I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Occasionally I like to toss questions out for my readers over at the Doctor NerdLove Facebook page and Twitter feed as a way to get conversations going. This week, I asked about a phenomenon that almost everyone who’s tried to get better at dating is familiar with: the fears and thoughts that keep you from approaching the people you are attracted to.
We all have that nagging little voice that sits in our heads and sabotages our efforts to meet new people. You know the one. It’s the little voice of gloom and doom in your brain that likes to churn out the nightmare scenarios that start with your talking to the cute woman drinking her coffee and looking out the window at Starbucks and end with you being tazered by the cops.
It’s shocking – if unsurprising – just how universal these fears are. Everybody, men and women all have felt the fear of rejection, of embarrassment, of abject humiliation. All of us have heard that little voice saying “You’re too fat/skinny/boring/weird. She’s got a boyfriend. He’d never be interested in you. You don’t deserve this. You’re wasting your time.” Every single one of us has pictured making the approach only to have her give that icy stare that says “I am so out of your league” as all of her friends gather around to laugh at us and we’re driven away crying tears of shame.
This is the voice of fear. And it’s holding you back.
It’s time to stop listening to that little voice and start conquering the fears that keep you from the life you want.
You Have Nothing To Be Afraid Of.
The first step in beating back the fears and self-limiting beliefs that keep you paralyzed are to realize that the nightmare you have about being publicly humiliated by someone you’ve approached is just that. A nightmare. A fantasy.
Repeat after me: it isn’t going to happen.
I should know. In my time I have approached literally thousands of women in just about every place imaginable. Women in bars. Women in libraries. At the airport. At the pool. At the bookstore. At the mall. In clubs. On college campuses. At the gym. Online. At coffeeshops. At concerts.
I have asked out co-workers, flirted with friends, bantered with barristas, winked at waitstaff, hit on porn stars, low-tier celebrities, trust-fund babies, white collar professionals, club kids and just about every variation of stomach-churning “what am I thinking, I don’t stand a chance” scenario you can imagine.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying I hooked up with all of these people and “oh look at me, I’m so cool!”. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m saying I made the attempt and, as a result, have been shot down more times than I can count.
The worst rejection I’ve ever had?
Stony silence. Being ignored. Talking to somebody and having her turn her back to me without a wordThat’s it. And this was in South Beach, Miami – home to some of the snobbiest, stuck-up-attitude-holding, hardest-to-approach people in the world.
I have never had anyone laugh in my face. I’ve never had anyone demand to know why I thought I was good enough to talk to them. I have never had someone call her friends over to watch my humiliation. Whenever I got shot down, it was simple and usually fairly polite: “Thanks, but I’m not interested.” “Look, it’s nice talking to you, but I need to get back to my friends.”
Ultimately, what you’re afraid of is fear. These voices and mental images are a way of trying to keep yourself from the approach anxiety you feel at the idea of going up to someone new and starting a conversation – not a psychic prediction of what’s about to happen. ((Side note: there’s one major exception to this. Gays and lesbians do have legitimate concern when it comes to approaching strangers. Unfortunately we still live in a culture where homophobia is still deeply ingrained, especially in smaller, less cosmopolitan towns and cities. There are people who may react badly – sometimes with violence – when being approached by a member of their own sex.))
The Brain Controls The Body Controls The Brain
Let’s take a moment and envision a scenario. Imagine the man or woman of your dreams. They’re sitting over in the corner of the bookstore, reading. As you glance over at them, they glance up from their magazine and catch you looking at them. They smile and then look back down at their magazine. A few moments later, you look back at them and realize that they’ve caught you looking at them again… and they’re still smiling at you. You stand up and start walking over to them…
Let me see a show of hands: how many of you start feeling nervous just imagining this? There’s no reason for you to feel anxious: it’s literally all in your head… but you react to it as though it were real.
Your anxiety is a product of your body trying to protect you from what you perceive as a “dangerous” situation: it’s trying to protect you from your own imagined fear. Thus the heightened pulse rate, the shaky hands… your body is getting ready to gauge whether to enter fight or flight mode because you are telling it that you sense that you’re in danger.
But just as your brain can trigger physical reactions in your body to imagined scenarios, your body can help shut down your brain’s fear response.
For all that we like to think that we live in a world of mind over matter, it’s surprising to realize just how much our brains are also ruled by our bodies. Our brains react to the stimuli our bodies provide, regardless of the actual situation. When you feel the sweaty palms, racing heart beat and adrenaline surges that come with approach anxiety, your lizard hind brain processes that as “Hey, we’re in danger! Red alert!” even as your conscious mind recognizes that you’re not actually in danger – this is part of how horror movies affect us even when we know that Michael Meyers or the xenomorphs or Freddy Kruger are fictional creations.
The nice thing however, is that you can use that same principle against your lizard brain. When you consciously remove the physical effects of anxiety, your lizard hind-brain says “Hey, looks like we’re all clear. Adrenal glands can stand down!”
When you start feeling that sense of panic, you need to take control of your body and let it know “hey, everything’s cool”. Take a deep breath, hold it for the count of three, then let it out slowly for the count of five. Do this again: deep breath, hold it, then breathe out slowly. Slow your movements – force your limbs to move slowly and smoothly. Straighten up your posture; imagine a thread attached to the top of your head gently pulling you upwards while you let your shoulders relax and your arms dangle. This will help pull you out of the crouched, defensive posture that we curl up into when we get scared.
You’ll notice that you aren’t feeling as terrified as you used to be… because you’ve changed your body’s reactions, which then forces your brain to accept that everything’s fine.