Ok, I confess. The above question is misleading and unfair.

When I say introvert, what image comes to mind? The shy, timid wallflower who is afraid to stand out?

One of the common misconceptions about introverts is that they are shy. In fact, the two terms are used so interchangeably, most of us have been led to think that they are the same thing.

In truth, introversion and extroversion have more to do with whether we recharge our batteries by getting some peace and quiet, or whether we get charged up from highly stimulating environments around lots of people.

So you could be introverted, and not at all shy. Or introverted and shy. Or an extrovert, but totally shy and afraid of what others might think of you.

All of which raises an interesting question. We all know from experience how vulnerable we can feel in performance situations, which requires us to put ourselves out into the world for everyone to see (and judge).

Given that being shy makes us feel more inhibited in social situations, and leads us to worry more about how we will come across to others, does this put shy musicians at a disadvantage in auditions or competitions?

Shyness and its consequences

In theory, yes, shyness would seem to be an undesirable characteristic for performers.

For instance, there are a number of studies which suggest that shy folks tend to have lower self-esteem. That’s not too surprising, as worrying about being judged negatively by others, imagining yourself cracking under pressure, and engaging in more negative self-talk isn’t exactly a great formula for building confidence in your abilities.

There are also indications that shy folks tend to experience more anxiety before competitive situations (at least physically – like the pounding heart, cold clammy hands, and so on).

So if we happen to fall on the shy end of the continuum, are we destined for subpar performances?

Shyness and performance

One study of figure skaters provides some interesting clues.

Researchers from Carleton University in Canada gathered data on 40 female figure skaters between the age of 11 and 19, representing a range of competitive levels.

They measured shyness, athletic self-esteem, pre-competition anxiety, and coping style. Then, they waited to see how the athletes would fare at a regional competition.

As expected, the researchers found that the shy athletes were more likely to experience greater pre-competition jitters.

Researchers also found that shyness was associated with lower athletic self-esteem.

And perhaps the final nail in the coffin – shyness and performance were inversely related. Meaning, the more shy the athlete was, the worse they tended to perform at the competition.

But wait!

The relationship between shyness and competitive performance (as well as self-esteem), were moderated by the skaters’  psychological coping styles.

So if you were shy, but used a positive coping style, you probably performed just fine.

But if you were shy and relied on a negative coping style, your performance likely took a hit.

Positive and negative coping styles

So what is a positive coping style?

In this study, a positive coping style would mean dealing with performance pressure by focusing on the task at hand. Focusing on your performance instead of what the judges might be thinking.

Staying in the moment rather than drifting off to the questionable Vietnamese beef pho you had for dinner and is audibly working its way through your digestive system.

Avoiding competitors who make you feel intimidated, or want to vent endlessly about how freaked out they are.

Conversely, a negative coping style would involve things like blaming yourself for feeling nervous, dwelling on how unprepared you feel, or worrying about what would happen if you experienced a beef pho-induced gastrointestinal emergency in the middle of your performance.

Take action

To be honest, it’s probably a good idea to work on your positive coping styles whether you are shy or not.

But if you are the curious type and want to know your shyness “score,” you can take the online version of the assessment the researchers used right here: How Shy Are You?

Additional reading

Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (And Why Does It Matter)?

6 Things You Thought Wrong About Introverts

photo credit: Kalexanderson via photopin cc

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

After Countless Hours of Practice, Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills and a few tweaks in your approach to practicing. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

Click below to discover the 7 skills that are characteristic of top performers. Learn how you can develop these into strengths of your own. And begin to see tangible improvements in your playing that transfer to the stage.

NOTE: Version 3.0 is coming soon! A whole new format, completely redone from the ground up, with new research-based strategies on practice and performance preparation, 25 step-by-step practice challenges, unlockable bonus content, and more. There will be a price increase when version 3.0 arrives, but if you enroll in the “Lifetime” edition before then, you’ll get all the latest updates for free.

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