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Go on a Date with Life

Go on a Date with Life

Go on a Date with Life

    A lot has been written about dating. Some people rally enjoy dating, but for many, dating seems like a horrific trauma. Consider how many people stay in unsatisfying or even outright bad relationships because they’re even more terrified by the prospect of being “out there” again.

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    Dating can be a chore because it seems so far removed from real life. But I wonder if there aren’t some everyday lessons we can learn from dating. Maybe it’s not that dating is different from the rest of our lives but that it’s an intensified version of our day-to-day lives. We work hard on a date to put our best self forward – but wouldn’t it be nice to put our best self forward throughout the course of our lives? Maybe instead of rejecting that persona, we should embrace it? And maybe, just maybe, if we were used to being our best selves all the time, dating wouldn’t be such a chore, either – we’d just show up and be awesome.

    So what can we learn from dating about being our most awesome selves day in and day out? Here are a few things that come to mind:

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    1. Dress counts.

    We all want to be appreciated for who we are, not what we wear, but unfortunately, what we wear often determines whether or not anyone will take time to know who we are. You wouldn’t dream of showing up for a date in torn sweats and a dirty shirt – but I’ve seen people show up for job interviews in similar outfits! Unless you need specialized clothing – a uniform for work, grungy clothes for helping a friend paint a house, etc. – dressing like you’re on your way to a first date means you’ll always put your best face forward.

    2. Listen more, talk less.

    On a date, being fascinated with what your partner is saying is the best way to make them feel good about themselves – and about you. Asking questions and really paying attention is a great way to demonstrate that you value the person you’re dating. It’s also a great way to show people you aren’t dating that you value them – and to make sure you’re as well-informed as you need to be.

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    3. Don’t be too needy.

    “Desperation,” says a character in the movie Singles, “is the worst perfume.” Spend a date leering or pawing at your date, or explaining how very, very, very, very lonely you are is a sure way to get the brush-off. Nobody likes a loser, and that’s exactly how you come off – winners date people they’re totally into, not whoever will have them. This is true throughout our lives as well – lots of people have noticed how much easier it is to get a job when you already have one (and it’s said that the best job interview is the one you come to straight from work) than when you’re down to plucking couch-cushion change for macaroni money. Of course, you have needs – everyone does – but you can get a lot farther in life making it clear to everyone that you’re driven by your passions and talents, not your needs.

    4. Be decisive.

    Partners of both sexes like to see their dates make decisions quickly and effectively – it lifts the burden from them, and it shows a confidence that most find attractive. Unfortunately, we often think it’s nice to offer our date a bunch of choices to pick from, thinking that it shows we respect their wishes, when what it really does is throw them into decision paralysis – and increase their anxiety because they’re suddenly fumbling and looking bad in front of you. In life, as in dating, making decisions quickly and firmly, while respecting other’s input, is a sure sign of leadership. Even bad decisions made boldly often turn out to be better than good decisions made hesitantly.

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    5. Smile a lot.

    People like people who smile. More than that, there’s a lot of evidence that the physical act of smiling actually triggers changes in our brain chemistry that make us happier. On a date, that means less stressed, more confident, and more attractive to our partner. In life, that means the same thing – even when we’re not perfectly comfortable, a big smile conveys to others that we are, and often gives us the boost we need to actually become more comfortable.

    6. Have an exit strategy.

    Not from life – that’s a little morbid. What I mean is this: when you go on a date, you have an idea of how, at various stages, to end it. There’s the perfect “kiss at the door” evening (or “breakfast in bed” night), there’s the pre-planned “emergency” phone call from a friend at 8pm to give you an excuse to bail on a bad date, there’s the $20 spare cash tucked away in case things turn scary and you need a cab, etc. In life’s undertakings, too, it pays to have a couple of escape plans ready, as well as a clear image of what success will look like. Grinding away at a project that no longer has any purpose isn’t very smart, but we often feel compelled to “finish the job” even when it no longer matters to us. Likewise, turning up for a dead-end job day after day is a ticket to depression, at best. As the cliché goes, “plan for the best but prepare for the worst” – go into big projects with a clear idea of how much you’re willing to sacrifice and how little you’re willing to gain to consider it worthwhile.

    I have a half-dozen more tips, but that’s plenty for one post. I’ll be back soon with more ways life could be more like dating, and our selves could be more like the selves we are when we date. In the meantime, how about sharing your tips for dating and how they might apply to the rest of our life (or why they couldn’t)?

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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