Myths I Learned from the Pickup Artist Community: Part 2

Neil Strauss The Game Book - Pickup Artist Community
Hey look everybody! I used to be a PUA bigshot… SEEEEE?!?!

“What do you do when a hot girl throws herself at you?”

I googled this today and the first result was a guy in a body building forum presenting three super thoughtful options:

Give her the cawk.
Get turned off since it’s so easy.
If you want a real relationship you hold out.

These attitudes are common for many men. If a girl is giving it away, it means she’s easy. After all, she doesn’t have any self-respect.

But what if that hot girl is Jessica Alba? Assuming they know who she is, most guys would probably throw themselves at her instead. Does this mean the men don’t have any self-respect? No, of course not. She’s Jessica Alba for god’s sake!

If all this sounds rather shallow to you, that’s because it is.

Why do we play games? Why can’t people who find each other attractive just get down to business and skip the courtship dance, the boring small talk? Why do girls have to wonder “does he like me?” for hours, days and weeks…. even when they both want the same thing in the end?

BREAKTHROUGHS IN ATTRACTION

Pickup Artist Community - Freedom

Back in 2003, the biggest breakthrough I ever learned from the Pickup Artist community was that so much of our attraction is based on social value. Actually, scratch that. Our attraction is often based on our perceived social value.

Mystery decoded most of the formula for attraction theory. It was Tyler Durden and Papa at the time, that tied most of the attitudes and behaviors together, under the title social “value”. The IOIs, negs, obstacles, targets, AFCs, AMOGs, alphas, peacocking, shit tests, take-aways, cocky funny, jealousy plot-lines, qualification, time constraints…they were almost all about how we demonstrate higher value to others.

When I first learned this a light went on. It was in 2003 as I was talking to my friend and mentor Vinigarr when suddenly I had that moment when I saw “the matrix” that explained so much in my dating life. Yes, being short was a disadvantage but if I learned to play the game I could get the girl too.

Sounds a little sleazy right?

But here’s what most people outside the community don’t realize: almost all these techniques came from watching women. Specifically, this is how many attractive women in clubs are already acting with guys trying to date them.

Incidentally, it’s how many attractive men act too. Because all these techniques are just terms for what happens naturally. Not just in the dating world but in everyday social dynamics, whether you realize it or not.

Notice I didn’t say, “hot” men or women. Because there’s a difference between being hot and being attractive. Men with lots of wealth and power are attractive. They may be ugly old farts, but many women find them attractive. It makes them feel safe, taken care of and feminine.

And women who know how to play hard to get, dress well, or have high status (like celebrity) are considered attractive. Yes, men are more visually attracted than women are, but if men were only attracted visually, then they wouldn’t lose respect for the easy, but hot girl.   

BREAKTHROUGHS IN INTIMACY

Pickup Artist Community - Shadow Quote

As the years went by, I began to notice a long-term pattern.  Most of us were only dating short term even though many of us claimed to want relationships.

Even those of us in long-term relationships weren’t very happy. One by one, they all seemed to self-destruct. It wasn’t just a matter of whether it would or wouldn’t. It was only a matter of time. To be fair, a few did end up in healthy LTRs. And maybe not so coincidentally, many of them continue to be my good friends today.

But Mystery and Style – the two most iconic figures of the seduction community – both became perfect examples of how NOT to have an LTR.

I saw Mystery “closing” lots of beautiful women but he was always depressed about being alone. About not finding his pair bond(s). Eventually, he had a daughter with one of his girlfriends but last I heard she wouldn’t speak to him anymore or allow him to see his baby girl. It made him utterly miserable.

You’d think his superior skill on how to create attraction and desire – which I can attest to, first hand – would lead to superior relationship and communication skills with women as well. Right?

Nope. Not even a little bit. And lest you think this is a one-time occurrence, I can assure you it isn’t. This is the norm in a long line of imploding relationships over the years. 

In 2013, Neil Strauss married his current wife Ingrid and now has a son. But in 2010, she forced him to go to therapy for sex addiction.  His come-to-Jesus moment was when he cheated on her in a church parking lot with her best friend.

Why were so many of us good at meeting girls, having passion in the bedroom and not able to have healthy, steady relationships? What was missing?

After years of therapy and introspection (as well as lots more sex with other women), Neil learned that it all came from his low self-esteem. Today his seminars teach men “how to be ok with themselves.”

I’m not accusing all Pickup Artists of having low self-esteem but it’s ironic that in an industry that teaches men how to be “their best self” and more confident with women – their two most recognizable leaders that created the original blueprints – had significant emotional issues. It says something.

I know what you’re probably thinking by now…

You’re laughing at all the silly PUAs with their little insecurities because it was so obvious to you. You saw it coming a mile away. But the truth is, this isn’t something unique to the Pickup Artist community. It’s just an extreme microcosm of how the world operates. Because everyone has insecurities. And assuming you’re human, so do you.

No one wants to face rejection. No one wants to feel hurt or disappointment. We all have fears, flaws, and vulnerabilities. We’re all wounded. But even though it’s the most natural thing in the world, we fight it. And this is why we all play games at first.

Because attraction and fear are really both aspects of the same phenomenon. It’s scary if she rejects you…but it’s EXCITING if she validates you. This is a fun game to play if you can win at it, but it’s not love. It’s a game.

Yes, women love validation. They need it. But men need it just as much, if not more. When we date, holding our cards means withholding our validation for the other until we get it first. But the reason we withhold validation is because it’s important to us. We treat it like currency.

Without the possibility of losing something, there’s no fear. If you’re afraid of losing then it’s because it’s based on your desire for something. The desire to remain physically safe, the desire to love without disappointment, the desire to be validated by someone attractive.

So whatever we desire, rules us. We’re slaves to our desires and at the same time, we’re afraid of losing our freedom. So we fight. We fight our desires and we fight our fears. We fight other people but the fight is really inside… like a shadow, it follows us everywhere we go.

In the fighting you feel good, you are. It strengthens the ego. But in the process, it increases the distance between two people. This goes in the opposite direction of a real relationship.

Because a real relationship is the art of intimacy.

True intimacy is about removing all barriers between two people. And the ultimate barrier between two people is the ego. Real relationships are about giving up power, giving up the desire for control. It’s about being vulnerable, trusting and allowing a space for the other…including all their flaws, fears and weaknesses…the total human being. 

THE ART OF DATING WITHOUT CONFLICT

Pickup Artist Community - Conflict Quote

After 5 years of seeing myself and other Pickup Artists failing in the love department, I learned that when it comes to dating, attraction matters – but when it comes to love, intimacy matters. And this is where we run into conflict. Because if dating is based on a power dynamic then you must maintain that power.

So while having a hot 19-year-old blonde tattoo “Marco Rules” on her leg after knowing her for forty-eight hours  – and against my own wishes, I might add – certainly made me feel super manly about myself, it’s not really the beginning of a healthy LTR.

Of course, it’s natural to have your guard up when you first start dating someone, but at some point, it will have to be dropped – and the sooner the better. If you want closeness, then you’ll have to drop your need for security and risk the truth of yourself and the other. And if two people can’t drop their defenses against each other, then there’s no foundation for love. Love is an impossibility.

With this new understanding I saw how all the techniques developed to demonstrate higher value naturally revolved around self-esteem and control  – and most importantly, it directly opposed any intimacy. It’s totally destructive, long-term. It has to be.

Once I realized this, many things became clear.

Sex and power have always been closely intertwined. Many of our fetishes involve letting go of control or exercising it. S&M is exciting when you can dominate or submit to someone else’s power. But can it be used to build intimacy too? Absolutely – as long as it’s consensual. Then they’re not just objects that you’re getting something from… you’re giving them an experience they want, too. You’re sharing something.

When it comes to dating, some guys like to be the aggressive, alpha male and be super direct with their approach. For some girls, this is a turn-off. Everyone is different. That’s why it’s called a dance.

So when we use “indirect game” it can also help make her more comfortable. It can be used to build trust. But whether you’re being direct or indirect, if you’re changing your behavior because you need to get something from her, then it’s still about power and control. 

It’s no coincidence that Kissinger described power as “the ultimate aphrodisiac.” Money is power, beauty is power, fame and validation is power. People who wield a lot of power are considered sexy. It’s their ability to give or take away what we want that makes them sexy and attractive.

All this explained to me why Mystery couldn’t hold down a healthy relationship if you held a gun to his head. Erik, the human, is a relationship guy. But Mystery, the persona, is not. So when Erik decides he wants the girlfriend, it’s almost too late. Mystery has already established the relationship based on a power dynamic and not much else.

In the Pickup Artist community, not only were we insecure, but the women we chased were as well. This is why it worked so well on attractive women. They can often be some of the most insecure of all. And it’s no coincidence that the women Mystery and Style dated were mostly young club girls, strippers or similar types as well.

So when a hot chick throws themselves at you, an insecure man might wonder “wait… what’s WRONG with her??” But a confident man with a healthy self-image might think, “of course she likes me… I’M FUCKING AWESOME! She must be awesome too!”

That’s what it looks like when we don’t play games.

***

Pickup Artis Community - Self Image Quote

It may sound like I’m picking on Mystery but the truth is I have a ton of respect for him. If it weren’t for his incredible genius in codifying some of these extremes in the dating world, none of these insights would exist for me.

Today Neil Strauss and a lot of the “natural game” gurus in the Pickup Artist community think many of the techniques and routines taught back in 2005 are bad for dating. Is it true? Yes and no. And this is where I depart from most conventional thinking…

Because we don’t just blindly trust random strangers at first. Nor should we. So if you’re dating, there’s still a qualification process that happens whether you’re aware of it or not. The question is, what are we qualifying for?

Tools are only “good” insofar as the intention for which they’re being used… it all depends on where you’re coming from. If we’re just trying to get laid, then in it’s purest form, it’s only about two people’s attraction to each other. Nothing wrong with that. But if we want more, then our mutual values matter. Even if it’s a short-term fling.

So in 2008 when I met my wife a speed dating event, I didn’t do a modified “crappy sketch artist” on her just to make her laugh. I did it because I come from a very sarcastic family, and a sense of humor is very important to me.

When I shared my “identity story” with her it wasn’t just to create deeper rapport so I could close her. I did it to find out if she’s positive, affectionate, open minded, spiritual, passionate, honest and into health and fitness like me. And as we began dating, I noticed she didn’t participate in any of the typical validation games… not only that, she didn’t respond to them either!

All this showed me that she had the qualities that could lead to a healthy LTR with me. I just set my boundaries upfront and then I let her decide. If she didn’t, I was honest about that. And if she did, I was honest about it too. Dating was just a process of discovering if our values aligned. But no longer was I hiding who I was, for better or worse.

Since dating will always involve some qualification process, why not use that process to build healthy intimacy instead of preventing it?

***

Eight years later, I still use what I learned back then in our current relationship. I know sometimes she wants me to be a stronger leader in parts of our relationship. I understand that when we argue, her non-verbal cues tell me more about how she feels than what she’s saying. And because we’re clear on our most important values together, we work to maintain them if we stray. Everything else slides.

But in none of these examples is she someone I’m just trying to get something out of… because love doesn’t seek to take. It gives. Love doesn’t fear, it trusts. And love doesn’t seek security because real love is freedom. Real love is a stepping stone. And the only way to freedom is to drop the fear, drop the questions, the doubts.

Without trust, there will always be questions. But if you’ve been following so far, then you understand that the ultimate question is really about accepting ourselves. Accepting others and accepting life as it is, with all it’s limitations, weaknesses, and imperfections. That’s what everyone’s looking for.

Then there’s no more conflict. Then there’s nothing left to fight. There’s no more shadows, only peace.

Seeking love may be the question… trust is the answer.

Myths I Learned from the Pick Up Artist Community: Part 1

Pick Up Artist Switch
Women… amirite?!

Of all the gurus in the pick up artist community, one of the most well known has to be David DeAngelo. In many of his ebooks, CDs and seminars he asserts authoritatively that “attraction isn’t a choice” for women. You push the right buttons and she’s yours. She can’t help it. After all, she’s wired that way.

But here’s the problem with that… it’s a myth. 

From 2002-2008 I was knee deep in that mythology. I never got to know David DeAngelo (Eben Pagan IRL) but I did hang out with Neil Strauss, Mystery, Papa, Tyler Durden, Sickboy and others during its heyday. We learned a lot together that was groundbreaking and much of it found its way into The Game. And while many of the techniques and gambits developed back then worked surprisingly well for the pick up artist community, there was some dangerous doctrine that took hold. 

How do I know? Because I didn’t just follow the dogma. I learned the mindset and then I continued to learn, on my own. And what I learned is that in the pick up world dating is a science. But in real life, relationship is an art. 

Being deeply involved in the pick up artist community back then brought me some benefits. For aspiring lotharios aged 18 to 24, stories of conquest written about in The Game have turned the characters in the book into something like folk heroes of seduction. But for me, there’s no mystique to them. No hero worship.

They were my friends and I knew their flaws. And I also got to see the many flaws in their relationships as they devolved from that movie perfect beginning to a normal – or most often dysfunctional – dynamic. 

So when I say “attraction isn’t a choice” is my favorite myth to debunk, it’s not because I think I’m above it all. It’s because I witnessed its birth. And I’m living proof how easy it is to believe something so strongly and for so long… even though its fallacy is so obvious that when I look back on it today, I laugh.

Pick Up Artist Myths

All you have to do is look at history.

In the early Renaissance Botticelli painted what was considered the ideal feminine figure. Venus’ hourglass figure and wide hips showed she was obviously healthy, wealthy enough to eat generously and could bare children. Men craved these women.

In the early Renaissance Botticelli painted what was considered the ideal feminine figure. Venus’ hourglass figure and wide hips showed she was obviously healthy, wealthy enough to eat generously and could bare children. Men craved these women.

What about today? Just look at other countries like Africa where “chicken thighs” is so coveted some women resort to stuffing bullion cubes up their backsides in the belief it will thicken their legs and hips. In Tibet, when Cindy Crawford was introduced to monks as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” they laughed at her and said she looked like an alien.

What about when it comes to women’s attraction?

I have two words for you: dad bods. The ideal man has gone from fat and healthy to skinny rocker to meat head to lean athlete to paunch belly with a muscular chest and shoulders. What’s considered physically attractive changes over every generation and within generations.

What’s considered attractive character traits also changes according to the generation, geography and culture. What’s true about the “attraction switches” that DeAngelo teaches is that most of us appreciate confidence and humor. But there are infinite ways to present confidence and humor and equally infinite ways that confidence and humor can be interpreted by her.

As shocking as it may be, some girls think the “cocky funny” attitude is a turn-off…does that mean they lack the hard wiring that supposedly lives in the “lizard brain” area of all women?

How many times have women said, “I didn’t see him that way” before she eventually fell in love with and married her once male friend over the millennia? How many times has this happened with men who fell in love with their once female friend? What about in your own life? And yet, on average, many of them are not wanting of any love or attraction.

Was that not a choice?

From an evolutionary point, we’re born with only a handful of involuntary instincts and the rest is learned. All our desires are the result of judgment and conditioning. All of them.

Even our physical arousal can be influenced more by desire than evolution. That’s why the brain is called the most powerful sex organ in the body. Because the brain dictates biology, not the other way around. 

Animals don’t have foot fetishes, enjoy phone sex or need negging in order to procreate. These are human preferences and there are many.

Sexual function and arousal overlap but aren’t mutually necessary. You can have sexual function without arousal and you can have arousal without sexual function.

Our arousal preferences can change several times within a generation. Evolution happens over millions of years… tens of thousands at best. But it can’t be used to explain Steaming Clevelands.

 Fears & Desires > Emotions > Judgement > Decisions > Actions >>> Fears & Desires

The hierarchy of our actions starts with our fears and desires. Those fears and desires rule our emotions. With enough conditioning, they become habitual. Many of our choices seem out of our control because they’re made instantaneously. And while we can act rationally in spite of our emotions, most of our decisions are made emotionally. This is human nature.

On the surface, attraction also seems out of our control. But we’re already predisposed through conditioning. Or maybe something triggers our desire and suddenly we have a toe fetish. Thankfully our brain – just like much of our sexuality – is plastic and we have some control over this process.

So how does this help us in the dating world?

If you strongly believe “hot girls go for jerks” and you decide to be a jerk, chances are you’ll find some good looking girls that go for you.

If you strongly believe “hot girls go for nice guys” and decide to be a nice guy, then chances are you’ll ALSO find some good looking girls that go for you.

Either way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But the bottom line is: don’t be a jerk just to get the girl. Don’t be a nice guy just to get the girl. It leads to cynicism. And we’ve all seen a lot of that in the pick up artist community. This is part of the reason why. Whatever you’re most attractive qualities are, be confident in them and find the girls who like you for them. 

Yes, always work on being your best self and improving your faults… but don’t do it for validation.

David DeAngelo Pick Up Artist
Audience Attraction Is NOT a Choice!

Women are attracted in a variety of ways. Buying blindly into the “cocky funny” dogma is dangerous because it leads to over-reliance of one approach. It ignores the reality that women and their tastes can be – and always will be – subject to change.

So don’t try to sell apples to someone who likes oranges. Be open minded to the women you meet and their differences.

If you decide you only want the “hot girls” who like you for it that’s fine too. But if what you’re attracted to isn’t working well long-term, then at least expand your box a little bit. Many relationships began unexpectedly and leaving space for that can only benefit you. Especially if you haven’t dated much.

Yes, some of the best pick up lines will absolutely work on women, but DeAngelo will be the first to tell you that who you are is what really matters afterward. And then her attraction is up for grabs again.

Because attraction is fluid. It always has been and always will be.

This can be a hard truth to swallow because many of us have ended relationships with the conclusion “I can’t help it, I’m just not attracted him” or her. 

For others, it brings a freedom because it means we don’t have to keep chasing the same men or women that we know deep down are just damaged or unhealthy for us.

Attraction for men and women is a choice. And if we’re attracted to the wrong people, it’s in our power to change that. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s true.

Just like some of us grew up hating the taste of fish then grew to love it. Our tastes in men and women have changed since we first started dating. Except now we can decide what’s best for us and take control of the process.

For women, the next time you say “I just can’t see myself with him”, you’re not just talking about something that’s outside of your control. And for men, the next time you think “attraction isn’t a choice” that’s also an internal choice you’re making.

You can’t un-know that now.

The good news is you probably already know the people you should be dating. The bad news is you now have to stop dating the people you already know aren’t good for you. Or if you don’t know, then you’ll just have the fun task of figuring out who those people are.

As the title would indicate, there are other hard truths I learned after I left the pick up artist community which I’ll cover in Part II. While some myths were spread from INSIDE the pick up artist community, they’re principles many men around the world believe from outside of the community.

These are general myths about how to attract women that were often used successfully at first – but proved to be destructive long term.

Aren’t you lucky I was the guinea pig for you? 

In Praise of Chronic Pain: A Stoic Meditation

When I first read Epictetus’ quote above, I knew I had to revive this stoic exercise for myself. Just 5 years ago I’d been at the point of suicide. And both stoicism and suicide taught me the same lesson: gratitude is the art of living.

The last time I thought of suicide was on November 6th, 2011. It was our 3rd anniversary together with my girlfriend Haley and we celebrated with a dinner at Morton’s Steak House. I didn’t want to think of suicide, but I just couldn’t help myself. The excruciating pain in my neck, shoulders and jaw muscles wouldn’t let me think of anything else. It dominated the past three and a half years and it only seemed to be getting worse. 

If you looked at the Facebook photo from that night, you’d see Haley sitting in a chair with a huge smile on her face and I’m standing behind her, my hands on her shoulders with a faint, weak smile trying desperately to hide the torrential feelings of misery overwhelming me inside. Despite that, we still got the obligatory Facebook likes, comments and congrats from friends and family.   

What if I have to live like this for the rest of my life? Will I have to suffer every day, ever hour, every minute, every second for the next 40 years??

What if it continues to get worse and I become bedridden? How will I earn a living? How will I make any girl happy? Will I become dependent on Haley or my family?

I’d rather die than having to face a lifetime of endless and maddening chronic pain every moment.  To wake up to another day of this kind of intense, relentless pain was terrifying to think about. It was becoming downright debilitating and with it, came a shameful new view of myself.

If that’s all I had to look forward to, then joy for me was an impossibility. For the past four years, all previous attempts to improve my condition had failed, and with it, the last of my remaining hope.    

My future was bleak.  

So there was Haley, smiling as she always does, radiating joy like the angel she is and proud to be by my side for three years – and completely oblivious to the fact that at that very moment, I was quietly yet soberly considering ending it all. With several undergrad degrees, she wasn’t slow or insensitive. I just refused to be honest with her or myself about the reality – and that reality was knocking louder and louder.

Of course, I loved her and happy to be with her, but how much longer could I keep this going? She was the one bright spot in my life, but if it meant a lifetime of physical pain with no relief in sight, then even love wasn’t enough. 

That’s what the photo from 2011 represented to me – the opposite of everything I was before then. I grew up with Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, Steven Covey, Dale Carnegie and other similar authors as a teenager. I used to walk into random offices and restaurants as a college student in New York and convinced them to sign profit-sharing contracts with me. I also ran several businesses by the time I was 29. I was fearless.

I believed in the magic of thinking big and the power of positive thinking. I was that confident, outgoing, successful entrepreneur you read about in magazines… but suddenly, all that was in a past life.

Now, against my own will, I began to think seriously about how to end it. At first, I tried really hard not to… but after a short time – no matter how hard I tried – all my thoughts turned to black.

When I saw myself in that photo the next day, the stark contrast of it all – the unbearable inauthenticity of the moment – just killed me. It broke my heart.

It was the day I finally died inside. 

*****

What brought me to this point?

I’m still not sure, but near as I can figure it started in 2007 when I was working a stressful full-time job as a mortgage broker (yes, THAT 2007), and while managing an already matured real estate business and a start-up. You could say it was like juggling 2-3 full-time jobs. That’s when the pain in my left jaw started and began to get worse as the years dragged on. And after almost four years of this, I wasn’t being very effective in any business venture.

When the brain is overwhelmed with stress, it activates the amygdala and sends the mind and body into fight or flight mode. For survival reasons, our brain has evolved to overwhelmingly respond to pain – real or imagined – versus pleasure. If it senses pain or danger intensely enough and for long enough periods, the brain can get stuck in this stress mode – like a light switch that’s stuck in the “on” position.

Dealing with chronic physical pain is like performing a high-wire act. Your muscles are wound tight and so is your mind…it requires all of your focus and concentration to stay calm and balanced and if you slip slightly left or the right, you fall…but there’s no safety net. And in this case, falling means a cycle of severe pain and a long recovery period that can last days.

So to say chronic pain often brings anxiety is to put it mildly. Try watching TV while walking on a tightrope, or try socializing with friends while performing this balancing act, or working on your computer or enjoying a Mendelssohn ballet. It’s near impossible to focus on anything else at times and it’s exhausting.

Even when you get better at it, the tension of the rope changes day by day, sometimes moment to moment and you’ll fall off no matter how hard you try. But try you must. And even though the fear of falling fades a little – just like the fear of falling – it’s an instinctual reaction. Chronic pain sends danger signals to your brain and you can learn to dampen the signal but the physical pain is still there, constant and very real. 

Chronic pain sends danger signals to your brain and you can learn to dampen the signal but the physical pain is still there, constant and very real. 

After that night in 2011, a part of me died, but another part of me woke the hell up. It was the will to live. A deep, primal anger that I’d found myself in such a stupid, terrible situation that could end my life. If I somehow got myself into this I thought, then I can dig my dumb ass out… it was the belief that deep down, I was still better than this. 

Thus began my journey to recovery. So I put everything else in my life on hold and single-mindedly focused on getting better. I told myself to just give it one more day. And then the next day, I told myself to give it one year and see what happens. Surely if I put my everything into getting better for the next 12 months, I’ll gain some improvement right?

I resolved to be more honest with myself and Haley about my struggle. That’s when I researched more seriously and within a couple weeks, found what I thought was a real diagnosis. That my pain was really TMJ pain. Soon after that, a dentist confirmed it. I also suspected I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And wouldn’t you know it –  I found a psychologist to confirm that diagnosis too!

Since then, I’ve been diagnosed with Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and, I strongly suspect, Cervical Dystonia (although I can’t confirm this diagnosis due to insurance reasons). TMJ symptoms are often overlapping Cervical Dystonia symptoms that bring tight, painful muscles in the jaw, neck, shoulders and back. And they both bring about a fair amount of anxiety, social anxiety, and mental stress.

But after several doctors and tests, I stopped looking for another diagnosis and focused only on what I could control physically and mentally. On the physical side, this lead me to a physiatrist that used dry needle trigger point therapy, where he used a syringe to repeatedly stab trigger muscles into submission. I thanked him and paid him hundreds of dollars each time. The interesting thing was, as I finally experienced some physical relief, lots of my severe GAD symptoms and social anxiety began to clear up along with it!

On the mental side, I took a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training (MBSR) course. I learned that focusing on the breath to clear the mind also brings with it a certain freedom and control over negative, ruminating thoughts… and learning to clear some of that inner dialogue brought about some mental relaxation…. and experiencing mental relaxation brought with it some physical relaxation. So I continued my mental training with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and found it was inspired and based on Stoic Philosophy, which I studied in earnest. 

Over the next two years, I continued my recovery with a lot of body work and learned the Alexander Technique as well as Feldenkrais. Doing this helped me train my body to release muscular tension and I became aware of my bad habits.

Awareness of my body grew to a deeper level than I ever thought possible and I’ve distilled these lessons to a 20-minute body and mind meditation ritual that I perform every morning, twice a day. Sometimes it’s like a miracle I pull off, reconditioning and reorienting my muscles in a way that eases the overly tensed muscles for most of the day. 

It doesn’t always work, but it’s helped give me some control – and my life – back.

 

*****

Today, while I still live with chronic pain, I can never say I’ve lost out because I learned so much in the process. If it’s true I’ve had more physical fortune in the past, then today I have more mental fortune.

And the most important thing I’ve learned from this is that if there’s anything you want to change in your life, change your relationship with it. In fact, this is the only way to change anything. No, I can’t get rid of all my bad habits, thoughts, emotions or physical pain, but I can – and did – change my relationship with them all.

I also created a better relationship with my body, my work and with Haley, who became my wife last year – and yes, she’s still the same radiant angel of joy as ever. Together we moved from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida and enjoy a healthy balance of work, friends and hobbies.

I learned how to cope with stress better and achieved a minimum satisfactory level of functionality. I decided to focus only on the real estate business and simplified it dramatically – it still grew almost two times over the past five years (or maybe because of it…?).

Finally, I learned the stoic lessons that have given so much to me. And like Epictetus spoke about above, I wanted to follow an ancient stoic tradition and write in praise of chronic pain. I still struggle with pain every single day, I still have very bad days and I’m still human, with many failings, weaknesses, and faults.

But this is a stoic meditation, an exercise to help me continue changing my relationship with chronic pain and to give proper recognition to its rewards. 

Some words are mine, and some I’m paraphrasing from the best-known stoics like Epictetus and Seneca, or from the Marcus Aurelius Meditations

If you find any of it helpful or inspiring, then I encourage you to go read up on them right away.

MEDITATION

Epictetus Freedom

Because of chronic pain, I’ve learned the importance of restraint in my actions, my beliefs, and my thoughts. Restraint of the mind brings not only freedom from desires, but freedom from despair. And freedom from despair brings a space for peace in my life. How many more opportunities has my condition given me to toil in the name of freedom?

FM Alexander called restraint in the body inhibition, and because of chronic pain, I’ve worked tirelessly to learn this skill. Physical inhibition has given me the power to melt down many of my muscular tensions through the power of thought, desire, and awareness directly and indirectly.

These experiences taught me the value of both mental and physical vigilance. Likewise, no great virtue is ever attained without a constant vigilance. Therefore, be wary of the easy path. As Sri Ramakrishna said, “do not seek illumination unless you seek it as a person whose hair is on fire seeks a pond.”

Because of my journey with chronic pain, I’ve had an endless source of spiritual fire to find my inner well of peace and tranquility not just in my body but in my mind.   

This journey has humbled me and taught me the dangers of self-importance. Excessive pride should be avoided. As William Irvine correctly observes, misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune. I’m not immune to bad luck.

Good fortune brought me face to face with how my sense of self-importance leads to anger. Illness makes us irritable and prone to anger. Acting on anger always leads to sorrow or regret. I’m grateful to Seneca for teaching me that every weakling is naturally prone to complaint and therefore to take each moment as an opportunity to practice patience to build my inner strength and character.

It is easier to banish dangerous passions before they begin than to rule them afterwards. Just as in the body, the same is true in the mind.

What I’ve lost in physical capacity and comfort, I’ve gained something back in mental ability and courage. This path has taught me that the most difficult decision I’ll ever have to make in life is to accept it. By welcoming my illness, I’ve learned to simplify every area of my life internally and externally. Simplifying my inner life has taught me not to desire more than is necessary and to avoid the excesses of fame, fortune, and vanity.

Desires always lead to more desire, so I will never be satisfied until I’m courageous enough to accept this moment, as it is. And if I can’t accept this moment as it is right now, I can never have peace. Never trade your inner peace for something you have no control of.

Because of my condition, I’ve chosen as my friends only good-natured, patient friends that are less likely to be angry or to provoke my anger. This has lead me to my wife Haley, where there is no better example of good nature, patience, and peacefulness. In turn, my wife Haley has lead us to live where there is warmer weather and sun. The moderate climate helps support my good spirits, even when things are not going my way.

Seneca wisely observed, “it is useful for a man to understand his disease, and to break its strength before it becomes developed.” While I’ve done this unknowingly in my life, this new understanding has validated the importance of self-compassion… to forgive what I have no control over and to support and comfort my weaknesses, rather than punish them. 

The path of chronic pain has also taught me the importance of continually testing my limits, beliefs and assumptions. Just as self-compassion requires self-forgiveness, compassion also requires the continual exercise of mind and body. Strengths and weaknesses change day by day, moment by moment – and without the exercise of mind and body – both can become weaker and more susceptible to my condition.

Just as a mother willingly bears the severe pain of childbirth for the greater purpose of bringing new life into this world, may I too find greater purpose in my daily struggle to bear willingly what’s naturally mine.

Consider those who’ve accepted the loss of their freedom when they know they’ve committed a crime and consider, like so many others before you, how many times you’ve failed to resist the harsh judgement of others, to resist speaking badly about friends or family, or act selfishly or hurtfully to those who did you no wrong. And yet, I walk free.

If I’m truthful to myself and my greater nature, I can certainly decide that I’ve committed moral crimes that deserve a harder measure than they’ve received. Many crimes escaped punishment simply because I wasn’t discovered or because the person I’ve hurt was more merciful than me, better in character or more forgiving.

Therefore, whenever I feel unfairly punished, let me contemplate on the wrongs I’ve never admitted to or never apologized for but that I know exists deep down. Let me apologize for all of that, and for all the wrongs I’ve yet to commit. If I still can’t remember my own misdeeds, may I remember when others have done me wrong and I failed to forgive them and let my apology stand in its place. 

May these apologies prevent me from repeating my mistakes and purify my thoughts, for the purpose is great.

Cicero Gratitude

Finally, my good fortune has lead me to earnestly search for wiser teachers, which I found in the ancient stoics. From them I’ve discovered the art and science of living with gratitude.

To find happiness by embracing a small measure of sorrow and to keep it always close to my heart. Just as cold water causes the body to heat up, heavy weights cause muscles to grow and losing something brings an increased appreciation. Nature seeks to adapt contradictorily.

When I get up in the morning, I wonder what would it be like if I didn’t have more than this hour left to live? How much would be left undone for myself and others? Or what if this were my last day with Haley and after tomorrow she was no longer in my life? How much joy would I never experience because my beloved wife was missing in it? How great would my emptiness be even years later?

Throughout the day, there are countless miracles I get to appreciate. What would it be like if I didn’t have running water? How many other millions right now have to walk great distances for clean, drinkable water and don’t have the luxury to let it flow so freely and thoughtlessly?

What would it be like if I had no arms, or no legs or no eyes or ears? Who would I have to rely on to help me leave the bed or leave my apartment, drive to places or feed me food? Could I endure such dependency for the rest of my life or the financial burdens it required? Could I learn to accept living without hearing the aching beauty of a Chopin nocturne or hear my wife’s voice and laughter? How long would it take me to safely move even small distances without sight or to do so without overwhelming fear?  What could possibly replace the joy in my life of seeing the brilliant fire colors of the sky during a sunset from our balcony or driving along the I95?

In this way, everything I interact with throughout the day is a chance to practice gratitude. When I speak, I’m grateful I still have a voice to connect with anyone I desire. When I write, I’m grateful I have the time and opportunity to create something that may last. When I search the internet, I’m amazed the whole of human knowledge is so quickly accessible to me where others are grateful to have even a single book. And when I say goodbye to a friend, I’m grateful to have another memory together, even if it’s destined to be our last – or more especially, because of it.

May each daily experience bring such thoughts, until every moment becomes a moment of gratitude and inner prayer. For it is in my power of choice to think such thoughts and there’s much to be celebrated. And if there’s any advantage to be drawn from illness, it’s this: that it calls you to dig deeper into your soul and to find a spiritual satisfaction where the physical is lacking.

And if there’s any advantage to be drawn from death, it’s that it calls you to live a good life. Because a good life equals a good death, no matter how long or how short.

And so when death overtakes me, may I be writing such thoughts, reading such thoughts and thinking such thoughts.

 


*Also published on Modern Stoicism.

Score the Perfect Job Interview in 5 Steps

perfect interview in 5 stepsCongratulations – you’ve made it to the job interview! Now what?

Here’s a little-known secret to job interviews: 

By controlling the job interview process, you’ll have a much higher chance of securing the job – and career – you want .

First, remind yourself that the company invited you for a reason, otherwise they wouldn’t bother wasting their time. So walk in with the confidence of knowing they already like your experience. Because it’s not your skills but your attitude that determines the success of your interview.

Yes, you qualify. But do they?

Next, don’t wait until they start asking you questions! Instead, learn how to take control of the interview. How do you do that? It starts the moment you introduce yourself and say, “Hello”.

Step 1: Take control of the interview process by asking questions first

The first 15 minutes of your interview will decide whether you succeed or fail. So it’s important to learn as much about the company and what your future employer wants, right from the start.

The moment you shake hands you should start by asking them:

  • How long have you been here?
  • What do you like about the company?
  • What’s the culture like here?
  • Why is this position open?
  • What are you looking for?
  • What are the best qualities you’re looking for in a candidate?

If those questions sound like the kind of questions the interviewer might ask you, that’s because they are.

Step 2: Feed the answers back to them

By now, you will have learned what they want BEFORE they had the chance to ask you the usual questions like “so, tell me about yourself“.

But if they still do that, answer with something like “what aspect of me would you like to know more of?” Keep your answers no longer than 30 seconds. No need to bore the interviewer or shoot yourself in the foot with unnecessary or potentially damaging information.

Then, when the interviewer does start to formally interview you, this is your opportunity to use the same sound bites they used in describing their perfect candidate to you (hint: because they already told you).

Step 3: Create deeper rapport

Beyond the position, it’s your job to develop a deeper rapport and make sure there’s a good fit for you as well as for them.

Example-

Interviewer: “it’s important to me that the candidate is resourceful, proactive and independent so that I don’t have to hold his hand all the time.”

You: “I totally see what you mean. It’s really important to be proactive and explore different solutions independently so a person can progress on their own.”

And just like that, you’ve created rapport. But you should take it further to explore why it’s important to them and how you agree or disagree with their thought process.

The bottom line is that the interview process is 80% about liking the candidate and having good rapport. So if you can get this step right, you’re well on your way to securing that job.

Step 4: “Trick” them into imagining they hired you already

Since you now have rapport with the interviewer, it’s time to get them to imagine having hired you already. You do that by asking them questions about the future.

Memorize this job rule: The more you talk about the future, the more likely you will succeed in securing the position. The more you talk about the past, the more likely you are to fail.

This sounds counter-intuitive but remember, your history and experience is already qualified for the job. So why waste this time? Focus on the future. 

Here’s some examples:

“Who would I be working with?”

“What would the first 6 months look like?”

And here’s the most important question you can ask: “I’m curious – what do you see me doing day to day from the first time I walk through that door over there?”

Because when they answer that question they have to imagine you in the position to do it. And they’ll mentally walk themselves through a scenario where you’re doing the day to day tasks – which is exactly what you want!

Step 5: Challenge them a little to get more

Now that you’re in a great position to get that job you need to go even further. This is where you get to push back a bit and see how they might respond. But start small.

Here’s an example:

“I’ve worked with several companies. And recently I’ve been interviewing with a number of companies. And I’ve learned enough along the way to know what I’m looking for. I believe from personal experience that no matter how great the position, title or company, it’s more important for me to work with people that I’m really comfortable with. Not just on a professional level, but on a personal level as well. That’s why even though we’re having a great interview right now, I need to make sure I feel comfortable with the entire group and everyone I’ll be working with. So before I come on board I’d like to know if I can meet the entire group. Because that’s very important to me. Is that okay with you?”

In this example, all you’re doing is asking them a question about the people you’ll be working with. But hidden in this question is a subtle qualifier for them to meet and live up to.

They’re usually pleasantly surprised and react as most people would, “Of course we have a very nice team here and we understand if you want to meet the other people in our department”. And by this point, most will be willing to showing you around and meet your potential co-workers right away or at the end of the interview.

This does a few things. Not only is this a test to see if they like you, but it’s also a good test for you to see if you’ll like them too. And bonus: it’ll probably get the whole office talking about you after you leave. :-)

And that’s it. The perfect job interview in 5 steps!

Turbo Charge Your Time Management in 5 Steps

manage-time-3-1574209Keeping busy is easy. Achieving something meaningful is much harder.

When you’re focused on a to-do list, it’s easy to keep creating more to-do items to fill up the day. 

But when you are focused on creating results, then the game becomes doing as little as possible in order to achieve it effectively.

This is where the art of time management comes into play.

So from now on, you’re paid for results! Whether it’s true in your career or not, it’s true in your life. And to do that, you must have a written time management system in place.

Get yourself a good planner – whether it’s paper or digital – and start using a system that works for you. It must be able to capture all your action items in written form and any additional items during the day, on the fly and in real-time.

1. Create Life Categories

If you’re like most people, you’re busy with many tasks but also being pulled in many life directions that you consider important, such as your health, finances, relationships, and career. Rather than creating an endless daily list of tasks, break them up into life categories, or areas of focus.

Each category will have its own list of related tasks that will be more digestible and allow you to devote time to only those tasks that are relevant. Having a block of time to focus only on your health, finances or relationships means making major progress in your life area, rather than just being busy and accomplishing several unrelated tasks.

Having a block of time to focus only on your health, finances or relationships means making major progress in your life area, rather than just being busy and accomplishing several unrelated tasks.

Category Examples

Health-

  • Run 5k
  • Buy Vegetables for the next 5 days
  • Watch a YouTube video on how to perform progressive weight lifting

Finances-

  • Signup for mint.com to watch weekly spending
  • Join a credit union to refinance auto loan

Relationships-

  • Buy anniversary card for my wife
  • Brainstorm romantic gift ideas that she won’t expect

Career-

  • Reach out to my network and ask for referrals
  • Research online classes related to my MBA
2. Binary Prioritization

Going further, prioritize each task using a binary system. Either it has a star next to it or it doesn’t. If it has a star, that means it absolutely must get done by the end of the day in order for you to be successful in that life category. If it doesn’t have a star, then it’s optional.

Let’s take the 3 task items under your health category above that’s due for tomorrow:

  • Run 5k*
  • Buy Vegetables for the next 5 days*
  • Watch a YouTube video on how to perform progressive weight lifting

While watching a video on improving your exercise routine is helpful, you decide it’s more important to do the exercise and buy vegetables for the week.

So those two tasks have a star next to it, because it means working out and buying greens is what will make tomorrow a success. While the YouTube video is optional and can be moved to the next day if it doesn’t get done, you still made maximum progress in your health.

It doesn’t matter what time you do the task or how long it takes to finish it, which gives you flexibility in how you get there. And it’s simple, so it means you don’t spend hours trying to decide “is this a 2 in priority or a 1… and if it’s a 2 does that mean it absolutely has to be done today?”

It either has a star next to it or it doesn’t. A star means it must happen that day to be a success in that life area.

On days when everything has a star next to it that include multiple meetings and careful planning so it all gets done, it’s appropriate to schedule exact times for every action item due that day. If you have a full schedule, you’d ideally factor in overtime for anything that may likely take longer than anticipated (i.e., every meeting ever) and prepare as much as you can on the prior day.

That means everyday you’re asking yourself “what’s the most important thing I can do today that will make this area of my life a success?” 

Often you’ll find that there’s another step you’re missing before you can complete the action item. Or you might be missing an important distinction and it requires another step that you don’t know about yet. In that case, you’ll have to add that in after the fact to be done later or the next day.

This way, you’re constantly improving and adjusting how you get to a goal and the most important key to the whole system is the fact that you’re writing down the added adjustments and improvements along the way. 

3. Choose The Right System

There are many really great systems that are paper based or use online websites or apps. Some of the most popular systems today are David Allen’s Getting Things Done, Franklin Covey’s Planner, or Tony Robbins’ Rapid Planning Method. Not all will necessarily translate very well to an app or an online website account.

There are some excellent websites and apps that you can find, but the one that most easily adapts to the system discussed here is Toodledo.com. It runs online and offline and makes capturing tasks quick and easy. This is important because capturing tasks is the first step and if you find it too cumbersome to perform the first step, your system will fail.

Warning!

Don’t make the mistake of having a dozen different life-categories to manage. If you have too many, it becomes counter productive because not enough focus and effort will go into any one category. Unless you can delegate tasks, keep it simple.

When it comes to long-term focus, it’s more sustainable to do more with less.

4. Plant seeds every day

If you can consistently take action towards your goals, no matter how small or incidental, the momentum you create will eventually build into a tsunami of success – even if that moment of success is fleeting.

In the book Fight Club, Tyler Durden spends a long time positioning driftwood on the beach. During what seems like an hour of positioning the various pieces, Tyler periodically asks his alter ego “do you know what time it is?” Finally, after the sun drops and the sun is positioned in the sky just so, the logs in the sand casts a giant shadow and the image of a perfectly proportioned hand is revealed. Tyler Durden then sits himself cross-legged in the very center of that shadow for a few minutes, in a palm of perfection he created for himself.

Within a few minutes, the fingers and palm of his shadow become completely distorted as the sun continues to move through the sky. In confusion, his alter ego wonders what’s all this effort for? “One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection.”

No matter how much it takes or how long it may take, that’s what we all strive for … all for that one perfect moment. In fact, our lives are defined by these kinds of moments. Remember that when you’re planting your seeds of action.

5. Regroup, Remix & Reconnect

Every Sunday, sit down and plan your week. Include what wasn’t completed the prior week and add your tasks for the coming week that will help you achieve your goals in each life category. Every night thereafter, plan out the following day with adjustments from what you didn’t do during the current day. Setup is always the hardest part but once it’s done, execution is a breeze. Measure twice, cut once.

Some people prefer using paper to write down goals and tasks every day or every week, because it reconnects them with the actions they plan to take and find it mentally connects them more intimately with their purpose.

There will be many times when you’ll lose motivation and the harder you work, the less motivated you’ll feel. Instead of fighting this uphill battle, stop.

Mark Twain would sometimes work on 5 different books simultaneously. He said doing this allowed him to circumvent writers block because if he ever found he couldn’t think of what to write next, he’d simply turn to another book and write there.

When he hit a roadblock on that one, again he’d turn to another book and keep writing. Eventually, ideas would come to him and he’d turn back to the other books and never experience any downtime. He was very prolific this way.

Like Obi Wan fighting the Dark Sith at the end of Star Wars Episode II, anytime a force field would come between them during battle, Obi Wan would simply sit, meditate and wait until his window of opportunity returned… then he’d spring back into action with renewed strength and focus.

Sometimes stopping action and simply meditating on your goals is exactly what’s called for.

It could be reading a spiritual or inspirational book, talking with a good friend about what you hope to accomplish, drawing out your goals on paper, or coming up with a new, clever idea that jolts you into furious planning.

Giving yourself this freedom to stop and regroup is just as important as the actions which help you achieve it. Create your own rituals that help keep your goals fresh and alive.

Achieving the most impressive goals means nothing if it lacks inspiration while you are achieving it. It means you spent 95% of your time being miserable on the uphill climb and enjoyed only that 5% upon reaching the peak.

***

In his book The Hero of a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell describes a story that runs through every culture, every myth and every time period known to mankind since the beginning of recorded time.  It’s universal.

It’s the story of everyman who follows his own heart, encounters great personal strife and overcomes. And at the end of his journey the hero learns it was the experience he was after and that the path he took and the obstacles he overcame were simply a vehicle to mastery. The message behind this universal story that appears over and over again is that you’re meant to live with this transforming sense of experience and the path you choose to get there is incidental.

Similarly in the East, there are several stories about how monks have reached enlightenment. But my favorite is a Taoist anecdote by Osho, where the monk goes to meditate where Buddha once did and sits under a Bodhi tree for 6 years to reach enlightenment.

For 6 years he tries every form of meditation, every mental trick, talked to every guru, every master and every average joe and nothing worked. Finally, he became very frustrated and decided it was all futile.

Then one day, he swam into the river and remembered a teacher who once said that one should be like the river, because it follows the path of least resistance and yet it always finds its way back home without any effort. Back to the ocean from which it came.

So the monk let go and floated…

And in that moment, he laughed. Because he was now enlightened and although he spent the last 6 years working hard to achieve this point, he had only to do nothing and all along it was always there for him. Of course, he could’ve just let go 6 years ago and attained enlightened consciousness, right?

But what’s more important to note is that he would never have reached his higher consciousness if it weren’t for those 6 years of hard work and preparation for this single moment. Like Tyler Durden and Joseph Campbell’s hero, the monk’s patience, discipline and focus is what finally led him to his moment of perfection.

Be the monk.

The Moving Parade

 

marching-soldiers-1565449

Have you ever tried finding parking in a crowded city during rush hour? It can be pretty intimidating.

There you are surrounded by bumper to bumper traffic. You could be driving around for 15, 20, 30, 40 minutes… even up to an hour before you land a spot.

Cars, trucks and SUV’s flood the streets all at once, and everyone’s rushing to get home at frenetic speeds, like a movie in fast forward. It can get so cut-throat at times that you’ll find yourself reacting in self-defense just to avoid getting into an accident.

There are just too many cars for not enough parking spaces. What can you do?

A week ago in New York City, I was being driven around by my friend Joe during rush hour, going to meet friends for dinner. As we drove around looking for parking, you can easily believe it’s an impossible task. There was a parade-like formation of cars in front of us, scouring for any parking spaces left open and we were at least 5 cars behind!

I wanted to give up and find the easy way out: paid parking. But thankfully, my friend Joe was smarter than I.

He knew that the parked cars were there for a limited time. Eventually, some would have to move on and others would take their place – and he just had to be ready for the space he wanted. For when that window of opportunity opened up. You may imagine what he did.

He double parked in the area of the street where he wanted his spot and for 5 minutes we waited for a car to leave. For 10 minutes we waited. Finally, after 15 minutes (we were about to run late), a man approached his car.

And with that Joe pulled up, and positioned his car to take his place and gracefully pulled into it. If it weren’t for Joe, I have no shame admitting I would have thrown my hands up and given into frustration.

And that got me thinking. Isn’t this a perfect metaphor for the job market? Wasn’t this my experience when I got downsized during the credit crunch in 2002? And isn’t this how it must be for you if you’re looking for open positions in an over-crowded market right now?

Thankfully, when it comes to job hunting, I was smart like Joe. And I realized the same thing Joe did: the job market may be over-crowded, but it’s always a moving parade.

And that means no matter how bad it looks to you right now… no matter how much more competitive other people are compared to you, there’s always a window of opportunity that’s about to open up.

You just gotta be there when it happens: The Reverse Interview Method