Have you ever felt suddenly self-conscious about how you are walking? It feels like your strides are all wrong and you forget how to swing your arms naturally? This is more common than you think and there are steps you can take to overcome this form of social anxiety.
It can be uncomfortable walking in public when you feel like people are watching and judging you. Your mind starts creating stories about how focused other people are on you. They must be watching every one of your movements and thinking about how awkward you are, right? It can feel that way but we know it’s not at all true.
Whether it is true or not, it still can create anxiety and make you feel off-kilter. Let’s look at the reasons why this happens and what you can do to overcome this feeling.
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How to stop “walking manually”
This part is going to be annoying but I want you to focus on your breathing. Before I asked you to pay attention to your breathing, it was not in your focus at all. But now you are having to manually inhale and exhale. Luckily, you will go back to normal breathing in a few seconds or minutes as your mind shifts its attention away.
This is similar to that feeling of manual walking. It feels like you have to take each step in a thought-out manner which feels awkward, just like when you focus on taking breaths consciously. But you know how to walk just as well as you know how to breathe. When you walk to the bathroom or fridge at home I bet that you don’t think about how to take each step.
This means that the shyness of walking in public is all a mental construct. You can physically walk when there is no pressure. So we have to look at why you feel this pressure when walking around other people.
Why do I feel uncomfortable walking in public?
This discomfort arises from the false idea that other people are paying attention to you. In reality, most people are walking around in a daze. They are completely focused on whatever is going inside their own head that the outside world is mostly a blur to them.
Think about the last time you were in a social interaction or making small talk near other people who were walking around. Can you recall any of them and any details about the way they walked or carried themselves? Do you remember much about what they were wearing or their facial expressions? Unless there was something vastly out of the ordinary, you likely won’t remember much. It isn’t worth your focus. And the same applies to other people who see you in a social situation.
Even if you feel so awkward walking around other people that you take abnormally short or long steps, or if you somehow forget how to swing your arms, still nobody cares. At worst, they notice this behavior for a moment and then they forget it forever within a few seconds. It is utterly irrelevant to them.
Knowing this may help to slightly reduce the tension and social phobia you feel but there is still more you can do to feel more confident and have less self-consciousness.
Walking with confidence
There are some things you can focus on to both look and feel more confident when walking. And even if others aren’t paying attention there are still good reasons to make these changes so you can have a more confident posture and body language. Here are the most impactful, yet simple changes you can make to look and feel more confident while walking in a public setting.
There are a few key points of posture that will make the biggest changes. You don’t have to have perfect posture but these points will get you most of the way there.
- Standing up straight – This alone is huge. No hunching allowed! You will appear taller, and more confident from this change alone. This will take some practice but it can become natural.
- Shoulders back and relaxed – Most people slouch and roll their shoulders forward. Instead, pull them back and then let them relax. This works along with the straight spine in the prior step.
- Keep your chin up – You want to be looking straight ahead when standing or walking. Test this in the mirror. For me, when I made this change it felt like I was lifting my chin too high but looking in the mirror showed me that I was looking straight ahead. I was so used to keeping my chin down that having it at the proper height felt strange. Practice keeping your head up at the proper height and keeping your eyes straight ahead.
These 3 simple posture corrections will have a big impact on how you look and feel. It is easier to walk confidently when you have a confident posture. A better posture keeps your movements natural instead of forced or fake. Having a better posture also helps as you develop your other social skills as well.
There are two main movements that stand out when walking. Arm swing and stride. This doesn’t need to be overcomplicated but I still want you to have some guidelines you can follow in case this is part of the awkwardness for you.
- Arm swing – This is a natural movement until we get inside our heads and start thinking about it. Your arms will swing opposite to the leg taking a step. As your left leg comes forward, your right arm swings forward. Don’t worry about the distance of the swing. Some people have a shorter swing and some swing more. It doesn’t matter and nobody notices. Just let the arms swing as they want to and keep your hands out of your pockets.
- Stride – There are two main components of a stride. The length and speed. Length is dependent mostly on your height. Speed is the more variable component. If you ever start feeling self-conscious about your stride, make a point to step about 10% slower than you are. When we feel nervous, our instinct is to speed up. Instead, we should slightly slow down. This is a more natural and confident stride.
Look at how other people walk and how little anyone cares
Still not feeling fully confident about walking in public? Then I have a social experiment for you. The next time you are in a public place with some foot traffic, I want you to find a place to sit or stand and people watch for a while.
You can choose a food court at the mall, a coffee shop, a book store, or anywhere else there will be some people to analyze.
Once you sit down, start with a general broad view of everyone walking within your field of vision. Without pinpointing any individual, can you see anyone who looks awkward and is walking strangely? Odds are that there isn’t anything too out of the ordinary happening. Observe like this for a few minutes. Maybe you’ll see someone stumble or someone with a limp. But nothing too crazy.
Now, I want you to start focusing on individuals. If someone stumbles or has something odd about the way they walk, take notice. It may be hard to spot abnormalities at first but eventually, you should. Start looking for poor posture, slumped shoulders, bad arm swing, and awkward gait.
Once you do find someone with one of these issues, spend a few minutes watching them. Was it hard to spot? And remember that this is with you specifically trying to find awkward movements. Now, look at the people around the awkward person with the strange walk. Do they seem to notice how the other person is walking? Does anyone else in the area see that this person isn’t walking perfectly? Or is it only you who notices because you are 100% focused on finding the imperfect walkers?
See how hard it is to notice? And see how little everyone else cares? This means that they don’t care or even notice how you look walking around either. Any fear you had about strangers judging you was unfounded. They don’t even pay attention to what is happening around them.
In summary, how do I walk without feeling awkward?
You should now understand that nobody is paying much attention to other people out in the world. And even if they were, they aren’t going to notice something as insignificant as the way you walk.
This understanding should help mitigate some of the feelings that you have about walking around others. In addition, practicing good posture will go a long way to making you feel better about how you look and walk. And remember to slow it down. Proper posture and a slower stride exude confidence and let you walk more naturally and less robotically. These changes will counteract any negative thoughts you may have had and remove the unwarranted embarrassment you have felt before about walking around in public.