Expert Author Aziz Gazipura

One of the biggest blocks to overcome shyness and social anxiety is a reluctance to try things out. When we are feeling shy, we predict we will get a negative response from other, and are naturally more hesitant. As a result, we inhibit ourselves, hold back, and stay on the sidelines. This is being passive.

I spent many years in my life being passive. I hoped that things would somehow be different. I wished that I were someone else, someone who was better looking and more popular. I fantasized about how women I found attractive would somehow approach me for a conversation (which never happened, by the way).

One of the most insidious aspects of living in a passive way (a.k.a. waiting for things to come to you) is that you keep telling yourself things will get better in the future.

When I was in middle school, I told myself high school would be different. In high school, I told myself everything would radically change when I got to college. There are thousands of women there; I'll be going on dates all the time!

What do you imagine happened when I got to college? Thousands of dates?

I'm afraid not. Nothing changed on its own.

Nothing changes if you remain passive, hoping for things to come to you without taking any risks.

In order to break free of shyness, we must be willing to take risks. We must be willing to try something out and see what happens. To take action and fail. To take action and succeed.

Going From Passive To Active

There are four levels along the continuum from passive to active. Let's go into each one briefly, and you can identify where you tend to live.

Level I: Avoid risks like the plague

This is the level I described above, and this is the level where most people with shyness and social anxiety spend their lives. One client I was working with captured it perfectly when he said: I won't do something even if there's only a 2% chance of failing, because I couldn't stand it if I failed. If there is any risk, it's not worth doing.

Guess how his life was going?

But wait a minute, why are risks good? Aren't there a lot of risky things that are dangerous and worth avoiding?

Absolutely. Injecting some IV drugs and then going on an unprotected sex rampage is not the kind of risk I'm talking about. I'm referring to healthy risks, such as going to a job interview, moving to a new city, starting a conversation with someone you're attracted to, or taking your relationship to the next level. Each one of these is a risk, because there is a chance of rejection, of things not going how you planned, and of some sort of pain. But if we avoid these kinds of risks, we also avoid taking steps to do anything that might give our lives a sense of meaning, excitement, and fulfillment.

Level II: Take a risk only when the outcome is certain to be in your favor

As you start to become more willing to take risks, you move into the second level along the continuum. In this level, you start taking action, and might even do something you used to avoid.

However, at level II, we are still terrified of rejection, failure, and embarrassment. As a result, we only want to take a risk if we know that everything will work out OK.

For example, you might go talk with that woman, but only because her friend told you that she likes you AND she smiles at you every time you see her. Or you might ask your friend to help you with something, but only because he specifically told you that he was available to help you that day and would be more than happy to do it.

Sure, you are taking a risk by asking, because nothing in life is absolutely, 100% certain, but these situations are as close as you are going to get.

What's the problem with staying at this level?

Frequency.

How often do opportunities come along that are absolutely certain? Unless you are Brad Pitt or a rock star, it is unlikely that you will have dozens of beautiful, intelligent, amazing women who regularly tell you that they like you and would say yes if you asked them out.

More likely, opportunities like this come along in a blue moon. As a result, you are taking a chance only once in a blue moon. You might have to wait months, or even years before something like this comes along. At this pace, it will take your whole life just to progress a small amount.

Level III: Take a risk when the outcome is uncertain

This is where life really begins - just outside of your comfort zone. Living at this level requires you to put yourself out there and take a shot, even if you might get rejected or fail. You might feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. In fact, if you are regularly taking healthy risks, then you will feel these things. They aren't a sign of something wrong, but instead are an indicator that you are on the right track.

Playing at level III means you start the conversation with the person you are attracted to, you ask for her number, and you see if that acquaintance wants to see a movie with you over the weekend. You apply for the job, go on the interview and see what happens. Basically, you engage in life fully and see what results you get.

Living in this way takes a high level of courage. It involves experiencing short-term discomfort (e.g. nervousness of approaching someone) in order to enjoy long-term fulfillment. It is a lifestyle of approaching what scares you rather than avoiding it.

Most of the work I do with individual clients is about helping them to fully step into living at level III. Once this happens, my work is almost done. From here, they become the director of their lives, realizing they can choose their destiny simply by taking action towards what they desire.

Level IV: Take a risk, even when the outcome you want is unlikely

While you can be completely satisfied with a life at level III, I believe there is always something more we can grow into. Level IV is the realm of the long shot, the unlikely, and the unreasonable.

That means you apply for the job that has 2,000 other applicants. You approach the woman who is the most compelling and amazing one you know, even if you tell yourself, "she's way out of my league."

Going for something that you think is almost impossible takes a high level of social confidence. It requires you to believe in yourself, to think: I'm just as good as anyone else. Someone's going to get hired for that job, why not me? Any skills I don't have now, I can learn.

Big risks like this don't pan out most of the time. But they do help you strengthen your confidence, simply by regularly pursuing them. And besides, sometimes they actually work out, and your life is never the same again.


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