Self-conscious feelings come all too naturally to most of us.
We avoid people and places, cancel plans, and go to great lengths to conceal our imperfections with one goal in mind: to not look bad in front of others.
We know it’s ridiculous to go about life trying to avoid judgment , especially from those we don’t know. Even still, after you get that ugly haircut, lose that job, or fail at something, you can’t help but imagine the criticism and judgment, spoken or unspoken, that will be directed your way.
You then enter that undesirable space of pre-embarrassment as a torrent of negative thoughts cascade through your mind:
“What are they gonna think of me?”
“I’ll look so bad in front of them”
“I’ll sound so stupid”
You then conjure up a bunch of movies in your mind of how upsetting it will look when your greatest fears relative to the situation come to pass.
In the end, all of this worry gets you nowhere. Life goes on, and the vast majority of the time, things don’t go nearly as bad as we had imagined.
But are we doomed to experience the vicious cycle of social anxiety forevermore? Not at all. There are plenty of techniques you can use to bring more relief and enjoyment to situations that had caused you to experience self-conscious feelings in the past. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Realize that others don’t care that much
We’re usually too wrapped up in our personal world to pay much attention to the flaws of others. When self-conscious thoughts bubble up, remind yourself that others truly don’t care much about what you’re saying and doing. Can you recall vividly the last time your friend mispronounced a word, looked bad in their outfit, or took a long time to chew their food? Exactly.
2. Get outside of yourself
Some simple attention shifting can go a long way in alleviating self-consciousness. When confronted with feelings of social anxiety, gently move your attention from the thoughts and worries running through your mind to the external world. Become intently focused on what is happening “out there”- notice the speech, gestures of others and become fascinated by it.
By moving your focus to the outside world you limit the capacity of the monkey mind to assert its stream of discouraging self-talk that leads to more anxiety and embarrassment.
3. Use the “Silence your Inner Critic” technique discussed in this article
4. Rehearse a different scenario
Instead of playing scary movies in your mind’s eye of how bad that interview, date or presentation will be, take time to imagine how great it would look and feel if everything went well. Envision yourself speaking intelligently and humorously. Imagine all those sights, sounds and feelings that help you know that those around you really enjoy your company. Notice how confident your posture is.
Visualization is powerful, and spending just a few minutes visualizing these future situations intentionally can make a big difference. Since the unconscious mind finds it impossible to differentiate between a daydream and reality, rehearsing in this way trains your unconscious mind to direct you toward a more positive outcome when the real situation presents itself.
You deserve to be heard and seen without feeling anxious. The more often you apply these techniques the more powerful they become. Go easy on yourself and give yourself the space to see what works best for you.