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I Was Nervous Around People

I used to think that there was something wrong with me and I felt as if everyone was staring at me all the time. I was so shy and I felt embarrassed of who I was. I felt as if in order for me to be able to be around others or interact in social situations, that I needed to be someone else. I would work hard to hide what I thought were my flaws, and I was so afraid that somehow, whatever was wrong with me would be revealed and I would be judged by everyone and made to be an outcast, rejected. I was so scared of being rejected and when people told me to “just be myself” I just didn’t know how. 

Have you ever had that feeling where you think that all the people around you are somehow aware of everything that you might perceive to be “not good” about yourself? It almost feels like when you were a teenager and you woke up on a school day with a huge pimple on your face. Maybe you try to get rid of it or cover it up with some tinted moisturiser but no matter how much better it looks, you can still feel it, right there like a big neon sign telling everyone to stare at you. 
Well for me it was like I was waking up with a face full of pimples every day, only they weren’t pimples at all, they were all the negative thoughts and beliefs that I had about myself, my skills, my personality and who I was as a person. I wanted so badly to be able to just slap on some makeup and cover them up, and I tried very hard to act like the person I thought I was supposed to be. I hid behind my smile and overthinking became my usual state of being. It was a struggle every day. I was exhausted. Do you sometimes feel like you’re wearing a mask too, or going through life pretending to be someone else?

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All I wanted was to feel more confident and comfortable within myself, especially in social situations when other people were around. I just didn’t know how. A part of me even believed that it was just a personality trait that I had. That maybe I was just an introvert and it was something I would have to learn to live with. But another part of me knew that I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I began to read and learn everything I could about the psychology of confidence, about introverts, shyness and evidence-based ways to feel calm when anxious. I filled my mind with so much useful information that I could have taught a class on it without rehearsing, but I still really struggled to take action and put everything I had learned into practise.

Introverts, Extroverts and Being Shy

Then I came across an interesting article about how shyness and feeling nervous in social situations, was not the same thing as being an introvert, and that even extroverts could feel shy and nervous in those same situations. To keep it simple, basically introverts tend to more fully recharge their energy by being alone or in very small groups, whereas extroverts tend to get their energy from being in larger buzzing groups of people. Either way is fine, and it helps to be aware of what your own tendencies are so you can take care of yourself as needed. The interesting this is, whichever way your tendencies lie, shyness or anxiousness might still be getting in the way. For example, a confident introvert will be happy to leave a party early without feeling worried or concerned about their choice, whereas a person dealing with shyness and anxiousness might want to leave a party out of fear and a strong sense of needing relief. It’s when this type of fear gets in the way and holds you back that it can become a problem as it no longer feels like a choice.

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The same can happen to extroverts who might not want to leave the party early, but instead they might find themselves having difficulty connecting with others or having trouble holding a conversation because in their minds is a constant chatter of anxiousness and a feeling of being judged. A confident extrovert, on the other hand, would likely have no issue leaving a conversation to start another, or even fumbling over their words and making a mess of a conversation but not being too bothered by it and finding a way to move on. Which one are you more like? For me, once I had realised that my introvert tendencies were not the reason why I was feeling less than confident and worrying about social interactions, I knew that it meant I could do something about it. I started to go over everything I had learned about human behaviour, emotions and the psychology behind courage and confidence and a few things really stood out.

Act As If You Can Already Do It

The first thing was that I’d been doing it backwards all along! I’d been waiting to feel confident and trying to make myself feel confident inside before taking any action. I used to think that if I just had some time to take a step back from life and focus on feeling confident, then I could emerge as my fully expressed confident and courageous self who would smash through all her goals with ease. I think many of us believe we need to feel a certain emotion before we can do something properly, but that’s not actually the reality. In fact, our emotions often play a bit of a catch-up game with our actions. When we act first, our emotions will eventually follow.

It’s kind of like when you wake up on a winter morning and it’s cold and dark outside, your mood might be very cozy and cuddly and want to keep you safe in bed. But you roll out of bed and put your runners on and get out of the house still half asleep, not really feeling in the mood for a vigorous run, so you focus on one step at a time. Maybe you tell yourself you’ll just go up the street and back since it’s so cold. Then you get to the end of the street and you start to think “It’s not so bad, maybe I’ll just go around the block” and by the time you get to the end of the next street you’re jogging and your body has warmed up and you might even be enjoying yourself. I know for me, once I’ve done the block I just want to keep going because by that time my mood has caught up with what my body is already doing. When I decided that I was going to take action anyway, regardless of how I felt, it didn’t take too long before my emotions caught up. I just needed to lower the bar a little so that I wasn’t aiming for perfection.

What people are saying about Emotion Academy:

"After many years of training, courses, and counselling in various forms I thought I had certain aspects of my life sorted. Yet completing Emotion Academy showed me that I had been running away from my emotions and not facing them. After Emotion Academy, now I have the tools to engage with myself and win the internal battles once and for all - Neil Welsh, Victoria

For me that meant giving myself the really small goal of going up to three people and saying hello. That was it. I didn’t have to hold a conversation or sound clever or make plans. I could just say hello and then walk away, which is actually what I did. They must’ve been so confused! But for me it meant that I was taking action and slowly, as I began to feel more comfortable, I increased my goal to asking each person three questions. Over time, the more that I continued this pattern of setting tiny goals and building on my successes, the easier it became to take action each time, and the more my confidence grew. The great thing about this, is that once you know you don’t have to wait for the feeling, you can make it happen for you! The key is in acting as if you were already feeling it.

How To Get Your Emotions To Work For You

What would you be doing or saying if you already were confident? How would you be standing, holding yourself and presenting your body language? Would you be breathing deep and slow in your belly, or fast and shallow in your chest?  Hint: confident people usually stand tall, chin up, arms relaxed at their side and with an open body language with deeper breathing. Try changing how you are sitting or standing and breathing, the next time you notice yourself feeling a little more anxious than usual. Have you ever noticed how you might be feeling happy and then a song comes on the radio or your shuffle playlist and you start to feel a bit sad or even happier? Well this can work both ways! Music is a great way to trigger certain emotions, so why not use it for the positive emotions that you want to feel, like excited, curious, courageous, confident, motivated, strong, playful etc.

Knowing that I was building my confidence by taking action before I was feeling those emotions, I wanted to help those emotions to catch-up with me . So I created playlists with all the songs I could think of that triggered certain positive feelings for me. Some playlists had only four or five carefully chosen songs that I listened to on repeat, and others were packed with up-beat, motivating and happy songs I would listen to for a pick-me-up. Whenever I was about to take action and act as if I was already feeling confident, courageous, motivated or playful, I would listen to my playlists and dance around or sing along, doing whatever I needed to do to really get into the feeling. Sometimes it worked so well that I would overshoot my social activity goal, and other times it would take me a little more time to feel calm and safe enough to just do the minimum activity I had set for myself. But either way, I kept making progress and building on each success.The best part about using music in this way, is that you can do this for any area of life and for any goal you choose.

You Have The Skills, It’s How You Use Them

Finally, one of the biggest “aha” moments for me, was when I realised that I wasn’t actually lacking in any social skills (and you’re likely not either). It was just that I was letting my fears and overthinking get in the way of me being able to use the skills that I had. Are you constantly thinking of the worst-case scenario and over-thinking every situation? For example, I used to think that if a person sighed or was fidgeting while I was talking, that meant they were bored and then I would start to panic, wondering if I sounded silly, or if I should change the subject, and what would I change the subject to? My head would be flooded with thoughts like that, and sometimes I would stop talking mid-sentence or keep rambling about something off-topic in an effort to avoid awkward silences.

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Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer

Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight.  In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.

If you’ve ever noticed yourself doing a similar pattern of thinking or behaviour in social situations, there can be so many thoughts going through your mind. It might be challenging to pay attention to what’s happening outside of your mind, like putting your energy towards being present in the moment and listening to a conversation, or focusing on how to hold your drink properly so it doesn’t spill. Sometimes in those moments I might feel as if you have zero social skills, but the reality is that you do, you just need a better strategy for allowing them to happen. So how to do this?

Focus On The Other

What worked for me, was that I actively practised turning my attention from whatever was going on internally, to whatever was going on externally. Sometimes this meant paying extra attention to scanning a room and noticing the details of my surroundings. I would pay particular attention to what I could see and hear, even smell, taste and feel in the environment. I’d stare at a beautiful view, or notice the patterns in the decor, hear the music that was playing, smell the coffee being brewed and it’s taste on my tongue. Rather than focusing on my inner thoughts and emotions, I focused intensely on the feeling of my feet touching the floor, or the seat against my back. If I was near a fire, some sunshine, or a sea breeze perhaps, I would notice how that felt on my skin. Taking in these details can allow your mind to focus on something other than it’s own chatter, and it can give you a sense of calm and comfort as you become more familiar with your surroundings.

The next step, is to focus on the other person in front of you. This part was something that I worked up to in baby steps. In the past I had been so afraid of silences that I would talk non-stop, or I would be so concerned about whatever it was that I was going to say next that I didn’t really hear what the other person had said, sometimes even interrupting them. I began to realise that the more I was able to be OK with being silent, and allowing the other person to talk, the more conversations seemed to flow, and the more interesting they became. I didn’t feel like I needed carry the conversation anymore, which was a relief! Instead, I was able to just be present and to give the other person my full attention. This made it easier to ask questions that were relevant to the person, and often got them talking for ages about topics they were actually interested in. This also meant I wasn’t thinking about whether or not I was boring them. The more I was able to focus on what the other person could need in order to feel comfortable, the less over-thinking my brain did. The more I was able to focus on what the other person wanted to talk about, the easier it became to connect and to relax into the conversation. It gave me the space to allow my social skills to come to the surface and do what they do best, without my busy-brain interfering.

Over time and with consistent practise, I was able to walk into social situations confidently, knowing that even if the most awkward situation was to happen, that I would be OK, and that all I needed to do was to focus on the steps above. These days I still have some awkward moments and make mistakes, especially when I’m trying out something new in a social situation. But it’s OK and I know that even in the worst case scenario I’ll be OK (and so will you!). I no longer aim for perfection, because that was part of what was holding me back. Instead I remember to set myself up for success by using the resources that I already have, and following the steps I’ve shared with you in this article. I set tiny goals for myself and take action, focusing on progress. I help my emotions catch-up to me by listening to music, standing tall, breathing deep and getting familiar with my surroundings. Last, but not least, I focus on the stuff outside of me, the other person, the present moment. The best thing about these steps is that you can start right now, anytime, anywhere and with anyone.

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