I was very shy as a child. I experienced a great deal of worry about saying the wrong thing. School dances were a nightmare as was walking into that overwhelming school auditorium each morning before class. I was often consumed with self-conscious thoughts. In college, I experienced complete dread at the thought of having to get up in front of my peers to give a speech. I thought seriously about skipping the required Public Speaking class. It was obvious that my anxiety was interfering with my life and I knew I needed to do something about it. I decided to take the Introduction to Public Speaking class and also to make Speech Communication my undergraduate concentration, even taking graduate level Public Speaking classes to help me face my fear of public speaking. I was no longer going to let my fear get in the way. I began facilitating discussion groups, getting involved in various clubs and taking on leadership roles to expose myself as much as possible to the very thing that caused me so much distress. After college, each time I got up to speak to a group, lead a meeting, go on a job interview, I continued to experience nervousness, but I kept on doing it. I was determined not to let my emotions stop me from what I wanted for my life- freedom. Today, through preparation and practice the nerves have significantly decreased. I am able to get up in front of audiences of 200 or more and speak with confidence. I use very specific techniques to help me get out of my head and into the moment.
When any personal characteristic interferes with what you want for your life, it is time for a change.
First assess how the characteristic plays out in your life (shyness, fear of public speaking, anxiety). Are there specific behaviors that you engage in, such as shying away from certain people, places, or situations? Are there times when you want to participate in activities such as dating or speaking to a group but because you don't feel comfortable you don't? Are there times when you wish you were more assertive at work but feel that fear keeps you from speaking up? Make a list of all the ways your emotions or thoughts keep you from doing what you want to do.
Second, make a list of specific activities you would do if fear was not a factor. This list represents the value you place on living a life free of fear. It also represents your goals.
Third, write a paragraph describing what it would feel like to be a person without this particular fear.
Fourth, stop resisting the fear. Accept that the feelings of discomfort will arise in certain situations or around certain people. Acknowledge these feelings as they arise. The most important part is not to let the feeling stop you from living the life you want- a life where nothing stops you from your goals. A life where you take the necessary action and engage in the type of behaviors that lead you toward your goals in spite of the feelings. For example, even though you feel shy and uncomfortable and afraid of meeting new people for the first time, you do it anyway. You go on the date, go to the meetup, go to the party. Even though you feel uncomfortable and afraid of speaking in front of an audience or going to an interview, you do it anyway. You give the presentation, speak up at a meeting, go to the job interview.
Fifth, be compassionate and kind to yourself. Before the meeting, the interview, or the speech, help yourself relax and challenge any unhelpful thoughts that arise.
Whether it's fear, shyness or anxiety, when it starts to get in the way, it's time to think about what you can do differently. While the discomfort and anxiety of meeting someone for the first time or speaking in front of an audience may not go away completely, there are steps you can take to manage your emotions, and not let your emotions manage you.