There’s a truism when it comes to dating: the problems you have in your dating life are a reflection of the problems you have in your daily life.
One of key aspects to the NerdLove approach to dating is that the key to having more success in your social life – whether it’s more sex, more dates or just finding an amazing relationship – is to become a better, more interesting, more authentic person. It’s trying to get there that’s the problem. This is one of the reasons why people like to toss out platitudes like “just be yourself” as dating advice – it sounds like a profound and meaningful answer that covers up the real answer of “I really don’t know what to tell you”.
Unfortunately, when it comes to self-improvement, most advice tends to focus on the surface issues and quick fixes. This is why pick-up artistry is so appealing; it offers magic bullet solutions and push-button answers to dating. But dealing with the surface issues is like giving a house a fresh coat of paint; it may look nicer on the outside, but the foundation problems are going to make everything worse.
There are no quick fixes when it comes to self-improvement; if you want a better life, you have to dig deep and put in the work. But there are ways to make the process easier, less stressful and get you the lasting results you actually want.
You Have To Believe You Can Change
This seems like something that’s so obvious it shouldn’t bear mentioning. However, even the people who presumably want to improve will fight against any idea that change is possible, never mind necessary. I’ve lost track at the number of people I’ve encountered who ostensibly want advice but push against any and all suggestions about how to go about actually achieving those changes. They reject any suggestions out of hand as impossible or say it won’t work because of X, Y and Z and will actively fight against brainstorming alternative ideas. They lash out over criticism – criticism they asked for – or insist that some troublesome aspect cannot or should not be changed because it would be a form of selling out.
The problem is that often when people are asking for advice or help, what they’re asking for is validation. They want someone to tell them that yes, they are uniquely fucked and the system is unfair and there’s nothing that they can do. What they want is permission to not change.
And that’s all well and good. You don’t need to do anything different if you don’t want to. But doing everything exactly the same just means you’re going to get the exact same results. The results that, by your own admission, you are not happy with. You can demand that the universe change to accommodate your wishes all you like. See what good it does you. Any form of true self-improvement means that you’re willing to admit that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and it’s time to do something different.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you won’t have challenges, or that you don’t have legitimate reasons to be frustrated; we’ll be talking about that later on. What I am saying is that in order to improve, you have to acknowledge that, whatever difficulties you may have you are ultimately in charge of your life. And your brain will fight against it; when you absorb information and make it part of your identity, your brain will cling to it for dear life. In many ways, forcing yourself to take responsibility and embrace the possibility of change is the first and frequently hardest step.
Focus On What Can Be Measured
One of the mistakes people make when it comes to self-improvement is that they focus on nebulous or ephemeral goals. It’s all well and good to say “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get better at dating”, but that’s not actual improvement, that’s a desired result. For all intents and purposes, that’s a Disney princess’ “I Want” song – a whole lot of talking the talk but not a lot of walking the walk.
You can talk about how you want to improve all you like but unless you’re making definitive plans as to how to get there, it’s not going to do you any actual good. What does “lose weight” mean? What does “get better at dating” mean? What does that actually look like? What changes are necessary to get you there? How are you going to know when you’ve actually achieved this goal?
When it comes to building to your best self, you want to focus on things that can actually be measured. When you focus on nebulous, ephemeral goals, you get frustrated easily; you have no real way of tracking your progress or your improvement. It’s that much easier to just throw your hands up in the air and declare it all bullshit because nothing’s getting better. Having visible, quantifiable evidence of improvement on the other hand, will keep you moving forward. This is part of how video games get us hooked into repetitive actions that actually bore the piss out of us; we’re able to actually track our improvement. Something even as mundane as collecting 50 goat-asses or enough elfroot to render the plant endangered becomes strangely addictive when you’re watching that progress bar tick up.
The same principle applies to self-improvement, especially if you’re fighting against the belief that change is impossible. Those little victories are proof that you are getting better, that you’re conquering that particular mountain one step at a time. When you’re coming home at the end of the night out feeling like a loser, looking at your metrics and realizing that you talked to more people and hung in those conversations longer than the last time you went out can mean the difference between giving up and soldiering onward.
Once you’ve decided on a goal, start putting your focus on building skills and track your progress. Whether it’s memorizing more vocabulary words or mastering grammar with a foreign language or simply becoming more sociable at a party, tracking your improvement is the key to staying committed to your quest to be your best self.
One Change At A Time To Avoid Burnout
One of the mistakes people make when it comes to trying to improve their lives is that they bite off more than they can chew. If you’re trying to improve your dating life, for example, trying to become more social AND working on your flirting technique AND your body language AND trying to find an acceptable level of touching is a very good way to burn yourself out quickly. Alternately, trying to learn a foreign language and train for a triathlon and learning to code in C++ means you’re going to run out of both time and focus. Something is going to fall to the wayside simply through sheer attrition.
Taking on too many changes at once makes it almost impossible to actually succeed at any of them. To start with, there’s the fact that there are only so many hours in the day. Taking on any project means devoting time to it and that time has to come from somewhere. The more you take on, the more time it takes… so what are you going to give up? Hanging out with your friends? Time spent on the PS4? Sleeping?
Focus is another limited resource. Dividing your attention over several self-improvement projects at once means that something is going to suffer. Unless the skills you’re trying to develop are incredibly complimentary, you’re going to be continually shifting headspace, trying to cram entirely different movements into your long-term memory and muscle memory is going to be to the detriment of everything. Your brain has limited bandwidth; trying to do too much at once means you’re going to burn through that bandwidth like a computer with too little RAM trying to run Photoshop and After Effects at the same time. You may get it done, but it’s going to take goddamn forever.
Unless you’re a natural polymath, you want to focus your attention on a couple of changes at a time. Now, this doesn’t mean that you need to put in the proverbial 10,000 hours before moving on to the next step – just pick one or two complimentary aspects and let them be your primary focus for a month or two. As you improve and they become more natural, then you can divert your focus to other skills.
You’re Going to Fail. A Lot. And That’s OK.
How many times have you done some form of self-improvement – whether it be getting into shape, learning a new language or simply picking up a new skill – and ended up giving it up after a couple of months? It’s more common than you think; in fact, most people give up their New Years resolutions before January is even over. The rest tend to give up by February. This is great for people like me who get tired of all the strangers taking up the elliptical runners at the gym after New Year’s, but when you’re trying to actually build towards your best self it can be disheartening. One of the biggest reasons for this drop-off is that we find out oh, hey, this is way harder than you expected it to be.
Even when we consciously know better, we all have a tendency to expect to be if not instant experts then profoundly competent pretty quickly. Unfortunately in reality, we find out fairly quickly that no, we totally suck at this.
That seeming failure to achieve perfection in a 4 minute montage while jamming out to “Eye of the Tiger” is incredibly disheartening; it seemingly confirms that, yeah, we’re just not going to get any better. What we rarely get is that failure at something new is part of how we learn. We all go through stages of learning a new skill and that first one – conscious incompetence – is a motherfucker. It makes you feel like a loser. But here’s the thing: you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before. It’s inevitable that you’re going to fuck up at first. Even those seemingly simple basics are going to be hard. In fact, in some cases, you may get worse before you get better. You’re having to think about things in new and different ways than you have before as you try to commit everything to muscle memory. You fell down a lot when you first learned how to walk and you’re going to trip over yourself when you’re learning how to be a better flirt. Failure is part of how we all learn and adapt. You make mistakes, you learn from them and you try again. Letting those initial failures scare you away just guarantees that you’ll never get better. You want to master a new skill? Embrace failing. You’ll find ways that don’t work and move on to try other ways that do work for you.
When God Closes A Door, You Blow Open A Wall
One of the things that you don’t hear from self-help gurus is that there will be things that you simply can’t change no matter how hard you try. Your facial features are fixed unless you want to invest in expensive and painful surgery. If you’re introverted, you’re not going to be able to will yourself into being an extrovert regardless of how much you want it. Some people will never be able to run a marathon. You may not have the finances to do something you desperately want to. You may simply just suck at something even though you love it with all of your heart and soul.
When you run into your limitations, you have two choices: you can give up… or you can find a way to work around them.
Sometimes it’s a matter of finding an alternative path that works instead – you can’t run a marathon, but perhaps bicycle endurance challenges may be possible. Instead of trying to emulate Ryan Gosling’s smooth player in Crazy, Stupid, Love you embrace your natural goof-ball and model yourself after Peter Venkman instead. Other times it’s simply learning how to do things differently. Instead of trying to force yourself into a specific build, you learn to love your body as it is and let your confidence shine through. You may be short, so you cultivate presence that makes you seem taller to people. Your may not be conventionally attractive so you focus on your personality and ability to connect with people instead.
And sometimes it means trying something entirely different. What you think you want isn’t necessarily what you need. I spent over a decade trying (and failing) to make it as a professional artist before I admitted that it wasn’t for me. Once I realized this and redirected my focus into writing, everything fell into place. I was more fulfilled, creatively. I didn’t struggle with motivating myself or have to force myself to produce. And while I couldn’t draw the graphic novels of my dreams, I could still work on them as a writer instead. Trying to force myself into the club-hopping player mode didn’t work for me either; I found much more satisfaction in a lower-key approach to meeting women.
There’s a lot of trial and error when it comes to building your new and improved life. But when you hang in there and focus your growth in the right way… the results are amazing.