1. Hang out with extroverts.
For me, my favorite extrovert is my friend Liz. She’s the person who knows that I don’t like huge crowds, who understands that I need time to myself, and who always has my back in daunting social situations. She’s there to get me out of my shell. When I was living in Banff, one night out with Liz had her jumping up on stage with the band, singing along while shaking a tambourine.
When she came off the stage that night she was buzzing. Seeing my embarrassment Liz laughed and said, “No one cared what I looked like, I was just having fun.” I’ve learned that in these kind of social situations, while I expect to be publicly humiliated, Liz goes in expecting to have fun.
2. Do the opposite of what your instincts tell you.
Sometimes following your instincts isn’t the right choice. In situations where we feel uncomfortable or awkward, introverts have the urge to run. There have been a number of times when I have walked into a crowded bar or party, and immediately scanned the room for the nearest exit to slip out of.
When it feels like all eyes are on me, my natural instinct is to get out. But as good as it feels in the short term to remove myself from a crowd, it really does me no favors in the long run. So I’ve learned to fight my instincts, to stay with the feelings of discomfort and eventually I’ll feel my anxiety levels dropping and leveling out. I’ve found that the more I stick it out, the easier it gets to have fun at that party.
3. Stop asking yourself: “What will people think?”
As introverts, we tend to live in our heads most of the time. We make the assumption that everyone around us is watching every move we make — judging us, waiting for us to embarrass ourselves. They aren’t. I remember being in Jeffrey’s Bay watching the Billabong Pro, when I turned around and saw Kelly Slater standing behind me. I desperately wanted to ask him for a photo, but my first thought was, I can’t do this, it’s too embarrassing. What will he think? What will the people around me think?
But I fought it. And now I have a framed picture with Kelly Slater on my wall, which serves as a constant reminder to not worry about what other people think.
4. Accept, but don’t settle for being an introvert.
Many of us spend years wishing we weren’t shy or introverted. In my case, I wanted to be the life of the party, the girl who can talk to anyone in the bar, the one who walks into a hostel and makes friends straight away. But I am not that girl.
I will never be Liz — who is the life of every party and chats to strangers on a regular basis. I am me, an introvert who does like to socialize, as long as it’s on my terms. I’ve accepted this. I know that it’s important to push myself to try new things, but I don’t need to change the core of who I am.
5. Stop waiting for the “perfect moment.”
I’m terrified of being put on the spot. I remember going to a theme park as a kid, and being chosen to be a princess during a live show. Thirty years later, I can still remember the mortifying feeling of being singled out from a crowd. I also remember saying no — and the feeling of disappointment that I felt afterwards, knowing that I let my fear stop me from being a princess. If you wait for the perfect moment — to speak, to share, to try something, to say yes — you’re going to lose an opportunity. And you’ll be left with a lingering moment of regret — of having missed out on a moment that you’ll never experience again.
6. Take off your headphones occasionally.
I love walking around with my headphones on — I can hide from the world, I won’t seem rude if I don’t engage in small talk. It’s difficult to start a conversation with a person wearing headphones, which is why so many introverts love wearing them.
The downside is that you get trapped in your headspace, and that’s where introverts spend most of their time. So challenge yourself to engage with the people around you. Take a break from the music on your next commute.
7. Sing karaoke.
Singing karaoke used to be that one thing that terrified me the most. Up until recently, my experiences with singing in public had ended up in embarrassment, resulting in me swearing to never do it again. On a recent visit to Kauai, that all changed. With Liz The Extrovert by my side, I finally tried again. I changed my expectations from potential public humiliation to simply having fun. I didn’t wait for the perfect moment when the crowd had cleared out, I didn’t ask myself about what people would think, and I ignored my instincts to say no.
Instead of running, I started to sing. Now when I find myself wanting to flee from awkwardness and self-conscious feelings, I put on my Karaoke Super Cape and do the opposite.