One of the odder side-effects of growing up as a geek or a nerd is that we frequently develop an almost atavistic response to popularity. Popularity is for the “cool kids”, the jocks and the Queen Bees who made our lives hell growing up. As a result: we tend to look askance at people who’re popular… even when we secretly crave it ourselves.
And that craving is totally understandable. Humans are social animals. As much as we may lionize the rugged individualist, the fact of the matter is that we need other people in our lives – not just relationship partners but friends and family members, even casual connections. Lone wolves make for romantic images of someone who’s too cool for everyone else, but in reality, those are the wolves that’ve been kicked out of the pack because they’re detrimental to the survival of the group as a whole.
Popularity and social ties help ground us, give us a sense of identity and even a sense of safety and support that helps us bridge the difficult times. Social connections are necessary for our emotional and physical health, as well as any benefits we may get to our to our romantic or professional lives. Hell, being around people makes us happier, regardless of whether we’re introverts or extroverts.
Popularity is also a frequent marker of social and emotional intelligence, which are attractive traits in others. We admire people who are popular and want to be closer to them because we want to share in the value that they can bring into our lives. After all, someone who has a large social circle tends to be good at managing complex relationships, providing value to others and generally making people feel good – all traits that we look for in friends and partners.
But popularity isn’t about just being into all the right hobbies and liking all the right things. It’s not about being the “coolest” person in school, at work or the club. It’s about building relationships and knowing how to bring people together; showing how awesome you are and recognizing the awesomeness in others.
Here’s how to be more popular and build your social circles.
Live Your Passions
One of the first keys to improving your own popularity is to become a more interesting person, and the easiest way to do that is to live an interesting life. People who engage with their passions are inherently more attractive; they have a certainty and a drive that we find compelling. Most people live lives of quiet desperation, each day blending into the next in a cycle of “get up, go to work, come home, sleep, repeat”. People who have passion in their lives, on the other hand, have something that drives them and that enthusiasm is contagious. Spend some time at a sports bar during the big game and notice how much you get keyed up, even when you don’t know why everyone else is losing their shit. When someone is truly passionate about something and knows how to communicate that passion, they get us excited as well… even if we don’t share their interest.
The inverse works too, by the way; that sourpuss in the group can suck the enthusiasm right out of people and bring the party down.
This is why finding what you love and loving it openly is important; inspiring excitement in others is more fun and attractive than being too cool for school. You want to find the thing you love and make it awesome, even if it’s not the “cool” thing. Who would you rather spend time with; people who get just as excited as you over a new Mass Effect game or a Walter Hill movie marathon, or people who think they’re above what you enjoy?
But you want to do more than just find your passion; you want to find a way to enjoy it in a way that brings you in contact with others. Make it a part of your lifestyle. If you love games, find groups who love them too. If you love music, take classes and go to concerts. Living your passions helps bring you into contact with other people who also share your passions. And while we’re talking about being interesting…
Collect Experiences and Tell Stories
Stories are inherently interesting. Having stories – and knowing how to tell them – signals that you live an interesting and attractive life. Living an interesting life means that people are going to want to spend time with you, because they’re going to want to share in those adventures as well.
But before you can tell stories about your life, you have to have stories to tell in the first place. After all, there’s not really much to be said when your life consists primarily of going to work and farting around on Facebook and Twitter until you go to bed. This is why you want to collect experiences – moments in your life that stand out against the hum-drum monotony of every day existence.
The mistake that many people make is that those experiences don’t have to be monumental or exotic in order to make for great stories. Sure, if you can tell the story of the time you were accosted by knife-throwing acrobats in Shanghai, that’s great… but even seemingly mundane events can make for great stories.
A road trip, a sold-out concert, even a night out an make for interesting stories as long as you keep yourself open to finding new experiences. Collecting stories and experiences means doing things that are out of your comfort zone, things that you might otherwise never do. See an avant-garde play like Sleep No More. Get some friends and try a Room Escape challenge. Go on a road trip and visit the cheesiest tourist traps your state has to offer. Go to a concert for a band you’ve never heard of. Take a cooking class. Try rock-climbing. Learn how to pole dance. Perform at an open-mic night. It doesn’t matter whether you succeed or fail – both make for amazing stories.
The more stories you have, the more other people will want to be part of those stories… and that will lead to even more stories and experiences.
Find Out What Makes Other People Awesome
When we think of popular people, we tend to almost immediately think of the jerks we knew in high-school who lorded over the rest of us. It’s understandable that we flash to images of social hierarchies with the kings and queens of the social scene on top and their flunkies just below them, delivering scorn and withering bon-mots to everyone who had the misfortune of attracting their attention. Small wonder, then, that we tend to imagine popularity as being about exclusivity. But being shitty to other people isn’t the key to popularity, making them feel amazing is.
We instinctively like people who like us. We all love to feel interesting and appreciated, and so when somebody else shows that they think we’re fascinating we find ourselves drawn to them. Simply paying attention to people and letting them know we value them and their thoughts is such a small thing but it is the simplest and easiest way to make people like you.
As such, if you want to improve your popularity, you want to show people that you’re interested in them. Treat each person as a puzzle; there’s something awesome about them and it’s your job to figure it out. Get to know them. Ask them about their lives and what they’re into and find out what makes them tick. You don’t need to make every single person your BFF, just simply talk to them like they’re cool people worth knowing. Little things like remembering people’s names and things going on in their lives can be huge; it’s a sign that you legitimately paid attention, which most people don’t do Making a habit out of getting to know people instead of treating them as a stepping stone or faceless automaton brings big dividends in terms of improving your popularity. Which brings us to our next point:
Acquire Social Proof
If you’ve ever spent time in PUA circles, then you’ve likely heard people toss around the term “social proof”. Social proof is, simply, how other people look to others to gauge how to respond in social situations. It’s a form of social vetting; people notice how you treat others and how they respond to you. When we see people responding positively to somebody, we assume that they’re a good person and are more positively inclined towards them.
The problem is that all too often, we misunderstand what social proof actually is. In PUA circles, you’ll hear about wanting to show off signs of how cool you are – surrounding yourself with hot women, wearing the snazziest clothes, rolling around with your squad, etc – in order to demonstrate your social proof. We see people sharing photos of themselves with all the awesome people they hang out with and the cool things they do and think that this is what social proof means.
But that’s not social proof; that’s just bragging and image. It’s almost absurdly easy to fake being “awesome” on social media when you can curate every visible moment of your life. A little creative camera work, some bullshit Facebook updates and suddenly you look like you’re the biggest thing since World War III.
Having photos of you surrounding yourself with hot girls in clubs and hanging with celebrities is almost pathetically easy to come by without resorting to Photoshop.
It doesn’t mean that you’re living the high-life, it just means that you’ve managed to capture a moment with folks who may well forget you exist five seconds after you leave their eye line. The truth is, social proof isn’t about how you make yourself look to others, it’s about what others say about you. Social proof is less “look at him hanging out with models and drinking champagne in the hot tub” and more about people who think you’re a legitimately cool person. Cultivating social proof isn’t about having the most desirable lifestyle, it’s being known as the guy who always brings great beer to the party and stays to help clean up afterwards. It’s about being the person who helps take care of his friends and makes sure people are having a good time. It’s being somebody people can rely on when the chips are down, someone who’s there when he’s needed. That guy is going to have people who’ll vouch for him and talk him up to their friends.
Provide Value To Others
Popularity is, at its core, about value. People who are popular tend to provide value.
As social animals, we’re programmed to prize those who provide for the the pack. We like people who provide for others because they help contribute to the overall well-being of the group and dislike those who take without giving in return. Freeloaders endanger the emotional and physical health of the group and so we instinctively abhor them. This is why we avoid toxic people when we can; they’re emotional freeloaders, a drain on our emotional energy and self-esteem without giving anything back. This is why the overarching theme to improving your popularity is simple: you want to provide value to others. The more value you provide, the more people will value you in turn.
So how do you provide that value?
Value is, put simply, what you have to offer to others and makes people want to be around you. Value may be material, social or emotional; you might throw amazing parties or you may be the person others know they can come to when they have a problem and need a sympathetic ear. You might be the networker who can connect people or you might be person who tells the best stories and makes people laugh. In fact, social and emotional value can be more precious and effective than material value. The cool kids in school, for example, are popular because people are hoping that “cool” is a transitive property; they want to be more valuable themselves simply by being in their proximity. However, there’s more to social and emotional value than providing social status; being someone who makes others feel good about themselves inspires reciprocity and makes people want to spend more time with you. A well-timed compliment or providing a favor can be more impactful and precious than whatever cool or desirable material goods you can provide. Trying to bribe others into liking you, on the other hand, is a great way to attract freeloaders who only like you for what you can give them.
If you want to be more popular, you want to be someone worth getting to know. Live an awesome life and help others feel awesome in turn and you’ll find that your social circle will grow like magic.