When I was a child, I was very shy, and social situations were a nightmare for me. I felt uncomfortable, judged and awkward around people, and would often dread any upcoming social events. My mom was very extroverted and outgoing, and she encouraged (and at times, forced) me to speak to people. At the time, I hated it, but now I see that if I hadn’t spoken to people for all those years, my social skills would be poor/non-existent. My mom has always said that you cannot help the world by hiding under a rock, scared. Speaking and communicating with people is a necessary skill.
Today, I wouldn’t really consider myself to be shy. Sure, there are days where I’m more hesitant about speaking up, but for the most part, I can easily voice my opinion, participate in small-talk and perform speaking tasks such as: ordering the bill or booking a table. The funny thing though is that despite my growth, I still experience the same type of stress before a social interaction, and my brain often tricks me into believing that I am still awkward and shy.
To put it differently:
I was shy and had poor social skills --> This made me feel awkward and insecure in conversation --> I would stress about social situations because I didn’t like feeling awkward --> I kept pushing myself into social situations --> My social skills improved/got quite good --> I am for the most part not awkward in social situations --> My brain still thinks I’m as awkward as I was in the beginning --> I still get stressed and dread certain social situations.
Have you ever experienced something like this? It doesn’t necessarily have to be linked to social skills. Maybe you used to get low Maths marks, and even after you went to Extra Maths lessons and improved your marks by 40%, you still have low self-worth and think you’re bad at Maths. Another example may be losing weight but still holding those same feelings you had before you lost it.
We may be too hard on ourselves then and holding beliefs that, while true in the past, are no longer true now. Moreover, we may be making decisions based on these beliefs. Avoiding clubs and Maths books because we remember feeling awkward in these environments in the past. Saying ‘No’ to the hiking trip because we were NOT hikers in high school. By making decisions based on who and what we were capable of in the past though, we rule out the possibility of change and growth. Sure, maybe you weren’t athletic 5 years ago, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be athletic now. Skills improve; environments, friends and interests change.
The past can help with making better decisions, but I think we should remember that we are not the past. We are the now. The present. By continuing to make decisions based on who we were in the past, we may limit ourselves and not live up to our full potential. We are probably capable of more than we think we are capable of, and we shouldn’t underestimate ourselves and our growth.
Knowing this probably won’t delete our fears and disillusioned beliefs overnight. I do hope though that it makes things a little bit easier. That we may feel more open to stepping into the situations that used to scare us and find that we can cope.