All my life Iíve been an inwardly directed person. While some people like to think out loud, I prefer to process the world internally, answer my own questions, and come to a conclusion before speaking up.
This personality trait has benefits and drawbacks. On the positive side, itís a source of strength as a writer and analytical thinker. Without it I wouldnít have taken an interest in books/writing and this site wouldnít exist. On the downside, my tendency to keep everything inside is responsible for one of my major weaknesses ó shyness.
Shyness is rooted in fear ó an irrational fear of speaking up and being humiliated or ignored. Why are some people so afraid of speaking out? In my mind the main causes are oversensitivity and insecurity. When you associate speaking out with pain and embarrassment, youíll do almost anything to avoid it.
Unfortunately, shyness is an enormous detriment to success. For people who share this problem, itís important to understand the causes and work towards overcoming it.
Itís Not You Itís Them
For naturally quiet people, the fear of speaking can arise from a few bad experiences, especially at an early age. When an adult reacts angrily or dismissively to an attempt at self expression, itís natural to take it personally and shy away from future expression. Even if this only happens once or twice, people tend to exaggerate these incidents until they become mental monsters. Growing up, it took me a long time to realize how self centered people are. The way someone reacts to something you say usually has nothing to do with youĖitís more likely a reflection of the mood theyíre in or a recent event in their life.
A key to overcoming shyness is recognizing these perceived slights for what they areĖmeaningless. When someone reacts to you negatively, donít take it personally. Imagine the other personís perspective. Is there something that may have put them in a bad mood? Are they trying to cover up their own inadequacy? Considering the perspective of the other person makes it easier to put their reaction in the proper context.
Itís also essential to let go of bad experiences. When you dwell on a bad experience, it grows into something much more frightening than reality. Donít do this to yourself! The more you think about a bad experience the more power you give it. Donít blame yourself. Think about something constructive. The more you can fill your mind with positive memories of speaking up the easier it gets.
Other People Arenít So Different
Another important step in overcoming shyness is realizing that other people are basically the same as you. Everyone is insecure and afraid of embarrassment. Other people usually arenít as smart as you think. If you have a question, chances are someone else is wondering about the same thing.
Donít let one or two bad experiences dictate your entire opinion of humanity. By and large, people are friendly and interested in connecting with others. Theyíll respond favorably to your attempts at communicating. In most cases, people will be thrilled that you took the initiative to break the ice.
Realizing Self Worth
The second cause of shyness is insecurity. If you donít think you have anything valuable to contribute, whatís the point of risking embarrassment?
To get over this you need to recognize the merit of your own thoughts and the value they present to others. Itís ironic that the people most inclined towards shyness are often the most thoughtful. To reach your potential, you need to share yourself with the world. Your brilliant insights donít hold any value until theyíve enlightened someone else.
The best way to get accustomed to sharing is practice. Force yourself to speak up, especially when you donít want to. Sit in the front of the room and make yourself visible. Understand that sharing your insights with people is doing them a favor. Once you get used to opening up, youíll notice how positively people react. This will build your self confidence and faith in the goodwill of others.
The Duty to Contribute
Overcoming shyness isnít just something you should do for yourself, itís also part of being a contributing member of society. When you have a thought or idea that deserves to be heard, youíre not only hurting yourself by keeping quiet, youíre hurting the people around you.
A basketball coach once explained to me how passing can selfish. If a player has an open shot that she can make, and she decides to pass instead, that player is being selfish and hurting the team. When you pass up the chance to excel because of shyness or the fear of failure, youíre hurting the group to shelter yourself.
Other people need you. They need your intelligence and insight. They need your help to work through problems. By hiding behind shyness, you limit the help you can give to your friends, family members, and colleagues.
A college professor of mine used to make a big deal about overcoming shyness. He called it a, ďsilly, foolish habit,Ē and said, ďthe sooner you can break it the better.Ē Shyness doesnít benefit anyone. Saving yourself a little embarrassment doesnít amount to much in the long run. By overcoming shyness, you give yourself the chance to be recognized and promoted. You create opportunities and open yourself up to forming meaningful relationships.
Donít keep your talent inside, share at every opportunity so it can grow and flourish.