Set small achievable goals
Do you prefer spending Friday nights indoors alone – with a good book, movie and wine – rather than being out at a noisy, crowded bar with people you don’t know? Being an introvert doesn’t necessarily mean you’re shy; it means you get your energy from being alone, rather than gaining energy from other people around you.
It’s common that you may have a harder time in social situations than your extroverted counterparts. Yet being an introvert has many positive aspects: you’re a great listener, and you allow quiet space for creative endeavors and learning about yourself. However, not speaking up or showing your leadership skills at work can hinder your success, and sometimes people might pin you as standoffish or aloof.
Embrace your introverted self – always. But, when it comes to getting ahead with meeting friends, networking or climbing the ladder at work, there’s always room for improvement – here’s how to cope with social anxiety:
Whether you’re in a meeting or at cocktail hour with friends, contribute to the conversation. Tell yourself you’ll comment a few times during the exchange…and if you can’t think of anything to say, ask a question.
Create a Character.
Sometimes we don’t have the energy to dive right in and start talking to people. Creating a character will help. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to be yourself; but creating a version of yourself that’s more inquisitive or talkative is extremely helpful in work situations, for example.
When in doubt, ask a question. Introverts are great listeners and they want to know more about the world, so vocalize the thoughts running in your head. If you want to get to know someone better, ask them open-ended questions about whatever they seem to be interested in – anything from pets or significant others to hobbies or work! Give them a change to talk about themselves, which many people love. If you’re at work, ask how you can help contribute to a project.
Let Yourself Unfold Naturally
Just like a lotus flower opening, so do we too open slowly and beautifully. Don’t expect yourself to become a social butterfly overnight; rather take things one step at a time. Perhaps the first week you tell yourself you’ll begin to ask questions during your meetings, or you’ll strike up a conversation with the person next to you at the coffee shop, and the next week you can work on something else. Journal and progress how you’re unfolding and what you’ve learned.
Change Your Mindset.
Rather than looking at an upcoming social situation as scary or threatening, reframe your mindset so that you can look at it as exciting. Almost like an actor getting ready to perform, those butterflies in your stomach can be a good thing. Adapting an “opportunity mindset” versus a threat mindset will help us see the upcoming situation as new and exciting, rather than terrifying, so that it will help us grow and learn.
The infamous poem by Erin Hanson eloquently represents this tactic:
“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?”
Every day is a new day.
Maybe you fall flat on your face, or you encounter a not-so-friendly person at your first try. Luckily, the sun also rises. Treat every new day with a fresh clean slate, and track your progress. More than anything, you’re getting to know yourself on a deeper level through other people – something you can’t achieve alone.