rate, decrease blood pressure, and activate the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system. This helps get you out of “fight or flight” mode to feel calmer and less shy when socializing.
After a conversation, you can repeat this exercise to help eliminate anxious thoughts like “what if I embarrassed myself” or “why did I say that?” Deep breathing reduces cortisol and stress in the brain, leading to a more peaceful feeling.
#5 Use small talk to find common ground
Changing the way you think about shyness helps to change the way you approach conversations. If you are the type of person who wants to get right to the point or jump into deeper topics right away, you may be missing out on a crucial part of the social experience.
Small talk is like the appetizer and palette cleanser before a meal. It helps you settle into your place in the conversation and get a taste of how the other person will interact with you.
The best way to approach small talk is to find the similarities you have with others. This helps build intimacy and makes you feel more comfortable in conversation as if you are talking to someone like you (because most people are like you in some way or another).
For example, in this video, Oprah directly connects with Amy Schumer by pointing out something she thinks they have in common. Ironically, their commonality is feeling introverted and shy at parties. They even joke about hiding in the bathroom! Seeking out common ground is an easy habit to incorporate into conversations, so you feel less shy.
Asking questions about the other person can often help ease the pressure on you to talk.
Action Step: Lead with interesting conversation starters that you can gear into more expansive small talk:
- Working on anything exciting lately?
- How is that [drink/meal/artwork]? Use context clues to ask someone about the cocktail they ordered or the photograph they are looking at.
- What was the highlight of your day today?
- How do you know the host?
Check out our article on small talk or watch the video below to learn how to master the art of small talk. These skills can help you overcome shyness from the get-go.
#6 Create a persona and dress the part
Like an actor on a stage, sometimes getting into the character of a socially confident person can help you conquer social shyness.
Have you ever put on a sports uniform or a Halloween costume and felt yourself act like a different person? Psychologists termed the concept of “enclothed cognition” to explain wearing certain clothes changes the way people think and act.
When someone puts on a lab coat, their attentiveness to a task increases compared to wearing their normal clothes. When people put on workout gear, they feel more athletic and more inclined to work out.
You can use this psychology to create your persona or costume. Get out of your “shell” of shyness and put on a different outfit of courage and confidence.
Action Step #1: Learn a powerful concept called the Alter Ego effect. Watch this to learn more:
Action Step #2: Find an outfit that makes you feel and look like the most confident version of yourself.
- Type “confident outfits for women” or “confident outfits for school” into Google
- Copy and paste your favorite photos into Canva to create a style inspiration board
- Consider adding words and images that inspire your particular uniqueness, like “bohemian,” “creative,” “sleek,” “business,” or “boss.”
- Save the style board as your phone screensaver
- Go to your local mall or shop online for similar pieces
- Try on some things you haven’t worn before, like brighter colors or unique patterns
- Experiment with different combinations of tops, bottoms, and shoes
- Add a unique accessory (for example, eye-catching earrings, your grandmother’s necklace, or a sleek belt you found on a recent trip) that may be a conversation starter
- Wear your new favorite outfit out to the next social event you attend
Remember, putting on a costume is not intended to cover up who you are. There is a balance between staying true to your authentic self and embodying who you want to be.
An alter ego will not replace who you are deep down but rather give you the courage to act out differently.
What is the Difference Between Shyness, Introversion, and Social Anxiety?
While shyness is a learned behavior that causes mild discomfort in social situations, introversion is a personality type of people who get overstimulated by too much social interaction. On the other hand, social anxiety is a clinical disorder defined by extreme anxiety in socializing.
Many people get shyness, introversion, and social anxiety confused, so here are the key differences.
Shyness: Shyness is a learned behavior. There is an initial feeling of discomfort around new people that dissipates over time as you get to know them. Typically, shyness does not lead to the extreme distress experienced by those with social phobia or social anxiety. Both extroverted and introverted people can feel shy in certain situations.
Introversion: People with this personality type tend to get overstimulated by excessive socializing and need time alone to regain energy. They are more focused on internal feelings rather than external stimuli. Unlike extroverted individuals, introverts tend to feel a bit drained after social interactions rather than stimulated by them.
They may or may not have confident social skills or experience shyness. Like shy people can improve their social skills, introverted people can be excellent at conversing with others. They may just need time to themselves to recoup afterward.
Social Anxiety or Social Phobia: A well-defined clinical disorder characterized by extreme anxiety in social scenarios and persistent fear of being humiliated, judged, or rejected in social situations. This distress and anxiety are often out of proportion to the scenario (for example, an intense fear of asking a question in a meeting) and interferes with daily living.
Action Step: If you feel like you are dealing with a mild or moderate case of social anxiety, watch this video with 6 tips you can use to start overcoming social fear now.
What Are The Root Causes of Shyness?
Even though you implement several strategies for overcoming shyness, you may not be able to truly feel confident in social situations until you address the root cause of why you feel so shy.
Genetics and upbringing
Your childhood could have dramatically impacted how you interact with people. Research shows that an unstable environment or difficult behaviors from infancy to age six can dramatically affect shyness later in life.
Other aspects of your upbringing could also have reinforced shy behaviors:
- If your parents were shy or not very social, you might not have had the proper modeling on how to interact with others confidently.
- Parental overcontrol links to higher instances of social anxiety.
- If someone is bullying you in school, you might have become more reserved or timid as a means of coping.
- If your household was unstable, you might have found it safer to remain quiet or detached.
There are also some studies on identical twins that have pointed to a certain “shy gene.” Research has also shown that about 30% of infants are born with brain structures that tend to be shyer. However, environmental factors have a far greater impact on shyness than genetic predisposition.
Insecurity or lack of self-esteem
Shyness links to low self-esteem. When you don’t feel comfortable in your skin, it can be hard to form healthy relationships. This often leads to a deep fear of being judged or ridiculed by others, resulting in more social withdrawal. To truly overcome shyness, you may need to address underlying insecurity.
Action Step: Growing your self-confidence takes time and patience. Learn How to Build Rock-Solid Self-Esteem in 8 Weeks (or less!).
Traumatic Social Experiences
For example, being mocked by peers after giving a speech in school or being publicly shamed in the workplace could create social trauma. While childhood bullying or exclusion are particularly harmful to the psyche, being socially humiliated at any age can lead to feelings of shyness.
Psychologists use cognitive-behavioral therapy to help rescript these narratives around self-esteem when socializing.
Lack of Social Skills
Schools and workplaces focus so heavily on technical skills that “soft skills” like socializing often fall by the wayside. You could be shy simply because you don’t know how to interact with people.
Action Step: Learn these 14 Essential Social Skills or watch the video below to stop feeling awkward when hanging out with people.
Key Takeaways to Stop Being Shy
Feeling shy really comes down to a series of behaviors that you’ve repeated over your lifetime.
Thankfully, socializing is a skill. Just like learning an instrument or a new sport, you can practice overcoming shyness in your daily life.
Changing social habits is not always easy, but it is a rewarding journey that gets easier with time. There are also several tools in your toolbox:
- Stop identifying as the shy one. Use journaling to sort through the origins of this perception of yourself. Try eliminating the phrase “I’m shy” from your vocabulary and re-writing the narrative around your social identity.
- Use deep breathing and a shift in internal talk to get out of “fight or flight” mode and into a relaxed state before socializing. Socially anxious thoughts are often a result of raised cortisol during and after a social interaction. Remember that people are probably not as focused on your social mishaps as you are.
- Observe socially adept people and take note of how they interact with others. If you constantly hang out around other shy people, you may not get the chance to study how confident people socialize.
- Remember that shyness is a result of repeated behaviors. Replace your shy habits with confident ones. For example, speak a little louder instead of lowering your voice. Roll back your shoulders and relax your arms instead of appearing crossed and hunched over.
- Embrace the art of small talk as a “warm-up” for your conversations. Ask questions about the other person to ease the pressure on you to talk.
- Visualize a less-shy, more confident version of yourself. Create a persona around who you want to be and dress the part.
If shy introverts like Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg can become successful with people, so can you. Here are 8 Ways to Make Introversion Your Superpower.