IT’S EASY to allow our minds to wander. On the way to the bar, we’re feeling confident and ready. Then, shuffling in the queue making idle chit chat, thoughts begin to creep up on us. Am I attractive? Do I know what to say? Negative outcomes begin to gestate in our mind’s eye and by the time we see a woman we want to approach, we’re left leaning on the bar saying ‘maybe another time’ as our fluttering heart and sweaty palms leave us without a prayer in the world.
It’s far from ideal. Nervousness, worrying and anxiety are normal, and when walking up to a woman for the first time, it’s only natural that these phenomena are going to rear their heads. But instead of allowing ourselves to be swept up in sensation and thought – what techniques can we utilize to put our best foot forward, and ensure that when it comes to approaching women we’re attracted to, we aren’t our own way.
DONT TRY TO RELAX
You’re nervous. The moment has come and anxiety has caught you unaware. Physiologically you’re all over the place, and psychologically you’re not much better. Something has to be done. So you do what anyone would do in your predicament. You tell yourself to ‘calm down.’ But it doesn’t work, and not only are you trapped within your own anxious hell, but your only escape plan just went bust.
What are you going to do? Well, it’s actually pretty simple.
Consider the elevated heart rate, the constricted breathing and the prickling skin – these symptoms, hallmarks of anxiety, are also the calling card of another; excitement. Taking this foundation, research from the Harvard Business School demonstrates that the attempt to calm ourselves is less surefooted than we would believe.
In a study comparing the attempt to calm one’s nerves versus reappraising them as excitement, it was shown that the reappraisal won out each time, resulting in a confident handling of whatever caused the initial anxious response. The reasoning here lies within arousal congruence – essentially a harmony between thought and feeling. Whilst ‘calm down’ seems like the fine idea, it bears little resemblance to our current experience, but rather than remaining hopelessly flurried a simple case of ‘I am excited’ may be the solution we’re looking for.
KILL YOUR WORRYING
In our brains, the prefrontal cortex dominates our ability to analyse and prepare for the future. The large and overdeveloped size of this region of our brain is one of the key reasons we’ve come to dominate the natural world.*Where most animals struggle at elementary problem solving – humans regularly pre-plan their day, imagine conversations and create entirely fictitious events that they then record in novels and movies. But this incredible cognitive power isn’t without its dark side. Whilst our brain is adept at planning and foreseeing positive outcomes, it is equally (and some cases, more so) adept at planning and foreseeing negative ones. If these are future events, this is called ‘worrying’ (duh.); past events are called ‘rumination.’* And not only is your brain great at this, but it’s also constantly doing it.
“I’m gonna freeze up.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“She won’t like me.”
Y’know, that sort of stuff.
So what can we do?
Well, the answer lies in nothing, rather than something. Studies show that practiced mindfulness decreases worry and rumination – as well as other numerable benefits. But just short of adopting the lotus position under an old tree, mindfulness can be actively practiced – techniques like focusing on the breathing, paying attention to the senses and observing what is happening right now are shown to reduce stress and in turn worrying and rumination. This is something that can be done at any moment.
These two strategies may on the surface appear counter intuitive but this isn’t always the case. Worrying can compound over time into physiological anxiety, and allowing yourself to return to the moment gives you the sturdiest foundation from which to reappraise your anxiety. This can allow you to get out of your own way and put your strongest foot forward in your approach, instead of being trapped inside your head, and constricted within your body.
Or, if this doesn’t work, there is a third trick, one that you can use for just about anything – just do it.
*A sperm whale’s brain weighs 17lbs. A human brain clocks in at a featherweight 3lbs.
*The same technique works for rumination.