If you are honest, I bet you are one of the very many of us who are uncomfortable walking into a room full of people you have never met. Truthfully now, aren’t you?

There are many situations which we may encounter everyday of our lives that make us feel uncomfortable, such as returning something to a store; participating in discussion groups; interviews; and having to talk to a group. These are just some the everyday situations which don’t require public speaking skills, but do need some type of conversational skills. If you add to that the heart stopping thought of asking somebody for a date, you can see that we live a life fraught with conversational difficulties.

Now many of us will handle our anxieties by donning our public masks, you know the one we wear when we really don’t want our vulnerable self to be seen. Some people are the clowns; some will be aggressive; others will be nauseatingly self-deprecating and some will play the strong silent type. None will be their normal comfortable self.

John Powell said “I am afraid to tell you who I am, because, if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”

Much of the problem is usually the unrecognised ‘self-talk’ we indulge in before facing these situations. If we are going to a party where we know very few people we are likely to tell ourselves “No-one is going to talk to me” – “I’m not dressed right” – “I’m boring and they are going to think I am uninteresting”. With that amount of negativity going on, you are probably going to be right.

Getting the courage to face our situation anxiety starts with the rejection of such negative self-talk, and to do that we need to attribute causes accurately. What on earth does that mean?

Attributions are the explanations, reasons or interpretations that we give ourselves for what happens. How you explain why you have anxiety or are shy influences how you deal with it. Our explanations are usually wrong and if we treat them as being the truth it can seriously affect the way in which we react to anxiety situations.

Some of the misconceptions that many of us believe are true for us are:

I can’t help it, I was born like it! – This gives you a perfect reason not to overcome your nerves, if it’s all in the genes then there’s nothing I can do about it. Trying to change is a waste of time. Continue to think this way and your inability to face anxiety situations becomes enshrined and worn as a badge of honour. Sorry to burst the bubble – but being anxious or shy in unknown situations is not nature, its nurture. Although some of us may have different biological predispositions to situation anxiety, most of our response is a result of learned behaviour maintained by current thinking patterns.

I had a rotten childhood! – Your unfortunate past or the way that others treated you may have contributed to your lack of confidence, but it is what you do and say to yourself now that sustains the anxiety.

I prefer to let others make the first move! – If you are shy or anxious about a situation, it is much easier to take a low profile and wait for other, more assertive, people to come to you. Now just remember how many of us are similarly anxious or shy at the gathering – all waiting for other people to make the first move! So standing around waiting for it to happen may not be your best choice.

I can’t stand rejection! – Well none of us like it; but setbacks are a normal part of living. Not everybody in this world is going to appreciate our personal value. So do not have unrealistic expectations and if someone rejects your friendly overtures, smile and move on. Don’t let their negative reaction influence yours.

Now that we realise that we are not alone in our anxiety over new situations, we should be ready to look at some of the ways we can learn to overcome it. So let’s start with how to combat our negative self –talk. Coping with self-talk is a thinking skill. It requires two major shifts in our thinking. First the introduction of ‘calming self-talk” followed by the ‘coaching self-talk”.

On Wednesday I will look at simple ways we can introduce this “calming and coaching self-talk” into our lives


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