Have you ever been to a party where the room is packed with people? Some are friends and many strangers? Or even more intimidating- all strangers. In this situation one of two things can happen. You can walk up to the nearest person, introduce yourself, and turn the stranger into a friend. More commonly, though, you may feel inclined to move to the edge of the room, grab a drink, and dread having to make small talk with someone you’ve never met before in your life.
For an outgoing person, the first situation seems like a no-brainer. However, those who think of themselves as more shy will completely understand how the party quickly becomes a scene from a nightmare (1).
What is often missed is that the designation of “outgoing” and “shy” is more of a scale rather than binary categories. Even the people introducing themselves to strangers could be feeling some level of shyness. Becoming outgoing is about developing a skill, not necessarily being born with an inherent and unchangeable quality.
Luckily, there are six steps to overcoming a shy inclination and embracing an outgoing lifestyle:
1. Understand Your Obstacles
The first step in becoming more social is to recognize what is holding you back from being so.
Is it small talk that you dread? Perhaps you’re afraid that people won’t like you. Could it be that the commotion of the room leaves you feeling overstimulated and exhausted? Once you pin down what is causing you to retreat into shyness, only then can you overcome the obstacle.
It is very likely that there could be multiple factors causing you anxiety in social settings. Watch yourself closely the next time you’re in the uncomfortable environment so that you recognize all discomforts, not just a few. From here you can begin your journey towards embodying a more outgoing version of yourself.
2. Take Small Steps
To expect someone to go from shy to outgoing overnight would be quite irrational, and most likely end in disappointment. Instead, it is a more fruitful approach to take small steps while trying to be less reserved. There are many methods you can use to begin this process (2).
It is after you have discovered your obstacles in step one that you can decide which small changes you will make. A good example of a small change is to begin saying “yes” more often when you would rather say no and run away. This can be tailored to your obstacle. If you concluded that your obstacle was being easily exhausted by social situations, try saying yes to attending the event, but only stay for half of it. This allows you to fulfill your goal of being more social, while still going easy on yourself. After several occasions of saying yes more often, you may find yourself staying for longer durations. The busyness of the party will begin to normalize.
It is not fair on yourself, or for others to expect an instant change. Remember to take it slow and not put high amounts of pressure on yourself.
3. Fake It
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.” – Paulo Coelho
Faking it does not mean that you are becoming disingenuous or not true to yourself. Instead, you are simply enhancing a skill that you have not utilized much up until this point. You may not always feel confident in the situation you’re in, but if you fake the confidence it is likely that you will quickly start to experience the real thing. It is an odd phenomenon, but one that consistently works.
The most effective way to fake it seems to be by staying positive. When you are smiling or giving off positive vibes, those around you will be more at ease and the environment will be friendlier (3). AS the group reciprocates in this way, you will be more comfortable as well. Is it becoming clear how this circular method works?
4. Acknowledge Your Surroundings
When entering a social environment it can be easy to become caught up within your thoughts: overthinking, judging, and panicking. When this begins, recognize it. Now, stop! Rather than having an internal focus, become aware of the present. This will help on several levels.
First, overthinking and having an excessive internal dialogue will most likely cause you to downward spiral into more anxiety. Unless you are giving yourself a pep talk that will result in a more outgoing self, focus on those around you instead. Secondly, paying attention to others gives off the positive vibe that was previously described in step three. In contrast to being distracted and anxious, you will seem inviting and friendly towards those nearby. Finally, when you focus on others you may realize that you aren’t the only one feeling out of their comfort zone. Noticing this should comfort and remind you that many struggle with being outgoing.
The pressure has now been significantly reduced, and the pathway to an outgoing to demeanor is becoming clearer.
After you’ve taken your first small steps, you can gradually build on them. This includes what you expect of yourself as well as the frequency of your socialness. The more often you place yourself slightly outside of your comfort zone, the bigger your comfort zone will eventually grow. Eventually there will be a day that you realize many of your anxieties have greatly reduced or even vanished.
Aside from frequency, you can also practice your changes outside of the social setting. This will aid in a smoother transition into being an outgoing person. For example, if you have anxieties surrounding small talk, then try practicing at home. Either have a chat with your cat and think up casual topics, or ask a close friend to practice with you. While it may seem silly at times, by going through the motions of it, it will feel more natural when it comes time to utilize the skill.
6. Accept Vulnerability
After you have spent so much time cultivating your outgoing side, it is important to not become discouraged to the point of retreating back to shyness where it may seem safe. To avoid this type of fate, you must be realistic with yourself. Is there an ultimate level of being outgoing in which you will never feel an ounce of awkwardness or anxiety in social settings? Most definitely not.
Even the most outgoing of individuals go through moments of feeling shy (4). What sets them apart from those classified as shy is that they push past this feeling. Or, if they act in a shy way, they don’t get caught up in it, nor let it affect their decision to be outgoing in the future. Therefore, follow this route and don’t become too discouraged if you find yourself feeling shy. Return to the previous steps and keep progressing.
Out you Go
While it may seem like a lot of effort to develop the outgoing skill, it is a skill worth acquiring and has many benefits. These benefits are on social, professional, and biological levels.
Socially, the more open and positive you are towards others, the more comfortable they are and the more likely it is that friends will be made. Your friends group and social calendar will grow as your levels of being outgoing do.
Professionally, and along the same lines as socially, an outgoing personality tends to thrive. Co-workers have the tendency to correlate a friendly person with trustworthiness and other positive characteristics. Having good relationships with those around you at work will likely result in more opportunities in the workplace. At the very least, a comfier work environment will result in a happier, more relaxed, you.
Finally, on a biological level, with less stress and higher happiness levels will come a cleaner bill of health. According to the June 2013 Edition of the Journal of Research in Personality, a positive correlation exists between extroversion in one’s youth and the happiness levels later on in life. This should motivate you in taking the steps towards a more outgoing life as soon as possible (5).
Have the confidence in yourself to know that you are able to make this change. It will benefit you in numerous way, and you deserve them all.
(Read this next: Learning to Love Yourself Through Being Present)