Better Dating Through Mind Control

Getting better at dating is hard enough.

It gets even harder when it feels like your own mind is fighting back against your attempts to improve yourself.

When I was younger, I used to be a chronic insomniac. I’d be physically tired, but I could never actually get to sleep; my body would be exhausted but I could never get my brain to quiet down long enough for me to relax and pass out. Every night became an exercise in what I called “riding the maelstrom”1 – a mental whirlpool of worst-case scenarios, self-recrimination, anxieties and doubts. I would start to drift off to sleep when suddenly I would remember something stupid I’d done that day – “Why did I say that to Emily, oh Christ I’m such a fucking idiot, no wonder I can’t get a girlfriend see this is why you’re a loser. I really like Amy but she probably has a boyfriend and if I go make a move I’m just going to get shot down and then everybody’s going to know that I tried to hook up with her and I’m never going to hear the end of it and…”

"Hey, I just want you to know that we're going to be your two biggest nemesis for the next ten years. Just, y'know, FYI."

“Hey, I just want you to know that we’re going to be your two biggest sources of anxiety for the next ten years. Just, y’know, FYI.”

Being awake wasn’t much better, to be honest. At least half of my internal monologue involved dwelling on all of my counter-productive anxieties and self-limiting beliefs, a seemingly never ending stream of voices reminding me why I sucked and how nothing would ever work out for me. Trying to force myself past all of that was exhausting.

Going by my inbox, I can tell that many of you have the same issue. At least half of the emails I get come from people who want to improve but just can’t get past all of those nagging voices of failure and self sabotage.

So it’s time to start looking into some mind control and learning how to shut out all of those nagging thoughts and voices.

The Body Rules The Mind

A fun thing about our brains: as much as it controls the body, it is also controlled by it. The brain (and by extension, our mind) responds to external stimuli and decides which sort of reaction is appropriate. Of course, one set of physical stimuli can have many different causes; the autonomic responses for sexual arousal – shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sweaty palms, tightness in the stomach – are very similar to those caused by fear. The brain feels these symptoms and checks: are you afraid for your life? Is there a lion in the brush? No, but there’s a pretty woman in talking to you – ergo, you’re not afraid, you must be interested in her. In fact, fear can actually lead to increased attraction; this is known as misattribution of arousal – when the brain conflates the physical symptoms of the fear response with sexual attraction to a person. At the same time, certain states of emotional distress have physical effects on the body: anxiety causes increased heart rate and the production of cortisol in the blood, for example. If you can control the physical reactions, you can control your emotional state. This is why people who suffer from panic attacks are encouraged to learn breath control – when you breathe slowly and deliberately, you slow your heart rate, which in tun calms you down.

So part of mind control means learning to control your body… and one of the best ways to do that is to practice yoga.

Hatha yoga – the most common form of yoga practiced in the United States – emphasizes stretches and low-impact physical exercise via structured poses (known as asanas) in combination with controlled breathing. In addition to improving balance, strength and flexibility, studies have shown that hatha yoga helps to reduce the physical effects of anxiety by reducing the body’s stress responses: lowering the heart rate and blood pressure while slowing one’s rate of respiration. By causing the body to relax, yoga exercises help you feel calmer and less anxious; the brain notes the state of the body and assumes that all is well.

And when you get REALLY good at it, you can violate the laws of space and time!

And when you get REALLY good at it, you can violate the laws of space and time!

In addition, yoga has been shown to help ease depression and improve mood and increase an overall sense of well-being – all of which goes to help you feel more confident and secure.

The great thing about yoga is that it’s low-impact, easy to learn and simple to practice. All you need is a little free space on the floor and some free time. There are yoga studios all over and many gyms have branched out into offering classes as well; there are also many instructional videos for sale.

Learn To Empty Your Mind

One reason why it’s so hard to shut off those self-limiting beliefs and nagging voices that love to tell you how hard you’re about to fail is because we have very little practice in controlling our minds at all. Anyone who’s ever tried to not think of something – an elephant on a pogo-stick for example, or a song that’s embedded itself in your brain – can tell you just how impossible it is to shut it out.



Except it’s not impossible; we’re just not used to it. More often than not, we’ve never made a conscious, continual effort to learn how to control our minds. We’re so used to the 24/7 stream of nonsense, doggerel and negative thoughts that our brains spew forth that we hardly pay attention to it, much less do anything about it. As a result, we’re the mental equivalents of the 90 pound weakling trying to bench press a 300 lb barbell. Small wonder why we can’t close out that annoying voice of self-doubt that keeps telling us we’re going to fail and we’re worthless and awkward. So how do we learn to control our own minds and mute all that constant noise?

Meditation. The simple art of learning how to reign in your brain, rather than letting it bounce all around like a meth-addicted squirrel. This isn’t about achieving some altered state of consciousness or attuning into another plane of being… it’s about peace, relaxation and focus. Psychologists and neurologists have been studying the effects of meditation on the brain for a while now, and it’s had surprising benefits. People who meditate regularly tend to be calmer and feel more in control – so much so that many psychologists have prescribed meditation for people who suffer anxiety attacks. It helps you be more aware of your emotions and desires, which then  makes it much easier to control them and reign them in. It helps you to be present and in the now, rather than what-if’ing yourself into paralysis.

All of this can be a great help when you’re trying to get past your self-limiting beliefs and approach anxiety, as well as make you a calmer, happier  individual in general.

There are many different styles of meditation, and even apps for your smartphone that provide guided meditation exercises. The simplest, however, put the emphasis on focusing your attention to a single point – whether it’s chanting a mantra or visualizing a candle flame2  and emptying your mind to concentrate only on your focus object and your breathing.

Tai chi is a form of moving meditation that carries the side-benefit of teaching you how to kick someone's ass.

Tai chi is a form of moving meditation that carries the side-benefit of teaching you how to kick someone’s ass.

It can be difficult to learn at first – as I said, most of us have next to no experience in trying to leash our brains, and when you get started, you’ll find that you will get distracted over and over again. This is perfectly natural – just allow the distractions to wash over you, then start over again. With time and practice, you’ll find that clearing your mind and narrowing your focus will come much more easily to you.

Embrace Your Flaws

While you work on the physical and mental aspects of mind control, you should also pay attention to the emotional aspects. Much of our self-recrimination and negative attitudes comes from our frustration with the fact that we’re not perfect, that we all fall short of where we wish we were.

And yet, all that beating yourself up over these imperfections does absolutely nothing for us except to make us even more self-conscious of them. Getting upset about the fact that you’re uneasy and a little awkward in large groups does nothing other than keep these problems in the forefront of your mind. Now it becomes more than just you’re a little introverted, it’s that you’re hyperaware of being introverted. It’s the emotional equivalent of asking a golfer whether he inhales on the backswing or the drive – you’re distracted by your flaws to the point that it is all you can think of, and this only serves to make them even worse because of the anticipation

This is why you want to embrace these flaws – accept that you have them and forgive yourself for not being the perfect super-being you feel like you should be. Coming to terms with the fact that you’re not exactly who you want to be or that you need work takes so much of the tension and anxiety out that you’ll be amazed that you were able to even move before.

Now, this is not to say that you should give up on trying to improve yourself – that’s a different issue altogether. What you want to do is accept that you have your problems and that’s ok… and that you’re striving to become the person that you want to be.

It’s hard to accept that perfection is a continually moving target, not a fixed destination; no matter how good you are at something or how much you’ve learned, there’s always more to know. You will never achieve perfection, but the glory is in understanding that and working for it anyway.

This, incidentally, is one of the hardest issues I’ve had to accept. Once I began to understand,  I had the 63rd hexagram of the I Ching – “after completion” tattooed on my forearm as a reminder to celebrate each triumph… but understand there’s always more to go.

The fact that it is also the mark of the Arashikage ninja clan is entirely coincidental.

The fact that it is also the mark of the Arashikage ninja clan is entirely coincidental.

Pain is Unavoidable, Suffering is Optional

One thing that people tend to forget, especially when in the throes of reminding themselves of all of their fuck-ups and failures, is that ultimately, they get to decide how to view a situation.

There was a point early on when I was working towards getting better with women when it seemed like everything I did went catastrophically wrong. I’d go downtown with the intention of just meeting as many women as possible and freeze up as soon as I walked through the door to the bar. My attempts at starting conversations were laughable at best – made all the more so by trying to use material that I didn’t understand or was completely incongruous for who I was – and the less said about my attempts to turn a phone number into a date, the better. It was a stunning indictment of my supposed progress from loser to ladies man and would send me scurrying home with my metaphorical tail tucked between my legs and masturbating out of anger because it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

What made the mental switch for me was the realization that I had a choice in how I interpreted what was happening. I could – and had been, up to that point – see it as proof that I was a loser who was foolish for thinking he could change… or I could see it as progress. Yes, I got approach anxiety from a fucking bar – not a woman but trying to enter a bar – but that was even more than I would have done a month previous, never mind a year or even two years. I was getting shot down when I asked girls out… but at least I was asking them out. 

The more I came to understand that yes, my failures stung but that didn’t mean that I had to see them as proof that I was a failure, the easier it became. I could recognize that I wasn’t failing, I was learning. It was, admittedly, a very painful trial-and-error process but I chose to view my situation as taking one step closer to getting where I wanted to be rather than dwelling on how hard it was and the unfairness of it all. It would hurt at the time, but I didn’t have to suffer over it.

Which is not to say that suddenly everything fell into place and I never had a bad day since; being able to reframe a situation to be positive or progress can be difficult and takes time to become a habit. But once it did, those nagging self-doubts and insecurities started to lose their hold over my psyche. Yeah, I may have acted like an idiot trying to get that one girl to go out with me… but it taught me a lot about what I was doing wrong. I may have embarrassed the shit out of myself at that bar that one time but that would eventually become a story I’d love to tell because pain + time = comedy gold.

Much of our anxiety and misery and self-doubt gains it’s power from the fact that we allow it to happen.

It doesn’t have to.

You can master it.

You can take control.

  1. Because when you’re a young nerd, everything has to be fucking dramatic, even your neuroses… []
  2. This will not, however, teach you to channel the One Power. Sorry folks. []

  • LeeEsq

    What do you do if your job leaves you in an emotionally exhausted state? Its been noticed on this blog that my anxiety is probably the source of my dating problems and that I'm probably coming across as too needy. I concede that some of that might be true even though I really attempt to surpress any nervousness, anxiety etc. on dates and I think that I approved a lot. At the same time, I don't think that my line of work is helping. I'm a lawyer and the type that works for real people with real problems. That means I have very needy and unhappy talking to me all day and I have to comfort them and fight for them. Its not exactly easy and its emotionally draining. I want to be in relationship so I have somebody to comfort and care for me. A lot of this is coming across on dates despite my best efforts and its probably not helping. What can I do? Changing jobs isn't exactly an option because any other job I get as a lawyer will have similar problems and probably would be even more exhausting?

    • LeeEsq

      And yes I know that relationships are supposed to be give and take but I'm really afriad that I'll end up in a relationship thats mainly me giving withot getting much in return even in terms of emotional support. Or bluntly that my romantic relationships are going to be like my relationships with my clients. I've been on dates where it was like dealing with client in terms of having to be a comforter and just listen to a lot of complaining. In the early stages of the relationship, at least in "normal, heteonormative" courtships it seems that the man is supposed to show why he's good a mate without receiving much back but that just might be sour grapes on my part. This is really hard.

      • Jess

        Another way to deal with it until maybe you could switch types of law to something like contracts work, for example, is to focus your meditation on washing away all the negative stuff other people have handed you after you get off work for the day.

        You have to imagine all the problems and all the thoughts of the problems either being drawn down a cord into the center of the earth where they burn up and are purified, or you can picture it as washing yourself off and letting all the negative thoughts of others swirling down a drain.

        Either way, you have to train your brain to let go of other people's problems so your energy isn't tangled up in it.

      • Christine

        @LeeEsq You sound like you really need to have more fun in your life. The only two things I can think of are to have a therapist of some sort so that you can diminish the need to use a potential partner as an emotional crutch, and to exercise as much as you can. Intense exercise can burn away some of the emotional baggage and also give you the energy to approach people socially after tough times at work. Best case scenario is that you meet someone who understands and appreciates what you do. Fingers crossed.

      • thesurfmonkey

        @LeeEsq I think several other commenters have hit on important ideas like therapy, mediation and yoga, relaxing hobbies, friendships, etc. I agree with them that any of those things or a combination of them would be likely to help. And I think that pursuing some anti-stress self-care at the same time you're pursuing romantic connection is a good idea. Not only will it help you feel more relaxed but also it might help you recognize when a woman you meet is also pursuing some kind of anti-stress self-care, which may help you find and connect with a give-and-take partner rather than a take-only partner.

        This part may be my own personal biases speaking, but I think the idea of switching jobs or fields sounds much more stressful than staying in a field/job where you're already established plus adding in some anti-stress self-care to your life.

        You said, "I've been on dates where it was like dealing with client in terms of having to be a comforter and just listen to a lot of complaining." Something that occurs to me, and it may or may not apply in these situations but might be worth considering, is that many women talk about their problems as a way of emotionally bonding with someone, and don't understand that many men don't see that as a bonding thing but as complaining or asking for the man to solve those problems. If you are on a date where a woman tells you a story that sounds like complaining, perhaps you could reframe it in your mind as her trying to bond with you emotionally. If you do that, perhaps you could then offer a story of your own that is in some way similar to what she said. If she was trying to bond with you, and you offer a story where you open up to her a little bit emotionally, maybe she will feel more emotionally close to you. I know you've said before that you've had trouble getting a second date. Is it possible that there has been some miscommunication on these first dates where she was trying to bond with you and when you interpreted it as complaining and did not reciprocate, she then felt rejected?

        • Tosca

          This is a brilliant observation. If I were the woman in question, I'd think he was cold and indifferent. But I'd also be embarrassed that I'd poured my heart out and mildly irritated him, so I wouldn't call for that 2nd date.

          That being said, I'm a woman who is NOT prone to pouring her heart out right when I meet someone. I'm usually the "listener", too. I just roll with it and figure they just need to vent, and maybe I seem like I won't judge them. I've had people tell me my calm demeanor ad insights (when asked for) are comforting. So Lee, I don't think this thing is as much of a handicap as you might believe.

    • enail

      Are you sure changing jobs isn't an option? You say that you're "the type that works for real people with real problems" – could you consider moving to a type of law that's a little less personal or working with less high-need clients? This might be challenging to do, but you sound pretty exhausted and unhappy with your current job, and this is something that comes up in several different ways in your posts, so it might be worth making a long-term plan. It might even be worth considering getting out of law altogether.

      A lot of things that seem like impossibilities are not; if you're not happy, maybe it's time to start thinking outside of the track you're on.

      • LeeEsq

        When your a lawyer, all clients high-caliber. Even if your a corporate or patent lawyer and dealing with institutions rather than people, you are still dealing with high-caliber with lots of demands and last minute requests. Many patent lawyers have gone to the office on friday and told that X client needs Y to be patented by the end of business for a conference on Monday. The difference between working with an institution and a real person is that institutions aren't emotioanlly demanding and don't require you to be a social worker/psychologist. They do tend to be a bit more demanding on your time though. Even government lawyers feel that the city, state, county, or whatever they work for are draining at times. And comparitively, I have it easy as a lawyer.

        A lot of lawyers aren't happy and tend to have problems with alcohol or drug use. Many of us also have relationship problems because of the demands of the profession. There lots of lawyers I know who never married or are divorced and have myriad other relationship problems because of their job.

        • eselle28

          That seems accurate. However, I think it's at least worth considering if the particular kind of stress you're experiencing at work is the kind you're the most equipped to handle. Additionally, I think we all occasionally need to stop and consider whether it's worth it.

          Law is a demanding profession and most lawyers are kind of miserable, but it's always struck me as being a bit cyclical. A lot of people who are drawn to law are already somewhat inclined toward unhappiness (it's not like the bunch of us were any better-adjusted before we graduated). Add in that aw school tends to attract lots of people with creative ambitions or strong political ideals but who are also very focused on money and status, and then it funnels them into jobs that fulfill the second set of urges but not the first, and you get a mess.

          Anyway, there are definitely systemic problems, but I think as individuals we all need to figure out what the best way of handling being in a stressful profession is. As I'm sure you've seen from your peers, the answer isn't to find a super supportive spouse and heap all your stress on them. That dynamic is why people end up getting divorced.

    • eselle28

      I think there are a few different things going on here. First of all, I think it would be better to revise your idea of a relationship as a set up where one person receives comfort and care and the other person provides it. Of course, you don't want to end up in a relationship with someone who's a needy taker, but I would hope you also wouldn't want to be in one with a person who felt as drained and unhappy after a date with you as you feel after work. Ideally, there should be some comforting and caring on both sides, and also a lot of fun or just mundane stuff that doesn't directly tie into anyone's emotional needs. There's a discussion going on elsewhere about how men seem to be particularly socialized to expect that a girlfriend will be the sole or primary source of emotional support. Since you're single now and seem to have a decent number of friends, I think it would be good to explore whether you can get some of the care and comfort you need from male friends or from female friends who you're not romantically interested in.

      As others have mentioned, you might want to consider switching practice areas. I'm not going to pretend there are many stress-free legal jobs out there – or at least not many that don't have a long line of other lawyers trying to get them. There are others that involve slightly different kinds of stress, though. For instance, I'm more likely to get yelled at than to be asked for comfort (joy!). My friend's work stress seems to mostly hinge on deadlines. (I know that sounds a little gloomy. I'm writing it with a bit of a smirk and an eyeroll, but I think it's worth considering whether some kinds of stress bother you less while others really set off your anxiety triggers).

      The last bit is I think one that doesn't have much to do with the external factors in your life. It sounds like you're capable of being anxious even when there isn't any particular rational reason to be. That's an ongoing issue, and I think you need to address that in ways that go beyond making lifestyle changes.

      • LeeEsq

        I know that any successful relationship is going to be give-take. My fear is that I'm going to be in a relationship with a lot more give on my part than a take. Part of this is because I feel that I have to struggle a lot just to get one date while for other people I know getting into and out of relationships seems a lot easier.. The only relationship I had in my life was with an emotional vampire. I don't really want a relationship where I'm constantly cared for and give nothing, what I want is one where everything seems like such a monumental struggle compared to what other people have to go through.

    • guest

      I had to learn to deal with anxiety and got some great advice on thinking around it. The explanation I was given for anxiety was it's from not living in the present and is from looking at both the past and future. You might look at something you have to do then start thinking about how you did in the past on something like that and if your thinking is negative, you get anxiety. For dating, looking at the past "failures" and projecting them on this new person you would like to talk to triggers the negative feelings.

      The solution was to be present now and forget the past/future. Do you notice if you put the cart before the horse? Ex: You see a hot woman then imagine where it might lead to OR do you talk to her and enjoy what is going on right now? You should be enjoying right now instead of thinking what could be or how badly things went in the past.

      • guest

        @LeeEsq part 2.

        Additionally, when in the present notice how you feel. Mad/glad/angry/fearful. As you start noticing how you feel now you will over time reduce the past/future thinking that causes anxiety.

        Dwelling on things isn't good for you and it is very exhausting. How can you enjoy life when you are constantly avoiding the present?

    • Orv

      Forgive me if this gets a little disjointed, I'm running on very few hours of sleep today.

      I think you have two problems that are tied together. As you say you're constantly emotionally exhausted and looking for someone to comfort and care for you. That's a hard place to be trying to start a relationship from, because it frames the potential relationship as one where you are basically seeking a therapist and not a partner. I kept trying to find a better way to phrase that and failing. Ideally (and maybe I'm reading the wrong things into your statement) you should look for a relationship with a person where spending time with them is enjoyable and relaxing (as opposed to mentally/emotionally taxing). In your comment below this one you note that you're worried about ending up in a relationship that is mainly you giving emotional support, and I think you're right to avoid forming a relationship where an early date gives you the impression that the other person expects you to serve as a pillar of support for them… but I think that should highlight the difficulty you're going to have finding someone who wants to serve as a pillar of support for you.

      On the job front, while I can't comment on your specific situation (since despite getting my J.D. I decided not to practice law) I think you describe a pretty common problem for people in service positions. I know that it is especially difficult when you're dealing with needy clients who want a lot of emotional support, but it is valuable to practice setting better boundaries there. Obviously you're never going to be able to completely avoid your clients' emotional outpouring, but setting and maintaining limits and boundaries around HOW MUCH of their emotional baggage you're able to sit through is (I think) a crucial skill in those practice areas. It sounds like a harsh suggestion but this is the same reason that a lot of older lawyers/doctors/anyone who works with clients in difficult situations come across as cool or detached.

      In addition to setting boundaries I've always found that when working for/with difficult clients that it helps to carve out a part of the day that is 100% for you. 20 minutes to an hour, where you do something that you find particularly relaxing. I used to pour myself a glass of whiskey, grab a book, and either soak in a hot bath or sit out behind my house and let some of the tension of dealing with SERIOUS PROBLEMS drain away. It isn't a ton of time but it clears your head and pays remarkable dividends.

      Remember that if you burn yourself out completely trying to provide emotional support (as well as legal work) for your clients, you won't be helping anyone at all. Making sure that you take care of yourself is making sure that you can continue to take care of them, and hopefully can help you reach a point where you can prioritize finding a partner you can relax and have fun with, instead of one who can help prop you up when your clients have left you low.

      (I see some people below suggesting you change your area of practice, but I agree with you that's really impractical. This part of the comment is as much for others who were going to bring that suggestion as anything else. In this job market, where the number of licensed, practicing attorneys seriously outweighs the demand firms have for hiring attorneys, moving into a new practice area is incredibly difficult. There are almost always enough lawyers looking for work who are experienced in a particular field, that a lawyer who has not practiced that area of law is facing a significant disadvantage. Last year I observed the interview and hiring process for four attorneys with backgrounds in real estate or employment law, and got to hear the hiring lawyers complain about all of the applicants who had never spent a day practicing in those areas and wondering why those people thought they had a chance against the hundreds of lawyers who were applying and had spent their careers dealing with those areas of law. YMMV but I think that's a pretty fair representation of legal hiring at the moment.)

    • Tea_Fish

      I'm… not a lawyer. But I do work as an assistant to one and get to deal with a lot of the needy and unhappy clients that come through the door and then occasionally take out their frustrations on the assistant when they can't get the lawyer to answer their beck and call. And it can be difficult and hard, and sometimes one bad client can ruin my whole day.

      Personally, I deal with it by venting to friends– and my friends, who also work jobs with their own frustrations, vent to me about their work difficulties. As a lawyer, of course you have privacy concerns to think about, but you can still complain without bringing in personal details or names. Just getting to voice your frustrations can really help, as does commiseration. When one of us has had a particularly rough day, maybe we'll do little favors for each other, letting your friends know you're looking out for them.

      Since you're (presumably) a geek, videogames make another great way to work out stress and unhappiness. Plow through a pile of zombies, terrorize some hapless townspeople, nuke Megaton, spend an hour pulling virtual weeds, those are all good ways of unwinding and taking your mind off work issues.

      • Tea_Fish

        You said you're looking for a relationship with someone who will comfort and care for you, and that you don't want a relationship where you do all the "giving". Assuming that most relationships involve a giving and taking on both parts, what do you have to offer to your potential partner, and what do you want to receive back? Will it be an equitable exchange? This is an important question, because a lot of people know what they want out of a romantic relationship, but don't give very much thought to the other person's needs.

      • Tea_Fish

        …Clearly I type too much.

        There are definitely people out there who love being in the position of "nurturer". There are also people who want to have others taking care of them, for good or ill. Many people want a healthy balance of the two. If you're looking for someone more like the former, say, sort of a "caretaker" whose joy is in caring for other people, then be aware that lot of people– guys and gals– won't be down for that. Maybe they want more of a mutually giving/taking relationship. Maybe they, like you, want to be the person getting cared for. I don't know where you would go looking for someone like that, but it's something to consider when you go looking for a person to date, and a reason not to take it personally when you find that your dates aren't working out.

    • Max

      Lot's of people in relationships have stressful jobs. There doesn't seem to be an abundance of single lawyers.

      Find something that takes away your stress. Hobbies are great for this. Give yourself something to do that keeps your mind busy but isn't stressful. It also helps to find something to do that is the opposite of what you do for a job. If your job requires you to be sitting at desk all day, find something to do outside, and vice-versa. Don't start this hobby as a way to meet women; start it for you and only you. Find a way to deal with your anxiety that isn't a significant other.

    • Maybe you should do the Yoga and mediation mentioned in the article. Calm your mind when you are off work (or if you some how manage to get a few free minutes during your work day)

  • I was reading with rapt attention until I caught the Wheel of Time reference and had to geek out for a few minutes. Now that that's out of my system, time to try again…

    • Dr_NerdLove


      • ALKDAGJLSDKFJLSKDGJLDKGJ YES. IT'S ABOUT DAMN TIME. BLOOD AND BLOODY ASHES. (I may or may not be sporting the Great Serpent ring on my right hand at work today. )

  • Gman

    I am getting a vibe like you are making these posts according to my comments on previous posts – last two blog posts felt like a response to comments I made on others – this one is no different.

    So just wanted to thank you for it (even if you have these blog posts all written in advance without relation to the comments section and then published according to your timeline of publishing posts)

  • Dude, Rick Rolling is so 2007.

    • Anonyleast

      Rick Astley rickrolled the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. It was officially over when that happened.

  • I still don't understand how you can both accept your flaws, and yet still work to improve yourself. If I'm working out to try to have a better body, then aren't I admitting I have a bad body? If I acknowledge I have a bad body that needs to change, how can I "accept" that? Doesn't "acceptance" mean I stop worrying about it, thus stop trying to change it?

    How can you simultaneously stop trying to change something, and keep trying to change something?

    I'm also not sure I understand about the "learning" part if you're continually failing at the same thing. In my interactions with people, I KNOW I'm doing something wrong (since they don't want to be my friend/date me/hire me), but I have no idea WHAT*. How can I possibly trick myself into thinking I'm "learning" when I am never improving and have no idea what I'm doing wrong?

    *This is actually a huge problem for me. I am constantly asking my friends what I'm doing wrong…. why guys don't hit on me, why friends never contact me to hang out or seem to remember me unless I'm standing directly in front of them, etc…. and no one will/can tell me anything. So how do you learn something when you have no idea what it is you should learn?

    • enail

      For the accepting/improving question, I think it's easier if you don't take a black and white approach. Your body doesn't have to be bad to want to "improve" it. I like to draw. I'm not the best, not by a long shot – if I had to pick between saying I'm a good artist who doesn't need to change or a bad artist who does, I'd have to go with bad one. But it's not as simple as perfect vs. flawed – I do some things pretty decently, sometimes I do a picture I'm pretty happy with, I do some things better than I used to. I'm not a 0% painter, even though I'm a long way from 100%.

      You're hard on yourself, so maybe try thinking as if you're other people? For instance, if you see a woman who's not a 10 on the imaginary Universal Objective Scale of Beauty, do you generally say she's ugly? Or are you likely to notice some good qualities, maybe even envy things about her? If she asked you for advice on her appearance, would you tell her "yes, you're ugly, do these gazillion things?" Or would your advice include a few suggestions, but also point out a few good points?

      • LeeEsq

        The body thing is actually a pretty good analogy. When I started to work out, I didn't have a bad body, I wasn't overweight. However, I wanted a better looking body, so I started to work out.

        • If I had a decent enough body, I wouldn't bother exercising. There are so many things to do in life, and so many things we're supposed to accomplish, that I only have the time/energy to dedicate to things that I either enjoy, or are absolutely in need of repair.

          • LeeEsq

            Bodies, don't maintain themselves. Even maintaining ordinary body involves some exercise. Also, I'm short so that puts me at a bit of a disadvantage in the looks department. Having a good body is a way of having something physical to my advantage. My tastes in looks tend towards the conventionally attractive women with good fashion taste. If your lookin for a conventionally attractive woman than it kind of helps to be conventionally attractive, as much as possible, and have excellent fashion taste

          • Ugh, would you STOP IT with insisting height is somehow a huge detractor? You have hit upon a personal pet peeve of mine, but seriously,

            But the added note that you only go for "conventionally attractive" women does explain a lot of your posts.

          • LeeEsq

            No, I said that my standards of beauty are conventional but I have been on dates with women who were not conventionally attractive because I liked their personality or we had similar interests. In my experience, height has mattered at least somewhat.

          • OldBrownSquirrel

            I multitask with the aid of a treadmill desk. I surf the web, watch movies, play computer games, all while walking at 3mph. It may not be adequate marathon training, but it beats being a total couch potato. Even if I don't have the treadmill turned on, it's still a standing desk, which beats sitting for that same period of time.

          • Tosca

            Actually, exercise has lots of benefits! I'll never be a skinny minny gym bunny or magazine model, but exercise keeps my stress and anxiety at bay, makes me feel more connected to my body and life, and improves blood flow. Plus, it's an hour or so of ME time; I just plug in my music and the rest of the world can go kiss it for a while.

          • Anonyleast

            Well, a little bit of exercise everyday can give you extra years to do all the other stuff. It's about the basic maintenance of your body.

      • I don't think it really works to imagine myself as another person. I lack the necessary outside perspective. I will never know how I am perceived by people, because I will never be other people-I will be forever stuck in my head (barring a huge jump in technology.) I can be objective about a stranger because I have perspective on her-something I realistically cannot gain for myself.

        Further, I've never thought it was my place to "lie" to other people. I'd cover up the truth with some good points because telling them the truth feels like having too much authority over them, as if my words are the all important thing in their life. There's also STRONG social pressure to not tell someone the truth unless they ask for it.

        I cannot "lie" to myself the same way I would "lie" to someone else. Since I am the one making decisions for myself, I HAVE to be brutally honest, because otherwise nothing would ever get done. I have to be hard on myself, because otherwise how can I ever improve?

        I also don't really understand how pretending I'm someone else would help me figure out what's wrong with me. I ask other people because I have literally no idea (since I can't escape my own reality.) No matter how much pretending I do, I am still me.

        • enail

          The pretending to be someone else suggestion was in response to "How can you simultaneously stop trying to change something, and keep trying to change something," not to what you're doing wrong – I can't imagine how it would help with the latter either 🙂

          It's not so much that you'd tell them white lies as that you'd probably genuinely see good points in them. I recall a discussion here where someone pointed out that plenty of women who are not conventionally hot do date people, and you mentioned that even those supposedly "not hot" women have some feature or another that's outstanding. Maybe this wasn't the best example, but my idea was about looking at things with a little more complexity, focusing on the idea that almost everything and everyone is imperfect and always will be, but within that, there are almost always positives and and improvements going on, because people are always growing and changing.

          I'm flawed. I'm always going to be flawed. I can be better, more skilled, more mature, more knowledgeable, and I think that's worth trying to be – but I'll still be flawed. I'm okay with that.

          • That does make more sense, haha. Thanks for clearing that up.

          • Tosca

            Yep, I'm not "conventionally attractive" by any means, yet Marty said very kind* things about my appearance, which was pretty nice!

            *kind does not mean I think you were telling me fibs! I think you were totally honest. It just goes to show that you are indeed kinder to others far more than to yourself.

        • Orv

          I'm a big fan of making lists in situations like you describe yours. Make a list of things you like about yourself. Make a list of things you don't like about yourself. Make a list of things you want/need in a partner. Make a list of things that would be deal-breakers in a partner. Now (this is the harder part) consider your list of things that you want in a partner and imagine what that sort of person would want in a partner of their own.. do you have any of those things? Consider your deal-breakers, do you have any of those things? I think society does a lot of injustice by framing relationships as magical things. A good potential partner is someone whose company you enjoy, who enjoys your company, where the two of you are sexually compatible. If you have things that you like about yourself, emphasize those things, find people who are looking for those things. If you have things you don't like that would likely be "deal-breakers" for a potential partner, set about fixing those things.

          On your earlier point about accepting/improving I don't think accepting your flaws means you don't try to improve them, it means you stop denying them. I knew a guy in college who was incredibly shy, he didn't like doing anything social, didn't like crowds, loud music, anything of that sort, who was determined not to "settle" for a girl who couldn't get him out of his shell. (This is a two morals with one fable kind of story). I fell out of touch with him before either of us graduated but all three years that I knew him he never had any luck finding that sort of person…and why would he? Why would an outgoing, music loving, party-hopping woman want to date someone who didn't enjoy doing those things? Why would someone sign up for a relationship where they were going to have to spend a ton of time and emotional energy "fixing" a thing their partner didn't like about themself. That's an example of not accepting the problem. If this guy had instead decided that he didn't like being shy and introverted, and that it was his responsibility to change those things about himself (accepting the problem and the responsibility for the problem), he could have started taking steps to change himself. Just because you accept that there are things about yourself that aren't good (as a personal example I'm unhappy with the weight that I gained last year) doesn't mean you can't work to change those things (eating better, starting jogging again once the weather gets warmer). Just because I intend to "fix" the thing I don't like doesn't mean I don't accept it. It's who I am right now, pretending I'm not carrying around too many extra pounds (in the sense of "I'm fine just the way I am, if someone doesn't like it then fuck them!" not denying that the weight is actually there), or being angry at the world instead of owning "the problem" would be refusing to accept it.

          Hopefully that made some sort of sense. I do believe I need a nap before I try and say communicate anything useful again today.

          • I'm glad your technique works for you, but I don't find a lot of benefits in the whole Making Lists, if for no other reason than it would require me trying to mind-read some hypothetical person and adjust accordingly. This technique seems to be most beneficial for people who have been told they have too high of expectations/are shooting outside their league/etc, and would do well to adjust their expectations a little. Considering that I will give absolutely anyone within my age range (24-34) a chance, I pretty much have no deal-breakers.

            The most I can surmise a potential partner would want is an attractive mate. Since I will never be that, I have abandoned the idea of trying to fix myself to match someone else's "must have" lists, since I'm already out of the running right out of the gate.

          • Orv

            I'm not clear why you think you aren't attractive. Just to glance over the pictures you have public on your Facebook I'd say you look an awful lot like my brother's fiancee and I've never heard anyone suggest that she isn't a very attractive woman.

            I'm hearing (well reading) two things from you here that sound like they are contributing to your problem. First, if the only thing you think a potential partner would want is someone attractive, and you think you aren't attractive, that seems to suggest that you think you have no value to a partner. Second, you have no criteria for selecting a partner. The message that sends to a potential partner is that you don't think you bring anything to the table, but at least you're willing to settle for them… that's not a very enticing message.

            As to the "mind reading" part… this is a site where nerdy folks who have trouble finding a partner come for advice… I would be willing to bet that there is a substantial readership here who would be willing to help you gain insight into what sorts of things people look for in a partner. Obviously it is going to be different from person to person, but I'd bet there are enough similarities/overlaps to be useful to you. That's a pretty good starting point for figuring out if there are things you need/want to work on personally, and that just leaves you needing to think about what it is that would make you happy in a partner (besides being in your general age range).

          • Pictures are not always accurate. People in my day-to-day life treat me and tell me I am unattractive, so that's what I'm going with.

            As far as having value…. well, yes, I obviously don't have value to a romantic partner. (That isn't to say I don't have value as a person or as a friend, I am speaking purely romantic here.) Is it not accurate to say people want their mate to be attractive? And if I don't really have value, why is it wrong to not have many deal breakers? I've seen on this very site that it's wrong to expect your partner to bring something to the table when you don't offer it yourself, so if I don't offer anything, I shouldn't demand anything, yes? (I used to have the age and "gone to college" deal breaker, and people told me to ditch both.)

            Ugh, maybe it's just that the advice and comments on this site sometimes make my head spin. They all seem so contradictory. Have confidence in yourself, but change. Accept who you are, but change who you are to be better. Have partner requirements, but only if you're equally awesome.

            I've requested before an article on how to know when you should throw in the towel, and how to go about doing so, but there seems to be strong bias against such practical advice.

          • eselle28

            A lot of times on forums, I read a conversation between men and women where the guys are complaining that women value traits like confidence and the ability to be assertive, but then hate it when men are pushy? Then the women come in and try to explain that neither of those extremes is good, that for the most part a middle position is helpful and that there needs to be some adjustment on the scale depending on the context? I think a lot of these recommendations are like that, and that they appear to be even moreso because they're not always addressed to the same people.

            After all, I think we all know someone who's insanely picky and either wants a very beautiful partner or one who checks off all the boxes an obscenely long list of minor requirements. That person might need a reminder to do some self-examination, decide how much of that is actually necessary, and determine whether anyone who meets those requirements is likely to be interested. I've seen a few people on here go to the opposite extreme and not be able to name any preferences for a partner beyond "female" and "will have sex with me" which make it hard for them to relate to women as individuals. Those guys need the opposite message. (Personally, I don't think age or "gone to college" are unreasonable dealbreakers and have those plus a couple of other ones, but it kind of depends on whether you think you could be happier with a partner who's the wrong age than alone).

          • Astral

            If people in your life are treating you like and telling you that you are unattractive (sorry, nope, you just are not unattractive. period) , and if I remember correctly from other things about your social circle that people just don't get your geeky interests and you have to tone yourself down, it is definitely time for a social world revolution. Not easy. I've done it. A lot of alone time in between having an accepting and appreciative social world. I can be "a bit much" but I've had times of my life when I'm surrounded by people who are too, and in the same way. But it took me a while to find them in the first place, and then life, and people part and move, and so the cycle continues.

            There was a time in my life when I needed soooo much feedback from others but didn't have the sense of self yet to deal with the critical stuff. It may not be anything more than you need the constant feedback. It's tiring for people. For me it took crises to realize that wait I need to take charge of my life even if I become a person others don't want me to be and risk the loneliness that comes with ditching the lukewarm to troubling companionship of the comfortable for the time for the new meaningful . And only then could I start to face all the crap I'd been living in the midst of and realizing how toxic it all was. A few more waves of that, but stronger and more self-assured with each one.

          • Tosca

            This is very sound advice. Over the past two years, I have pinpointed a couple flaws of mine that I have made lots of effort to change.

            First, I used to be a scatterbrained person who was always late to everything, especially in my 20s. After a while, it made me feel like an inconsiderate douchebag. Not to mention how my lateness affected my employment. I was really motivated to change this about me, and I've succeeded. Now I am a person who always honors my social commitments and is ALWAYS early. I have become that irritating very-early person! 🙂

            But it feels so much better.

            The second flaw is my night-owl tendencies. I'd stay up way too late, wake up way too late and feel crappy about myself. Like a lazy slacker letting her life pass her by. This one has been harder to overcome, but luckily I recently got a job where my hours are 4am til 12:30pm. People pity me because they are brutal hours, but I actually LOVE it. I'm forced to drop my night-owl ways. It feels way better; I feel like I'm getting shit accomplished during my day. Today I have the day off, but I got up all on my own at 5:30am! Whoo hoo!

            Just thought I'd share. Overcoming flaws is totally doable, if you are motivated.

    • guest

      you are looking at it as black or white, binary. Change it to: Be content with where you are today but allow yourself to improve.

    • Tea_Fish

      There's a considerable amount of space between "flawed" and "ideal", or even "flawed" and "shittastic". Taking exercise as an example, Olympic athletes don't need to exercise because they have a problem accepting their bodies or are unsatisfied with their own achievements. But neither can they rest on their laurels and just sit around thinking, "damn, my achievements are fantastic, I never need to jump another hurtle again." Similarly, someone who is going from an extreme sedentary lifestyle and trying to work out is going to have to accept that their body is not in great shape, and that they need to take small steps to change that (ignoring this fact may lead to physical damage and burnout). And then they can both accept this fact and go on to change it as much or as little as they want.

      Acceptance and improvement aren't antithetical to each other. Often they work hand in hand. People who can't accept themselves can't change what they don't see. People who accept themselves but want no change whatsoever will remain static while people around them move on in life.

      • thesurfmonkey

        You said pretty much exactly what I wanted to say!

    • Max

      There's an old Buddhist saying that goes something like this:

      "Change the things that you can, and accept the things that you can't"

      If you don't like the way your body looks, then change it (don't worry about what other people think, only what you think). But don't worry about changing it do an impossible degree.

    • animatedmadness

      Marty, I've seen your posts on here and I can relate to what you're going though. I'm 27, live in The Middle of Nowhere, TX, and work in a college town 10-15 minutes away that at a glance, you would think everyone there is just obsessed with sports. This, of course, for a Dorkus Maximus such as myself, can be troublesome. Especially since I'm 222lbs at 5'8" with excessive body hair, a gut, and have what some would call an unhealthy obsession with cartoons. I've tried dating sites, going to bars, even the occasional attempt to ask someone out at work, and yet, no avail. It doesn't help living out of town either as people whom you think were your friends won't make the effort to come see you even though you come to see them when you have the ability to.

      • animatedmadness

        You can't help but ask, "What am I not doing right?" It's currently at a point that I've been rejected so many times that I'm too afraid to ask anyone out anymore because 1) They will ultimately say no and as social as a lot of people are, the fact that it happened is most likely plastered everywhere where everyone can see and thus rendering me "undateable," and 2) ……well……refer to reason 1. lol. I mean I've had people tell me I looked nice with a haircut, or that I've lost weight (used to weigh 250), I've also taken some other steps to maturity as regrettably, my entire tax check this year is going to bills, no matter how badly I may want a new 3dTV or that Double Fine Amnesia Fortnight 2012 Limited Edition Box Set (sigh).

        • animatedmadness

          Even with these small steps in making myself a better person, I'm happy that I'm making process, but I still have that part of the brain screaming at me, "WHY AM I SLEEPING ALONE AGAIN TONIGHT?!?!" followed by my ususal ritual of which I will not detail here out of politeness. I saw your Facebook photos (props on the Raven cosplay, you should see the Jak and Daxter one I did) and I don't think you are unattractive!

          P.S. JAVASCRIPT NEEDS TO GIVE US THE ABILITY TO TYPE LONGER COMMENTS. Sorry this was split into 3 replies.

  • guest

    There is an old phrase that helped me a lot when I was feeling down. Action precedes emotion. If you don't like your current emotion take action. One of the benefits of knowing yourself is knowing what actions to take to change from one emotion to another.

  • need freedom

    Hey Dr. NL, a question. I don't know if you state it in other posts, but about what age were you when you began seriously aiming to reframe and recast your behavioral patterns? You probably know where I'm going with this, but I'll state it anyways. I'm 28 years old, and everything you've talked about in this article describes me nearly to a tee. But I'm quite worried (and confirmation bias and observation have furnished me with ample evidence) that my neuronal landscape is far too ossified for genuine restructuring, that I'm way too mired in reinforcing circumstances and thought/behavioral patterns to break free without some rock bottom, or some kind of rupture (like my somewhat enabling mom to kick me to the curb–though to be fair with myself, I've just finished grad studies, have been at home only for a month, and am looking/trying to look for a job while combating depression).

    • need freedom

      And to anyone reading this, I want to add that I'm appreciative for all the replies and consideration we troubled souls get posting to these article comments pages. This site has a very good-natured, patient readership, as I and others try to work through the logic of self-help, and our own built-in resistances.

    • Dr_NerdLove

      I was 27-ish when I first got started.It can take time and effort but age only is involved in as much as how long you've held on to the various self-limiting beliefs and bad dating habits, not your neuro-plasticity.

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  • Autumn

    No joke, I've used the Flame and the Void to calm down a few times and Cat Crosses the Courtyard when I was nervous and felt like I needed to strut. (Though I've never actually popped into an emotionless void-bubble. Damn you, fantasy books, why don't your fantasy techniques work in the real world exactly as you say they do?!)

    Also: rein, not reign. Horses, not kinging. 😉 (Sorry, it's a pet peeve of mine.)