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15 Little Life Hacks

How do I stop being shy?

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I got a great question from IWT reader Kara, who wants to know how she can stop being shy.

“I would like to change the behavior of being shy. I’m an idea person and do not share them for fear of being judged. I’m often very hesitant to talk to people unless we can cut the BS and talk for real. I wonder if I should be more open to small talk to connect with people. I also hesitate to share my ideas because I fear it reduces my excitement when I have to answer a bunch of questions. I’m feeling slightly isolated. Please help!”

This question is pure gold because ALL of us are shy in certain situations. Maybe it’s around people who have achieved more than you…or attractive women…or your parents. At my last NYC meetup, I had a girl physically RUN away from me because she was so shy (not kidding). So cute.

Truthfully, I was REALLY shy as a kid. In fact, here’s what my mom told a national reporter when Fortune profiled me:

As a kid growing up in Sacramento, Sethi showed no signs of becoming the brash, opinionated person he is today. His mother, Neelam, says, “When he was really little, he just wanted to be left alone.”

SERIOUSLY, MOM? That was the ONE quote you gave about me in a 6-PAGE PROFILE? Thanks a lot.

Back to Kara’s shyness question. What’s MOST interesting in her question are the invisible scripts — the assumptions she doesn’t even realize she’s making!

  • SHE SAYS: “I’m often very hesitant to talk to people unless we can cut the BS and talk for real”
  • WHAT SHE IS REALLY SAYING: “I think small talk is BS because I don’t understand it”

So I recorded a video with my answers and suggestions on overcoming shyness. Note: It’s not the same old “5 tips to overcome shyness”:

(NOTE: The opposite of shy is not extroverted. I misspoke.)

Check the video out and leave a comment with how you’ve overcome shyness in just ONE area of your life.

I also took some studio time to show you how to improve your social skills in under 30 minutes.

P.S. Btw, heads up: Next week, I’m teaching a free course for 3 DAYS online: Money + Business: Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs. Here’s the link to sign up free: Money + Business: Essentials for Creative Entrepreneurs
[UPDATE: This CreativeLive Class has already happened, but you can purchase the course at the link above or join my Insider’s List below for free to receive some of my best material on earning more]

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  1. I found that saying something slightly bold, provocative or risky right after the initial small talk loosens me up and gives me more confidence – even better when it’s funny.

  2. I make it a game to find out one interesting thing about the person before the night is over. It forces me to listen closely and pick up on certain phrases or words, and then get that person to share more about him- or herself. It actually opens up a better pathway for me to start talking about myself too since it gives me something to go off of rather than just bringing up something out of nowhere.

    • Love this suggestion – I’m going to integrate that in to my next networking session. Are there any sort of questions you ask to probe and move the conversation in an interesting direction. I find it ever so hard to get to the bottom of what really makes people tick most of the time. Occasionally, people will open up when I say: What’s your long term goal? A great new friend I’ve recently made he immediately opened up to me and said he wanted to move away from his core business and focus on charity work. Suddenly, I could help him reach his more meaningful life goal.

  3. You’re not a psychologist. You’re a writer who made money off of a startup. I’d rather hear you talk about money than babble on about your ideas on pseudo-psychology.

    • I find this a really odd comment, Jeremy. Writers don’t have to be experts. What writers do is take great ideas and make them accessible, which is exactly what Ramit does in this video. That’s a skill in itself.

      This was a well-structured, well thought out video. I think you’re harsh to call it “babble”.

    • You may want to do a little more research on Ramit’s background before making these claims.

    • As a former shy person, I appreciate the question and Ramit answering it.

    • Jeremy,

      Take a second to do some research before running your mouth. If you look up Ramit’s background you’ll see he has a Psych degree from Stanford and I would say that is more than enough qualification to offer some insights regarding behavioral tendencies of people.

    • I disagree with each sentence of Jeremy’s comment. 1) You don’t have to be a psychologist to offer some guidance on overcoming shyness. 2) You’re telling Ramit who he is 3) He didn’t “babble on,” he answered a question posed by a reader. And they weren’t just his ideas. He referenced an article from the Atlantic.

      For those who didn’t get a chance to Google it –

  4. I felt the same way for awhile, terrible at small talk and always worried I wouldn’t be interesting enough. So I came up with a couple questions I always have in my back pocket if the conversation dies.

    What brought you here?
    What are you excited about this week?
    What project(s) are you working on?

    It’s always good to have answers to these yourself should they turn it back around on you!

  5. I remain shy in many social situations, but have learned to tell myself, “Everyone has something to teach me.” I approach new people by asking questions about them and subtly trying to learn the lesson(s) they have to impart. This allows me to cancel out any preconceived notions I may have based on their age, appearance, socioeconomic level, etc. Once they start answering questions, I become more comfortable and am often able to share my own experiences, building a more comfortable relationship.

    For practice, I recommend just chatting with the checkout people at the store. They are generally trained to wish you a good day or whatever. Just respond with a simple question about their day. You never know what you’ll learn. For example, I met a really cool physics PhD at WalMart this way. She talked about her hero (Feynman, of course) and I taught her about the amazing achievements of his sister.

    I’ve never been shy around guys socially, probably because I grew up in a neighborhood where I was the only girl. Being a tomboy, I was just one of the guys and was accepted as such. I often play translator for women I know who have no idea what a guy is thinking when he says/does something different from the way the female thinks/acts. In return, they translate female stuff for me. (I ponder why anyone would teeter around on 4″ heels–an orthopedic accident just waiting to happen. Or why anyone would clog all their pores with tons of chemicals and then wonder why they get zits.)

    No guys, I never wanted for dates when younger. I wasn’t a dog. I’m not gay. I’m (usually) happily married with kids.

    On the other hand, Ramit, the business world is a whole other ball of wax for women. Getting one’s ideas out on the table in a business meeting is one thing for males, but often a much different game (literally) for females. If we question a decision, or suggest a different way to look at things directly, we tend to be “complainers” or “whiners.” To avoid this label, the only path is to let the male leader(s) in the group think your idea is theirs. This takes some sophisticated footwork and can be very hard to do if you are shy. I wonder if that is the situation Kara is facing. The footwork is, essentially, B*S*.

  6. My approach to any situation is to just ask about them.

    Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so I show an interest in their hobbies, job whatever, and look for common ground somewhere, because common ground brings ease and comfort. Even if something common is something dumb, it opens doors.

    And…….SMILE (icebreaker to any situation)

  7. I used to be completely shy due to being uncomfortable around people that I perceived to be “better” than me (more accomplished, more attractive, smarter, more athletic). Specific: at leadership events, at seminars & conferences, especially when that person was “better” at something I tied my identity to (so after awhile, no longer as threatened around ‘the supermodel-attractive women because that’s not my niche’.

    Solution: trial & error, and a cycle of practice (do) & introspection (reflect). Constantly pushing myself to be uncomfortable, challenging myself to interact with the very people I would avoid. I quickly re-affirmed that no matter the outward appearance / what the bio reads – these are all still just people. Flesh and blood human beings like me. “Celebrity awe” spell broke, and now I seek these people out because in being vulnerable & open to the very people I’d been intimidated by (and would avoid), I have found my greatest teachers & learning moments. ~ H

    • Hi H, nice suggestion. I think I have to push my self to be uncomfortable too. I still feel shy to be around “those kind of people”. I wonder, how do you start to chat with them? Since people will gather around them too..

  8. This is probably the area where I’ve tested the most. I’ve always understood the importance being able to connect with others and have consciously decided to improve my skills at doing so.

    For example, I wanted to learn how to become more fluent when speaking to women so I bought a copies of Neil Strauss’s “The Game” and “Rules of the Game”. The first is his book on how he became a pick up artist (PUA). Some may look down on this field, but there is a TON to learn about social dynamics from PUA’s. The latter, is a 30-day challenge forcing you to take steps and break down the mental barriers one has when it comes to interacting with women. I especially enjoyed Rules of the Game because it has a “Get-up-and-do-it” approach that mirrors Ramit’s writing in a way.

    I highly recommend either to anyone looking to learn how to engage attractive women.

  9. One thing I did to help overcome my shyness was to actively participate in and help organize conference events, including giving speeches, rather than just attending them as empty training seminars where I just sat and passively consumed speeches and presentations (I had realized I needed to do more than collect training hour credits sitting in on sometimes boring seminars just to maintain my professional credentials).

    So I find that joining organizations and participating in them, rather than just passively attending their events, helps you get into the habit of small talk more easily because at first you are signing up for or are assigned specific, discrete work tasks, and as you work with other people in those organizations, the small talk will come later more naturally. I’ve found that after you start working with others on a project, etc., small talk happens almost naturally since the ice has already been broken to some extent. “Back-ending” that small talk may take any perceived pain out of doing it up front and head-on.

    For those of you afraid of public speaking at a conference or similar events, joining a local Toastmasters club to practice and get over your fears is a great start. (Side note and something consistent with what Ramit probably would tell you: perhaps counterintuitively, high-quality personal development organizations and courses like Toastmasters actually attract already ambitious “winners” who are looking to still improve themselves, rather than “losers” who may be looking for easy answers, so by joining such clubs/organizations, you are already more likely to be surrounded by top performers).

  10. Great video. I really liked the point you made that small talk builds relationships. I am a children’s minister and have to make a lot of phone calls to ask for volunteers which is something that I really struggled with when I first started the job. I got over feeling shy about it by praying and practice – the more I did it, the easier it became. I also noticed that if you ask them about their week and their life before just hitting them over the head with, “Can you help out in this class?” they are a lot more open to your request.