It’s a new year, which means that we’re in the midst of a veritable swarm of “new year/new you” pledges, think-pieces, think-pieces arguing against the previous think-pieces and — of course — a hell of a lot of “Make These 10 Resolutions For A Bright New Year” listicles and slideshows.
Now, I’m famously skeptical about the value of New Year’s resolutions. I find most of them to be less “resolutions” and more wishing that the changing of the year meant you magically became the sort of person who would do all the things you neglected to do last year. This, in fact, is the exact reason why most New Years Resolutions fail: because the people making them haven’t changed the reasons why they didn’t fulfill those resolutions last time. More often than not, the issue is very simple: that they keep getting in their own way.
This is rarely more true than when it comes to dating.
There’s a concept known as “inner game” — the idea that you can succeed or fail at something in your mind before you do it in reality. The concept of “inner game”, which originated in sports psychology in the ’70s, is that our minds have more control over our success than our physical skill does. If we allow our self-doubt, our insecurities and negative mindsets free rein, then we end up sabotaging our own performance. On the other hand, if we master that “inner game” and learn to trust ourselves, we find that things flow much more smoothly — almost without conscious effort.
Gaining control over that inner game means that we let go of judgement, of criticism and doubt. In doing so, we don’t berate ourselves for our failures or overanalyze our every action. We’re better able to let things just be, to see the result we want and move towards it. It means that we’re allowing ourselves to trust that we’re capable of success.
The problem is: most people tend to lose their inner game. They hang onto old failures and beliefs that damages their confidence. They cling to stubborn self-judgment, criticism and old wounds, clouding their minds with doubt and sabotaging their potential. And despite their best efforts to improve via brute force… they often find themselves stuck right where they started.
Not surprisingly, this leaves folks feeling frustrated and defeated, even angry. You’ve likely felt this way yourself. You’ve tried your hardest to change and still failed; clearly the flaw must be deep inside of you.
And it is.
However, the problem isn’t that you’re horribly flawed or fundamentally unlovable. It’s in the way you let your jerkbrain rule you, throwing your inner game like Floyd Mayweather boxing a YouTuber to a “draw”. You are, in a very real sense, getting in your own way, tripping over past failures and traumas. And until you clear those away, you’re going to continue sabotaging your own progress.
If you want to build the incredible new life you’ve been dreaming of, the first thing you need is to clear out the detritus of the past to make room for a new and grander future. Clearing the brush of the self-limiting beliefs. A cleanse for the soul for the new year, if you will. So if you want to make 2022 the year that you turn your love life around, it’s time to make a break with the past and build the foundation for your new, incredible life.
Take Stock of Your Limiting Beliefs
One of the stumbling blocks that comes up frequently with dating and self-improvement are self-limiting beliefs. These are exactly what it says on the tin: beliefs that actively interfere with your ability to pursue your goals or prevent you from even starting. The perennial classic “women only want one kind of man” is a prime example of a self-limiting belief. If you’ve convinced yourself that women — all women — only want guys with a specific body, social status or income, then you’ve given yourself permission to just never try. Under the best of circumstances, you’ve given yourself an excuse to avoid pursuing relationships until you’ve supposedly cultivated those qualities. In practice, however, what you’ve usually done is created a scenario where you spend more time explaining why you can’t date than actually going out and trying to find a relationship.
Now here’s the thing: most self-limiting beliefs actually serve a purpose. They didn’t just get beamed into your brain out of nowhere in order to fuck up your life like the wrath of a particularly passive-aggressive god. Instead, self-limiting beliefs are about self-protection; they’re a way to shield yourself from pain and fear. In fact, most are born in response to specific events, in order to protect you from future injury. Self-limiting beliefs tend to be focused around fear — fear of rejection, fear of failure, of judgement and so on. These beliefs stop you from doing things that might otherwise cause further injury to your inner self.
Self-limiting beliefs are particularly shitty pearls built up around irritants to your pride and your self-esteem.
The problem is that, more often than not, those particular beliefs no longer serve their purpose. People’s self-limiting beliefs tend to be built up around specific incidents that happened in our distant past. They may have sprung up from parental abuse or neglect or the casual cruelty of school-age children. The triggering incident may have been getting rejected by your first crush or watching someone you like go and date someone else. Or it may have been an ugly break up or even that you absorbed shitty social messaging about men’s value and attractiveness.
Regardless of the reason, you now have this handicap — a belief that prevents you from pursuing your goals. In theory, it’s protecting you from further injury. In practice, what it’s really protecting you from is fear — the fear of experiencing that particular trauma again. While this can sound reasonable on the surface — who likes feeling fear and anxiety? — in reality, it makes things worse. Trying to avoid anxiety actually ends up enhancing the anxiety. Instead of learning that those unwanted emotions will fade on their own or how to manage them in the moment, you end up becoming dependent on those avoidance measures. Worse, focusing on avoiding the fear or the anxiety serves to suppress the emotion, which only intensifies it.
And to make matters even worse than that, these beliefs mean that you can never fully relax or let go, even when things are going well. If you cling to self-limiting beliefs, you will go into conversations, even on dates, looking for signs of rejection or disinterest. This, of course guarantees that you’ll find them… even when they don’t exist. You’ll be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, missing out on amazing relationships precisely because you won’t believe that this person could possibly like you.
If you’re truly looking to build a new life, then you need to take inventory of these self-limiting beliefs. What are the beliefs that you hold that tell you that you “can’t” do something? What beliefs are you holding onto that tell you you’re shut out from what you want? Write these down — ideally by hand. Then, as you go over this list, ask yourself: when was the first time you ever felt this belief? What was the inciting incident? What need was it fulfilling and, importantly, is it still serving you? Or has it become one more way that you justify inaction or pre-excuse failure?
Most of the time, the answer will be “no, it’s not helping me.” In fact, when you stop and actually take stock of those beliefs and when you first developed them, you may discover that they’re from years or even decades ago. And while yes, the rejection you may have experienced in junior high was intense and painful… are you truly going to frame your adult life around something that happened when you were twelve?
If you’re finding that these beliefs aren’t actually serving you — and I can guarantee that they haven’t in a very long time — then it’s time to clear them out. These are the brush that choke the life out of anything else that tries to grow in the soil of your life. It’s time to start clearing it away so that you can let your new life begin and start to master your inner game… rather than letting your future be choked out by fear and inertia.
Speaking of which…
It’s Time To Heal Your Wounds
It’s not just the self-limiting beliefs that hold you back. So much of why men struggle with self-doubt is because of previous trauma and negative experiences. A toxic or abusive ex, a particularly spectacular break up or awful relationship can leave deep wounds that often last far longer than the relationship that caused them. In fact, it’s amazing how long those wounds can stay open; events that happened years or decades ago have lingering effects that still hurt even today. This is often because the people who experienced them internalize the lesson or message that came with the wound — that they’re unworthy or undeserving of love, that they did something to “earn” their mistreatment. The closer those wounds get to a particular negative belief about themselves, the deeper and longer the lesson gets embedded.
In fact, the very pain of the wound is often treated as proof of why they deserved it. It’s a form of masochistic epistemology something hurts because it’s true, and it’s true because it hurts. This creates a self-reinforcing and self-justifying framework that serves only to confirm your worst beliefs about yourself and validate your worst fears. It’s incredibly insidious, in no small part because the negativity bias in all of us ensures that our negative emotions, feelings and memories hit five times harder than our best and most positive ones.
These wounds are often what cause negative patterns and self-limiting beliefs in our lives, especially around dating. But while recognizing that these patterns exist and identifying root causes is the first step, the next step is healing them.
And that’s where things get tricky.
Part of the reason why it’s so difficult to break those patterns is because the wounds are still open. And part of why the wounds stay open is because falling into these patterns continually reopen them. The learned behaviors that come from the original incidents keep the pain of those emotional wounds fresh. With the attendant behavior comes the memory of the pain, which often rehashes things… but since memory is fluid and mercurial, constantly reexamining them actually changes the memory. Often for the worse.
But as with many self-reinforcing cycles, the key to healing is to break the cycle itself. Breaking the patterns caused by the wound prevents you from picking at it and keeping it open. Letting the wound finally close helps eliminate the pattern of behaviors that just reinforce the wound. And to do both, you have to be conscious of the pattern in the first place.
Once you’ve taken stock of your self-limiting beliefs, you want to challenge those beliefs directly. Part of the power of self-limiting beliefs is how rarely we actually address them. We let them become habits, subroutines that run in our heads automatically without thinking. Confronting and challenging them helps cause a state break. We interrupt the process and, for the first time in a long time, actually can address the underlying belief. By examining those beliefs, we are able to consciously reframe them and blunt their influence on our lives.
When you notice yourself running one of those subroutines, stop and ask yourself “why”. Why, precisely, are you allowing this belief to rule you? Why do you continue to give authority to the person who hurt you?
Is it possible that, rather than exposing some flaw within you, the person who hurt you is the one who was wrong? What are other possible reasons for someone behaving the way they did — reasons that don’t start with “because you’re an awful person who deserved it?”
You don’t even need a logical reason as to why they’re wrong or refusing to grant them authority over you. “Because fuck you, that’s why,” is as valid a reason to reject their judgement as any. Healing yourself out of pure spite is as valid an option as any.
Challenging the belief itself helps rob that belief of its power. Much of why these old wounds linger is because we assume that they’re justified in some way. It’s a perverse version of the “just world” fallacy where we believe there’s a reason why this happened to us. There must be something that we caused or contributed to that lead to this. We internalize that belief and thus embed the wound in our identity. The moment we start to question its legitimacy and validity is the moment we start to heal. It’s the emotional equivalent of removing a foreign object that got embedded under our skin and became infected.
However, it doesn’t stop there. Part of the process is to interrupt the patterns as well, to confront, challenge and reframe how those patterns manifest in the rest of our life. Did your crush turn you downs because you said or did something wrong and it turned her off you forever? Or is it possible that she’s just out of a relationship and isn’t ready to start something new with you, as much as she’d love to? Did your date not text you back because she had an awful time, or is it possible that she’s as nervous as you and is twisting herself into knots trying to write the “perfect” message? Could she feel awkward about how long it’s taken and now she’s afraid to reply at all?
Now, many of you are undoubtedly asking: “But what if it turns out that she did reject me?” That’s missing the point of the process. Leave aside that people can turn you down for reasons that have nothing to do with your worth as a person. By challenging those beliefs, you’re challenging the authority of the belief itself. By injecting plausible doubt, you are creating options that you never considered. It ultimately is less important that these options be correct than the fact that they exist at all. Where before you had the rock-solid certainty of your awfulness, you’re now creating the possibility that things aren’t as bad as you imagine. It’s a small thing, a tiny crack in a wall. But the smallest crack means the wall itself can be broken.
Healing your wounds isn’t about pretending that rejection doesn’t exist; it’s about breaking the cycles that reinforce negative, self-limiting beliefs and behaviors. Recognizing that there are more possibilities than “you’re an unfuckable homunculus who should be ashamed to show his face in polite society” breaks the automatic reinforcement that you’re The Worst. This, in turn, makes it much easier to see and accept positive beliefs — and silence the voice of your jerkbrain as it tries to drip poison in your ear.
Its important to note that this isn’t easy. Those beliefs and patterns are as much a habit as they are an emotional scar. Breaking the habit of thinking of yourself this way is difficult. At the start, you will need to consciously note those thoughts and patterns and put deliberate effort to challenge and reframe them. It’ll feel like work. It’ll feel like you keep having to struggle with those thoughts every time. But, as with all new habits and patterns, it will get easier with practice.
But until you start, all that will happen is that you will be dragged back into old patterns, and old routines and you’ll make it that much harder to build the new life you want.
Now, it should be said that not everyone is going to be able to heal their wounds by themselves. Healing those old wounds and breaking those patterns may require talking to a counselor or therapist. That’s fine. Go and do it. If you can’t afford or find a therapist, consider a self-directed cognitive behavioral therapy program like Mood Gym until you’re in a position to go to therapy. Taking active control of your life and choosing to heal is the most important part. Otherwise, all you’re doing is spinning your wheels, revving the engine as hard as you can in order to stay in one place.
Don’t Focus On Your Goal, Focus on The Process
While we’re talking about breaking old patterns and beliefs, let’s talk about one of the mistakes people make in trying to build a new and better life.
One of the reasons why so many guys fail the “new year/new me” challenge is because they’re focused on the end results. They think “If I just do X, I’ll be happy”. “If I had Y, my problems would be over.”
Here’s a harsh truth: they’re wrong. In fact, discovering that this achievement wasn’t the magic bullet they were hoping for often makes things worse. In one classic example, incels spent new car amounts of money on plastic surgery in order to get the proper “Chad” face and body they thought they needed. But once the bandages came off and the swelling went down… life hadn’t changed. Sure, they looked different. They had that brow-ridge-to-jawline ratio they thought they always wanted. But they hadn’t become different people while they were under the knife. Their lives weren’t any different and they didn’t magically feel better.
This is an incredibly common outcome — not just for incels, but for anyone who banks on something magically solving their problems and making life better. It almost never works. They got X, they’re not happy… so now do they need Z too? What about A2 and C4?
The truth is that if you’re focused on a particular achievement or even a series of achievements or goals to solve all your problems, all you’re doing is prolonging your disappointment.
One of the things people rarely understand is that reaching a goal isn’t the end. In the movie in our heads, we hit that achievement and then hey, congratulations, a winner is you, credits roll. In reality, we discover that we’ve achieved one thing… often the first in a series of steps, rather than the end of them. Then there’s the fact that the thing usually requires maintenance in order to keep it.
When I got my black belt in martial arts, it was an incredible achievement. It was also the point that I realized how much more there was to learn. I hadn’t climbed to the top of the mountain; I had barely got past the first peak and discovered how much more there was to climb. And those skills needed regular, diligent practice so that I wouldn’t lose them to disuse and apathy.
Rather than focusing on the goal, you want to focus on the process. It’s less about where you’re going but how you’re going to get there and — importantly — what you get from the journey. It’s not about the plan of how you’re going to achieve your goal, but the meaning you take from the process of striving for it. If you want to truly improve yourself and build an incredible life, then you want to learn to love what you need to do in order to build it.
Do you want to get in shape and put on some muscle? Great! Go hit the gym… but worry less about the numbers on the scale or measuring tape and focus more on enjoying using your body. Appreciate the process of getting stronger or faster, of being able to run longer or jump higher. If you’re working on your social skills, then appreciate what you accomplish and what you learn more than “if I do this, I will get dates and my life will be better.”
One of the benefits of focusing on the process is very simple: it encourages you to be more in the moment and to appreciate the steps that get you where you’re trying to go. It’s an anti-frustration feature; rather than being focused on the end, you can see how far you’ve come and all that you’ve achieved. Yes, it gets you what you want in the end, but if you can appreciate the process, then you are able to find fulfillment and value in the journey itself. It’s much, much easier to stick to a routine or pursue a goal when you can appreciate every aspect of it.
And honestly, doesn’t that sound better than gritting your teeth and white-knuckling your way through only to discover the end results weren’t everything you imagined?
Taking the attention away from the goal also means that you focus less on perfection and more on progress. People play basketball for the joy of playing the game. They’re never going to compete at an Olympic level or get drafted to the NBA and that’s fine. Getting better at playing — even if you’re just doing pick-up games at the park — is wonderful all on its own. That makes you happier and more self-assured, which makes life better overall.
But while we’re on the subject:
Find Meaning In Your Life
Now that we’ve talked about clearing away the detritus that’s been holding you back, let’s talk about a change that will bring more success to your life. Making this change cures nearly 90% of the issues people have that destroy their confidence. Do you suffer from approach anxiety? Are you convinced that you’re ugly and unwanted? Do you feel like nobody could ever value you for yourself?
Here’s the secret behind all of those negative feelings: you lack meaning in your life. You’re existing, sure… but you’re not really living. Your life consists of repetitive tasks with no seeming purpose beyond moving numbers from one part of a spreadsheet to another. The mindless drudgery, the feeling that you don’t do anything of worth or contribute to the world in some way all lead to sense of emptiness and pointlessness — as though you could get snapped out of existence and the world would barely notice your absence.
Is that actually true? Fuck no it’s not; people would absolutely notice and care that you were gone. They’d likely be devastated by the loss. That sense of emptiness and pointlessness is just how you feel. And the good thing is that because it’s just a feeling, you can change that for yourself.
To change that sense of lack, you want to find meaning and purpose in your life. You want to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself, like you are doing something that makes life better for you and others. It’s much easier to feel as though you have value as a person when you feel like you’re providing value to others.
That question of “what do I bring to the table? Why should anyone want me in their life” is much easier to answer when you feel as though your life has meaning. You’re able to say “well, I do X, Y and Z, and that’s pretty awesome.” It’s not about being the best, having the coolest hobbies or the most TikTok followers. Nor is it about having the most profound affect on the world. It’s just about having purpose and meaning in your life and doing things that make life a little better — not just for you but for others.
Meaning doesn’t come from grand, earthshaking gestures. Little moments of kindness or joy have a much greater impact than people realize. Maybe your singing silly songs on TikTok that were inspired by your cat brings a smile to people’s faces. That counts. Maybe you find meaning in taking care of others — even if it’s just checking in on your friends and making sure they’re doing ok and doing what you can to help. That counts too.
To be fair: it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the question of “well, what do I do to find meaning in my life?” One of the best starting points is to find your community — the people around you that you connect with and make you feel part of something. Maybe that’s your neighborhood, your church or your chosen family. Maybe its the people who come together to share in their passions and interests. Find your community and find little ways to support it, not for any ulterior motive but for the purpose of supporting it.
Hell, helping to create that community can provide meaning. Will starting a local neighborhood garden or regular events for the kids of the working parents in your building change the world? No… but it will make the world of those around you a little brighter. That sense of satisfaction from following some pursuit for its own sake will build your confidence and give you a greater sense of value. It may seem small or even insignificant, but the fact that you feel like your life has meaning and that you’re providing value to others will fill that emptiness inside you. And once you realize that the emptiness isn’t all-consuming and all-defining, you’ll be in a much, much better place to recognize your own worth, your own value and your own potential.
Curate Your Influences
Now, at this point you’ve got quite the list of things to do that will help you build a new and wonderful life, with meaning and satisfaction. There’s still one more thing that you need — something that will make your life infinitely better and that much easier to maintain those new, positive changes.
You need to pay attention to your influences.
We’re not just the sum of the proverbial 5 people we spend the most time with, we’re also the sum of the people who we let control how we feel. And while you may not think of it that way, the people you spend your time with, the places where you hang out, even the things you read, watch or listen to do dictate how you feel.
How many times have you had something in your life that you loved, only to have someone shit all over it? Perhaps you mentioned your favorite movie or song, only to have people tell you it’s awful, trite, basic or whatever. Maybe you have the friend who just complains to you all the time. Or perhaps you were feeling good about something you were going to try, but had people tell you that you were doomed to failure. Maybe you were just having a good day and then you made the mistake of opening Twitter or Facebook and getting caught up in the endless doomsaying and decrying of the latest discourse.
Odds are good that you’ve had those moments — when some spark of positivity and hope was ruthlessly stomped out by others, for seemingly no reason other than they felt it was right to do so. In fact, it may well be that this happens so often that it’s become background noise to you.
There are the folks who reply to every post about how This Is Bad or Thing Someone Suggested Is Impossible or Doomed To Fail. There’re the people who make “jokey-jokes” around things that they know bother you or that you’ve asked them not to do. The ones who roast you or bust your balls constantly, but tell you to lighten up, they don’t really mean it. It can even show up as the people who are supposedly “helping” you by telling you all the ways you’re going to fuck up or fail. Or the people who try to “keep you grounded” by telling you that the thing you love or want to do is foolish.
We rarely think about the cumulative effect that these have on us. Any one of these can seem minor on its own. You may even feel ridiculous to list them as something that affects your mood. But these influences, though insignificant when viewed separately, don’t just fade away. They build up in your system, little bit by little bit, like emotional lead poisoning. It doesn’t take long before those negative influences start to reach a level of toxicity that damages your own sense of joy, hope and self-worth.
This is why you want to pay attention to what you pay attention to. What are you feeding your brain, love, support and hope, or cynicism and bitterness? Are you surrounding yourself with people who actually care for you, or people who shit on you to make themselves feel better? Does your community support one another and try to make things better, or is their whole purpose to stoke rage and hatred against others?
If you want to build a better life for yourself, you want to make sure that other people aren’t undermining the foundation. This means that you want to make sure that you’re giving as little of your time and attention to the trolls, naysayers and evangelists of negativity as possible. Having strong boundaries and refusing to let people treat you badly or shit on the things you love is a great start. So is going on a social media diet and culling forums, accounts and websites that drag your soul down. Cutting out the influences that only serve to make you feel worse about yourself is vital to future success.
Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean that you need to surround yourself with yes-men and people who blow smoke up your ass. You don’t need toxic positivity any more than you need Eeyores and walking clouds of doom in your life. Having people who can be honest with you — even blunt — and tell you hard truths when it’s necessary is important. And I stress “when it’s necessary.” There’s a vast difference between being willing to tell you something you may not want to hear and the “tough love” types who only tell you how you’re wrong and awful.
Here’s the thing: no man is an island. The idea that we’re all self-starters, self-made successes is bullshit. Nobody succeeds without the involvement of others — especially the folks who support them. Race car drivers are nothing without their pit crews, sports stars have their coaches and trainers and teams and so on. We all need our team, just as much as we want to be that support team for others. If you want to build your incredible new life, make sure the folks you let into your life, your mind and your heart are on Team You. Knowing you’ve got your crew backing you up can be what makes the difference between more failed resolutions… or an incredible new year.