The Ask Nicola Morgan competition has now closed so I have the extremely difficult task of judging. I’ve looked at all the questions, which is why I know it’s going to be hard! I promise to announce the winners before the end of term – and I realise that Scottish schools finish earlier than in England. Meanwhile, I’m answering a question from each school even before I’ve announced the winners.
I’ve answered four questions so far (put “Ask Nicola Morgan” in the search box to find them). The fifth question I’m answering is from Ms Henderson’s IDL class of Drummond Community High School. Great questions and hard to choose which to answer!
Q: What advice would you give to someone trying to overcome shyness? And do you have any tips to help with becoming more outgoing?
Most people can relate to feeling shy. Even people who look pretty confident will have their shy moments, not know what to say, start blushing, feel self-conscious and wish they could hide. But people who feel like that a lot can find themselves unable to take a full part in “normal” life. They can find that their shyness holds them back, socially, in class and later at work. And it can make people feel really bad about themselves. That’s what I’d call “suffering” from shyness.
Certainly, if you feel you suffer from shyness, it would be good to improve the situation with some strategies and to learn to overcome the shyness so it’s not a significant thing in your life. But if you just feel shy sometimes or have to take a deep breath before entering a room full of strangers or sometimes feel tongue-tied, realise that this is completely normal. It’s more common in young people and it’s likely to improve as you get older and more confident. On the other hand, very many adults are shy, too, and find all sorts of ways to avoid social situations. That’s not a good idea and is likely to make it worse.
In other words, a small problem needs to be nipped in the bud and a big problem definitely needs some attention and strategies to stop it holding you back. (I’ll come to that in a minute.)
But I want first to tackle the second part of the question, about tips to help someone be more “outgoing”.
Let me challenge you: why is being outgoing seen as being great and being shy is seen as being bad? Outgoing people might be noisy, hyper, impulsive, exhausting for the quieter people around them. Shy people might be sensitive, kind, thoughtful. So I’d love it if people would stop holding these two things out as one being desirable and the other not being desirable.
What we want is for people to be comfortable and successful the way they are. Both sorts of people have something to offer the world and personally I’m really glad the whole world isn’t made of outgoing people!
However, one good thing about being outgoing is that you meet more people and therefore usually find more opportunities and ideas. Of course, you can learn a lot sitting in front of a computer screen but face-to-face conversation and eye contact are incredibly useful and positive forces in human life, so if we avoid this too much we will be missing out.
So, the question really needs to be: what can a shy person do to make sure they don’t miss out on the opportunities that more outgoing people can find?
- First, realise that almost everyone feels shy sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s natural to feel self-conscious and worried about what people think and in fact that can make you a good, sensitive, thoughtful person. If you can stop thinking about it so much, it will stop being such a “thing” and you’ll be able to speak to people more easily.
- When you know you’re going to be with other people – eg arriving at school in the morning or at break time – think of questions in advance. “Did you watch …?” “Have you seen…?” “Did you find the homework easy?” If you ask questions, people like it and also it takes the attention off you as they answer.
- If you’re in a group, just turn to the person next to you to say something. You don’t have to talk to the whole group.
- Find activities that aren’t so much about talking. Sports and hobbies mean you have something to do and focus on and so does everyone else, so it’s not all about chat and looking at each other.
- Do it in small bursts. So, don’t feel you have to be chatty and sociable all day or all evening – do it for a certain amount of time and then get outside for a break.
- Although phones and social media are great for making friends and communicating, avoid using them to hide behind. If you can’t think of something to say, don’t immediately pick your phone up – try asking a question instead.
- Team up with one person you like and who is maybe shy like you and find an activity you could both join together. Discuss in advance that you’re feeling shy but that you want to try to be more outgoing and see if you can help each other.
- If you have a particular episode of being shy, don’t beat yourself up about it. Ask yourself if there was anything else you could have done, see if you can learn anything from it, and then put it out of your mind. You can’t change the past.
- Don’t set too-high targets: your target should not be to become the most outgoing person in the class; it should be to join in something new, to cope with a group situation, to speak to someone you haven’t spoken to, to make eye contact with a shop assistant or your teacher. Small steps that you can be proud of.
- Don’t try to change who you are: just learn some new behaviours that will help you in life.
We get better at things when we practise. That applies to everything, not just things we learn in class but also ways of behaving so that we get the best chances and results in life. So, if being shy is a behaviour that’s holding you back or making you feel bad, practise not being shy, setting yourself small challenges and going for them. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t succeed every time. When you do succeed, even in a small way, feel proud!
NB I am not talking about Social Anxiety Disorder. If you are worried that you have a serious problem beyond normal sever shyness, then you need some special help and you would get this by seeing a doctor first.
You will find lots of advice about making friends and being sociable in The Teenage Guide to Friends.