Harris O’Malley on refining your positivity and developing a better attitude.
I want to talk to you about your attitude.
There’s one commonality I see over and over again among people who have the hardest time dating: they have shitty attitudes. You’ll see it in the way they talk about others, about themselves, about women and the whole process of dating. Everything is pointless, nothing is going to fix them, they’ve done all this work for nothing, people suck, so forth and so on. Small wonder that they’re not having any luck in dating… why would anyone want to spend time around Captain Eeyore?
As I’m always fond of saying: dating success is 80% attitude, 20% skill and presentation. But the thing that people miss is that it’s not about sending out “positive vibes” or other woo-woo bullshit. Your attitude has measurable, practical effects on your performance… and a shitty attitude is going to hold you back at every level.
Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven. Nobody Wants To Die.
One of the most common complaints that I hear from people is that they did X, Y or Z to fix their dating lives and it didn’t work. Because they didn’t immediately see results they were expecting, they’ve decided that what they did was useless.
But then, that’s one of the secrets about self-improvement that almost nobody will tell you: any form of improvement is never going to be instant. If you want to get good at something, you have to work at it – and that’s going to take time. This is part of the appeal of Pick-Up Artists: why spend time incrementally improving yourself as a person when you can slap a few gimmicks together and promise mastery within 30 days? You don’t want to miss out on all that pussy you could be diving through do you? They leverage the fear of missing out against the time it takes for true lasting change. The same mindset applies to “Lose Weight Now” fad diets and weight-loss supplements – why do all the “boring” things like exercise and changing your eating habits when you can just take this pill or do nothing but eat cabbages for 30 days and be all skinny and sexy in a third of the time?
Real change takes work.When you’re trying to improve your dating life, you’re frequently having to unlearn years or decades of bad habits. That takes time and effort, especially if you want to make lasting, healthy changes. Trying to rush the process and prioritizing speed over quality means you pick up bad habits that end up hurting or even crippling you in the long run. But our brains are inherently lazy – they’re going to want to stay as they are instead of expending the effort to develop new patterns and habits. You have to stay motivated and energized in order to get over the mental humps and plateaus that come with any improvements.
This is where your attitude comes in. Having a shitty attitude makes it almost impossible to improve because you’re continually cutting yourself off from your own progress. Part of what keeps you motivated is recognizing your own progress; you may not be 100% where you want to be, but look at what you’ve accomplished!
Take working out, for example. For the longest time, I could not do a pull-up to save my life. The only way I could get my chin up to that bar was to use an assist – and let me tell you, that can wound the ol’ ego. It took working those muscles – individually and as a group – in ways that didn’t necessarily seem related to my desire to do pull-ups to get to the point where I could do one. Once I achieved my first pull-up, I was… actually even more depressed. Great, it took me how much of my life to do something other folks have been doing since high-school? Fucking fantastic, go me.
But it was an accomplishment! It was something to be proud of! I had done something I could never do before. Other people had been doing it longer than I had been or accomplished it quicker? Big fat hairy deal. I had finally done it. And having done one, that meant I could do two. Or three. Or ten.
The same mentality applies to dating success. You didn’t get a phone number… but you talked to three women when before you never could manage to approach one! You didn’t take someone home with you… but you got a phone number! That’s 100% progress when you’ve never managed to get that far before. Having a negative, pessimistic attitude means that you can’t even appreciate what you’ve managed to do in the first place. A pessimist is the one who watches the Wright Brothers’ saying “They’ll never get it off the ground”; when it actually takes off, they’re the ones saying “Great, but they’ll never land it.” Small wonder they rarely progress.
But then again, this is still a little woo-woo. What if I told you that your attitude had measurable effects on your performance? That there is a literal and calculable change in your success rates?
The Pessimists Are Right
There’s a quote by Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” It’s a glib cliche… but it’s 100% accurate, and one that’s been borne out by science. In a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, it was discovered that pessimists in business perform worse than optimists – sometimes by a factor of up to 40% less. In this tends to be true across the board. According to UPenn professor Martin Seligman, pessimism is a marker of poor performance at every level, whether you’re an athlete, a student or – bringing it back to dating – someone who’s trying to get better at dating.
The problem is that pessimists expect the worst – and as a result, that’s what they get. Being a pessimist means that you look for the problems, the catches and short-falls and worst-case scenarios. This discourages you from making more than a token effort – why put in more than the absolute minimum necessary when it’s only going to go badly for you? A pessimistic salesman will make fewer sales because he makes fewer attempts; after all, why bother when odds are good the sale will fall through or you’ll get screwed out of your commission? A pessimistic basketball player does worse because he takes fewer shots (he’ll only miss or they’ll get blocked) and takes longer to recover from a poor performance.
Similarly, a pessimist looking for a date is going to make fewer approaches over all because they’ve run through the scenario in their heads a thousand times and they know exactly how they’re going to get rejected every single time. It’s like having the world’s worst superpower: the observational and deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes except it’s all about how you’re going to get absolutely fucked every time – and not in the fun, squishy way.
They become passive, taking fewer risks and passing on opportunities that present themselves because they won’t take the initiative as often as optimists. They go out less, which means they meet fewer people. When they do meet people, they do worse because – frankly – people don’t like pessimists.
Pessimists stand at a severe social disadvantage – because they believe that everything is going to fuck them over, their behavior changes accordingly. They become colder and more withdrawn. They become more defensive and tend to assume that everything is a sign that people are uninterested in them. They develop a distinct edge to their voice; their jokes are bitter and more biting, they respond badly to teasing and their flirting has an almost insulting quality to it, as though they’re preemptively lashing out at people. Negative people with negative attitudes tend to suck the energy out of the room, making people feel lousy about themselves.
Small wonder that negativity is a self-fulfilling prophecy; it takes a heavy amount of emotional investment to want to stick around someone that negative and prickly. Most strangers aren’t going to want to expend the time and emotional energy it takes to break through that shell. As a result: pessimists have fewer and shallower social ties than optimists. Fewer social ties make for fewer opportunities to meet others through warm approaches.
So right there, by having a shitty attitude, you’ve functionally cut yourself off from 99% of the ways of meeting new potential partners. Cold approaches are out because a) people will respond poorly to negative people and b) you won’t make them anyway. Warm approaches are out because you have fewer friends who can connect you to their social networks. Even online dating gets handicapped by a negative attitude – there’s nothing like seeing somebody whine and moan in their dating profile to make a woman “nope” the fuck out.
Worse, pessimists deal with greater levels of stress and anxiety. It takes longer to bounce back from failures and mistakes, meaning that their performance takes an even bigger hit over time. That stress and anxiety also has a negative connotation with relationships- the higher your levels of stress and anxiety, the shorter and more contentious your relationships are. This is one of the reasons why lawyers have among the highest levels of divorce among other professional careers… and law is one of the few careers where being a pessimist actually means you perform better.
Optimists Are Right, Too
Now let’s contrast this with optimists. Optimists, on the whole, are happier and healthier. Just as pessimism is a signifier of poor performance – socially, athletically and professionally – optimism coincides with greater overall success. In fact, MetLife found that optimists sold 19% more policies than their pessimistic counterparts in one year; by the second year they found that the optimists outperformed the pessimists by 57% (?!?). Their secret is almost pathetically simple: They believe that life, on the whole, is good and that they personally will succeed at what they set their minds to.
Now to many people, this sounds less like optimism and more like out-and-out delusion. After all, studies have shown that pessimists tend to have more realistic assessments of their own abilities. A continually positive outlook seems downright insane.
Except it’s not about a Panglossian belief that this is the best of all possible worlds. O they have two key factors working in their favor.
The first key is that that optimists have greater emotional resiliency than pessimists and do better when faced with difficult, even adverse situations. Optimists aren’t living in a world where they see nothing but unicorns shitting rainbows and farting cotton candy, they’re simply willing to keep trying.
Pessimists believe in the futility of their actions – their problems are inevitable, irreversible and ultimately the result of their own personal failure or weakness. The virgin who believes he’s too old to have sex, for example, assumes that every woman ever will see him as flawed or damaged. Thus, he is unable to lose his virginity, leaving him permanently “disadvantaged” – he becomes afraid to date for fear that women will discover his shameful secret. He won’t approach as many people and he’ll be quicker to bail because he thinks he’s getting rejected even when he’s not. And if he does get shot down, it reinforces his self-limiting beliefs around his status as a virgin, serving to perpetuate the cycle in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Optimists, on the other hand, respond more positively to adversity. Instead of assuming a universal nature to their difficulties, they tend to believe that problems are temporary, impersonal and ultimately conquerable. That belief that a problem can be overcome means that an optimist is more likely to continue making more attempts until they succeed and not get thrown by failure. An optimist who gets rejected, for example, tends to de-personalize and de-universalize the situation. The problem isn’t that all women are stuck-up bitches, it’s that this woman didn’t like him for some reason; another one will, so he just has to go find her instead. Her rejection isn’t personal, it’s just that she’s having a bad day or that he reminds her of her ex-boyfriend or she was gay or any other number of reasons. And if it was something he did, then he can try again later and do better the next time.
The other benefit is that people simply like optimists more. The more people like you, the more social connections you can build. The more social connections you build, the better you perform. Likeable salespeople are more likely to make sales and develop leads that lead to more sales. People who are well-liked around the office tend to perform better (they’re team players) and get promotions and raises because they have stronger connections with others. Life is, in many ways, a popularity contest and being popular brings tangible benefits.
And here’s the crazy thing: the reason why people like optimists more is almost absurdly simple. People like them more because they expect to be liked. Once again: this isn’t woo-woo bullshit. This has been documented by science. Anticipating acceptance makes you exude more warmth; that in turn makes others see you as more likable.
Just as importantly though, is that optimists are actually luckier than people with negative attitudes. As with other aspects of positivity, this has nothing to do with newage crap like The Secret and “sending out positive vibes” and everything to do with mental outlook. Optimists are in a better position to take chances. They’re more open to new experiences – hey, it could be cool! – and more likely try new things, which means they’re more likely to notice new opportunities arise. Moreover, because they expect better results, they’re more likely to go all-in when they see an opportunity and take full advantage of it instead of holding back.
Doing the same thing over and over again nets you the same results. It’s by taking risks – and expecting those risks to pay off – that you get better.
How To Develop A Positive Attitude
Right about this point is when I hear from people who will tell me “why should I have a more positive attitude? I’ve been rejected all my life!” And I nod and say “Thank you for making my point for me,” because I frequently have conversations with the imaginary people I create to illustrate my points.
But joking aside, this is a common stance: that somebody feels that they’re justified in having a shitty attitude because their lack of success. And therein is the problem: they assume that success breeds the attitude, rather than the other way around. Developing a positive attitude brings the success. Basing your attitude on your successes or achieving your goals robs you of your ability to appreciate them. If you make your happiness conditional on achievement, then all that happens is that you’ll find that this achievement doesn’t actually make you happy. As many people have found, simply losing weight didn’t immediately make everything else in their life magically better. They were the same person they were before, just skinnier. On the flipside, someone who is happy and optimistic is in a better position to enjoy their changes and is even more motivated to make more changes.
This is why it’s important to decide to change your attitude. Even if you’ve had nothing but crippling failures, you can learn to be more optimistic. In fact, doing so can be key to overcoming those failures. One of the keys to getting over learned helplessness is to develop a greater sense of control, no matter how minor. Even small improvements help show that improvement is possible at all – and embracing that possibility can empower you to make even more.
So how do you become more optimistic?
Reframe the situation
As cheesy as it may sound, consciously choosing to see problems as challenges makes a significant difference in your outlook. Telling yourself that something is a challenge instead of a threat or an impossibility changes the way you see it. An impossibility is permanent; a challenge, on the other hand may be difficult but it’s ultimately achievable. You can beat a challenge. The more you see something as a challenge instead of an obstacle, the more you empower yourself to overcome it – even if it takes time. It also lets you be more flexible and think outside the box; you may not be able to go through it, but you could go around or over it.
Celebrate Your Milestones
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to get hyperfocused on your goals. In doing so, you end up losing track of how much progress you’ve actually made. Someone who’s trying to lose 100 pounds may not realize that losing 20 is still a huge accomplishment. Somebody who run a marathon may lose sight of the fact that before they could’t run a single mile. A small change is still a change and that is something you should appreciate.
Focus on the Specific
One of the mistakes that pessimists make is that they assume the universality of things: all women are going to reject them, that everything they do is going to fail, etc. Optimists, on the other hand, focus on the specific and the individual: this woman doesn’t like them but that doesn’t mean other people did, that specific project didn’t work out but that doesn’t mean that they’re a failure or that the idea is hopeless. By putting the emphasis on the specific, you make something less intimidating, less universal and far less inevitable. It becomes about that specific moment rather than an all-encompassing judgement.
Believe in Your Own Power
Part of what makes optimists more likely to succeed is that they believe they have the ability to succeed in the first place. They take responsibility not just for their failures but for their successes. Even if they fail at something that doesn’t mean that they’re a failure or that success is impossible – just that they’ve failed this time but they have the ability to succeed if they try again.
The final component to a better more positive attitude is simple: it’s hope. Expecting that things will get better, that you’ll do better and that you’ll get to where you want to be actually makes you more likely to achieve it. Hope and expectation of greatness has measurable effects on achievement. Allowing yourself to believe in the possibility of the outcome you want gives you the strength to fight for it and the will to bounce back to try again if you don’t make it the first time.
Don’t let your own attitude cut your progress off at the knees. Cultivate a more positive, optimistic outlook on life and you’ll be amazed at how you achieve more than you ever dreamed you could.
This article originally appeared on Dr. Nerd Love
Photo credit: Getty Images