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Overcoming shyness might not be as hard as you think.

In its video and accompanying article, the educational company The School of Life presents a new way of thinking about shyness — suggesting that it results when we exaggerate our differences from others.

Our brains are wired to notice and exaggerate our differences

Research from psychology lends support to The School of Life’s model of shyness. People have a biological tendency to both focus on, and amplify the differences we perceive between ourselves and others.

This stems from our brain’s automatic process of categorizing objects and people we see in the world — a tendency that begins when we are infants.

Psychiatrist David Sack describes this process in an article published on The Huffington Post: “When we observe a person or an object, we latch onto a few overt details and then use that information to assign that person or thing to a place in our mental library of categories.” These include categories based on race, age, class, gender, looks, beliefs, and more.

Categorization helps us make sense of our world, and even survive. “Without it, we would have to puzzle out the meaning of each person and object individually rather than, say, assigning that speeding car to the ‘reckless driver’ category and getting out of its way,” Sack explains.

Relying on these assumptions saves us time and energy, but when applied to people, they often fail to paint an accurate or full picture. Further, research shows that we tend to exaggerate the differences between the categories we use — an explanation for why shy people see strangers as being so starkly different from them.

Thus, because we tend to simplify people down to the categories we assign them, and because we overestimate differences between ourselves and those in different categories, it is no wonder that we often struggle to connect with others.

Shifting your mindset

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The School of Life suggests a solution to this problem — adopting the mindset of ‘psychological cosmopolitanism.’ A person with this mindset focuses on the underlying similarities that all people share.

They recognize that “[a]ll human beings…must…be activated by a few basic dimensions of concern. There will be uniting likes, hates, hopes and fears; even if it is only a love of rolling a ball back and forth or a mutual interest in sunbathing.”

It’s not that the cosmopolitan doesn’t acknowledge the differences between people — they are well-aware of them, but refuse to be dominated by them. Even if they struggle talking to strangers at first, they don’t get discouraged, sure that they will eventually find common ground.

The School of Life encourages people who experience shyness to try this approach. Some people may seem vastly different from you on the surface, but you likely have more in common with them than you think.

Check out the School of Life video here:

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