Shyness is not something most people are born with; it is something they learn, or choose. In fact, according to statistics, 10 – 15% of babies are born inhibited, or withdrawn, but up to 60% of adults regard themselves as shy. Life coach and facilitator of Joy of Business, Smriti Goswami shares how you can overcome being shy.
I know what it’s like to be a shy girl. I understand how difficult – how impossible – it can feel to say hello, break the ice or start a conversation. I know the thoughts that arise when you can’t seem to gel with a crowd, or when social gatherings make you nervous. I am being watched, I am being judged, I am being spoken about in whispers. Forget being on stage to present something, I appreciate that sometimes even speaking up within a group of friends is a mammoth task.
I have no way of knowing if I was born shy, but I do know that the beliefs I adopted as a child – the things I was taught by my family and community – contributed to my inability to speak up, and speak out.
Even while achieving courageous feats for a young Indian woman (a Navy Diving Course, extreme-sporting excellence), it was almost impossible for me to be powerful in the way I communicated and connected with others. I had come to believe that it was not my place to speak my mind, and that it would be disrespectful or unpleasant if I voiced my personal demands or opinions.
All of this began to change in my twenties when, through circumstance and determination, I learned to overcome my shyness and find a bolder, more empowered me. There were several steps to this process.
A FEAR TRIGGERED A SOLUTION
As with any significant change, it can take a powerful catalyst to confront your own shyness. For me, the motivation came at age 22 when, as is the custom throughout India, my parents started discussing who they would choose for me to marry. The very thought of having to spend the rest of my life with a complete stranger gave me the courage to, finally, stand my ground and speak up for myself. The fear triggered the solution. If you are looking to be bolder in your connections with others, actively engage a fear or other motivation. Can you do it for your children? Your career? A long-held dream?
START PRACTICING BOLDNESS
If you are shy, speaking boldly is going to take practice. I started practicing in front of the mirror first, motivating myself, speaking to my image as if speaking to a third person, changing my persona to speak back to myself. It seems ridiculous now, but it worked! I started to gain confidence in the real world and began to express my view in conversations. Don’t be afraid to practice being bold when you are alone, so that you become more familiar with how it feels when with others.
ADOPT A PERSONA
In the process of practicing my boldness, I began to create an ‘avatar’ of myself; I started disassociating myself from my shyness and the beliefs that prevented me from speaking up. I created a bold persona in my head, and started faking who I believed that person to be. I wore this invisible mask around me to protect me from my own thoughts and fears. I became an actor, a performer, who had made life her stage. Over time, something incredible happened – as the performances became a norm, I soon started forgetting the old me. Suddenly, it was me being bold, not just my avatar. I was at every social gathering, attracting people towards me, initiating dialogues and steering group conversations. The phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” is not just an empty promise. It can be a powerful way to explore who you are without the mantle of shyness.
CHASE YOUR DREAMS
We express ourselves just as effectively through our actions and choices, as we do our words. So, as part of my new boldness, I made a commitment to live more fully and conquer my childhood dreams. I learned how to scuba dive, and fly a commercial airliner. I got married to a person I fell in love with and became a proud mother of two. I followed my passion to paint and took up photography. I achieved in a few years what most could only dream of in a lifetime. Be bold enough to create a dream and follow it like crazy. In this way, you realize that any obstacles you face in life (or communication) are not only surmountable – they never really existed at all.
Importantly, in order to achieve anything, realise that you always have to let go of something. Be willing to let go of the hurdles that stop you from being bold. Allow the things that are holding you back to fade out of your life – whether they be beliefs, habits, relationships, or social expectations – and welcome in the brand new You.