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Shy No More: Tips for Empowered Dating
Last night I hosted a special teleclass on Empowered Dating for Introverts and judging by the fevered pitch of dismay I received from those who missed it, this is a hot topic. I thought I would share here the kernels of what I discussed, including a step-by-step process to help you (as an introvert and/or as someone who is shy) date to your strengths.
Before we get into strategies and tactics, let’s differentiate between Shyness and Introversion because the two are not the same. According to Psychology Today, Shyness is the awkwardness or apprehension some people feel when approaching or being approached by other people. Shy people often desperately want to connect with others, but don’t know how or can’t tolerate the anxiety that comes with human interaction. Introverts, on the other hand, have the interpersonal skills and healthy self-esteem needed for interacting with others yet feel most energized by time alone. Shy people want very much to be with others but lack the social skills and self-esteem to take a chance. Introverts seek time alone because they want time alone. At a party, you might see an introvert and a shy person standing against the wall, but the introvert prefers to be there, while the shy person feels she has no choice.
To illustrate how Shyness and Introversion show up in people, let’s look at my client, Bill – Bill is quiet, calm, enjoys intellectual pursuits and is an avid reader. He is also unfazed by others’ opinions of him when he is in a social setting: he’s an introvert, but not shy. Another one of my clients, Patty, has an outgoing, larger than life personality, but also has a paralyzing case of stage fright that is triggered every time she has to make a presentation on the job or goes to parties: she’s a shy extrovert. And then take as another example, my client, Regina, who suffers from social anxiety. As a child, she always thought it was normal that she didn’t have many friends. She always hated school – she dreaded being called on by the teacher, knowing that she would freeze up and not be able to speak. She would be so miserable that she frequently had stomachaches and begged to say home. She struggled with shyness her whole life – and even now, after therapy and participating in my Successfully Single program, when she talks to people in any kind of authority position, or with those she thinks are better than she is, she blushes furiously, and starts to feel a hot, tingling sensation on her face. She must stay totally mindful of her physical and mental reactions & counter them so that she can function well.
Take a moment now to think about where you land here. Are you shy? Introverted? Or both? It’s important to know where you are on the social spectrum because when you make life choices that are congruent with your temperament, you are best able to live to your highest potential. Conversely, when you battle your own nature, the opposite happens – you deplete yourself.
This is particularly important for introverts, and those who are shy, because we often spend so much of our lives conforming to extroverted norms that by the time we choose a career, or start looking at our lives as a whole, it feels perfectly normal to ignore our own preferences. And what’s worse, we often feel ashamed of our selves, thinking that there must be something wrong with us because we don’t stack up to our culture’s standards. I know that I struggled with accepting my introversion for years before I hired a coach to help me embrace myself.
Social fears perpetuate dating dilemmas
Dating requires attracting, approaching, meeting, and interacting with new people. There are no other alternatives. It means getting to know people and letting them get to know you, and finding those things you both connect on. It’s the ultimate Catch-22 for someone who is shy.
Note, however, that it’s normal to get anxious about interacting with potential dating partners. Everyone I’ve ever talked with gets concerned about making a good first impression. It’s common to feel some form of “approach anxiety” and struggle to break the ice. It is also natural to wonder whether someone you are attracted to (or dating) likes you in return.
However, for shy people, this process is like Chinese water torture. Research shows that shy people are excessively self-conscious, think more negative thoughts about themselves, are overwhelmingly preoccupied with what others think of them and are more likely to expect to be rejected. They then become consumed by the misery of social interaction. What’s more, studies show that shy people tend to freeze up in conversation, and can appear snobbish or disinterested in others, when they are in fact just plain nervous.
And while introverts aren’t frightened of talking with people, the fact that they prefer alone time can bite them in the butt. Because we sometimes appear timid or cool or aloof, it may be easy to think of introversion as a weakness. And don’t forget we live in a culture that cherishes extroversion–thus healthy, well-adjusted introverts are often misunderstood, mislabeled, and exceedingly undervalued. Plus, those who relish in solitude risk isolation; studies are consistently proving that lack of social connection has negative effects on health. Isolation is also self-perpetuating–I know from my own experiences that many of my friends didn’t bother to invite me to parties at one point because they automatically thought I wouldn’t go or would be miserable if I did.
What’s more, being shy and/or introverted can inadvertently limit you in one significant way: Introverted and shy people often give off the wrong signals (aloof, uncaring, hard to get to know etc.) to potential partners. So for those who are shy and decide that they’d rather be approached than do the approaching (which I don’t recommend), you can see the dilemma. If we appear unapproachable, and this is our primary dating strategy, we are going to be quite frustrated with our results.
Shyness As a Personality Trait Is – SURPRISE! – Not Written In Stone
You know, I talk with shy singles all the time – most of them freely admit their reticence to meet new people and often confess that they are not leading the life they want to lead … yet many of them refuse to make any changes so they can turn their results around. They are afraid. Yet they don’t realize that shyness and lack of self-confidence is acquired through life experiences – which means that shyness and self-consciousness can be unlearned and replaced with confidence.
Here’s an example of what I mean. My friend Susan is always the first guest invited to a party – she makes everyone around her feel like the wittiest, most fascinating person in the room. And she’s so quick to make new friends, that her network has helped her launch her career as a successful author of three published books and provides her with an endless supply of uproarious stories. At a recent dinner party, she had everyone in stitches as she acted out a story about her recent trip to Bali, which brought her into to the path of a local surfing champ who attempted to teach her to surf. Suzan’s such a virtuoso at commanding a group’s attention that I always assumed she was a natural and never had to work at it. So I was stunned to learn that there was a time when Susan was terrified of talking to strangers, filling her social interactions with “nonsensical blabbering or painfully awkward silences.”
In thinking my friend had always been so charismatic, I made a common mistake. According to Indiana University Southeast’s Shyness Research Institute, most of us assume that confident people were born that way. We compare ourselves to the most popular person in the room and we feel inadequate and feel that we could never be that. But we forget that those who possess high social skills have done this hundreds of times – some even have coaches or handlers to groom and prep them. When we think that the charismatic are born, not made, we sabotage our chances of achieving our social potential.
Building confidence is like learning to play baseball well. It boils down to knowing what the critical skills are and practicing them. Even Derek Jeter still practices in the batting cage for hours every day (although who knows what he’ll do after he retires this year).
Remember, for the most part, your outcomes are completely in your control – especially when it comes to dating and relationships. Also, the path to happiness is actually pretty straightforward, once you take the time to lay the groundwork, which is what my Successfully Single and Relationship Ready programs help you do.
So if you’re introverted or shy, you can wait for someone to take a chance on you… or you can adjust your beliefs, behaviors and practice your social skills to make sure you get the outcomes you long for – such as a happy, healthy for-ever relationship. (And I’d love to support you with that…)
Want some homework? Here’s a quick overview of what you can do, as someone who is an introvert and/or shy, to get you out of your box of social fear that keeps you locked in stagnation. The following 14 points cover the essentials of what my clients experience in my Successfully Single & Relationship Ready programs, with excellent, long-lasting results.
- Regard your social life – and your relationships – just like you would your career. Chances are, as you prepared for your career success, you committed yourself to education–it’s the same with your self-confidence with dating. Commit yourself to taking the time and energy to prepare yourself for dating and relationships in the right way. Knowing who you are and what you stand for will boost your self-esteem. Be discriminating and learn to go with the flow. If the process is bumpy, that’s normal and totally fine. In my Successfully Single program, my clients are given a number of exercises to help uncover their values and figure out what’s important to them.
- Work on uncovering some of your internal beliefs about dating, relationships, members of the opposite sex, as well as about yourself. These hidden beliefs fuel our behaviors, whether we realize this or not. This is where my Relationship Readiness intensive can help – by giving you some exercises to help uncover these beliefs and replace then with more life-serving attitudes.
- Realize that things can change if you’re not happy with your outcomes – provided you prepare and educate yourself properly. If you tend to think that “this is just the way things are”, or “I can’t”, you limit your ability to create an extraordinary life.
- Learn to not take rejection personally and try to understand your own feelings and attitudes about rejection before you begin the dating process. Rejection, failure and disappointment are a regular aspect of life, no matter how successful someone may be. But most shy people have their antennae out all the time, waiting to react to the first sign of rejection. One of the Essential Principles in successful dating is Being the Chooser – which means that my clients are not sitting around, waiting for things to happen to them. They take control, they take a risk – which means they can sometimes set themselves up for rejection. In my Relationship Readiness program, I give my clients various homework assignments throughout to help de-sensitize them to being rejected.
- Leave your comfort zone. Most shy people stay stuck in their box of fear. Great relationships and great achievement require risk. Facing your fears can be powerful, especially when you stay in the situation long enough to learn that you can cope with it and that a catastrophe isn’t likely to occur. My coaching programs allow my clients to step beyond their self-imposed limits, which then boosts their confidence.
- Work on your confidence. Confidence is often the single differentiator between people who get what they want and people who don’t. Those who think and believe they can do something — run a marathon, start an entrepreneurial venture, ask someone out (and have them say yes), build a fun social circle, well… they do it. Our mind is a very powerful tool, and the impact of our thoughts and words cannot be underestimated. Our thoughts create our emotions. Our emotions create our actions. Our actions create our life. Confident people have greater control over their minds and have tuned their attitude to one of “I can.” In addition, research proves time and again that confidence is considered the most attractive trait in a romantic partner.
- Create a vibrant support network. If you have only a handful of friends you hang out with all the time, or if you don’t have any close friends at all, force yourself to make more. In my Successfully Single program, I offer some great exercises to help you achieve this goal. For example: Pursue coed activities that interest you. Plan to participate in one or more of these activities one or two times a week every single week for the rest of your life – even after you are in a serious relationship. Enthusiastically pursuing your interests will give you confidence, make you more interesting, and will help you build a support network that is so crucial to dating and relationship success.
- Get tactical and map out activities to participate in. Once you identify which activities to pursue that really excite you, make a calendar of events for the month. Make sure each event is different from the other. Force yourself out to interact without your comfort friends. Do all this alone. At the end of this time, it will force you to become at least more comfortable socially and less awkward. At this point, you are ready to date. Sometimes just doing this will lead to dating. Shy people tend to stay home and never meet people. At least you are meeting people, which is key to dating.
- Once you are attending your activities on a regular basis, begin to ask people out for coffee or a lunch meeting– as a way to get to know these people better. Detach yourself from expectations and outcomes. Start by chatting with the new person about the activity you are both participating in, then casually ask if the person would like to get together some other time. Don’t make it into a “date” – this is all about you exercising your social skills, gaining confidence in being The Chooser and building friendships.
- Before you go out, do relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing exercises, and visualize how you would like this meeting to go. This should be a positive visualization and you should create the visualization in such a way that you enjoy the experience. Doing this helps your mind prepare for getting to know someone new. Mental pictures most immediately influence your subconscious mind. In athletic training, this is called ‘‘mental rehearsal.’’ This requires practicing and rehearsing actions in your mind before you actually engage in the activity. The more relaxed you are when you visualize yourself performing at your best, the more rapidly this command is accepted by your subconscious mind and becomes a part of your thinking and behavior later on. It also helps to become more conversationally fluent. Pick three current events to talk about at this meeting that aren’t political or upsetting. Do a little research on the topic so you can make this “small” talk a bit more interesting. This is especially appealing to introverts who despise meaningless chitter chat.
- When you meet up, be curious about the other person and use this curiosity to run an experiment. If you’ve done your “requirements/needs/wants” work with me in my Relationship Readiness program, start to measure if this person would hypothetically match. (Even if you are not romantically interested in this person). Ask questions and create the conversation out of mutual interests even if you do not know much about the subject at hand. Since you have been sharing an activity together, you already have the basis for a conversation. Allow yourself to become comfortable with some quiet awkward moments during this conversation, as it’s bound to happen.
- Remain consistently aware of your thoughts, feelings and beliefs during this exercise. My clients typically report in frequently via email to share what they observed and learned as a result of these homework assignments. Awareness is nine-tenths of the law.
- Once you find someone that you have connection and some chemistry with, periodically follow up with phone calls or e-mails just to get to know the person a bit better and create a relationship. Remember you are building a connection with this person and regular communication is essential.
- Finally, for all of this to be effective, you will need to lather, rinse, & repeat … until your anxiety level drops.
If you find that you feel too anxious or distressed when attempting to take action, be gentle with yourself. Learn to take this process slowly – after all Rome was not built in a day. I also recommend that you get support and consider enrolling in my Successfully Single & Relationship Ready coaching programs. Working with me as your coach can give you much needed structure, help you build confidence and feel more in control of your outcomes. My coaching programs will support as you go through the dating process and will also, in many cases, help you speed up the process of meeting new people.