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How to Free Yourself from the Cycle of Social Fear

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore” ~André Gide

A few months ago, I received a gift from my brother while on a vacation in the United States. He was giving each one of us a small token of stone with words carved on them. Mine was etched “courage.”

The stone reminded me of my struggles on self-esteem—in the past and the present. I pull strength from my courage to face the challenges of each day.

Getting to where I am now was not an easy task.

The Cycle of Social Fear

The earliest memories of my childhood had to do with being in one corner of the classroom watching all the other kids playing while I stood watching. It was not because my teacher punished me, but because I was too shy to talk or play with anyone.

I would sit all day long if there was no instruction to do otherwise.

I do not remember exactly what was going on in my mind. I think there was this part of me that just wanted to be me—not do anything and accept myself being shy—and there was my other self that wanted to be like any other kid enjoying playing with others.

I wanted to interact but I did not manage to do so because I was caught in the vicious cycle of social fear:

I am shy —> I want to play with them —> If I play with them, I’m afraid of what they will say about me —> I don’t want to be rejected —>  I will not join them because…—> I am shy.

Thanks to the support of my family and friends who went out of their way to help, I have changed in spite of myself. But this did not happen without constant battle between the shy me and the real me.

Decide to Step out of the Cycle

The only way you can get out of the rut of fear is to make a conscious decision to step out of it. It is not easy to do this if you have grown into the habit of fear. In order to make this work, you have to find what your heart really wants and teach your heart and mind to accept this.

Reflect on this question: What is it that I fear and would like to overcome?

Your fears can be a general “shyness” or specifically not being able to talk, or point out something in a meeting, or not being assertive enough.

Now ask yourself: Why do I want to overcome this?

Be clear why you want to overcome this fear. By “why,” I mean, what is at stake if you do not conquer this fear? It will be irrelevant to do something about it if it is not important to you or your loved ones.

To be practical and effective, I recommend getting yourself a notebook where you can write your notes on this project called you.

Take time every day to reflect on your notes to remind you about your personal commitments to yourself. What could be most important record-keeping in the world but that of your own personal life—your most important business!

Throw Your Hat over the Fence

How do you go to a new place of interest we will call Dream Kingdom when there is a fence surrounding it? The rightful way to do so is to find the path or the door to enter.

But what if you hesitate to do so because you do not know what goes beyond that? Assuming you are legally and rightfully entitled to enter the place, what could be stopping you? Is it risk, rejection, or embarrassment?

Nowadays reality TV has allowed many dreams to come true. The likes of American Idol, Amazing Race, Biggest Loser and many others have given many people the hope of getting their dreams come true. The hundreds of people queuing for auditions is a sign that these people tried to do something.

In the same analogy, I would like to ask: How can so many people try to conquer their fear, regardless of the qualifications, and succeed? How can people who do not even have the talent get there on stage notwithstanding any outcome?

Going back to the Dream Kingdom we wanted to get into, surely there’s one thing waiting to be done. If you want to get into that place and you cannot because of fear, throw your hat over the fence! That means nailing down your involvement to make it difficult for you to turn back and quit.

Here are some examples:

Overcome Shyness

  • Do: Join a support group
  • Nail it down: Find a group and register

Being Visible in Meetings

  • Do: Be prepared with the agenda
  • Nail it down: Talk in the first five minutes of the meeting

Improve Assertiveness

  • Do: Talk to the person you wanted to convince about a point
  • Nail it down: Go out of your way and tell the person you want to talk to him and find a convenient time to talk

Play Like a Movie Star

Putting everything into action now becomes easy. There will be butterflies in your stomach but they will disappear. This is the time when the adage Just do it works.

Imagine yourself in a movie playing as the lead actor. You are the star and the movie all depends on you now! You have been given the privilege of starring in this movie and you have to give your best shot.

How do you prepare for this?

Prepare your scripts. In real world, not everyone is spontaneous. If you are not one of them, that’s fine. If it’s hard for you to speak up, be ready with something on how to say things.

Using the same scenario examples I have mentioned earlier, take a look at these sample scripts:

  • “I would like to register and join this support group.”
  • “What do you think of this concern on the ___  in the agenda?”
  • “Hi, I’d like to talk to you about this proposal I am making about ___ . Is this a good time to talk?”

Practice, practice, practice. Who said practicing is cheesy and an over-do? Ignore those people who tell you that. The great leaders of this world practiced what they had to say.

Did you know that Margaret Thatcher had to change her tone of speech before she ran for prime minister? She practiced and was coached.

Give your best shot. Treat your daily challenges like acting in front of a live audience. When you are there live, the show depends on you. Do your best and focus. If you make a mistake, carry on. The show must go on.

Learning from Your Lessons

Get all that you can learn from the “movie” experience. Celebrate not only the big successes but also the little ones.

Take them into account in your little notebook. Enjoy them. Feel them and use them again for your next act.

As for the negative ones, take them well—not that you will pretend they did not happen; accept them as is.

Feel what you feel and do not deny them.

Spend some time talking about them with a confidant and reflect on them. There’s no failure but only feedback. Do not be discouraged. Let go and start again.

Repeat the Cycle of Confidence

By the time you have finished executing your movie, you should have already realized that you have succeeded to step out of the cycle of fear. And yet you have entered another one: the cycle of confidence.

That looks a little something like this:

I am confident —> I want to play with them —> If I play with them, I will enjoy —> I am playing with them, and I’m enjoying! —> I had a good experience (or I had a bad experience) but either way —> I will play again and learn from my experience because…—> I am confident.

Photo by Alex Bellink

About Rob Leonardo

Rob Leonardo is a market researcher and motivational writer based in Singapore.  He put up the blog ConfidenceCues to share his own experience and create a safe haven to grow self-esteem.

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