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How to manage self consciousness

Self consciousness is an essential part of being human, but it can make social situations really tricky sometimes. Here's what you can do about it if it happens to you.

First, let's look at what mean by self consciousness. Here's an example...

Self consciousness in action

You're standing with a group of friends, happily chatting away, the conversation going along nicely. Then someone says to you, "John, you're good at that, why don't you tell us how you do it?"

And Bang!, the way you feel changes completely. It's as if a spotlight has been turned on you and the rest of the room lights dimmed.

All of a sudden, your cheerful, easygoing nature of 10 seconds ago is nowhere to be found! What happened?

Well basically, your focus of attention has shifted to yourself, otherwise known as self consciousness.

You may also have received a shot of adrenaline as a stress response.

Now we have 2 potential problems:

If your adrenaline levels go too high, your brain will cease functioning in a way that allows you to think clearly, and you will feel like running away. This is obviously not optimal for a social situation!

If your focus of attention gets 'stuck' on yourself, i.e. in self consciousness mode, you won't be able to discuss the topic you've been asked to talk about. High adrenaline levels will make it more difficult for you to shift your focus away again.

So what can you do about self consciousness?

OK. Well let's deal with the adrenaline first. If you're getting this sort of stress response then it would be wise to learn some relaxation techniques.

Used correctly, relaxation will 'decondition' your anxiety response. To explain 'if you are reacting with anxiety very quickly in this sort of situation, it may be because you have had similar experiences in the past, and your body has 'learnt' to respond this way, faster than you can think.

There are 2 main things to do:

  1. Rehearse the situation imaginatively whilst deeply relaxed, so that your brain learns a new response.

  2. Create a 'trigger' to allow you to 'fire off' your relaxation response when you need it most.

You can do this best by learning how to relax very deeply. If you do meditation, or yoga, you probably already know how.

This will bring 2 main benefits:

  1. Once you know how to relax quickly in the situation itself, your anxiety response will soon stop occurring at all.

  2. You will gain the reassurance of knowing you can calm yourself whenever you need to, further increasing your self confidence.

Now let's look at your focus of attention.

As we discussed above, self consciousness is the state of mind that occurs when you focus on yourself. But to talk smoothly about a subject, your focus needs to be on the subject! The more deeply focused on the subject you are, the more eloquent and flowing you will be.

So, self consciousness gets in the way of socialising because it stops you focusing on what you need to focus on: the topic of conversation.

So what can you do to change your focus of attention?

A few things...

The first thing to understand is that adrenaline and anxiety 'lock' your attention, making it more difficult to switch what you're focusing on. Why? Because if it was a truly dangerous situation, which is what this response evolved for, it would be no good if you just drifted off and started thinking about what was for dinner!

So, becoming calmer will make it much easier to change your focus when you need to. (See '1' above.)

You can...

  1. Learn a discipline such as self hypnosis, tai chi, autogenics, or meditation. These techniques all train you to take deliberate control of your focus of attention, and teach you to do so while remaining calm.

  2. Practise switching your focus of attention on a day to day basis. You can do this whilst walking, sitting at work, anywhere really. Simply focus in on one thing as tightly as you can, then switch to something else. They could be objects in your environment, or ideas or thoughts.

It's particularly good if you do this whilst a little emotionally stimulated, such as watching an exciting TV program, or a film at the cinema. At the most tense moments, deliberately switch your attention away, and don't allow yourself to switch back until you have focused fully on the new object or thought.

These tips will make it much easier to control self consciousness and make socialising or public speaking a much more enjoyable experience!

Good luck!

Roger Elliott

Roger Elliott is a trainer and therapist and author of the free 6-part self confidence course, which has helped tens of thousands of people and can be found at


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