How Can I Be Less Self-Conscious in Social Situations?

Tips for Developing an Outward Focus and Reducing Social Anxiety

woman having serious conversation with group
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If you suffer with social anxiety disorder (SAD), one of the keys to overcoming your symptoms is to learn how to be more confident and less critical of yourself. When you are self-conscious, not only do you make your anxiety symptoms worse, but you make it harder to be aware of what is going on around you. This can cause you to think that other people are judging you negatively; in reality, they likely aren't paying attention at all.

 

Psychologists have given a name to this phenomenon: the "spotlight" effect. Although it feels like all eyes are on you, in fact people are probably only noticing about 50% of what you think they are. So you are over-imagining everything by about half.

It's easy to understand that being self-conscious makes your social anxiety worse; it is quite another task to make a change and become more outward-focused. Indeed, one of the antidotes for being self-conscious is to focus your attention outward instead of inward. Below are some steps to help you on your way to becoming less self-conscious.

What is Holding You Back?

Perhaps there are some roadblocks holding you back from making the change. Maybe you think that it is too scary to focus on the outside world. Maybe it is mentally exhausting for you to keep up with conversations.

As an alternative, consider what benefits there could be from being more confident.

Being self-conscious is only making your anxiety worse and focusing on the opinions of others can limit your quality of life.  It is easier to be yourself and be spontaneous if you are not focused on editing yourself. You need to learn to lose yourself so that you can become who you really are.

Realize the Disadvantages of Being Self-Conscious

One of the biggest issues with self-consciousness is trouble accurately reading situations.

You may remember fewer details about situations where you did well and instead focus on your slight mistakes or faux pas. You may judge other people as being exceptionally good conversationalists when that is an exaggeration. That can cause you to analyze everything happening around you, inhibiting you from relaxing and having a good time.

Develop an Outward Focus

It will be difficult at first to develop an outward focus, particularly if you have used self-attention as a safety strategy for a long time. In order to make the switch, try to become curious about other people as an objective outside observer. The goal is not to imitate behavior, but simply to become more aware of what exchanges really go on. Watch what others do, listen to what they say and think openly about the situation. Be objective as you observe the situation from an outside perspective. If you have trouble, assign yourself a task of learning something about the person. 

Practice Switching Perspectives

One way to develop control over your focus is to learn how to switch between an inward and outward focus and notice the differences between the two.

The next time you are in an observational situation (such as riding on a bus), try first focusing totally on yourself. Do this for about five minutes and notice how you feel. Then, switch and try noticing everyone else and how they appear. Try talking to them if it seems appropriate.

Afterwards, notice how you felt and what you took in. The goal of this experiment is to become more aware of where your attention is directed, how to control it, and how it makes you feel. As you gain practice, try switching perspectives while in conversation with someone and notice the differences.

Realize Others Don't Care

If you start to get down on yourself or feel as though directing your focus outward is too dangerous, remember that in the broader picture, making a mistake or coming off as awkward is not the end of the world. 

Behaviors to Change Perspective

When you are self-conscious you likely become tense and say very little. As you focus attention outward, try some behaviors that encourage you to break free from the negative cycle of self-attention; smile at others and talk! When you are positive, happy and talking it is hard to think negative thoughts about yourself. When in doubt, asking people questions about themselves, such as about their passions or their pets, is a great way to break the ice and make people feel valued. You'll be remembered as charming and flattering, not socially awkward. 

Learn From Actors

Acting coaches will tell you that the way to a convincing performance is to double everything. Small gestures make you look embarrassed whereas large efforts exude confidence. Although it might seem counter-intuitive at first, if you want to draw less attention to yourself, be more grandiose. Putting yourself in the mindset of a "character" who is poised and sociable can also help you ease into the role interacting in social situations. 

Learn When to Seek Help

These suggestions can help you become less self-conscious, but if you find that your social anxiety keeps you from enjoying activities or meeting friends, it may be time to talk to a therapist. Social Anxiety is a treatable disorder and a comprehensive treatment plan can help you enjoy a higher quality of life. 

Sources:

Beck, M. The Cure for Self-Consciousness. Accessed August 14th, 2012.

Butler, G. (2008). Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness. New York: Basic Books.

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