How to Be More Social, Less Shy

Hill Street Studios/Gary Kious/Blend Images/Getty Images

Regardless of age, shyness can have a negative impact on your life. Perhaps you miss opportunities to make new friends or get closer to those you already have because your nervousness holds you back. Rather than sit back and allow social discomfort to dictate your life, take a proactive approach and use a few methods to open up and show that friendly side of yourself.

Address Self-Perception

One habit of shy individuals is the tendency to picture themselves negatively. Even before social interaction begins, a shy person might imagine making a fool of himself or failing to be remotely interesting during conversation. Instead of conjuring negative expectations, visualize yourself interacting with others in a positive way, says psychotherapist Nancy Wesson in the article "Managing Anxiety in Social Situations." Imagine yourself as a relaxed, friendly and confident person. As you visualize this ideal self, take deep, calming breathes. You might be surprised at how your self-perception can influence real-life scenarios.

Calm Your Inner Critic

Another common habit of shy individuals is that they tend to picture themselves as the center of attention — and not in a good way. A shy person might expect everyone in the room to notice and examine his flaws, suggests the Psychology Today article “Some Practical Tips on Social Anxiety,” by psychiatrist Srini Pillay. In reality, most people are too busy critiquing their own perceived inadequacies to spend time examining yours. Pillay warns that your biggest critic is often yourself, so learn to accept your imperfections and tell your internal judge to relax.

Collect Conversation Topics

Even after you’ve improved your self-image, being social requires you to at least have something to talk about — especially if you want to be able to initiate a conversation. Conversation topics are all around you, if you know where to look. Keep an eye on big news stories, suggests professor of psychology Susan Krauss Whitbourne in the Psychology Today article "10 Tips to Talk About Anything With Anyone." These can range from local events to foreign affairs to new movies and television shows. Spend a few minutes each day looking at headlines, so you’ll have something to share with friends or strangers.

Open Your Ears

You don’t always have to be prepared with a fresh news story or ramble on about yourself. Sometimes all you need to do is be a good listener, reminds Whitbourne. Ask a person questions like, “So what’s your dream job?” or “What are your favorite hobbies?” Some people enjoy talking about themselves, so don’t be afraid to ask some basic questions. Not only will this keep the conversation rolling and make you seem more social, it will also help you get to know people. Be prepared to answer a few questions about yourself in return.