I’ve studied martial arts for a number of years. I got into it for the same reason most chubby, doughy teenage nerds get into Tae Kwon Do: because I’d seen too many movies and wanted to learn how to be Billy Bad-Ass.
Of course, what I really learned – besides the difference between fights in movies and in the real world – was discipline, self control, patience and the value of sheer determination… you know, all the usual after-school special platitudes that are no less true just because they’re kinda cliche. One thing I had a hard time with, though was that I thought too much when I sparred. I had to learn to stop trying to pull a Midnighter and analyze every possible outcome and actually, y’know, hit somebody.
My teacher said something that stuck with me over the years – “He who hesitates has lost.”1
To put it another way:
This is never more true than when it comes to dating and attraction. Too many people get lost in their own heads instead of actually committing and end up psyching themselves out. It’s time to stop hesitating and just get out there.
Analysis Paralysis (or: The Illusion of Progress)
One of the hardest things to do when you’re trying to get better at dating is to actually get out there. The problem all too often is that people are very good at convincing themselves they’re making progress without actually doing anything.
This is something I’ve seen over and over again. It’s especially notorious in the pick-up scene, but I’ve seen it repeated amongst people – men and women – who have little experience or success at dating and are looking to improve. They want to get out there and meet someone new – maybe even several someones – but they want to be sure they’re ready. They spend all of their time studying, poring through the archives of multiple blogs, buying self-help books, signing up for pick-up bootcamps and online academies… but they’ve yet to actually go out in the field (as it were) and actually put their money where their mouth is. There’s just so much to learn, that it feels overwhelming. It becomes a sense of false difficulty; they have a hard time wrapping their heads around it, so they assume that they’re just not ready yet and need more study before they get started.
The reality, however, is that they’re scared.
Sorry to be so blunt about it, but that’s the truth. Because it feels so difficult and so insurmountable, it becomes incredibly intimidating. There’s always that little jerk voice in the back of your mind that tells you “You’re not ready. You don’t know enough yet. Look at all the things you didn’t know you were doing wrong. There’s still so much further to go!”
Constantly studying and researching and learning is a way of overcoming that anxiety, because it’s “safe”. You convince yourself that you’re making progress because you’re absorbing so much information, processing so many new ideas and concepts and practices…
… but you’re not actually getting anywhere.
And therein lies the problem. It’s knowledge without experience, and you need to actually put what you’ve learned into practice in order to grow and make headway. Book smarts mean absolutely nothing if you have never had to apply them to a real-world situation, where nothing goes exactly as planned. Study without practical application is mental masturbation; it feels good, but it’s simply not the same as the real thing, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise.
Pencil Sharpening And Cat Hoovering
It’s an easy trap to fall into. We’re all very good at finding distractions and convincing ourselves that there is so much else we need to do first. Writers, for example, get caught up in the trap of constant research, while visual artists try to track down the perfect reference photos, the best textures and patterns, mixing the exact right colors. When I’m trying to avoid starting a writing assignment I know is going to be difficult, I suddenly come to the realization that my office is too dirty and I need to clean it… and after a certain point, I’ve done all the necessary cleaning and am now starting to consider vacuuming the cat.
Internet Personality Ze Frank refers to this as “sharpening pencils” – another way of doing the little things that make us feel as though we’re getting closer to actually starting when all we’re really doing is trying to avoid starting in the first place.
There’s no need to sharpen my pencils anymore; my pencils are sharp enough. Even the dull ones will make a mark.
All of these delaying tactics are a way of managing that fear – whether it’s fear of failure or the fear of rejection or even the seemingly paradoxical fear of potential and the possibility of accepting that the reason you are having problems is because of the choices you’ve made over the course of a lifetime. We know that change is uncomfortable and difficult and we seek to minimize that discomfort by trying to intellectualize it and then push it aside by finding distractions and perfectly valid reasons why we can’t do something yet. We look for reasons to not even make the attempt in the first place – she’s clearly got a boyfriend, she’s with her friends, I’m not her type, she’s not my type, I’m just not feeling up to it tonight, I’m not as social as I should be, I still have more to learn…
In other words: we’re trying for reasons to excuse ourselves from failing by never starting… and then say that it’s not our fault, we tried our best.
But we didn’t. We simply tried to rationalize our inaction by insisting that it was out of our hands instead of admitting the truth: that you let fear get the best of you.
Keep The Emotional Momentum Rolling
In dating as in physics, there is an unalterable truth: an object at rest wants to keep its ass on the couch instead of getting out and actually putting in the work.
There’s a certain emotional inertia that we all have to push past when it comes to doing something new and intimidating. We’re used to how our lives are currently, and there’s something comforting about the familiar, even if you’re miserable there. Sure, it’s depressing and sad, but it’s misery you’re used to. You know what to expect and how to handle it. Even when you’re not happy with your life, it’s difficult to push past that inertia that encourages you to maintain the current status quo.
Just as in physics, it takes a consistent force greater than the inertia to power you into moving out of one state and into another. Unlike physics, that force has to be internal; they can influence, persuade, threaten, bribe or cajole, but other people can’t coerce you into changing against your will. Only you can make the decision that you want to change.
Notice very carefully that I said consistent force. Like a modern-day Sisyphus, you’re always at risk of your metaphorical boulder slipping from your grasp and rolling back down the hill. That initial push may be enough to start the boulder rolling, but unless you maintain that momentum, it’s very easy to fall back into your initial resting state.
In fact, this is something that happens frequently; guys decide they want to get better at dating and make a few game attempts at going out and meeting people, but don’t experience immediate success and fall back into their original routines. This is often one of the weaknesses of the boot-camp system in the Pick-Up community; it’s easy to get an emotional high from being pushed outside of your comfort zone, but that’s because you have someone (presumably) more experienced than you coaching you through it. When you’re the only person motivating yourself, it’s very easy to fall back into your previous state.
The way you overcome that inertia and keep moving forward is to form new habits. You have to keep up your practice and maintain it over time until it becomes part of who you are instead of something you have to do consciously.
So how do we do that?
Be “Good Enough”
You will never be “perfect”; in fact, by striving for perfection, you’re actively holding yourself back. You can’t level-grind dating before you you actually go out and actually experience dating. No amount of studying and memorization is going to substitute for getting out, making mistakes and learning from them.
Many people who are afflicted with analysis paralysis are the ones who are the most risk-averse. They’re the ones who are forever trying to account for all of the variables, not willing to commit to an action unless they’re 100% assured of success. The problem is that you can’t. No system can offer you guaranteed results, nor can you track every possible influence. In fact, you are forever at the mercy of forces beyond your control or even your knowledge. Someone who might be your perfect match could reject you simply because she’s had a bad day, her ex-boyfriend just keeps calling her, her last date ended with her at home in her PJs eating Haagen-Daz and she just can’t fucking deal with men right now… even though you ran textbook-perfect “game” on her. By refusing to accept anything other than perfection or complete mastery from yourself before setting out, you are paralyzing yourself. You’re just trying to insulate yourself against failure and that will never work.
But failure isn’t necessarily something to be avoided. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes… and those failures aren’t an indication of future performance when you can understand why you failed. It will suck, yes… but failure should be motivation to do better next time, not an excuse to quit.
There’s always going to be more to work on and learn. You’re never going to be “finished”. There will always be more to do, more to improve and if you keep focusing on everything that’s left, you’ll never do anything. Don’t worry about “perfect”; aim for “good enough”.
Stop Overthinking It
Nerds have the worst super power in the world: we can game out how we’re going to fuck up any scenario. This is part of what makes approach anxiety so insidious: our brains can only imagine one scenario where things go well but millions where everything goes disastrously wrong.
In reality, the worst that will happen is that she’ll say no and that will be that. Period. Most of the people you approach or ask out will be polite about it because most people are entirely reasonable individuals. Some people will be assholes about it, and their responses will be the biggest indicator that you dodged a bullet. I have endured more rejections than most people out there and, remarkably, you realize very quickly that they don’t hurt. Sometimes, it’s your fault and you need more practice. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck and unfortunate timing. Sometimes, they just won’t like you no matter what. As you get more experience under your belt, you will start to recognize which rejections are signs that you need to work on something… and just how many were blessings in disguise. In fact, over time, you will come to realize that the harshest rejections are actually the greatest comedy fuel that you and your friends will laugh over for years.
But before you can get there, you have to actually, y’know, talk to them.
This is why I advocate the Three Second Rule when it comes to approaching people you’re attracted to. It’s very simple: when you see someone you’re interested in, you have three seconds before you either have to approach or pass. Making a habit of the Three Second Rule keeps your brain from having time to game out every worst-case scenario and come up with entirely reasonable excuses as to why you shouldn’t approach them. Even if you completely blow the approach – I have literally choked when approaching someone for the first time – at least you made the approach instead of talking yourself out of it.
The key isn’t the speed, it’s getting past the tendency to overthink any scenario. 9 times out of 10, the situation is far simpler than you’d think… by overthinking it, you’re making things more complicated than they have to be and thus, freezing up.
Fortune Favors the Bold (Or: Finding Your Inner Leeeeeroy Jenkins)
There’s something to be said for preparation, waiting for the right moment and trying to make everything perfect.
But then again, there’s just as much to be said for understanding that sometimes you just have to make things happen.
If you’re waiting for the “right” moment and planning everything to the most meticulous detail, then you’re going to find yourself doing a lot of waiting… and waiting… and waiting… In fact, often you’ll have been waiting for so long that the moment will have come and gone long before you ever realized it. The masters of seduction, the gurus of dating understand that often there is no right moment except for the ones you make. You have to be an active participant in your own life and that means taking some risks and saying “Fuck it, let’s do this”, charging into the fray with a loud and proud cry of “LEEERROOOOOY JEEEEENKINS!”
Yes, this means that sometimes you’re going to fail. Sometimes you’re going to fail epically. But it’s better to risk it all and fail then to let the need for safety and being risk-averse keep you from making any progress at all. You need to have the confidence to actually make your move… and we all know that confidence is sexy.
Everyone will haul out the old saw about how you “miss the ball you don’t swing at 100% of the time.” Except most of the time, that hesitation and fear of taking a chance means you’re not even at the plate, never mind swinging at the pitch. The only way to win is to actually be in the game in the first place.An obsession with avoiding failure and even potential embarrassment only means you’re going to miss out on opportunities that you may never have again. And, frankly, how’s that been working out for you?
Sometimes you need to understand that you should just go up and talk to her, even if she’s with her friends and they may see you get shot down. Sometimes you need to quit hemming and hawing and beating around the bush and just straight up tell her that you like her and want to go out on a date with her. Sometimes you need to just shut up and kiss her.
The time for waiting is over. You’ve been hesitating for too long.
Do. Or do not.
- Actually, in the spirit of complete honesty, it was “he who hesitates, meditates… flat on his back on the floor.” But I like my version better. [↩]