We all have that social butterfly friend: the one who talks to professors with ease, charms boys and is the life of the party. She always raises her hand in class, chats up people in the elevator and just exudes confidence all the time. She’s the outgoing one, and you have no clue how she does it.
Whether you’re shy or just introverted, being outgoing doesn’t come easily to everyone. But putting yourself out there doesn’t have to be so nerve-wracking! Read on for tips from an expert and fellow collegiettes so you can socialize without anxiety.
Are you shy or introverted?
Contrary to popular belief, these words aren’t synonyms! “Shyness is something you can overcome if you want to,” says Sophia Dembling, Psychology Today blogger and author of the upcoming book, The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World. “It’s about fear. Introversion is about preference and not only is it likely that you don’t want to get over it, but researchers believe that introversion is hardwired into us.”
Introverts are more internally-focused. Being around a ton of people can be exhausting for them. Introverts aren’t always shy, though. They just draw from internal energy, rather than getting it from other people.
Here’s the difference: shy girls may really want to be outgoing, but find it difficult because of anxiety. Introverts may feel fine keeping to themselves. But Dembling says our society rewards the more outgoing people. So whether or not you want to be outgoing, you might still feel the pressure.
“Society rewards outgoing people with what they want because it’s very easy to see what they want,” Dembling says. “They want attention, so society gives them attention.”
So what’s a quiet girl to do?
For Johns Hopkins collegiette Vanessa, becoming more outgoing required a specific environment. After noticing that she felt more comfortable in smaller groups in high school, she deliberately chose a college that was smaller. “I knew a big school wasn’t going to work for me,” she says. “I needed an environment where I wouldn’t have to feel pressured to be heard in a giant group.”
For Vanessa, putting herself in situations where her quiet demeanor would not work against her helped her to acclimate and become more comfortable so that she could eventually feel that same comfort in larger groups. So to start off, choose small classes and join small groups when you can. Ease yourself into conversations and social situations until you get more comfortable by reaching out to others and letting your voice be heard. Gestures as simple as introducing yourself, asking or answering a question, or offering your opinion will help you get used to putting yourself out there.
Unfortunately, you can’t go from quiet to outgoing overnight. But the little things can help a lot. Try just making eye contact and smiling at people on your way to chemistry. Make small talk in the Starbucks line. Enlist your friends to introduce you to people—working off of your friends’ outgoingness is the easiest way to meet new people without the pressure of having to initiate the conversation by yourself.
Even just being aware of your shyness can go a long way. “Throughout years of having shyness being something I’ve dealt with, and wanting to see it change, it’s helped to have that consciousness,” says Kate from Wellesley College. Since Kate knew shyness was something she would have to work around, she made conscious goals for herself, like speaking at least once every class or talking to one boy at a party. Making mini goals pushed her, so that talking and socializing eventually became easier and less scary. Before any situation where you know you’ll be around lots of people, try making a few mini goals like Kate. Setting a goal, even if it’s as minor as introducing yourself to just one new person, will motivate you and make you feel good about your efforts.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Dembling, a self-described introvert, says the best way to feel more outgoing is to just pretend at first. “I behave as if I am not the least bit nervous, as if I think the audience is going to love me,” she says. “You can think that way when you step into a party. Behave as if you are not nervous, as if you are happy to be there.”
One way to do this, especially in classroom settings, is to prepare before entering the situation. Is an upcoming oral English presentation making you anxious? Practice what you’re going to say and rehearse it until you feel confident. You may still feel a little nervous speaking in front of the class, but preparing will eliminate some nerves. Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. And it doesn’t hurt to step out of your comfort zone—it helps you grow!
“Force yourself into social situations,” says Akriti from Johns Hopkins University. “It just makes you have to speak and be around people. Obviously, there’s going to be times when you can’t get over your shyness. But bringing yourself out of your comfort zone is pretty effective.”
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
“I think introverts often imagine that every word they say has to matter somehow, has to be smart or important or clever,” Dembling says. “One thing to keep in mind is that small talk is called that for a reason. It’s small. It doesn’t have to be anything but pleasant. It’s simply a connection between human beings, so don’t sweat it.”
Emily, a University of Virginia collegiette, says you can still be outgoing in a group even if you don’t know what to say. “The best way to start conversing with a group you’re not familiar with is to ask questions,” she says. “It shows that you’re engaged in the conversation but it leaves the work up to them. It takes some pressure off of you.”
Kate also suggests that if you feel social anxiety or if you just want to work on feeling more comfortable in social situations, talking to someone about your goals may help. “Talk to a psychologist about it,” she says. “Everyone’s different and there’s not a good blanket solution. It’s however you learn to do this better. Especially when you have different goals. Do you wish to be an extrovert? Or do you want to cope as an introvert in an extroverted world?”
Whether you’re a social butterfly or a little on the shy side, start slowly and don’t push yourself too hard! You don’t have to be the most outgoing girl in the world to have great relationships.