3 Neat Tricks for Overcoming Social Anxiety
Some of us are born with the gift of gab, and others struggle to get three words out of their mouth at a dinner party (and, according to The New York Times, it's not always obvious who is in which camp). Though it's clear that some of us have a natural inclination to shyness, it's equally obvious that the ability to boldly sell yourself and make social connections generally benefits business people.
Shy people might not make natural entrepreneurs, but that doesn't mean that if you're inclined to be less than outgoing socially, you're doomed to failure as a business owner. Your level of shyness isn't something you're stuck with, according to a recent article in Psychology Today.
The piece, by author Bill Knaus, offers "exercises to overcome feeling conspicuous and awkward in social situations."
Some of these are suitable only for shyness-busting workshops and demand a group setting to be effective, but a subset of exercises called Stepping out of Character Exercises could be used by any entrepreneur looking to overcome his or her social anxieties. Here are two of Knaus's suggestions:
Wear mismatched socks for a day. At first, you may feel conspicuous. After a while, you may no longer worry what others may think about the socks. In fact, few will notice or care. Ask yourself, "What did I learn from the experience?"
Ask 20 people for the time of day. Go to a mall at a busy time of day. Take off your watch. Use three minutes between requests. This is a great exercise for addressing fears of stranger rejection. Statistically, a small percentage will ignore you. Some may be people with their own self-consciousness problems. Can you emotionally survive a stranger passing on your request for the time?
You may find that you start nervous. You give yourself excuses to delay. Nevertheless, you push yourself to do the exercise. You log the results of each encounter. You later look at your findings. Here is what you are likely to find: Most will give you the time of day. Some will walk past you as though you didn’t exist. A few may engage you in a brief and pleasant conversation.
If you feared rejection before you began the experiment, what might the results tell you about how a sample of strangers responded to a simple request? By engaging what you know or suspect is a foolish social fear, you put yourself on the path to confident composure.
If the likes of wearing mismatched socks seems like weak medicine for your social anxiety, be aware that stronger interventions are also available for the brave at heart.
Radical implosion. Another fascinating Psychology Today piece on overcoming shyness from a few years ago outlines the radical intervention known as "implosion." This involves "tackling a challenge so intimidating that once you've made it through, your original goal no longer fazes you." The article explains the origins of the idea:
Legendary psychologist Albert Ellis pioneered the "shame-attacking exercise" in 1933 at age 19, when he decided to approach every woman who sat down alone on a bench at the New York Botanical Garden. "Thirty walked away immediately," he told the New York Times. "I talked with the other 100, for the first time in my life, no matter how anxious I was. Nobody vomited and ran away. Nobody called the cops."
The technique has apparently also been used by several celebrities to overcome their early shyness. Late-night host Conan O'Brien started performing live comedy "because there was nothing in the world that terrified him more," while comedian Will Ferrell forced himself to do crazy things in public.
" 'In college, I would push an overhead projector across campus with my pants just low enough to show my butt,' Ferrell told People.'Then my friend would incite the crowd to be like, "Look at that idiot!" That's how I got over being shy,'" Ferrell said in the article.
Do you feel it's possible to overcome shyness? Is doing so something that's necessary for entrepreneurs?
JESSICA STILLMAN | Columnist
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.