How do you overcome shyness?

15-Step Plan for Overcoming Shyness by Talking to Strangers

I will not go deep into psychological details — where the shyness comes from etc. — as it’s not very relevant to the scope of this plan; it’s practical, not theoretical.

In October 2012, I decided to talk to strangers in order to overcome my shyness. I failed miserably, because I started too ambitiously. 
I was in no position to talk to strangers. Each time I tried to, my heart beat faster and mad butterflies raced around in my stomach. So I stepped back, evaluated my social skills and decided on a more balanced approach. And now I talk to strangers about every second day.

I don’t know if this plan will help you if you are insanely shy. I know I am not a good role model. For example, I am quite comfortable with public speaking. 
But talking to strangers… Yes, it definitely was a problem for me. In fact, I can’t recall a single chat with a stranger that I initiated in the whole year before my decision.

1. The reason

Everything starts with a reason. If it’s good enough, it will make you take action. If it’s plainly good it will keep you going. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. Your reason may evolve as you evolve. But you have to have something to start. 
There are as many reasons as there are people, but you need to find your very own. 
In Autumn 2012, I started my personal development program and overcoming shyness was just one point of it. I started this discipline to develop myself to a higher level. My progress is very important to me, so it was enough for me to start. 
 
So why do you want to overcome your shyness? Why do you want to talk to strangers? Has it something to do with your past? Do you want to change your future by it? Is it going to help you in your work or in your relationships? 
Examine yourself. Find your own reason. Write it down. It shouldn’t be longer than a single sentence.

2. Notice other people

Start recognizing the people around you. Look at them and think about them. 
What things do you have in common? What things in them spark your interest?

3. Observe other people

Stop digging lonely in your own mind. Look at the people around and think about them. 
How do they behave? How they are behaving toward you? If you had to praise a specific man or woman, what would you say?

4. Eye contact

The first step of the conversation is to make eye contact. Stop avoiding other person’s eyesight. If you don’t notice them you won’t talk to them. After breaking eye contact give this person a minute of reflection. 
What things do you have in common? What things in them spark your interest? If you had to praise him/her, what would you say?

5. Your internal voice

You are a shy person, right? There is some internal resistance in you, which prevents you from behaving casually in the presence of strangers. You have to unearth your inner talk, your habitual thoughts when you try to talk to a stranger. 
So go and try to talk to someone. Just like that. Have a browse around, choose one person, quickly think of the line to start the conversation with him or her. Start approaching the person.

There can be only two outcomes: either you will start the conversation (then congrats!) or you will talk yourself out of this idea. In that last case I want you to listen carefully and remember what you are saying to yourself. I was especially shy in approaching women. My thoughts were like: “What would she think of me? What if she started to cry: <<Help me, it’s a perverse!>>”. 
Those were really stupid thoughts, but your subconscious mind is not very brilliant. It’s not the weight of arguments which makes it work so efficiently, it’s what kind of negative feelings those thoughts triggers in your body. If you have no experience in listening to your inner voice I recommend a tool.

Go to the http://www.expandbeyondyourself.... and download mp3 with the session of self-analysis. You may first want to listen to the SPI podcast 85, where there is an origin of this recording explained in details: SPI 085: How To Finally Take Action…Even If You’re Lost, Overwhelmed, Or Don’t Know Where To Start — with Dane Maxwell

Listen to the recording and then try to repeat the exercise on yourself. Imagine approaching the stranger, feel in which part of your body is the unpleasant sensation and interview your inner voice. 
Once you notice what you are saying to yourself, it’s much easier to deal with it. PS. Don’t forget to make an eye contact with a stranger several times a day.

6. Mental exercises

If you didn’t experience the breakthrough analyzing your self-talk, you are probably still too shy to talk to a stranger. That’s fine and perfectly normal. It took me several months to feel at ease when talking to strangers (on the other hand I have no guidance).

Visualization can help you with that. 
Look at the people around and think about them. Pick one person. Imagine yourself approaching him or her and starting the conversation with some witty remark. Imagine that you are engaging in a nice chat with him or her. Finally, imagine that you are finishing your conversation and both of you feel enriched by the experience and at ease.

PS. Don’t forget to make an eye contact with a stranger several times a day. In fact, one of the people with whom you made an eye contact may be part of your visualization. Reflect upon another person at least once a day.

7. Philosophy

You’ve read it right — philosophy. You need an underlying motive to continually approach new people and talk to them. To do this you must be genuinely interested in people. You can’t think only about yourself and be good in interactions with others. They feel your attitude. 
You can’t be motivated by a desire to “learn how to manipulate people and then rule the world” (insert ominous laughter here), it just doesn’t work that way.

I think a lot of my problems in talking to strangers came from my experience of being involved in MLM as a teenager. I had approached people being focused on selling my idea and that totally didn’t work.

Everyone is unique, everyone is different and everyone needs his own philosophy. Some people are extroverts; they are always curious like kids and ask questions all the time. I don’t think any of these people need this particular plan, but their underlying philosophy might be curiosity: “I’m interested in people and their motives, that’s why I talk to them.”

My philosophy is the Christian philosophy — all people are my family. You need to find your own. Your initial reason may not be enough to persevere in your commitment. Or maybe it is enough? Just ponder on this from time to time, especially if you notice that you are slacking off in following this plan’s guidelines. 
P.S. Don’t forget to make eye contact with a stranger several times a day. And practice visualization at least once a day.

8. Smiling

The next important factor in your becoming sociable is using your smile. Often we are so locked in our fears and insecurities regarding other people that we don’t notice they have their own difficulties. We all are so isolated in our fast paced society and the simple act of smiling can knock down the barriers between us.

So, make eye contact and smile. You will be surprised by the mix of responses you will get. Some people will flinch, wince or recoil: “A stranger smiling at me? This is so unexpected!” Many people will look away to break the eye contact, plainly feeling uncomfortable. Many will look at you incredulously: “Is it real? Is this person smiling at me?” They will take a quick peep around looking for the person who you are really smiling at, then get back to you, realizing that they are the receivers of your smile.

And I love best those handful that smile back at me. There will be such people in your case too. 
P.S. Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.

9. Practice

Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.

10. Praising

There are a couple of ways to made speaking to a stranger … which word to use … easier, definitely not fireproof, but easier. 
The first method is to praise. Everybody likes to be praised. I’ve never met with the reaction of rejection when I praised a stranger. No one has ever told me “Get lost!” when I praised him. 
The range of reactions is wide and mixed, but it always stays in the positive spectrum.

So praise. Look at the stranger and think what you could praise — an image; their clothes; a cool tattoo; maybe certain behavior?

Starting a conversation with praise is rarely as rewarding as talking about the purpose of life, but it’s an order of magnitude easier. And your goal is to open your mouth and speak to the stranger. That’s the best start. 
P.S. Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.

11. Common denominator

Another facilitation is to find that you have something in common with a stranger, something you can easily relate to.

For example, I’m a reader and I LOVE to chat with other readers. I love to share reading experiences, to talk about books, authors’ genres and styles. But I also spoke to strangers with smartphones when I was about to buy my first one. I’m comfortable with speaking to parents because, as a parent myself, I can relate to them. And so on. 
 
Think of the subjects you are passionate about, the topics which are easy and natural for you. Write them down; include them in your visualizations. 
P.S. Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.

12. Talk about them

It’s a little more advanced, but still a facilitation. 
People are eager to talk about themselves. Almost everyone is hungry for attention. People love to talk about their experience, share their opinions and talk about themselves. The good communicator may use it to his advantage. Start the conversation with a question about the stranger. One of my favorite lines is: “I’ve noticed you reading a book. Are you enjoying it?”

And then I have a set of follow-up questions: Why or why not? Do you recommend the book? Have you read more works of that author? 
Such opening questions are a great start and you can go even deeper after you start the conversation.

Once I began to chat with a lady sitting next to me on a train with my “standard opening”. She was reading a book about disabled children. Then I asked her whether her job was related to the subject and, oh boy, how rewarding a conversation I got! “Be prepared”, as the scouts say, and you can receive much more than you expected. 
P.S. Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.

13. Your first chat

The exercises from previous steps work, I assure you. But dry runs are good only up to a point. This is this point. 
You can play in your mind for hours cooking up scenarios of conversations, but it won’t substitute for the real experience. Today you must approach a stranger and start a conversation!

Well, not really. If you don’t feel ready, wait one more week. And one more if you need it. Just practice visualizations, making eye contact and smiling every day. Every sustained action brings results. One day you WILL be ready to speak with a stranger. You don’t have to do it exactly according to the plan. 
Wait till you are ready.

But…
The best way to overcome your fears is facing them. So why not face the challenge today? What is the worst that could happen? Well, you will fail. If you haven’t noticed, you’ve “failed” each previous day too. It doesn’t matter. IF you fail, you will try another day.

14. Did you fail?

No?! You really did it?! Congratulations. Keep up the good work! Continue your commitment. Talk to a stranger today and tomorrow; keep the momentum going.

Oh, you did fail? Well it doesn’t matter! Your past is not equal to your future. You’ve gained valuable experience and you are one step closer to your goal. Reserve 10 minutes, take a pen and a sheet of paper and analyze what has happened. Did you panic? Why? What thoughts were running through your mind? Did you talk yourself out of trying?

If necessary, go back to step 5 and repeat the exercise I recommended there. Whether you have succeeded or not, don’t neglect your tiny disciplines. Visualize your interactions once a day. Make eye contact with strangers. Smile.

15. Rinse and repeat

It’s the end of the plan. 
Your goal was not to talk to a stranger once in a lifetime, was it? Rinse and repeat.

Practice as long as necessary to make this habit automatic. For example, after a year of practice I automatically seek to make eye contact with people around me. And whenever I look someone in the eyes, I smile. 
Talking to strangers shouldn’t be something you need to achieve to prove yourself. It can be an activity which really adds value to your life and to the lives of the people you talk to. 
When you interact with another person, miracles start happening. 
 — — — — — — 
This plan was originally published on Coach.me. It’s still freely available there:
Overcome Shyness by Talking to Strangers on Coach.me
and you can count on my support.
Above steps took me about 4 months till fruition. The plan was designed for 21 days. Do it at your own pace.