I have written much about the fact that introversion and shyness are not the same. After all, you can be shy as either an introvert or extrovert, as shyness is more about your confidence (or lack thereof) than about how you interact with the world.
The truth is I was shy. In my case, I think this was largely due to not understanding my introversion and my unique gifts and strengths. One of my gifts as an introvert is to think deeply, analyze, and come up with solutions. Over the past few years of reading, thinking, analyzing, listening, observing, and talking, I have changed my life for the better. I have come to understand that there are parts of me that are unchangeable, such as needing to think before I speak. But there are also aspects that can be changed, such as irrational fears or self-defeating thoughts, and by learning how to change these things, I can make my life better. Below are some of the concepts that contributed to my shyness and how I have overcome them. You may not completely relate to my situation as we are all different. However, my point is that as we come to understand ourselves and our strengths and weaknesses, we can change our thoughts and lives for the better.
Going from inside to outside
As an introvert, I naturally spend more in my head and don’t always notice my surroundings. This can produce feelings of anxiety as you try to navigate new situations and places, because you are trying to process your surroundings and what is going on externally. This shift in processing may be uncomfortable if you spend most of the time “in” your head. I manage this by trying to arrive early, slow down, and remember that most people don’t like unfamiliar situations.
Thinking deep thoughts
One of my strengths as an introvert is to think deeply and often. There have been many times in my life where I shared a deep thought and got funny looks or was made fun of. So in my case, sharing deep thoughts has made me shy in the past. I have come to realize that often when others have not put in the time to analyze and synthesize information, my well-thought-out ideas may seem a bit crazy. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong… It just means I may have to spend time explaining concepts that are obvious to me, and stand my ground when I’m not being heard.
I have learned that my analytical ability is something great about me. As I’ve gained more experience in sharing my deep thoughts, I have been able to put forth some truly innovative ideas that have been successfully implemented. And now when I share ideas, people listen.
Thinking before speaking
I usually think before I speak. This is a fact. When I didn’t understand this about myself, I could get run over by those that talk in order to think. I felt less than adequate in these situations, and my self-confidence waned. But by understanding how I operate — that I think first then speak — I have come to accept this trait. Now I let people know when I am thinking, so I can take the time I need. I have also learned that I can prepare for certain conversations, meetings, and presentations ahead of time so I don’t always have to take as much time during the situation to think before speaking (as I’ve already thought about it – A LOT). And in conversations where I am the expert, I’ve already spent so much time thinking that my words come much more freely. But when I am in situations where I have to pause and think, I have learned to relax and let my thoughts do their best work.
Not liking small talk
I have never enjoyed talking about the weather or the price of gas and have often avoided these situations altogether. In the past, if I did find myself in a small group or one-on-one with a person I didn’t know well, I found that because I wasn’t interested in the conversation, I really didn’t have anything to say. Others thought I was quiet, and I thought I was quiet. I have learned that in building relationships, you have to start somewhere and small talk may be the necessary gateway to get to those deeper discussions I crave. I have gotten better at small talk, but I accept that I may never be a master at it. I also have learned not to worry about awkward silences, because if it is silent then you are not the only one not talking.
Comparing myself to others
We all have unique gifts, and no one person has all gifts. In the past, I have compared myself to someone that is brilliant at something I am not and the comparison has made me feel inferior. I often listen to motivational speakers with great charisma and sometimes would catch myself thinking badly about myself for not having that particular talent. Instead, I now realize that those I compare myself to may not have the analytical gifts I have and we all have our own important contributions to make. Recognize your own strengths and the value of what YOU have to offer, without comparing yourself to what you see in others.
Listening to labels
If people tell you that you are quiet and shy long enough, you might eventually begin to believe it. Labels can be useful when they are used to help someone understand themselves in general terms and explain how to overcome challenges and move forward in their strengths. But labels can also hold people back from their full potential. For some reason, people like to categorize other people into neat little boxes — and these boxes can be very limiting and confining. I have learned to reject negative labels as they are harmful. Instead, focus on what’s great about yourself, where your strengths are, and traits or actions you can change and improve. If you’re not locked into a label, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.
Not shy anymore
I used to be shy. I believed the words that others told me, and I told myself. During my journey of self-discovery, I have come to realize that I am an introvert forever, as my thoughts are directed inward more than not, but shyness can be overcome.
Do you relate to any of the above? Are there other things that you realized were making you shy? What are the issues that are still holding you back?
I may still appear quiet at times. I am always going to spend time in my head. However, I have learned that I can create the friendships and connections I want. I can be very successful and make my voice heard. I have the power to change my thoughts, control my fears, and be strong. And so can you.