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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 January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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