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.
Edit The Nightmare Scenario
Ask yourself: what would your life be like if you weren’t letting your fear hold you back from approaching the people you were attracted to? How would you live if you knew that you didn’t run the risk of failure? If you weren’t always approaching every encounter with the feeling that you’ve been rejected in advance?
It would be pretty damn awesome, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t be spending so much time living in fear, building these worst-case scenarios in your brain and spending more time meeting new and awesome people.
So while you’re working on the physical aspects of your anxiety, let’s take time to neuter that nightmare you build for yourself when you imagine approaching that hottie you’ve had your eye on.
I want you to think of the last time you saw someone you were attracted to. I want you to imagine going up to them and initiating a conversation… and it goes exactly as badly as you always thought it would. She gives you the death stare or worse, starts pointing and laughing at you. Her friends come over and spread the word and now everybody knows that you hit on somebody out of your league. She lets you know in no uncertain terms that she finds you repulsive and beneath her.
Now… you’re probably feeling pretty bad right about now and wondering why the fuck Dr. NerdLove is putting you through this.
Stick with me here, I have a point to make and this will be on the test later.
You see, this nightmare scenario you’re picturing? It only hurts you because you let it. You have given it the power to harm you… and you can take it away again. Now that you’ve played through that scenario in your head, I want you to play through your head again. Only this time, I want you to picture it in black and white, like an old film from the 30s. A little less immediate, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem as real, so it doesn’t have the same power to hurt or scare you. Now, I want you to play it again… only this time, everybody sounds like they’ve sucked down several tanks worth of helium. Then play it through again at double speed like a Benny Hill sketch, complete with Yakkity Sax in the background. Then imagine it, only this time when she’s trying to reject you her head starts inflating like a parade float. Or imagine it upside down and backwards.
The more you play with that scenario, the more absurd you can make it, the more you’re reducing it’s power over you. You’re taking something that feels real and bit by bit, making it something that’s just too ridiculous to be afraid of.
I realize this sounds very woo-woo new-agey-crystals-and-patchouli pop psychology bullshit, but it works. By changing how you picture the scenario from something you dread to something you laugh at, you’re breaking the associations you’ve formed between the desire (meet new hot person) and the assumed result (rejection and humiliation). Negativity is a self-fulfilling prophecy and when you go into an encounter assuming the worst… you’re going to subconsciously sabotage yourself.
Now, having played out the worst case scenario, imagine it going well. She’s happy to meet you, even more than a little charmed. Not only does she give you her number, but she’s eager to see you again.
It feels a little more real than the nightmare scenario does now, doesn’t it?
Fake It Until You Make It
Many of the responses over at the Facebook page were ultimately about the individual’s self-esteem and self-confidence as much as it was about the fear of rejection. Now, I’ve talked before about how to build your self-confidence but this is a process that takes time… time you may not have when you’re at Barnes and Noble and there’s a hottie over by the Mystery section who just smiled at you.
You want to get her number, but you’re also convinced that there’s no way in hell that she would think you’re worth her time, so what do you do?
You lie to yourself.
Remember how I said that the brain responds to the body? That applies to your sense of confidence just as much as it does to controlling your approach anxiety. Just the act of pulling the muscles at the corners of your mouth up and back makes people happier. Acting more confident – straightening up your posture, squaring your shoulders, moving with slow, deliberate movements, making strong eye contact and speaking with measured clarity – will actually make you feel more confident.
It’s hard to hear that voice in your head telling you that you’re a lazy fat slob who nobody would stop to piss on if you happened to be on fire when you’re busy channelling your inner George Clooney.
The First 1000 Rejections Don’t Count
There’s a saying in PUA culture that I actually really like: the first thousand rejections don’t count.
Nobody starts out perfect. Nobody got to be good at dating, at meeting and charming new people, without practice. And part of practice means being willing to accept that you’re going to get rejected while you’re busy learning.
And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because the whole point of those rejections is to experiment and learn what works and what doesn’t. You’re not being rejected because you’re a worthless human being who nobody would ever love, you’re busy practicing how to get better at dating. Getting rejected while you’re busy improving yourself has just as much real-world impact as getting struck out during baseball practice: none. It may be annoying. It may be frustrating as all hell… but it doesn’t mean a damn thing in the real world. It’s just part of how you refine your technique.
Just as with that voice in your head and all those worst-case scenarios you imagined, you have the power to decide how being rejected feels. You can see it as failure… or you can reframe it as another step on your path to success.
Remember: They’re Nervous Too.
After I asked about what fears held people back from approaching the people they were attracted to, I asked everybody to reverse the scenario: how many of them had seen someone they liked and wanted that person to come over and say hi.
Spoiler alert: almost everybody did, men and women.
Because they’re just as nervous about being approached as you are about approaching them. That hottie who keeps looking your way and playing with her hair? The guy with the gorgeous eyes who smiles at you whenever you look over at him? They’re thinking about how much they wish you would just come over and talk to them because they’re not entirely sure you are interested in them. They’re not sitting there thinking “If anyone talks to me today, I’m going to just destroy their egos with my withering contempt,” they’re thinking “Wait, is he looking at me? No, wait, they couldn’t possibly be looking at me. I must have something on my face. Or they’re looking at somebody behind me. There’s no way they’d be interested in me anyway.”
When you’re getting those signs of interest – those furtive glances, the look-look away-look back and smile, the twirling hair, the shy smile – they’re trying as hard as they can to develop telepathy so they could scream “WOULD YOU PLEASE COME OVER HERE AND INTRODUCE YOURSELF ALREADY!” into your brain.
And then you have two choices: you can continue to let your fear hold you back.
Or you can conquer your fear…
… and go meet the most incredible person in the world.