I’ve been getting into running lately. I signed up to run in the Run for Your Life Zombie 5k on a lark and over the course of training for it, I discovered that I really enjoy running. When I started talking to my brother – who races in triathalons for fun – about this, he started telling me that I needed to just keep with it and start aiming for running marathons.
I tried my best not to laugh in his face. I mean, I went from barely being able to run a mile without sucking wind and praying for the sweet release of death to running 5k like it weren’t no thing and he’s talking about my running 26 goddamn miles? Dude I only signed up for the zombie run because I wanted to prove a point about nerds and surviving the zombie apocalypse!
The problem was that I was looking at the end goal – 26 fucking miles! – and letting it psyche me out. All I could see is where I was – able to run 3 miles maybe 4; I couldn’t picture running the whole length.
I’m sure you can see where I’m about to go with this.
The hardest part of any long project is often just getting started. This is true whether you’re trying to run a marathon write a novel, lose 30 pounds or trying to improve your dating life and learning how to find and build the relationships you want. You feel the thunder in your heart and the electricity in your soul getting you jazzed up like a kid unable to sleep on Christmas Eve right until you take a good look at exactly what it is you’re trying to do and just how far you have to go.
Suddenly that thunder may seem more like a fart in an empty opera hall and your nervous energy has turned into frustration and confusion. You know where you want to be but it’s just so intimidatingly far from where you’re starting that it almost seems impossible.
When you focus exclusively on the end-goal, you risk psyching yourself out before you’ve even begun. You don’t need to do it all at once… you just need to do the work that makes getting there inevitable.
It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
When it comes to wanting to improve, we all want it done yesterday. It’s part of human nature; we don’t want the struggle, we want the rewards. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. When we’re not getting the results we want fast enough – regardless of whether it’s in weight loss, writing, running or dating – it’s very easy to get frustrated. So much effort and the end result still seems so out of reach. We have to remind ourselves that this is a long-term project; if it was fast and easy, we would all have done it by now (and by extension, I would be out of a job).
But it’s a laser-like focus on the end goal that trips people up. Rather than spending all of your attention on the most distant goal, you need to set milestones. Just as people training for marathons don’t start out trying to run 26 miles immediately, you shouldn’t be trying to be a full-on player right away. The first setback – and there will be setbacks – will rob you of your momentum and your drive and leave you where you were before, convinced that it’s impossible and you’re doomed to die alone and unloved.
Dividing your journey into smaller sections – milestones, effectively – works not only to make the end goal not seem so impossibly far, but it gives you a way of measuring your progress. You may feel like you have miles to go before you reach bona fide player status, but you can look back and see just how far you’ve come from who you used to be. You may feel bad because you’re only getting first dates… but when you can look back and realize how hard it was for you just to talk to women in the first place, you can better appreciate that you’ve improved so much more than you ever realized.
Nerds have an added benefit when it comes to measuring progress – we’ve got a pre-built mental model: the RPG. If you’ve spent hours collecting six-legged pigs asses in World of Warcraft for crafting recipes or running the same dungeons and instances over and over again in order to build up you character to take on the next boss, you already understand that sometimes you need to grind in order to get better.
It can sound silly or immature, but the idea of the gamification of real life has been something that social scientists have been exploring in depth lately. Treating practicing banter like putting points into Charisma is just one more way of breaking down what seems like an impossible goal – becoming good with women – into something attainable and keeping yourself motivated.
Cultivate The Habits You Need
A lot of guys when they get into pickup artistry set arbitrary goals – “I want to sleep with three new girls a month” or “I want to be having threesomes regularly within three months” – and start pursuing whatever path seems the fastest way to getting what they want. They’ll spend time learning pre-scripted routines and social gimmicks adapted from high-pressure sales tactics and go out three, four, fives times a night… and usually burn out early. They’re looking for the quick fix without stopping to think about how they’ll be able to maintain that goal nevermind things like the sheer logistics. They’re pushing themselves too far, too fast, treating dating like a crash-diet; if they get to their goal at all, they’ll never be able to maintain it. They rush in head first and burn out before they even know what happened, leaving them even worse off than they were before.
Being successful in dating isn’t about short-term success or get-laid-fast tricks. It’s about making changes to your lifestyle that enables you to meet and attract the relationships you want… and the skills to maintain them. You need to build the habits that will naturally lead you to the life you want.
Just as successful long-term weight-loss is a collection of positive habits – avoiding processed foods and simple carbohydrates, eating more green leafy vegetables, learning to love some form of cardiovascular exercise – that inevitably leads to a healthier, fitter lifestyle, success in dating is a collection of positive habits that become so ingrained that you no longer have to think about them. As a result, you aren’t forcing yourself into doing something and exhausting yourself trying to make things happen. Instead, it becomes part of who you are; you just fall into the rhythm naturally instead of having to think about it.
Take being social. Meeting and talking to people – a necessary part of getting better at dating – is a habit. If you’re not in the habit of approaching people and starting conversations, you’re going to have a much harder time when you see the cutie you’ve been looking for all of your life. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with meeting new people – if you’re used to talking to new people – you’ll find it much easier, natural even, to go up to her and tell her that she seems cool and you really wanted to meet her. You won’t be thinking “I need to mingle with people at this party so I don’t feel alone and awkward,” you’ll already be doing it.
It takes conscious effort at first; you’ll have to tell yourself over and over again “just go say ‘hi’ to the hot brunette at the counter” at Starbucks, just as I have to keep telling myself to stop hunching my shoulders while I run. But over time – and according to some studies, it takes anywhere from 18 to 66 days to successfully form a new habit – you will quit having to say it… because it will have become just another thing you do.
Just as being social is a habit, so too is positivity. The way we choose to think about ourselves and the world around us – either positively or negatively – carves a groove into our brain that colors every aspect of our lives. Seeing the world with a negative filter over it helps ensure that you’re going to get negative results; a positive outlook – towards yourself, towards others and towards the world in general – rewards us with greater levels of success.
This isn’t some woo-woo “Read The Secret and you’ll get rich” send-out-positive-vibes New Age hookum – it’s about how we perceive the world around us and how we respond to it. Being negative means that you end up short-changing yourself – you may take all the blame for your failures, but it leaves you unable to take credit for your successes. You miss out on opportunities because you won’t acknowledge how they could happen in the first place; you’re essentially failing in advance.
Because we’re social creatures, humans take their cues from the behavior of others and often end up subtly mimicing it. When you’re uncomfortable or feeling awkward about talking to somebody, they’ll not only pick up on the cues you’re giving off but start to feel that same awkwardness. When you assume that the woman you like is going to reject you, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; it comes across in your closed-off and defensive body language, in the way you have a hard time meeting her eyes when you talk to her and the attitude in your voice. As a result, she’s going to start feeling negative as well… leading you to get rejected, thus confirming your initial belief. When you believe that all women are only interested in material success or want alpha-males, you’re going to be consciously screening for confirmation of your belief… and you’ll find it. You’ll be casting everything they do in the most negative possible light.
Being positive on the other hand, makes life easier. Believing that you can do something makes it easier to find the ways to make it happen; instead of letting confirmation bias shut down opportunities, you’re finding new and alternate paths. To quote Thomas Edison: “I didn’t fail… I just found 1000 ways that didn’t work.” When you believe that you have something to offer women and that they would love to get to know you, you’ll once again find yourself screening for behaviors and clues that yes, women are interested in you.
You need to make a conscious effort to be positive; you need to be willing to interrupt your usual negative thoughts and reframe the situation in such a way that allows you to see the positive possibilities. Yes, you may have just been rejected by someone you like… but this just means that you’re going to be free to find someone even better. You may have had a bad interaction with someone at a party… so now you know what you need to avoid for the next time you talk to people.
This isn’t just about the power of positive thinking; you need to turn a positive outlook into positive action. Getting shot down for a date isn’t a cause to go home and sulk, it’s cause to analyze what happend, to learn from it and try again with someone new. If you’re having problems meeting people, you need to try a different method, one that may work better for you.
This includes removing the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Can’t implies a loss of control – that you are helplessly affected by forces beyond your influence and you have no way of overcoming them. It’s a negative outlook and one that cuts off avenues of opportunity by robbing yourself of your own agency. By saying you “can’t” or something is “impossible”, you are cutting yourself off from control. When you reframe a “can’t” to “I could, but I won’t”, you start to recognize those moments of negativity – cutting yourself off – and open yourself up to being able to turn things around should you so choose.
One of the best things you can do when you’re working towards any goal, whether it’s success in dating or not, is to keep records. I’m a huge believer in the value of maintaining a journal and recording everything that has to do with your goal. Dieters who track their weight, list the food they eat and the exercise they do lose more weight and keep it off longer than people who try to freestyle their diets. Similarly, when I started documenting my approaches with women, my growth took off like a goddamn rocket. I was recording everything; time of day, where I was, what I said, how I felt before and after the approach, whether I got her number or not, how long I stayed in talking to her… everything. If I was feeling especially ambitious, I would write it out as a narrative.
Why? Because keeping records let me chart my progress in a concrete and tangible way. It meant my progress was measurable; I may have felt like I was getting nowhere, but I could see that I was staying in a conversation for longer and longer before either getting shut down or ejecting. I could see that I was getting phone-numbers – and more importantly getting numbers that would would answer when I called - at a level I never had before. Being able to see my improvement kept me excited; I had proof I was getting better and my end goal wasn’t nearly as far away as I thought.
Keeping a journal also provided me with a sense of accountability. Every entry was on a dated page and long stretches between entries meant that I was slacking off. It was easy enough to get lazy and come up with plenty of perfectly reasonable excuses why I couldn’t go out last night or last week…let enough reasonable excuses pile up and suddenly you realize that you haven’t been out in weeks or even months. Those gaps were just one more reminder that I was backsliding. They helped motivate me to keep at it to keep improving.1.
The biggest help though, was that keeping records helped me find my sticking points. Keeping rigorous track of everything I did meant that when I started to plateau or just kept hitting the same wall over and over again, I had the means to look for what it was I was doing wrong. Finding patterns in my behavior – whether I was standing too close and creeping women out by accident, projecting neediness instead of confidence or even just giving the impression that I was putting on a performance rather than actually engaging with people – was key to recognizing and breaking bad habits in my dating life.
You’re Going To Get Worse Before You Get Better
One of the harder parts of starting out is realizing that you’re actually doing worse than you were at first. You may have been able to hold a conversation – assuming someone else started it – with a cute girl but now that you’re making a conscious effort to learn how to pick up women, you’re a stammering nervous mess… what the hell? It’s enough to make you throw your hands up and adopt a life of monastic celibacy instead.
The problem is that – even if you were decent at one aspect of dating – you’re being forced to pay conscious attention to what you’re doing for the first time, and that’s going to throw you off. It’s known as the centipede’s dilemma: the centipede was walking just fine until someone asked him how he managed all of those legs. Ever want to screw up somebody’s golf-swing? Ask them if they breathe in or out on the backswing.
The same issue applies here. You may have never thought about exactly what it is you’re doing and now that you’re paying attention, you’re tripping all over your own metaphorical feet. However, once you understand what you’re doing wrong and how to correct it, you have the opportunity to turn it into another positive habit – and by putting in all the effort now, you’ll be reaping the rewards of your dating success before you know it.
- For me, keeping the journal was enough; other people may find value in enlisting a friend to help keep them accountable. There are also a number of crowd-source websites that help you track you progress towards a goal. Having other people able to see your progress – or lack thereof – may help spur you on [↩]