The shy delusion

This is another post that is going to ruffle some feathers, but it has to be said.

YOU ARE NOT SHY. Stop describing yourself as such.

How can I be so bold as to claim that almost nobody reading this is actually shy? Well, because everyone says they are shy. Sound contradictory?

When pretty much everyone says it, the meaning of the word gets watered down to nothing.

People’s identification with shyness and/or introversion comes from something similar to the Forer effect, where a vague personality description is identified as “very accurate” by the large majority. It’s the basis of the entire astrology industry; sell people a generic description that sounds accurate “only” about them and they’ll buy it.

The original test run by Forer, and repeated by many many others like Derren Brown (click to see the video) had the following or similar text (among other suggestions) that almost everyone gave a 5 out of 5 rating for accuracy:

“At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.”

Besides heaps of scientific research to show how almost everyone would rate this description as spot on, my own experience in talking to people confirms that they will produce the same generic description of themselves when I meet them. This makes it totally meaningless and they may as well burp in terms of telling me anything about themselves.

Your basis of comparison doesn’t exist

It would seem that in our own heads we have a typical idea of what a complete extrovert is – the “life of the party” guy/gal who strolls in and confidently talks to everyone and who everyone loves. They never doubt themselves and don’t ever have moments where they too would go into their heads or feel that they just don’t want to be social at times.

This mythical creature doesn’t exist (unless they have undergone some intensive social de-programming). I have met many people who are the stereotypical social party animal and you know what? They identify with the exact same Forer description as above. Party animals tell me how shy they are and compare themselves to even higher-level party animals who would likely do exactly the same thing.

Everyone doubts themselves and everyone is “shy” in a situation they are not comfortable with. If everyone is shy, it means nothing. It would be like saying “everyone is short”.

People’s ability to judge their own level of introversion/shyness is horrible. They use an exaggerated basis of comparison, not realising that the rest of the planet is doing precisely the same thing. If we were to all compare ourselves to Michael Jordan, then of course “everybody” would be short. Using the extreme as the basis of comparison, rather than a middle average, is worthless.

I don’t like shallow conversations and need some me-time

Do you feel more comfortable in certain situations and much prefer to talk to people about particular topics? Do you prefer to have some time alone to do your own thing? Are you uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings and sometimes worry about what people might think of you? Do you prefer quality and depth rather than quantity and shallowness of conversations?

Do you also breath air and drink water? Congratulations – you’re just like everyone else.

This post was inspired by a topic on extroverts vs introverts on the How to Learn Any Language forum, and I found it frustrating to see how much generic rubbish (as listed above) people used to describe themselves as an introvert. Introversion and shyness are different (a ‘shy’ person may actually desperately want to be social, whereas an introvert takes more pleasure out of non-social interactions than extroverts would), but because the end result of less socialising is more or less the same they have a lot in common.

Of course, I’m not saying that the entire concept of shy vs extroverted is in our heads. There are people that genuinely do get more energy out of social interactions than others, even if occasionally superficial, and those that prefer to be on their own most of the day. There are also those with autism who really cannot participate easily in social interactions.

But the problem is that most of us identify with the extreme end of introvert/shy. There are exceptions – those who identify with introverts and really are much better off spending most of their time in reflection and study, and even those who are honest enough with themselves to admit that they are genuinely on the extrovert end of the scale.

My problem is with the vast majority of people who are in the middle – or “ambiverts” if you will, and yet identify themselves as introverts or shy.

How a definition can define you

So what’s the big deal? Why am I so annoyed about this and why am I bringing it up on this blog?

It’s because identifying with this definition of yourself (which is not what is actually unique about you, if almost everyone else claims it too) will decide what your limitations are. When you are sure that you are shy or an introvert, then whether it’s true or not, it will become true.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Why can’t you walk up to that stranger and say hi? “Because I’m shy”. Bullshit.

This identification with being shy is stopping you and limiting you. Some people have genuine reasons for not wanting to trust strangers, and that’s fine, but “I’m shy” as an excuse is totally bogus. Be honest with yourself. You can’t talk to that stranger because you have decided you are too shy to do it.

How can I so arrogantly presume how many people’s minds work? Because I used to identify with shyness. I thought it was an inherent part of my being and personality – encoded into my genes. Or perhaps going to an all boys catholic school followed by studying an intensive technical subject and not socialising much sculpted me into being an introvert and preferring the company of books and TV to people.

And you know what I’ve realized over the last 8 years on the road? If I had to give you one piece of advice to gain confidence in socialising with more people, it would be to stop with this “I’m too shy” nonsense.

No self-help book or even blog post like this can magically make you more social – you have to stop being scared to meet new people. Stop thinking about all the things that can go wrong if you talk to someone, stop reminding yourself how shy you are. Just bloody go up and speak to them!

I’m not saying introversion is “wrong” – there are things that people who spend all their time with others can’t appreciate about self-reflection, focused studying and even just down time to be quiet. But the reverse is also true – there is a movement of proud introverts who snub social people as superficial and I find this arrogant and superficial judging nothing less than hypocritical.

There is only so much you can learn from books and from going into your own head. Sometimes you absolutely need to spend time with others and can’t learn more about what you want without them (in my case speak a language fluently).

I can now confidently say that I am an extrovert. And yes, I do want to convert more people to being confident and social. Pep talks can only do so much – sometimes you have to just be social. Stop analysing the reasons why you can’t and just make that phonecall or send that message on Facebook to meet up. Or better yet, walk up to that person, tap them on the shoulder and say “hi!” The worst that can happen is that you can be right back where you started.

When I’m out with a “shy” person, I make a point to see who they’d like to talk to and push (sometimes literally) them into that group. They never regret it. I met a shy girl in Berlin and showed her my “amazing” glass clink trick. She talked to me for several minutes about how shy she was and so I grabbed her glass as she held it, walked her up to someone she wanted to talk to, clinked it and ran away before he had time to see me. I gave her an initial boost, (which technically was just moving her arm muscles for her – no words needed) but the rest of the night she tried it and made many many friends.

It was that easy. I’m writing about this so confidently because I have done this so many times. I have made shy people very social by action rather than psychologically analysing them.

When someone says “I’m shy” to me, what I actually hear is “I just need a tiny nudge and then I can be as social as you”.

Speak, for heaven’s sake!

The reason this point annoys me so much is because it comes up repeatedly in a language learning context, especially since my advice is so communicative and relies on speaking with others. “But I can’t, I’m too shy – what will they say when I make mistakes?”

Sorry for being so blunt…. but don’t be such a sissy!

I’m not going to dig you out of your introvert hole using introvert if-then logic. I’ll drag you out kicking and screaming if I have to, and push you into a real-life social situation with no mental preparation, so you can get used to how us extroverts genuinely do it ourselves.

I can talk to any stranger not because of conquering some non-existent psychological trait. It’s because I stopped thinking that trait into existence before doing anything social.

Maybe you’ll thank me for it, or maybe you’ll be a cry baby and say I don’t respect your shyness. So be it – I want to help as many people achieve their dreams as I do, and sometimes it requires a slap in the face. I see shyness as the non-real Matrix that too many people are stuck in.

So what’s it going to be – are you going to get back into your shy convert zone, or are you going to look back at the matrix of shyness and realize that it’s a reality you’ve created for yourself?

If you are the 1% of people who really are introverts, then I’m sorry. I’m sorry not for writing this post, but that so many “ambiverts” are diluting what you really are. If you’re an ambivert (half introvert, half extrovert) like pretty much everyone else, then stop identifying with the part that is limiting you.

Now let the sea of “you’re wrong” commence in the comments below! What do I know – I don’t have a degree in psychology or anything, I just talk to lots and lots of people. Take my words as wisdom or ramblings as you wish. If you think I’m on to something, please share this with your “shy” friends on Facebook 😉



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