Sunday, June 24, 2018 | ePaper

Beat shyness in college

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Elizabeth Koprowski :
As much as we like to imagine that studying is a solitary activity, modern college campuses are not designed for wallflowers. Between communal dormitories, social activities, group projects, and professors who assess class participation, college can be a nightmare for the large percentage of students who would rather be neither seen nor heard. But learning to overcome your shyness isn't just about earning some extra percentage points in class. Many careers require professionals to interact with others and present themselves with confidence, so it's important to practice these skills as soon as possible. And while scientists believe that some aspects of shyness may be genetic, some of the feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment, and inadequacy that often accompany shyness can be conquered by using these tricks and exercises. So whether you dread raising your hand in class, avoid working in groups because you feel awkward in social situations, or would rather fail then present your work to others, try these six methods to overcome your shyness and succeed in school and life!
1. Focus outside yourself
You've probably already heard that trick for public speaking about imaging an audience in their underwear. One of the reasons this can work is because it helps the speaker to take the focus off themselves. People who suffer from shyness often believe, and abhor the idea, that everyone is paying attention to them ALL THE TIME. They imagine that every mistake, every faux pas, every minute imperfection is under glaring spotlights, but the reality is that most people - both shy and outgoing - are singularly focused on themselves and therefore rarely notice if you mispronounce a word or give a wrong answer. Instead of focusing on your own fears and flaws, start paying attention to the world around you. Of course this doesn't mean that you should start cataloging the mistakes of others around you. Rather, listen to your classmates and lecturers. Consider what they say and think about how you can contribute to the discussion. Practice in classes where you feel confident about your knowledge or where you have a special passion for the subject, but don't be afraid to pipe up outside your comfort zone.
2. Ask questions
Speaking of, one effective way to divert attention from yourself is to ask questions. Yes, this means putting your hand up and speaking out loud, but asking questions does two things: it gives the impression of confidence and turns the focus away from you and onto the person answering the question. You can use this technique in both class and social situations. During lectures or class discussions, use your preparations and notes so that you feel confident that your questions are relevant and insightful. Remember that professors LOVE it when students want to know more about the subject. In groups, you can use questions to get others talking about themselves - ask your study partner why he chose the subject or your roommate about the dog in the picture by her bed.
3. Get help
Are you stuck in a Shyness Catch-22 - you need help to overcome your self-consciousness, but you're too shy to ask for help? It may seem daunting, but it's amazing what a little bit of moral support can do, and if you can manage to ask for help you're already on your way to success. Friends and family can help, but you can also take advantage of the excellent mentoring resource you have at you disposal during your studies - your teachers! Approach a lecturer you feel comfortable around and ask for tips and pointers for improving class participation. Request help with presentation skills. Or simply let them know that you're shy so that they understand why you may clam up in class.
4. Try theater or improve
Sometimes the best way to overcome a fear is to throw yourself head-first into whatever scares you. Luckily, college campuses offer a multitude of opportunities to challenge your shyness. Try out for a play in the theater department. Join the glee club. Sign up for an improv night at the local coffee house. Join a club or social group. At first, forcing yourself to engage in social activities might feel unbearable, but after a few auditions or club meetings you'll start to feel more confident.
5. Embrace your fear
Psychologists believe that one way to overcome a fear is to verbalize it. So don't be afraid to admit that you're shy. Whether you inform your lecturers so that they understand why you might not raise your hand in class, explain to your roommate that you feel anxious around new people, or admit to your study group that you hate speaking in front of other people, chances are that confiding your fear will give you perspective and help you persevere. Knowing that others are aware of your issue will also help to assure you that they're not judging you, which can in turn help to reduce your anxiety.
6. Practice meeting people
Overcoming shyness won't happen overnight and learning to feel confident even when you're self-conscious will take time and effort. Practice every day - introduce yourself to others whenever you get the chance. Strike up a conversation with the girl sitting next to you in class or the guy who lives across the hall. Remember, all you need to do is ask a question or two and you may not have to say another word. If nothing else, smile when you make eye contact with others - you'll seem confident and approachable, and no one will ever suspect that you're shy.

(Elizabeth Koprowski is an American writer and travel historian. She has worked in the higher education system with international students both in Europe and in the USA).

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