The focused post: On Shyness

Anonymous Writer posted about this interesting article from Psychology Today.

What struck me most was this:

The extraordinary fact is that you can create a crisis of confidence by overreacting to your own normal heightened alertness. . . .Increased activation is not a sign that you’re failing, but that you want to do well and your body is ready to help.

Reading this made me realize that maybe it’s not so much the actual situation that freaks me out – giving a presentation, speaking in a meeting with people who I perceive to be judging me, attending a party where I know no one – but my reaction to it. Increased heart rate, sweating, blushing. I’m become very conscious that I’m turning or may turn beet red, which makes me even more nervous, which I perceive as a sign of failure.

There are other times I use that adrenaline rush as just that. When I was kid, I had to do piano recitals every year. I always got very very nervous beforehand, mostly because we had to memorize the piece and I’d worry that I’d have brain freeze.

I almost always managed to use that nervous energy in a good way, to put every ounce of it in my performance. I remember people coming up to me afterwards and complimenting me, even though I knew I had made mistakes.

I did the same thing with teaching. Unlike presentations, teaching is much more extemporaneous. I didn’t have to worry about sounding like I didn’t know what I was talking about. In that way I could use my nervous energy almost like a can of Red Bull to jump over the hurdle of shyness.

Unfortunately with presentations it’s different. For some reason, I always feel unconfident about the material, even if I know it inside and out. You can hear the shaking in my voice, see my flushed face, witness the tremor in my hands. Stumbling in talking is a lot more obvious than a few wrong notes in a musical piece.

But that’s not to say I should continue to perceive my physical reaction to a social interaction in a negative way. Just knowing that it’s not “bad” to feel my heart thumping may make a difference. Though I guess I won’t know till I try it.


  1. I really relate to this post. I have a horrible time speaking in meetings or reading in public. Maybe knowing that it’s my reaction and not the reality of the situation will help. Thanks.

  2. I don’t know how I did it any longer but I used to take part in two recitals a year with all of my piano teacher’s tens of students. I did this for about ten years. Somewhere along the line, I noticed that nervous energy was good and the times I was calm were bad-performance days. But then after I noticed this, I think the trend died. That’s where superstition comes into things.

  3. i think the reactions that are so obvious to you, often aren’t as noticeable to others. i took a public speaking class and it was fascinating to hear how someone had felt during a talk right after seeing it. a lot fo times, you couldn’t even tell that they were shaking, and nervous as all get-go.