Fixing your Frame : How to get rid of Limiting Thoughts

Ask a five year old to sing and dance in public, chances are she will do it in a heartbeat, in front of a crowd. Fast forward ten years, and ask the same person to do the same thing. Forget dancing, she’ll probably not open her mouth to sing even.

It is the same person being asked to perform the same activity. But, something has changed. She has been subjected to Social Programming.

Social programming tells us that we are judged by everyone at every moment, in everything we do. It asks us to be proper. It asks us to shrink our selves, to encapsulate and to build walls. It isolates us, builds a ‘me vs them’ paradigm where  the ‘me’ needs to conform to our perception of  ‘them.’

Social programming makes us docile members of the herd.

I came out of a long marriage a few years ago. My newly attained single-hood has since been an adventure in self-discovery and growth. I have learnt more in these past few years than in any comparable period of my life, however, looking back I see that my greatest achievement has been unlearning much of the social programming that was instilled into me since childhood.

My mantra today is : “who gives a fuck?”

Really, who does? And, even if someone does, how much will that affect you?

Surveys reveal that our fear of public speaking is second only to our fear of death. Yet, as individuals in private and comfortable settings we are often eloquent. When we are with friends we do not fear being judged, we are comfortable. We express ourselves freely.

We all live inside a box. This box is created by ourselves. It is a boundary that we impose on ourselves based on how we think others will perceive us, and based on what we think our own worth is. The higher our perceived value, the bigger our box is.

Think of a corporate organization. Who has the biggest ‘box’ there? The CEO. She is the boldest, and cares least about being judged by her employees. Inside the organization she has the highest perceived value. She makes demands of other people in the organization, she is not afraid to make herself heard.

A corporate organization has a hierarchy. The size of the boxes we create for ourselves there conforms to this hierarchy. Social interactions are different. There is no previously laid out hierarchy. We meet as equals, and yet a hierarchy creeps in. This is what we create at that moment. Some people are always the center of any party, others live in the periphery.

The amount of attention and respect we will get in a social interaction depends on the size of the box we carry ourselves in when we walk in. Some people call it our ‘frame.’ Most of us carry small boxes, with rigid walls, and at the first sight of judgement we shrink it further till it is so small we become invisible.

Our personal boxes are filled with our own limiting thoughts. Limiting thoughts are self-imposed boundaries. These are the result of social programming and the amount of validation we have received from others in life. Studies have shown that children who were validated and praised in their childhood grow up with a higher sense of self-worth. However, it is possible to break out of limiting thoughts in adulthood too. The way to do it is to start loving yourself as much as you can, being proud of yourself.

Think of all the qualities you have that make you a desirable person. Think of all the awesome things you have done in life, all the obstacles you have overcome. Think of all your friends who cherish you. Convince yourself that you are great. Internalize it. This will grow your box.

We may see an attractive person across the room, but our box is so small we cannot muster the courage to walk up and talk to her, introduce ourselves confidently. We are frozen by the thought of rejection : “what if she rejects me and doesn’t reciprocate my advances?”

What then? Really, who gives a fuck? Will you lose your shirt, your pants, or your job? Will the whole party laugh at you? Think that you’re loser?

Chances are, nobody will even notice.

As you will keep on expanding your frame you will find that you’re doing things that you never even considered doing. I used to have terrible anxiety approaching and talking to groups of strangers. I would think that my approaches were unwanted, and that I would interrupt them. Once I started doing it I found that in the vast majority of cases my approaches were very welcome, and most people did not consider me as an interruption but as a welcome and fresh relief.

No matter how good you get at socializing and attraction you will never be correct in judging the mood of your recipient all the time. Even the best attraction experts succeed only half the time. You will make errors. However, it is always better to err on the side of excess than on the side of shortage.

If you’re a guy who just met a woman at a bar and are having a nice conversation and you feel the time is right to steal a kiss then go for it. She might turn her face and offer her cheek instead of the lips. No big deal. Chat with her more and try again. And again. If she’s still hanging out with you then she’s attracted to you, she might just not be ready to make out with you yet. So, make her more comfortable till she gets there. In the end, you might never get the kiss, maybe not on that evening, but that’s better than leaving without trying.

It is important to not appear creepy in your advances though. What distinguishes creepiness? It’s sneaky and insecure behavior. The guy who brushes past a woman on a dance floor and gropes her is creepy. The guy who looks her in the eye and pulls her in for a kiss is bold. He carries a large box around him. He takes it for granted that people will be attracted to him. It is surprising how much you can get if you look someone straight in the eye and go for it.

So yes, be that person who looks others straight in the eye, doesn’t give a fuck, and does whatever he wants. Be the person carrying the largest box in the room. You are entitled to it.

Remember, much of the reality you live in is created by you.

NRE Forever

We are all aware of NRE, New Relationship Energy. Those heady days when we’ve just met our new partner and can’t seem to get enough of her. The excitement of discovery, the anticipation and the wait. The frequent messages shared back and forth, the all night discussions punctuated by sex. Or, the other way around.

Most relationships start with this. The driving force in this phase is the unknown and the discovery. Many call this the ‘honeymoon phase.’ For many of us the fondest memories of a past relationship stem from this time. Typically, this phase lasts three months to a year, and then reality strikes in, and we either settle into a solid stagnancy or break off.

Decay in most relationships start right after the NRE ends. Even in stable and well-established relationships the later times are never as good.

I am not aware of any scientific studies that have been done between the correlation of the length of the NRE period against the life of a a relationship but from personal experience and from observations I can say with a fair degree of certainty that it is quite high. That is, the longer NRE lasts the better it is for a relationship.

What causes NRE to end? The answer is overexposure.

Those of us who dabble in photography are too aware of the pitfalls of overexposing a shot. Even a slight overexposure can flatten a photograph. It is the shadows that bring out the depth. My camera controls are permanently set to underexpose by half an ‘f’ stop. I find that makes the most interesting pictures.

Overexposure in relationships takes out the mystery and leads to enmeshment. Enmeshment leads to loss of our individuality and the emergence of couple identity. It has been observed that couples in long-term relationships start mirroring each other’s mannerisms and develop shared tastes and values that are antithetical to their individuality.

All this is good, but only to an extent. We have to remember that what makes us attractive is our individual identity, not our collective viewpoint. That is what drew your partner to you in the beginning, and you to her.

And, once we get to know everything about the other person she becomes predictable. Sometimes too much. This is comforting, but boring too. When we know what to expect we cease to be amazed.

So, the only way to lengthen NRE is by limiting the enmeshment. By having our own identities, our own visions and passions, and not giving in to the demands of a relationship at the expense of these. We also need to limit how much we disclose our inner selves and be careful of preserving boundaries. It is tempting to spend every free minute with our partner, but we have to understand that each additional minute we are spending today may steal several minutes from the future.

This is a fine line to walk. We get to know our partners by spending time with them. But, we cannot let that steal away from the time we need to spend with ourselves. We cannot grow the relationship without growing as individual selves. And, time apart may be as important as time together.

Underexpose your relationship. At least by half an ‘f’ stop.

How to handle Rejections

Many moons ago, when I was going through my divorce and just starting to date again I met a woman online. We connected over emails and messaging, she gave me her number and I called her up and finally decided to meet. The first date went pretty well, we decided on a second date, and then a third and a fourth. We had a good time during all our dates : laughing, chatting, holding hands. At the end of the fourth date after I had walked her to her car she suddenly turned towards me and said that while she enjoyed my company she did not think we were right for each other.

I was completely thunderstruck. This was so unexpected, we seemed to have such a nice time together. I did not find words to respond to her and she waited for a few seconds and then drove away, leaving me standing with my mouth open in the parking lot.

I put myself through agony for the next few days. Analyzing every little thing I could remember saying  to her and her responses to those. I was trying to figure out what had gone wrong and make sense out of it.

Finally, I sent her an angry message stating that she had hurt me terribly by leading me on. My reasoning was that if she did not like me why would she go out four times with me? Why didn’t she tell me so after the first couple of dates?

Anyway, the good news is we are good friends now, platonic ones, and she has since revealed  that she was seeing another person at the same time as me and was trying to make her mind up. The other person is culturally more compatible with her and so she had decided to continue with him. It’s been several years and they are still seeing each other.

Fast forward a few years and recently I went on a few dates with another woman and we seemed to have a wonderful time together. At the end of the last date, however, just before getting into her car she told me that she’d prefer not to see me again. This time, I smiled at her, gave her a warm hug, thanked her for being so upfront and candid, told her if she ever needed a friend she could reach out to me and wished her a safe drive home. She left smiling.

What was different? What had changed?

It’s me. I’ve evolved. I’m a different person now.

Guys, rejection is not a judgement on you. It does not happen because you aren’t good enough for her. Neither is it, as some relationship coaches advise, a reflection on the woman’s poor judgement and her inability to appreciate how awesome you are.

You are awesome, but not to everybody.

There are many reasons why a woman may reject a guy. (While I’m taking a heterosexual man’s viewpoint in this post I believe many of these ideas will apply to any person of any sexual identity and  preference attempting at courtship.) She may not feel a romantic chemistry between the two of you. That doesn’t diminish either you or her. It’s just a fact of life.

Or, she may be at a point in life where she is not ready to start a new relationship. She may have too much on her plate – her kids may be flunking at school, she may have an aging parent who was just hospitalized or she may be overworked and stressed at her job.

It is also possible, as it happened in my case in the first example that she is dating several guys and trying to choose the one most compatible and there was someone else who matched her criteria better than you did. No shame in that.

There is a myth in the dating coaching and pick-up community that if your ‘game’ is good enough you will be able to pick any woman up, and failing that means you’re either not good enough or the woman is crazy. This is absolute bs.

My post-divorce dating failures drove me to studying dating and pick-up techniques. I read numerous books, attended online and in person seminars, took courses and practiced the techniques in real life. I also studied female psychology and attraction extensively. I don’t study as much now, but that is only because I feel I’ve gotten reasonably good at this. I’ve been meeting women successfully both online and offline.

Last year when I was more active online there was a time when my response rate to messages  initiated by me reached 80%. About 20% – 30% of these were women who wrote back saying they weren’t interested. These were very attractive, smart and independent women, many of who were receiving more that 50 messages in their inbox on a typical day. Now, from what I hear from my friends and online surveys the typical man’s response rate to initial messages hovers around 10%.

I do pretty well offline too, when I have the time for it. I’ve gotten numbers from women at bars, at meetups, at shows, at community events… At one point I was seeing so many women at the same time that I would be going on dates with five different women on a typical weekend : Friday evening, Saturday morning and evening and Sunday morning and evening. I remember one weekend I was able to squeeze one person for an afternoon meet on Saturday between a morning and an evening date. It was getting difficult to keep so many people straight. I’d sometimes call Melissa as ‘Michelle’ and sometimes address Laura as ‘Linda,’ but that’s a different story because I don’t do that any more, I’m far more selective now.

But, I still get rejected quite often. As I said above, you may be awesome, but you cannot be awesome to everybody. You may have six-pack abs and resemble Arnold but there are women who will prefer thin and lanky guys. You may be very outgoing and you’ll be rejected by women who prefer shy people. I have an accent and it has mostly worked in my favor since many women seem to view an accent as ‘exotic’ but some women just don’t like accents. You may have facial hair and some women may not like you for that, or, you may be clean-shaven and be rejected by women for that reason.

Heck, not everybody likes Shakespeare, or Beethoven.

So, don’t take rejections as a personal judgement.

One great tool in handling rejections is to build your self-esteem up so that it is independent of external validation. However, this is easier said than done. We all are social creatures and depend on external feedback to evaluate ourselves, and in some ways it is the only way to go. For example, you may think you’re the greatest singer in town but if people run away every time you open your mouth then it’s time for some serious soul searching.

So, how do we rely on external validation and yet not be devastated when someone refuses to give it to us? The trick is to spread yourself out a bit, be good at many areas in life. Maybe you are good at your job and your employer appreciates you, that’ll help in building up your self-esteem. Maybe you’re a loyal friend and your friends love you. Or, maybe you devote many hours a week in community service and people have come to depend on you. Look for ways, other than dating, to find validation. See what you’re good at, the more things the better.

And, if you have looked and did not find at least a few things that you enjoy doing and get appreciated for then maybe this is not a good time for you to date. You may be better off devoting your time at self-development.

Also, it will lessen the sting if you acknowledge that the woman who is rejecting you is probably having a very hard time doing it. People do not enjoy making others suffer, not most people, anyway. When I break up or reject someone I feel so bad that at times I wish I did not have to do it. It is hard, and it takes a woman a lot of courage to say ‘no’ to your face. Appreciate that and thank her if possible.

Remember, dating is not about what you can extract from the woman, but what you have to offer to her. And, unless you can like and respect yourself, no one will like or respect you.

And finally, remember that the question to ask yourself before approaching an attractive  woman should never be whether you are good enough for her. It should be whether she is good enough for you.