Surviving the classroom warzone

Photo courtesy of KT King

Photo courtesy of KT King via Flickr

Under the eastern windows are the cool kids: not very clever, but cool. Under the western windows are the clever kids: not very cool, but clever. Like every day, the cool kids are bombarding the good kids with everything they’ve got and the good kids are fighting back with everything they’ve got. Ammunition of every kind is flying back and forth in the classroom and out.

I’m 9 and stuck in the trenches in the middle, with a tiny white flag, taking hits from both sides and desperately (but not very effectively) trying to survive this new school: number 10 of the 13 I would attend in 3 different continents by the time I turned 12.

Then someone gives me an olive branch. Another boy who, like me, is holding a white flag and is stuck in the middle of a bloody battle between the eastern block and the western front.

We talk, become friends and form our own coalition of two against the world; a very weak alliance in the current warzone of the classroom, but one that gives me hope – the single thing that keeps me going (and one I would lose as soon as I changed schools again).

Fast track a few years and I am now 17, sitting in the 2nd violin section of a summer camp orchestra making a flautist smile – not very helpful when one is trying to control one’s breath. During the break we talk and laugh together, along with the group of other friends I have. Not only do I now have several friends, but I no longer care about being labeled “weird”, “strange” or “different”.

So how did I go from being alone against the world to being part of a group of friends, able to smile at girls I didn’t know? Confidence. That big word that means so much and yet so little. But understanding what confidence is, how much it means and how easy it is to develop, allowed me to survive those years in the warzone of the classroom and break out of my shell of solitude and shyness.

There are many ways to develop confidence, but here I would like to describe what I call the Teddy BEAR process. It goes like this: our Thoughts influence our Beliefs, which influence our Emotions, which influence our Actions, which influence our Results. So to change the results, we need to change our thoughts and beliefs. Here is a quick example in action: I think, “I don’t answer quickly enough.” That leads to the belief, “I am stupid because I don’t answer quickly”. That leads to an emotion of fear at being asked questions, starting a conversation, or speaking to a girl. That leads to the action of avoiding any situation in which I might be asked something: interviews, approaching people etc. That leads to the result of me being a shy, reserved person who doesn’t step outside my comfort zone.

So what can you do about this? How can you break out?

Here is my RID method to doing so:

1) Recognise that there is a problem. The first sentence people say when they join AA is, “Hi, my name is… And I am an alcoholic.” Why is that? Because the first to overcoming a problem is recognising there is a problem. Most shy people know they are shy, so this step is usually not so hard.

2) Identify what the faulty thinking is. What are the thoughts and beliefs that are causing the shyness? Eg: Is it a belief that they are stupid? This is probably the hardest step and often needs to be done with a trusted someone who is willing to ask the necessary questions to delve deeper. It will also require the person to accept to do some soul searching to find the answers.

3) Deal with the problem. Once the faulty thinking has been identified, change it. Change the thoughts; change the beliefs to more useful ones. It is difficult to give examples, as there are many ways to deal with the large number of beliefs that lead to people becoming shy.

Now practice the new thoughts; road-test them. Put yourself into situations where you would normally have been shy and, with those new glasses; investigate whether things are still like they were. Just remember that this is a new You, one who has nothing to do with the You before you went through the process. So be prepared for something to be different.
With enough practice, this method can become second nature and you can beat shyness.

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