By Shannon McFarland
When I was about 13 years old, I made a few rules for myself that changed the trajectory of my life.
Let me set the scene: At social events, I would hunker down in a corner with a book and observe people, while I hid between the pages like it was a shield to protect me.
I was uncomfortably shy. I took books with me everywhere, including events and social activities. Besides the usual awkwardness of being a teen, I was homeschooled, which made me feel like an outsider at nearly extracurricular activity and club.
I might feel outgoing around people I knew closely, but even then usually just in small groups. I wasn’t comfortable in conversations with people, especially group conversations.
But I realized that I didn’t want to be left out and hiding for my whole life. So I made a few rules for myself, which became habits, and eventually changed my life.
1. I was not allowed to bring books to social events.
No books. If I was somewhere with people, I needed to be present in the moment. To talk with people and interact. I had to talk and participate. No hiding.
2. If I was having a conversation with someone, I had to make eye contact.
To make sure I was doing it, I made it into a game: if I could remember someone’s eye color after a conversation, I won. If I couldn’t remember their eye color, with certainty, I lost. I played this game in conversation for years. It impacted my conversational style so much, that I sometimes remind myself not to look people in the eye too much. I had someone once tell me that my deep soul-staring
3. If someone on a stage asked for a volunteer, I had to raise my hand.
Every time. No exceptions. Someone said “We need a volunteer!” and my hand went up. Speaker at a youth event, magic show, or whatever.
This had the hilarious and sometimes unfortunate effect of putting me on stages a lot. Often for tasks that were embarrassing and I did not want to be involved with at all. But I did this through all of high school.
It threw me into the deep end of the uncomfortable zone. But through constant exposure to being on stage, having people stare at me, and being frequently embarrassed all the time, it had the enormous benefit of making me much less shy. I even had fun. I learned everyone else had fun the times when I played up the activity and participated with gusto. Later, when it came to public speaking later in high school and college, when I had prepared for the event and probably a script, it felt like a breeze. At some point in my professional career, I was on television a few times — still incredibly uncomfortable, but I got through it easier.
The real reason that each of these little tricks worked, enough to change my life and be memorable fifteen years later, is that I committed to them. I made these rules for myself and stuck to it. They become habits, actions I took without thinking.
With consistency and persistence, there are many things you can change about yourself or the world around you.