• “Understanding Men” Lecture (audio)

    This week, I gave a talk in San Francisco entitled Understanding Men: On the election, sexism, insecurity, and your love life. I started with a story about my mom, who was a butt-kicking professional woman in Iran, and how she refused to put up with the sexist nonsense that the fundamentalists were propounding after the Revolution. From there, I spoke about how the male vote in the 2016 Presidential elections relates to men’s feelings about dating smart, strong women. The 15min excerpt below talks about the prime directives in male and female behavior, and how that creates three choices for strong women when it comes to choosing and relating to a man:

    Excerpt from “Understanding Men” 5 Dec 2016

    A lot of people were sad to have missed it because of time (or distance) conflict, and asked for a replay. So I’ve edited the talk to 57min and made it available for download. People who attended live paid $15-20, so I’ve decided to let you name a fair price for the download — somewhere between two 3-minute songs from your favorite Justin Bieber album, or the full album. NOTE: Downloads don’t work well from mobile devices, so please make the purchase from a computer.

    Other topics covered in this talk:

    • The two components of partnership with a Good Guy: spot him, and partner with him; how to do it
    • Knowing the difference between mere marketing bluster and honest signals
    • The implicit association test (IAT) and what it says about misogyny amongst women
    • Pernicious sources of female insecurity
    • Perfectionism as a form of covert self-loathing, and what to do instead
    • An exercise for rewiring your brain to tame your negative inner voice

    Click here to purchase the full lecture.

    Tue Dec 13: How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays

    In the meantime, on Tue 13 December, a week from today, even though I object to the word “webinar”, I’ll be holding the free webinar “How to Meet Good Men Over the Holidays”, just ’cause I like you guys so much. Also, over the 15 years I’ve been teaching this stuff, one thing I’ve learned: most women could be better at meeting men. A lot better. “Nice girls don’t do that”, “It’s the guy’s job”, “What do I even say?” — it’s time to jettison those excuses and expand your repertoire of skills beyond just standing there and looking pretty. We’ve already got 200 signups, so register here so you get the reminders, esp since I’ll be doing live Q&A at the end.

    And do send your questions. Under 250 words, and make sure it contains a question regarding the outcome you desire!

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali

  • How to Meet Men During the Holidays: 3 tips + free webinar

    The holiday season is upon us, which means that many of you will be going to a bunch of holiday parties. This is an excellent time to get out and make new friends. And by friends, I mean people you’d want to date. If you don’t believe me that December is the best month to meet people, believe the US Census Bureau: the most babies are born in August, followed by September and July. Which means that people were engaging in lineage-perpetuating activities nine months before, which brings us to… ah yes, December and November.

    This letter asks about how you actually do it — y’know, get a guy’s number under combat conditions and stuff:

    “I’m still working my way through the modules of Project Irresistible and will need to listen to them once or twice more to really grasp some of the information presented. I really enjoyed the classes and feel that I am seeing some results already. Joined yoga which I realized I had missed as part of my routine and going out more often.

    Quick situation I wanted to run by you: I was picking up my dry cleaning and there was this good looking guy there. We were the only two in the store. While the person was getting my dry cleaning, I did the smiling eye contact with good intention thing, and then he came over and we started a conversation back and forth about how good a dry cleaning place it is and how fast and reasonably priced they are.
    I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation to something else. I got my dry cleaning and smiled at the guy and left.

    Any suggestions? The situation didn’t lend itself to compliments (I don’t think) since I couldn’t figure out how to shift the conversation. Should it have been something like – “I love coming here but sometimes it’s a little far with traffic. Do you live or work close by?” That’s the only thing I could think of in retrospect. Thank you, Christine”

    Great question, Christine! A lot of what I write is about mindset and being your best self. But sometimes, you just straight up need some techniques that work. This is one of those times. 

    In the big city with people constantly in motion, it can be challenging to make a connection. That’s what the 3 C’s emphasize: Conversation-friendliness, Community, and Continuity. You want to be able to have a meaningful exchange of sufficient length in a safe context such that you can follow up with the person later.

    But sometimes, moments arise where there’s a quick connection, but not enough time for the conversation to develop to the point where you can comfortably exchange information, even when it’s very clear that the attraction is mutual.

    Now the dry cleaners is a great venue because the people there are likely to be local (good for Community), affluent, and probably gainfully employed. This is the realm of grownups. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of Continuity — people grab their stuff and take off, with little time for a full conversation.

    That’s why you have to be prepared. A few ways of doing that:

    1) Have a business card ready. This cuts out the middleman of fumbling for phones, or pen and paper. It also conveys that you’re a serious person, with job and income and titles and all that glorious adult stuff. All you have to say is, “Hey, I’d love to continue this conversation sometime. Let’s keep in touch. Do you have a card?” Then get yours out. If he doesn’t have one, jot his info down and be on your merry way. You don’t need an excuse or an explanation — you are a woman. The attention you just gave him probably made his day. And if not, that’s useful information, too.

    2) Have a Container Event ready, or make one up right on the spot. I have a Bookswap Brunch that I do once a month or so, where people bring books to swap with each other while having a tasty brunch. It’s a great community builder, allowing me to add new people to my circle of friends in a casual, fun setting. It also gives me an eminently plausible excuse for getting people’s contact info.

    If you’re hosting an event, throwing a party or going to a show that you have extra tickets to, there’s your opportunity to recruit anyone to your cause. “Hey, are you free Thursday night? Because I’ve got us some Cirque du Soleil tickets.” Yes please!

    3) Be spontaneous. If it’s lunchtime, or you have time for a coffee, why not ask him to join you right then and there: “Hey, I was about to grab lunch next door — would you like to continue this conversation there?” One of my best relationships started that way, and maybe yours will, too.

    FREE WEBINAR: HOW TO MEET MEN DURING THE HOLIDAYS

    Now this topic happens to be one of the most common that women ask me about. So to address the question more thoroughly, I’m going to hold a no-charge 1-hr webinar on Tue 13 Dec 2016 on this very topic. Capacity for the webinar is only 100 people, so if you want to be on, I would recommend that you click on this link right now and sign up. Nothing to lose; much joy, potential partnership, wedding ceremonies, rugrats, and massive private school and college bills to gain :)

    San Francisco Bay Area: UNDERSTANDING MEN Live Lecture + Q&A Mon 5 Dec 6.30-8pm

    On the morning of November 9, perhaps you were one of the millions of women who woke up wondering, “How come so many guys voted for someone who clearly disrespects women?” Or, even more puzzling, “How come so many women voted for a guy who disrespects women?” (Hint: If you were rejoicing on Nov 9, this talk is probably not aimed at you.)

    In this short lecture + Q&A on Mon 5 Dec, I’ll be talking about what this election revealed about male-female dynamics:

    • How men really feel about dating strong, smart, accomplished women like yourself
    • How does a woman’s vote for an avowed sexist reflect in her love life?
    • Is there a central glitch in the human mate-selection operating system, and if so, how is it showing up in your life?
    • Male & female insecurity, and what you can do about it

    The talk is brand new with material I’ve never published before, drawing upon the Tao of Dating books for men and women, 14 years studying love lives, and answering over 5000 letters. I’ll be talking about some uneasy truths that I hope will enlighten and challenge your view of the world. Note that if you are a guy and/or voted for the disrespectful guy, this talk will probably be tough to take.

    It’s also been over 2 years since I’ve done a live event like this in San Francisco, so it’s about time! Would love to see you if you’re in the Bay Area already, and if not, please tell your friends who are.  I’ll do a 30-45min lecture, followed by open Q&A (about anything love-related, not just the topic of the day). It will basically be like a live version of the blog, so bring your questions! It’s like therapy, only cheaper and more fun. The room is smallish, so if you want a seat, get your tickets quick — there are about 19 left. I’ll also have copies of the book on sale to sign.

    Look forward to seeing you soon, Dr Ali

  • Resources for Resilience

    I understand that many of you had a rough week.

    You saw a candidate who routinely insulted minorities, immigrants, handicapped people, and LGBT folks become President-elect of the nation. You saw a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women win the highest office in the land. And you saw friends, family, and fellow Americans disregard all of that ugliness and vote for him anyway.

    If in the past week you have felt less safe; disrespected as a woman; in despair about the state of democracy; worried about the future of your self and country – I hear you.

    So I’m having free office hours tomorrow Wed 16 Nov from 12 noon-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. If you want to talk about stuff, just call 213 444 6826. If I’m talking to someone else, leave a message and I’ll call you back.

    In the meantime, even though something very strange has happened, worry is not going to help. The world keeps turning, and frankly it needs you. So if you are not feeling tip-top, here are some ways to improve your resilience and bounce back, pronto:

    1) Move. There is nothing that changes your mood more reliably than exercise. So get out of the house and move – go for a run, do yoga, take an exercise class, or just enjoy a long walk. Even if you really, really don’t feel like it and it requires a crane to get you out of the house, just do it. You’ll thank you for it.

    2) Reconnect. We humans are hypersocial creatures. And yet, as books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone show, the sense of community in America has been eroding over the years. Singles living alone are now the biggest demographic group in America, and nothing about the 6 million year history of hominin evolution prepared us for living by ourselves. So get together with people. Organize a movie night, go watch sports together in a bar, go dancing, have a dinner party. Good company is healing.

    3) Listen to music. If you’ve noticed that music has mood-altering qualities, it’s because it does. It’s like a fast-acting, totally legal drug. Which also explains why so many repressive cultures ban music (think the Taliban or fundamentalist Iran). So grab your smartphone, fire up your Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music or Pandora, and listen to some seriously uplifting tunes. If said tunes make you dance, even better (see #1 above). Here’s a list of a hundred or so songs that never fail to get me jammin’.

    Classical music is particularly powerful for me. Some pieces that get me going when I need to scrape myself off the floor: Brahms Piano Concerto #1 (more on the kickass empowering and passionate side of things rather than just cheery); Mendelssohn Symphony #4, “Italian” (relentless exuberance); Beethoven Symphony #6 “Pastoral” and #7.

    4) Meditate. Sit. Yeah, just close your eyes and sit. And don’t do anything else. That’s basically what meditation is. For extra credit, do your best to clear your mind of thoughts. You do this by focusing on something other than random thoughts – say, the sensation of breath as it goes through your nostrils. Repeating an internal sounds also helps you focus. You can say “calm” as you inhale, and “mind” as you exhale. Mantra is the fancy Sanskrit name for this, and some religious organizations charge $5000+ for giving you one. Which is bananas. Just email me a beer instead.

    5) Practice mindfulness. Wait, I thought we just talked about meditation, didn’t we? Ah. Meditation is a form of mindfulness, but not the same thing. Mindfulness is something that doesn’t require that you sit or close your eyes. You can practice it all the time. It just means you’re paying attention to this present moment instead of the past or the future. Because, if you really think about it, all of your problems reside in the past or the future. Right now – this tiny sliver of a second constituting the present moment – is frankly too narrow to contain any problems.

    Mindfulness means that if you’re washing dishes, do that and only that. Feel the warmth of the water, the hardness of the plates, the slipperiness of the suds. Hear the sounds of splashing water, and the squeak of sponge on dish. If you’re walking, feel your footfalls. Which part of your foot hits the ground first? Which one is next? How do your legs feel as they alternately support and swing? What are your arms doing?

    As you do this, you may notice something: this moment in time is always fundamentally okay. If you’re reading this now, chances are you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re in reasonably good health, you’re fed, you’ve got friends and family who care. And then the next moment in time – still pretty good. And the next one? Yup. String together enough of these mindful moments, and you get whole days, months and years. This way, you can get through anything.

    6) Serve. One of the best ways to cheer yourself up is to help cheer other people up. Hey, why do you think I do this stuff? So call up a friend, offer to listen, go deliver a hug in person, send them this list, and otherwise make yourself useful.

    7) Be grateful. Let’s try an experiment: think of something you’re grateful for. Could be your family, your health, your car that gets you around. Now notice that while you’re feeling gratitude, it’s impossible to feel demanding, slighted, indignant or otherwise grumpy. I mean, you’re here! On Earth! With free gravity keeping you from being flung into space, free atmosphere giving you oxygen courtesy of plants, and a magnetic field and ozone layer that deflect cosmic and UV rays so we don’t get baked. Pretty sweet, eh?

    So go ahead and grab a piece of paper, and write down 3 things you’re super grateful for. Meditate on them, and deeply appreciate them in your life for 30sec each. Then go on with the rest of your day. Science shows that making this a daily or even weekly practice has measurable benefits for your long-term happiness. This really should have been at the top of the list; thanks to eagle-eyed reader Maria for bringing it to my attention.

    SF: THE TAO OF DATING AND LOVE, MON NOV 28

    All of the things I just mentioned are free and available to you right now. If you’d prefer to buy a ticket and you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re in luck. Because I’m doing one of my rare live events in a couple of weeks! The Tao of Dating and Love will be on the evening of Mon Nov 28. I’ll do a short (30-45min) lecture followed by Q&A. Tickets are cheap. And if you’re not in the neighborhood, tell your friends who are! Would be great to see them.

    WORLDWIDE: OPEN OFFICE HOURS WED 16 NOV, 12NOON-2PM PT

    As I already mentioned, for those not local to SF, I’ll have Open Office Hours tomorrow, Wed Nov 16, 12pm-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. Just call 213 444-6826. If I’m free, I’ll pick up; if I’m talking to someone else, I’ll call you back. Simple.

    PROJECT IRRESISTIBLE: NEW LIVE COHORT

    I’m starting a new live cohort of Project Irresistible two weeks from now on Tue 29 Nov. Why? Because it’s the holiday season, when a woman’s thoughts turn to love and “Who should I take to the office party?” and “Whom will be making out with at midnight on New Year’s Eve?” Most people have a lot on their plate during the holiday season (literally and figuratively), but they’re also going to a lot of social events. Moreover, everyone’s in a sunny holiday mood (read: slightly tipsy and/or desperate). Translation: This is a really good time to meet new people. Why do you think the most number of kids are born in August? Because people are hooking up left and right during the holidays, that’s why.

    Anyway, there are 6 sessions in total. We’re going to do 4 sessions before the New Year, which should get you in excellent shape to capitalize on all the social happenings. The remaining 2 sessions will be in 2017. If you join in the next 48hrs, you get $100 off with code “FALL100”. After that, it’s a $75 discount.

    And remember, the course is evergreen. All the material is online, and you can come back to it as often as you want, and join a live cohort whenever I have one. So if you’ve been meaning to get your love life in shape and find some warm, kind, steady, and fulfilling partnership, now is a really good time to sign up to refine your skills.

    STILL MOPING?

    Hey, I hear ya. Things were probably rough even before they got rougher! We live in uncertain times. But guess what: as the ever-wise Jack Kornfield brought to our attention in his talk at Spirit Rock last night, any human who has ever lived has lived in uncertain times! None of this is entirely new. And you know what? You’re ready to handle whatever comes your way. I have faith in you.

    And just so you can have even more faith in yourself, here are two resources straight from my secret stash that have been very useful to me:

    • The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by Mark Nepo. This is a daybook. You get an essay for every calendar day. For example, for May 1, it’s entitled “Burying and Planting: The culmination of one love, one dream, one self, is the anonymous seed of the next.”

    Mark Nepo has been through a lot (cancer, divorce etc). As a result, he always writes from a place of deep vulnerability. He also writes beautifully. No wonder Oprah went gaga over his book when she found out about it in 2010. You will, too, so get yourself the paperback gift edition for a mere $11 (or the ebook) and put it on your bedstand. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Reverend Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith speaks on Wed evenings and Sun mornings at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. You can either watch the livestream or go to watch from the archives right now for no charge (perhaps the Nov 9 service will be of interest; lecture starts around 51:00). He is one industrial-strength wallop of inspiration and the best living orator I know. The services are spiritually-oriented and non-denominational. I think of it as church for people who don’t usually go to church.

    There are some recurring themes to his messages: you have the power to think independently of circumstance; you have a gift, and the world is waiting for it. Yet somehow, every time it feels as if he’s directly addressing you and the challenge you’re having right now. Oprah has also recently discovered Rev Michael and had him featured on Super Soul Sunday. Rev Michael was a pivotal part of starting my writing career 11 years ago. He is an extraordinarily helpful resource in times of trouble or joy.

    And if you have a go-to resource that you’d like to share with the rest of the Tao of Dating community, please write it down here in the comments! Whether it’s running, knitting, playing with your pet, a particular book or poem, I’d personally love to hear about it, and I’m sure the rest of the readers could benefit from it, too.

    All the best, Dr Ali

  • The Science of Meditation: 5-day online class, Oct 19-24

    Meditation has been the single most transformative practice I have taken up. It has made me a calmer, less reactive, more thoughtful person. The first thing I do every morning is meditate, and I consider it the most important part of my day.

    For years, I’ve been talking about meditation to whoever would listen. I’ve offered some rudimentary training in it in articles and workshops, and even talked about the science behind it. So I’m thrilled to announce that our friends at the Shambhala Mountain Center are starting a 5-day “Science of Meditation” online course featuring some of the best meditation teachers in the world.

    For someone deep into meditation, the list of teachers reads like the Team USA Basketball team roster: all the superstars in one spot. I am not exaggerating when I say these folks are the best at what they do:

    Anyway, the whole thing is broadcast for your benefit without charge; you may access the recordings up to 48hrs after they’re broadcast. Should you decide to purchase a package of the recordings, I receive a part of the proceeds. And frankly, if I didn’t receive a penny, I would still tell everyone in the world about this. There’s a few millennia worth of wisdom amongst these teachers, and they receive my highest recommendation.

    I’ll be listening to the lectures myself. Whether you’re a long-time meditator looking to deepen your practice, or a novice looking for a right excuse to jump in, you can’t do better than the teachers on the roster for the Science of Meditation Summit. Meditation is the life-changing practice, and I sincerely hope you can join me. Click here to sign up.

  • Wisdom of Women, Pt 3: On self-compassion + best letter of 2016?

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: I’ll be conducting a LIVE WORKSHOP in San Francisco on Monday October 3 called How to Be a Compelling Speaker: The Art, Science & Practice of Charisma. Whether you’re asking for a raise, presenting in front of a big client, getting a seed round going, defending a PhD or asking someone on a date, there will be turning points in your life when your fate hinges upon the quality of the pitch you make. Do you know what to do to make that pitch great every time? Or are you leaving those crucial turning points to chance? In this live talk/workshop, we will teach you some of the main principles behind being compelling so those presentations go better and better every time you make them. Tickets here.***

    I get a lot of letters from readers. There are common themes to these letters: Why do I behave this way? Why does he do that? Can I trust men? Is a long-term committed relationship even possible? How do I overcome my upbringing and/or religion to find true connection?

    But rarely does a letter hit all of those themes at the same time. Martha, a very thoughtful 30yr old graduate student from Oregon sent me this letter recently. I’m publishing this on the blog not because it has concrete answers to challenges women encounter in their love lives, but because it raises a lot of questions that women commonly ask themselves. Let’s read the letter together (edited for clarity), followed by my comments:

    “Dear Dr Ali — I’m at a stage of serious introspection in life and obsessed about discovering the roots of every decision we make, the unconscious mind. But I tend to come up with philosophical and existential questions that make everything harder. This expands to different areas in life, specifically relationships. Learning that I belong to the anxiously attached category helped me understand the painful break-ups and self-destructive patterns of thinking that followed. Was this just a result of my caretakers’ actions or more than that? I notice the numerous ways we helplessly cling on to different means to feel secure when we don’t have the internal resources to know we will be OK if things go sour. In my life these external resources have been: feeling loved and wanted, and clinging to religious practices.

    Like many others, I didn’t have a great childhood and grew up in a male-dominant family, where submissive qualities were part of being a woman. Along with that, I was exposed to continuous fights over parental infidelity, leading me to lose trust in men.

    In real life, I have never been cheated on but because of my limiting beliefs, my unconscious mind has created this scenario over and over again to protect me in this potential “life-threatening” situation. It’s the one thing that has countless times made me feel powerless and not good enough. No matter how much I learn, my brain doesn’t sync up with today’s reality and let go of the survival mechanism it has produced years ago. I believed that no matter how good you are, you are only one woman and if men need variety, then you’re never good enough on your own.

    Since I was also criticized a lot, I always wanted to be more, which served me well but also with the downside of never being happy with who I was. I also wonder if I lack determination in my decision-making or reactions. I wanted to break the taboo of dating someone from a different socioeconomic status, which is why I started dating my boyfriend Bradley about a year ago.

    I often find myself analyzing everything my partner says, looking for its origin in order to discover the real him:

    • He says a lot of men have extramarital sex that men because they’re evolutionarily wired to reproduce, therefore able to detach emotionally and have sex with someone they don’t love. To me, making love is sacred; it’s where you connect with the one you love at every level and that’s why I can’t be okay with how men feel about it (if this is true).
    • Or the fact that even though he truly loves me, thinks the world of me and would do anything for me, he believes that any relationship will become routine. Whereas I believe that maybe most of us get married for the wrong reasons, and we simply mistakenly label different emotions as love, and so we inevitably would end up not content with our marriage and choose to leave or cheat. I’d like to think that they’re missing real intimacy in life and they use affairs as an outlet to compensate for it. Conclusion: maybe/hopefully loyalty is possible.

    These conversations alarm me and rev up my sympathetic nervous system to withdraw from trusting him in the long run. But then I’m relieved when I occasionally remember that maybe there are others that could love me and want me for life. But then again, I realize that this is still giving authority to external circumstances to keep me content.

    I never fear being left because someone smarter or kinder may come along. I fear being left for a more attractive girl, or simply a different kind of beauty. This may be due to my belief in men’s susceptibility to visual stimulus, or the belief that men need variety when it comes to appearance. To this day, I haven’t figured out if this statement is true or not, or if it is legitimate to expect men to be monogamous and happy at the same time.

    I worry about getting old and losing physical beauty, but at the same time I realize that being a goddess is not a requirement to keep a man loyal. Many men cheat even when they have a goddess at home. What puzzles me is that even though I consider my mother a very beautiful woman (though lacked in other areas) and know that it did not stop my father from cheating, I take physical comments to heart and I worry about losing the field to younger girls. I don’t understand the I tend not to believe in that men can be loyal but yet let them discredit me with the value system I don’t approve of. I also understand that you don’t own the one you love but the fear of being defeated after investing years of trust makes me feel beaten in the contest. I hate being the possessive girl that scares guys away but despite my efforts in hiding this insecurity; it’s been clearly sensed by my partner through non-verbal communication. I wonder if I have unconsciously always gone for the wrong guys to prove myself that men are not trustworthy. I want to be OK on my own, even if no man is ever going to be loyal to me for eternity. I want to stop worrying and being loved to be happy. All my best, Martha”

    Before I comment on the content of this letter, I’d like to observe that the issues that she mentions are extremely common. Heck, it’s exactly the kind of stuff I’ve been hearing since I started doing this stuff. And yet, there is an undertone of self-recrmination to the whole thing, a sense of “What’s wrong with me?!?”

    Well, if some of what Martha brought up resonated with you, raise your hand. See? Lots of raised hands out there. Which brings me to the topic I want to talk about today: self-compassion. Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas at Austin is the pioneering researcher of self-compassion. Here’s her definition: “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings. After all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?” She says it comprises three elements, which I quote from Dr Neff’s excellent, resource-rich website:

    1. Self-kindness vs self-judgment. “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
    2. Common humanity vs isolation. “Frustration at not having things exactly as we want is often accompanied by an irrational but pervasive sense of isolation – as if “I” were the only person suffering or making mistakes. All humans suffer, however. The very definition of being “human” means that one is mortal, vulnerable and imperfect. Therefore, self-compassion involves recognizing that suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”
    3. Mindfulness vs over-identification. “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. At the same time, mindfulness requires that we not be “over-identified” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negative reactivity.”

    Now let’s see how we can apply each of these concepts to the challenges the letter brings up.

    The most obvious one is recognizing our common humanity. Right now, as you’re sitting there, you’re probably thinking, “Well, nobody has the kind of problems I have.” Heck, you may even take pride that your problems are unique — no one else could be having them! And you would be wrong. Out there in Oregon, writing these thoughts to me, Martha is probably pretty sure that she is the only person in the world that has this constellation of challenges. And yet, you the reader can probably identify with a bunch of them: trust, loyalty, partnership, sexuality, feeling enough, gender differences.

    Once you realize the rest of the world is also having these issues, it somehow becomes much easier to bear. Reminds me of that line from The Police’s “Message in a Bottle”:

    Walked out this morning
    Don’t believe what I saw
    A hundred billion bottles
    Washed up on the shore
    Seems I’m not alone at being alone
    A hundred billion castaways
    Looking for a home

    That brings us to Principle #1, Self-kindness. Hey, if it’s happening to everyone else, too, might as well go easy on myself. Some folks — especially perfectionists — have somehow internalized that there is virtue in ripping into yourself. Well, there isn’t, so stop it already. Besides, which part of you is ripping into which part of you? Are you slapping yourself in the face with your own hand, or elbowing yourself in the stomach? Do you have any idea how weird that sounds? Stop that now before I call in the shrinks.

    And that brings us to Principle #3, Mindfulness. Look, you’re feeling something. Just go ahead and feel it fully, without letting it be your whole existence and identity. When you allow them to express fully, feelings fade over time. But if you resist them, they persist. So let them be, then let them go.

    Mindfulness is also about being fully present in the moment. This happens to be the antidote to overthinking or rumination, which is what this letter is doing a lot of. Like many of you, Martha is a smart, highly-educated woman. And like many of you, she thinks a lot about things that have never happened and may never happen. Some of these thoughts may turn into worries, which may become anxieties looming large enough to alter your daily behavior.

    For example, Martha talked about infidelity: “In real life, I have never been cheated on but because of my limiting beliefs, my unconscious mind has created this scenario over and over again to protect me in this potential “life-threatening” situation. It’s the one thing that has countless times made me feel powerless and not good enough.”

    Even though she has never been cheated on, there’s this gremlin lurking in the shadows all the time, which diminishes the quality of her life.

    The solution? It’s easy for me to say “stop doing that”, but not terribly effective. What works is to do something else instead. What’s the thing? Gratitude. It’s impossible for anyone to feel sorry for herself and grateful at the same time.

    If you’ve been habitually ruminating and overthinking for, say, your whole life, now is a really good time to change that behavior. As the Tao Te Ching says, “Stop thinking, and solve all your problems.” Here’s what I recommend:

    1. Use the rubber-band technique. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. Any time you start to worry, ruminate or overthink, snap yourself so it stings a little. Your brain will very rapidly learn to stop doing the behavior that leads to the snap. You can kick habits like this in less than a week — sometimes in as little as two days. This also works for other habits like complaining, gossiping or eating brownies.
    2. Get yourself a Pavlok. If a rubber band is not fancy enough for you, I recommend this behavioral modification wristband called a Pavlok (combination of “Pavlovian” + “shock”). Instead of just a snap, the Pavlok delivers an actual electric shock to your skin, I kid thee not. It’s a supremely versatile device that can be programmed to buzz, ring or flash, depending on what kind of behavior you want to diminish or reinforce. You can program it to help you get up on time, quit smoking, exercise more, stop biting your nails, or kick a social media habit. The mild shock is definitely unpleasant, so if you’re willing to shock yourself whenever you ruminate or overthink, you’ll be done with that habit in a hurry. It’s about the same price as a single therapy session, but with potentially lifelong utility.
    1. Meditate. I get on this hobbyhorse at least once per post, so might as well tell you again: meditation is a life-changing practice. It not only solves all the problems you have right now, but also all the ones you’ll have in the future. But you won’t even know it, because they won’t be problems any more! I’m only exaggerating a little, folks. Get the Headspace app on your smartphone to get started, or check out one of the dozens posts I’ve written on the topic. Meditation is the ultimate antidote to rumination.

    There’s a lot more we could discuss from this very rich letter, but the points I wanted to make today  were:

    • Your challenges are common. You are not alone. Join the club!
    • Many of those challenges can be overcome through practices like mindfulness, gratitude, self-compassion, and meditation.

    If the letter resonated with you, share your thoughts in the comments.

    All the best, Dr Ali

    PS: For those of you who are in the Bay Area on Mon Oct 3, would love to see you at my live workshop. Please drop by and say hi! And use code “FF” to get the discount for my readers.

    PPS: For those who missed the “How to Connect Deeply” teleclass with Christine Mason on her new book Indivisible, here’s the replay and download link for you:

     

  • The Wisdom of Women, Part 2: On Connecting Deeply

    Christine Marie Mason is one of the most extraordinary people I know and one of my favorite humans. She has been an entrepreneur, CEO of 6 different companies, BA and MBA graduate from Northwestern University, organizer of nine TEDx events, a yoga teacher, artist, musician, mother of six fantastic kids, grandmother, and most recently, a prison peace mentor. You may also know here from the wise, eloquent and empowering piece “Love Your Body Now” included in The Tao of Dating (Ch 7, p143).

    We met 15 years ago at a yoga retreat, so I thought I knew her pretty well by now. What I did not know was that when Christine was 12, her young mother was murdered and left in a cornfield. Her body wasn’t found for days. She had her first child at 19, then again at 20, and still finished college and the MBA program. Her first husband eventually had a schizophrenic break and ended up losing his job and squandering all their money. Her second husband got cancer, then proceeded to cheat on her in spectacular fashion even while Christine was helping him recuperate.

    These stories of violence, trauma, setback, recovery, triumph, betrayal, even greater setbacks, and the tools she’s been using for overcoming it all and continue growing are some of what Christine shares in her remarkable new personal growth memoir called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connection (ebook and paperback), to be released Sept 12.

    Christine’s been kind enough to share the piece below about re-connecting to the body: how she discovered yoga, the initial effect it had on her, and what yoga taught her before she started teaching it.

    I’ll be having a conversation with Christine on Monday, 12 Sept 2016 at 6pm PT/9pm ET entitled “The Art & Science of Deep Connection” and would be thrilled if you could join me. Click here to sign up for the talk, get the call-in number, and receive automatic reminders to make sure you don’t miss it, ’cause I believe it’s going to be most excellent. Here’s the excerpt:

    The Poise of the Soul

    After a particularly long day in this spell of dot-com craziness, I was walking down a crowded street to catch a commuter train, when I saw my old friend Daniel. Daniel always had a ready smile. He was self-contained, a loving husband and father and accomplished professionally—at that time he was CEO of a public company, making all manner of kitchen gadgets.

    That night, he was shining. It looked to me like he had shed layers of himself; he was carrying no burden.

    “What happened to you? You look fantastic!” I exclaimed.

    He responded in an instant. “Yoga happened, and you look terrible. You’re coming with me this Friday.”

    That’s how my “way out” presented itself—as a way in.

    Yoga is sometimes called “Poise of the Soul.” Poise is equilibrium, readiness, balance, steadiness, stability, suspension between states of motion. Poise does not freak out over laundry, talk too much, go 90 miles an hour to make it to a meeting, or accidentally break things due to inattention.

    I went to Daniel’s yoga class. After a great struggling 75 minutes of a vigorous athletic form of structured postures linked together by the breath (we were practicing a form called Ashtanga yoga), the class arrived at Savasana, corpse pose, where we lay on our backs, arms outstretched, palms up, legs extended, letting all of our muscles relax, allowing our bones to sink into the floor, in a sort of half-state between sleeping and waking, a state of deep aware stillness. Through the breathing, the rhythm, the turning inward of yoga—through the not turning to an external thing like whacking a tennis ball or working into the night —I found my first peace in long memory.

    I kept going back to class, initially just for that Savasana.

    Connecting to the Body

    Yoga, as it has been popularized in the west, is often practiced with pumping music. People move fast and sweat and detox. It’s good exercise for the body and mind. But that wasn’t the kind of yoga I encountered that Friday evening. Daniel’s practice was deeply mindful – it made me take notice of things that had never before occurred to me. It was a practice that made me say, “Hmm…I can’t feel my feet. If I can’t feel my own feet, the connection from my brain to my feet isn’t working.” The eventual extension of that thought was this: If the connection between my feet and brain does not work, how am I going to connect to other people?

    Before I found yoga, I couldn’t feel my feet or even spread my toes—they were just down there somewhere. Nor did I know where my organs were in my belly. My insides were like a black hole between my ribcage and my knees. Can you feel where your liver is, unless it is in pain?

    After a while, I found that I could lift my arches and run an energetic current up my shins and thighs and ass and heart and right out the top of my head and back down again. The power I used in previous forms of athletics to release energy was something that could be channeled and leveraged inside of the body, to heal it and balance it, and restore equilibrium and clarity to my whole organism.

    The yoga practice that was handed to me started a new kind of self-inquiry: Am I aware of my breath? Where am I looking? Where are my feet? Are all four corners of my feet on the ground? Are my arches lifted away? Where are my fingers? Are they evenly aligned or evenly spaced? Am I standing tall or leaning forwards or backwards? Where am I in space? How good is my proprioception: the receiving (receptoris) of one’s self (proprius)? Am I aware of my own body’s parts in relationship to each other, to the floor, to the vertical line? What am I actually feeling? What is actually happening? It was a straight line to hyperawareness.

    I began to learn that the body has rising and falling energies, that when it gets certain inputs it releases certain chemicals, that there is a virtuous loop between the actions of the body and the chemicals that are released, and that this cycle is autonomic until we intervene and override it. We can start to use our breathing and our thoughts to restructure which chemicals are getting released from our minds and into our bodies. We can reprogram ourselves, literally. I didn’t know what this meant until I found yoga.

    Once I began, it was rapid-fire study. I went to my first class, and I knew I was going to return. Eventually, I found a connection to divine source on that quiet, meditative, sweaty little mat, something I never quite got in any traditional church. That tiny studio, with a purple Om symbol painted on the wall, above a pizza parlor in the middle of Chicago, curtains blowing in, sirens and car horns below, became a holy place. It was there that I discovered a sense of having a permeable body: my skin was always interacting with the environment, and I was always connected. I was made of the same stuff as everything else in the universe.

    I wanted to go deeper. In 2002, I went on a retreat led by power yoga founder Baron Baptiste. His easygoing introduction to yoga philosophy, musical open laugh, softness, strength, humor and accessibility just made me happy.

    Baron’s yoga was hard – a demanding fast flow, coupled with long holds in deep postures. For example, once we stayed for a full 20 minutes in a hip opener known as frog: Somatic theory says we hold our painful memories in the body, and holding this position for this long had people in the room (women especially), letting go and weeping at all the things held in the groin and hips. I took his teacher training in Tulum, just to keep growing.

    Then I stumbled, or was led, into a month of teacher training in an intense, academic program that honored a deep Indian lineage, with Yogarupa Rod Stryker- and that training has continued apace for the last 15 years – from the yoga of sound, to contact yoga, to extensive breath and tantric energy work, to studying Sanskrit texts – it is an unending investigation. But mostly it’s a living experiment into how to have the happiest and most authentic experience in a human body.

    Who is thinking these thoughts?

    By investigating the body, I began to investigate the mind also, and then even deeper into relationships.

    Once, early on, I was holding a yoga position called side plank for a long time. This position requires the body to form a long, firm, extended board, placing one hand on the floor, the other to the ceiling, and balancing between the side of the bottom foot and the palm of the hand, holding the belly snug and the hips high. It can be rigorous. My arms started shaking; my balance was challenged.

    At that moment the teacher said, “People… you’ve held this position for a long time. I invite you to look at your reaction to that. Are you gritting your teeth and tensing your jaw and toughing it out, even though you’re beyond your capacity? Are you collapsing and quitting because your conditioned mind is telling you it’s too hard, even though you probably could stay longer if you wanted to? Are you feeling proud, or maybe the inverse: inadequate?”

    “However you are meeting this posture on the mat,” he continued, “I guarantee you: That’s how you are meeting your life off the mat. How can you be kind to yourself in this moment, play your edge, and take responsibility for your experience? How much are your own thoughts and reactions responsible for your own suffering?”

    How much? Maybe one hundred percent.

    If side plank was hard, the other big practice, seated meditation, was harder. Sitting still, harboring a quiet mind, initially felt impossible. Even two minutes of meditation felt interminable. Every part of me resisted. It felt unproductive, and wasn’t burning calories. To make it easier, all kinds of techniques were offered: Watch your breath right where it enters and exits the nostrils, imagine a flame, say a mantra. But it was all just practice to do one thing: to notice the workings of the mind, and to let thoughts just pass by. To become a watcher of my own thoughts.

    But if I am watching my thoughts, who is thinking the thoughts? If I am witnessing them, they can’t be the essence of me.  These thoughts must be separately constructed. HEY! I am not my thoughts. And if I am not my thoughts, I can un-identify and manipulate them to a better outcome. Lo and behold, this was true. By watching and stopping unhelpful patterns of thinking, I learned that I could change the day-to-day experience of life in my body.

    I still haven’t met a single person who has been able to overcome really bad wiring without some kind of meditation practice. Well, maybe one person.

    For example, I learned to not judge a rising emotion or thought – just to see it as neutral energy. If all thoughts and actions are only energy, neither positive nor negative, I can transmute it. I can remove the negative element, and just use the energy. If an unsettling thought would arise, I would ask myself, what can I do other than sit here or numb out through work or busyness or sex or distraction? What can I do to not numb out, to really feel and then leverage the emotion? Can I channel it into awareness, creative force, or even just let it pass through me?

    Most of the productivity and creativity in the last decade has been the result of having learned to transmute whatever intense emotion is coming up into an activity or action that is in touch with experience, rather than pushing it away.

    Now, if I have disturbing thoughts, I can choose to be matter of fact: “Here is what it means to be in a human body; these are some of the liabilities.” Or, “I’ve been here before, it will pass.” I can realize, “Oh, that’s just my misperception talking; it is not my highest self.”

    With yoga, the recovery time from these disturbances, delusions and illusions and suffering is shorter.  It takes hardly any time anymore to come back, maybe a minute or two of breathing and —there it is! This is especially useful in navigating the daily kind of potential offenses in traffic or in the supermarket parking lot – is this my best self acting here? Or something else?

    Yoga roots me in a life-giving and life-affirming place, rather than the old soup of pervasive inadequacy. It has made me strong, mentally and physically.

    The yogic ideal is strength and suppleness, being rooted yet able to reach, the perfect combination of grounded and flexible. There is an Indian fable that puts it sweetly: the serpent Ananta, an incarnation of a deity, is coiled up. Resting on his coils is the lord Vishnu—while on the top of Ananta’s head, the Earth is balanced. Ananta is strong enough to support the world, yet soft enough to be a couch for the gods.

    That’s what I aspired to be. Strong like that, and equally soft.

    I started going to class to feel better, and fell in love with the practice, and it gave me back my life.

    Do you know that saying “Lift while you Climb”? That translates into bringing others along with you. Whatever you know, you are obligated to pass on: Those who know must teach. If you know, you owe.

    Teaching yoga, helping one person at a time find the tools and technologies to achieve the Poise of the Soul, is a great gift. I sometimes teach Vinyasa flow classes. Sometimes, I teach extremely stiff people, and witness what it means to grow old without being connected to your body—it is not for the faint of heart. But I also see the relief they get from a single new insight or opening into a joint or the breath. It makes me recall my very first practice, and remember each time a teacher gave me a new posture or an insight. It reawakens gratitude and it gifts me with joyful learning. The teaching and the learning are cyclical, and the look on people’s faces as they come out of Savasana is like Christmas morning for me, every time.

    If you enjoyed what you just read, download a 16-page excerpt at
    http://xtinem.com/dr-ali-binazir-guests/ and use this password: DRALI1

    All the best,
    Dr Ali

    PS: Remember that the interview/teleclass with Christine is at 6pm PT/9pm ET on Monday, 12 Sept 2016. Click here to sign up and get automatically reminded of when it happens.

  • The Wisdom of Women, Part 1

    So here’s my secret: even though I wrote this book about women and love, I’m actually not a woman. That whole story I tell about having written the book before my sex-change operation? I made it all up. I’ve been 100% a guy the whoooole time.

    And yet, here I am, dispensing advice to womenfolk on being a better woman. Really? Like there’s a shortage of actual women out there to tell you about this kinda thing? Well, there isn’t. In fact, many of you, my readers, are plenty wise. One of the things I’m really proud of is how incredibly smart and educated my readers are. Even if you ladies don’t let on much, I see all the MAs, PhDs, MDs, CEOs, scientific papers written, books published, and operas sung.

    So I’m going to take this month of community building as an excuse to introduce some of you to one another, and share some of the wisdom you’ve shared with me.

    The Wisdom of Women: Long-Distance Relationships

    Let’s start out with Julie, who left this comment on the blog a little while back. One of the most consistently true findings over the 15 years I’ve been thinking about love & relationships has been this: long-distance relationships are a terrible idea. This has been verified over and over again, to the point that it’s almost like saying “water is wet.” And yet, people still think “No no, our long-distance thing is special” or “My boyfriend is different” or some nonsense like that. Julie has an unusual perspective on all of this:

    “My soon-to-be ex-husband met a woman while they were both working out of state in the same city. He told her he had kids from a previous relationship and lived alone. All the while, he was telling me he missed me and couldn’t wait to get home, I love you, goodnight baby, all those usual things.

    She was in a long distance relationship with him for months before I found out who she was and told her the truth. They had met up a few times for happy, fun, touristy long weekends and Skyped a lot, and this was their “relationship.” Then he lied to her astoundingly about how our marriage had been over for a long time, he wasn’t happy, it was a sexless marriage. It was a very sexually active and enthusiastic physical relationship in our marriage, and we were not fighting or distant. He was a messed up human being inside who was a very good actor.

    My therapist (I got one, after all this) told me, “It doesn’t take a broken marriage to have an affair. It just takes one broken person.” So true. He had been binge drinking on work trips, too, and I never knew. He hadn’t been paying bills from his accounts he told me were being paid. He was a mess across the board. But the kicker is, she believed his lies long-distance and got back together with him. All while he was still lying to her about various things.

    But that’s just it… she so badly wanted to believe in the fantasy of who he was that she refused to see that long distance meant she could never really know him and see what was going on in real life. Meanwhile, I saw the truth come out and kept seeing it because our relationship wasn’t escapism over long weekends, where it’s easy to put your best foot forward all week and then for an hour of skype here and there.

    They eventually broke up, but she still thinks she had some great love with him and even said nobody knows him like she does. After seeing what long distance looked like that way, how easily it all was hidden (whereas I discovered his behavior within two weeks of it starting), I would never advise it to anybody. He had a breakdown in life and the affair was only part of it. He messed up his friends, family, work, and finances at the same time too. Of course long distance can be done. People have made it. But it’s too much fantasy and vacation for so much longer than normally dating somebody would be. Or than seeing a sudden change in a married partner or dating partner locally would likely be. — Julie”

    Such a great letter! Julie’s unusual perspective as the aggrieved wife of a husband cheating on her in a long-distance relationship illustrates a bunch of points how the whole thing’s a fantasy. The other woman has no way of getting to know the cheating husband very well, so she constructs out of whole cloth this whole story about how great he is. The fun, touristy (and probably sex-drenched) weekends together propagate the fantasy, free from any inconvenient real-life notions of whether the guy is a responsible adult who pays bills on time, takes out the trash or doesn’t leave dirty socks lying around.

    Another great letter on the topic of long-distance relationships comes from Marcy. Her perspective is slightly different:

    “My 16-year marriage was born online, states apart. We saw each other every couple of months for days until I moved to be with him and talked obsessively, both sacrificing countless relationships with people who were available locally. Was it worth it? In a way, yes! We have two children and built a relatively stable, often happy, in person life together that has lasted longer than many traditional marriages. But I would likely never do it again.

    Here’s the thing, we DID know each other via phone and text (we didn’t even have video calling then). And we WERE genuinely compatible in the ways we experienced. But, even after confirming what appeared to be our compatibility (in person), in the truth our long distance relationship was still 90% fantasy. Long distance relationships allow you to idealize positive traits for an extended period of time while grossly undervaluing negative traits. The intensity of the sex once you finally see each other, coupled with the future planning, almost guarantees it.

    Our outcome: Sex was intensely magical at a distance, but soon became detached and uncompromising once we saw each other regulary. Sunk costs began playing their part: I’d invested so much in such a high risk relationship (moving states, transferring schools, convincing everyone who knew it was wrong that it was right) that I would not let go. We married and began moving towards a sexless marriage in my late 20s. Now in my mid 30s, we have neither kissed nor had sex in years.

    The excellent “communication” I believed that we were building up to in our long distance relationship was also overblown. You have no idea what someone is doing while it appears that they are deeply engaged in a chat with you. While imagined him laying on his bed staring at his laptop screen in anticipation of my messages, my husband was undoubtedly playing videogames the vast majority of the time we were chatting.

    This became apparent when we moved in together and I realized that he struggled to look at me during conversations or have any serious face-to-face interactions with me at all. In fact, this was one of the greatest downfalls in our marriage. My husband is a gamer and much prefer spending large portions of his free time engaging online friends. This did not change when I moved and is an enormous incompatibility that I downplayed. Playing video games alone is more fun than talking in person (which he hates), or playing with our children (which he dislikes), or even having sex. He also prefers exceptional amounts of emotional distance, evident in seeking a long-distance relationship.

    I have come to believe that people who use placeholder/long-distance relationships are signaling that they are emotionally unavailable and likely to be relationally incompetent in very significant ways. For all the reasons and excuses we made for our online “relationship”, the truth is, we were using each other to prevent the development of potentially loving dynamics with compatible partners close to home. We were not prepared to commit to doing what was necessary to create a truly healthy dynamic and that’s why we were chatting online, closing doors in the first place.”

    Wow! That pretty much summarizes everything that’s bad about long-distance relationships. Marcy is particularly insightful in noting that a LDR is often a “placeholder”, a hedge against real intimacy.

    But here’s the thing: you don’t have to be in a long-distance relationship to create hedges against intimacy. You can be a workaholic or choose a job that has 60% travel. You can insist on having separate hobbies, circles of friends, or vacations. You can be a picky eater so you can’t share meals with people. You can subscribe to a multi-partner lifestyle like polyamory or swinging. If you’re afraid of letting people get to know the real you, your unconscious is going to create all kinds of clever strategies for making sure people don’t get too close. If you find yourself perennially lonely in spite of your best intentions, you may want to think about how you’re unconsciously inflicting it upon yourself.

    Women picking matches for their friends: a new kind of dating app?
    So I’m on record being against using online dating as your primary means of meeting new people. But what if there was an app that let you pick matches for your friends? Would that be more useful?

    Recently I came across such a collaborative matchmaking app. It piqued my interest and thought I’d bring it to your attention. It’s called Spritzr, and it’s an app for friends to play matchmaker. So you get to meet dates that you have friends or interests in common with, as opposed to the stream of randos you see on most dating apps.

    Am I totally convinced this works? Not yet. But it does seems worthy of a closer look. They’re early in their development, and I befriended the founder, who said we could be some of his beta testers. Yay! If you’re interested in being part of this early adopter program, go to get.spritzer.com/tao and sign up for an account. I’m very curious about how the experiment goes — especially if we stoke the whole app with a bunch of my amazing readers :)

    Next week, I’ll be telling you about the new book by my excellent friend and colleague Christine Marie Mason. She’s written a remarkable new book called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connectionand I’ll be sharing some of it with you before it’s even released on Sept 16. Who loves you?

    All the best
    Dr Ali
    PS: The Win Dr Ali’s Kindle Superfan Contest continues. We’ve already got some strong contenders, and I’m going to add some prizes for 2nd place to make things more exciting. Click here for the rules.
  • Dating for Happiness

    A few months ago, I gave a TEDx talk (third one!) at TEDx Echo Park entitled Happiness Engineering: The Five Pillars of Authentic Success. The first of the five pillars is Intimate Relationships. The other four are Life Purpose, Sleep, Mind Management, and Exercise.

    To be fair, the talk is not entirely about dating. Okay, fine, maybe like 20%. But The Tao of Dating has always been about the whole person anyway, because dating brings into play all of who you are. It’s not like someone can date one aspect of you while leaving out the other ones. I mean, it’s possible that there’s some guy out who’s really hankering for a version of you that’s sleep-deprived, out of shape, mentally unbalanced, and dissatisfied at work, but it’s not terribly likely, y’know? Why do you think half the book is about yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude and other happiness practices?

    Win Dr Ali’s Kindle Library: The Tao of Dating Superfan Contest (for the ladies only)

    So the other day I was reading something that said it’s nice to have fans, but it’s great to have a community. So I’m designating this month as Community Building Month. We’re going to start with a contest to find out who the biggest Tao of Dating fans are out there.

    Some of you have listened to the audiobook over 20 times. Some of you have gotten copies of the book for a dozen friends. Some of you have memorized entire passages. Some of you sleep with a copy of it in your pillowcase, even thought it makes the pillow lumpy.

    Well, I’d like to know who you are! Here’s how it works:

    1. Get points for each of the activities below. If you’ve done the activity already (eg written a review), you still get the points.
    2. Tally them up and leave your total in the comments. If you don’t want the post to be searchable, just include your first name. Only I can see your email address, and it will remain anonymous.
    3. Person with the highest points by 11.59pm on 30 Sept 2016 wins the prize.

    The Grand Prize is Kip, my personal Kindle Paperwhite. I have upgraded to a fancier model, so I don’t use Kip anymore. This makes Kip sad, of course, because he still has 217 or so books on him, and he just wants to be held and read — preferably in your bed because well Kip is a guy duh. So basically, the Grand Prize is my personal digital library, which is over $2000 worth of ebooks (mostly nonfiction). Some of the illustrious titles in this library:

    These are all great books, because life is short and i don’t got time to read crappy ones, ya hear? So just to make this clear: you’re winning a whole library of awesomeness. At $8.99 to $14.99 a piece, this is about $2200 worth of ebooks. And the Kindle Paperwhite itself is worth $120, which makes the whole thing worth over $2300. Get crackin’!

    Below is how you score points. In a comment on this blog post with your first name and email, write up your activities and your total points, eg “Read book 14 times, posted GoodReads and iTunes reviews, joined Twitter and Facebook, 150 points total”. Just remember that if you’re in contention to win, you may be asked to verify your points. Here we go:

    • Join me on Facebook or Twitter(@DrAliBinazir): 10 points. Include your username to verify. 20 points for each friend you get to join (include their usernames to verify).
    • 5 points for each time you’ve read or listened to The Tao of Dating (honor system).
    • Watch one of my three TEDx Talks. For verification, give it a thumbs-up and leave a comment: Awaken Creative Genius (10 points), Love and the Empowered Woman (15 points), Happiness Engineering (15 points). 20 more points for each time you share it on social media.
    • Post a review to Goodreads, Apple iTunes, or Audible: 40 points. To verify, paste the URL to the review and the name under which the review is posted. Old reviews under your name still count. Amazon reviews don’t count for this contest, but if you’re moved to write one, I will be forever grateful.
    • Select The Tao of Dating audiobook for a 30-day free trial on Audible: 30 points
    • Each friend you sign up for the Tao of Dating newsletter: 40 points. Have them join via the free audiobook sign-up box in the upper right-hand corner of the blog.
    • If you believe my teachings contributed directly to a relationship, past or present: 30 points. Mention what the specific influence was. Extra 20 points if it resulted in a fulfilling partnership lasting 2+ years.

    That’s all the ways I can think of for now. If I come up with more ways to score points, I will let you know. In the meantime, let’s get to know each other a little better and have some fun with this shall we?

    Good luck, Dr Ali

    PS: Later this week, we’ll have posts written by you, the ladies, and next week, a very special interview with one of my readers/collaborators. Stay tuned…

  • The Friendship Test: Figure Out Who’s Good for You with 5 Simple Questions

    Who are your real friends? Who’s a good partner? Who has your back? Turns out that even scientists have a suprisingly hard time answering these questions. In a study by Alex (Sandy) Pentland and colleagues of the MIT Media Lab, 94% of people who nominated someone as a friend expected to be nominated in return. Hey, I may not know the capital of Mongolia, but I know who my friends are, right? Wrong. Only 53% of the people nominated them back. This means that about half the time, the friendship was one-sided.

    So how can you tell? Is someone who offers to pick you up at the airport your friend? How about the person who invites you to his wedding? Or goes through the trouble of attending yours? What if he doesn’t really care about you but just likes a really good party? Is the person who comes to your wedding but doesn’t take you to the airport still your friend? How can you tell?

    Although you can’t do a lot about reciprocity, you can tell if someone’s good for you or not. That’s why I’ve come up with these 5 criteria by which you can quickly assess any relationship. The answer to each question is binary — yes/no, A or B — so pay attention to the answer that spontaneously arises, before thinking has a chance to interfere with it. Chances are that your gut reaction to these questions is accurate — and very telling about the nature of your relationship with Aubrey. Um, who the hell is Aubrey? He or she is our stand-in for awkward constructs like “he or she”, “this person”, and the singular “they.” Besides, it’s a nice name. Let’s take this Friendship Test and see how you and Aubrey get along.

    1. Do they have your back?

    The first criterion to consider is simple: Does Aubrey fundamentally support you, or cut you down? I almost feel silly explaining this, since it seems self-evident. But friendship and love bias our judgment, and sometimes we find ourselves the recipient of mixed behaviors — sometimes warm but other times cold. How to tell who’s really on our side? Perhaps some examples would be illustrative:

    • When you make a mistake, supportive people empathize with you : “Oh wow, yeah, I missed a deadline last month, too. Totally understand.” Non-supportive people blame and shame you: “Why would you do something stupid like that again?”

    • Supportive folks give space to your aspirations instead of suffocating them instantly, regardless of how hare-brained they seem: “Oh, so you want to move to Berlin and be a penniless conceptual artist? Tell me more.”

    • Supportive people actively look for ways to make your life better. They’ll offer you a ride to the airport, a loan when you’re in dire straits, a bowl of chicken soup when you’re sick. They help to the best of their ability, vs non-supportive people who will only help if it’s convenient or beneficial to them, if at all.

    • Supportive people have your well-being and safety in mind. They will warn you off toxic partners in business and romance, discourage you from pointlessly risky behavior, and look out for you when you’re in a compromised state.

    2. Are you an option or a priority?

    The text comes in at 6pm on Friday: “Hey dude! Sooo sorry not gonna make it tonight. Something came up. Rain check?”

    Whaddya mean not gonna make it? Aubrey was the one who requested your company — on Monday. And now, a cancellation two hours before you’re supposed to meet? What kind of friend is this?

    Nowadays this is an all-too-common occurrence. So common that Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has even given it a name: liquid modernity. This is a society in which no commitment is solid, and everything is provisional: jobs, dwellings, spouses, ideologies. And with the ubiquity of instant electronic communication, all appointments are subject to change until the last minute, lest a better deal pops up.

    You also just know when someone is looking for some company or for your company specifically. So prioritize those who prioritize you. You can still be friends with those who mostly treat you like an option, but you probably shouldn’t bend over backwards to accommodate them in your life.

    3. Do they treat you as a means to an end, or an end in yourself?

    My friend Sasha is smart, interesting, sweet and very pretty. But she has the darndest time making friends. Why? Because she has a famous father, and she never knows whether people want to be friends because of her, or to gain access to her dad.

    Even without a famous relative, we’ve all got some special sauce that someone could be after. Maybe you have cute friends that Aubrey wants to meet. Maybe you work in a theater and have free tickets to shows. Maybe you’re rich or famous yourself, or have friends who throw good parties.

    Although part of friendship is to ask for the occasional favor and share in our abundance, real friends will generally value you for the whole of who you are, and not just the perks. They will treat you as if spending time with you is intrinsically worthwhile, as opposed to a means to some extrinsic goal.

    The frequency and nature of contact is one way of telling whether a friend treats you like an end or a means. Do they only call you when they need something, or do they regularly check up on you and include you in their plans?

    If you don’t like feeling used, there are two things you can do. First is to excise the Users from your life. Second is to stop dancing for your dinner. If you feel someone’s so cool that you need to have Cirque du Soleil tickets every time you request their company, you’re really just setting yourself up to be used. Either they’re grateful for your company just as you are, or the friendship’s just not sustainable in the first place.

    4. Do they add life energy to you or drain you?

    The other day my friend Johnny was visiting from far away. I’ve known Johnny for 15 years and shared lots of experiences with him. I’ve even been to his wedding. And yet, after every one of our meetings, I feel energetically spent. The doctor in me has tried to diagnose this, but you know what? It doesn’t matter why I feel drained. What matters is that it happens every time. And it’s not something I enjoy or anticipate fondly.

    Negativity, complaints, gratuitous attacks on your person (especially attacks disguised as helpful suggestions), being pointlessly demanding, constant requests for attention: these are behaviors that can drain your energy in a hurry. If the purpose of friendship is a flourishing of the soul, this ain’t the formula for it.

    You can still be friends with these energy vampires, especially if they’re essentially well-meaning people who just happen to annoy the crap out of you. But just know that, for your own sanity, you want to minimize their dosage. Instead, choose to spend more time with those who add energy to your life. You know who they are — the ones who point out the butterflies on the roadside, call you with a new joke to tell, and can’t wait to take you to try this new dish. You just feel a little more alive around them, and want to spend more time with them, as well you should. Which brings us to the fifth and final criterion:

    5. Does this person bring out the best or the worst in you?

    If I were to walk by you and say, “Hey, I really like your dress,” chances are you’d smile and return the compliment: “Thanks, you look great, too!” On the other hand, if I were to say, “Hey, watch where you’re going, jerk!”, you’d probably return that favor and say, “Screw you, too!”

    Same person, two very different reactions. Psychologists even have a name for this: the Pygmalion effect. Our interactions have the capability to draw out dramatically different versions of people.

    Similarly, whenever I hang out with my friend Sonia, for some unfathomable reason I find myself complaining about the world, mocking passersby, and being a generally snarky version of me. Whereas when I’m with Gail, I feel my vision expand, my thoughts ennoble and my heart open.

    Again, I’m not quite sure why this happens, but I do notice the consistency of the effect. Sonia brings out the snark; Gail brings out sweet.

    As far as I can tell, the purpose of friendship is the flourishing of the spirit, meaningful fellowship, and interactions that lead to our personal growth. So it makes sense to spend less time with those who make us feel like meaner versions of ourselves, and more time with those who bring out our kindness, generosity, and expansiveness of heart. To that end, we would do well to select for friends who have our back, make us priorities in their lives, treat us like worthy ends in ourselves, and stoke us with more of the energy that allows us to be a force for good in the world.

    All the best, Dr Ali

    PS: Therapy Thursday continues by popular request. If you have an issue that you think could benefit from a one-on-one consult via Skype, send a message to drali at taoofdating.com with “TT” in the subject line and I’ll see what I can do to accommodate you. There are 3 appointment slots per week, and they happen on Thursdays and Fridays.

    PPS: If you don’t have it already, you can get The Tao of Dating audibook for free when you sign up for a 30-day trial with Audible.

    PPPS: I will soon be holding a contest in which I give away my personal Kindle reader, along with my digital library of 300 or so books. Stay tuned :)

     

  • Replay of “Design the Love Life You Want” Webinar

    Thanks to all of you who made it to the live webinar of Design the Love Life You Want. As promised, here’s the replay of the seminar:

    Or you can download the mp3 here (84min, 40Mb). The last 20min is Q&A which you’re welcome to skip.

    In the meantime, my profuse apologies to all of you who signed up way in advance and tried to get on the webinar but couldn’t. This was the first time I was using this software for a live class. What I did not know was the 100 person cap on the webinar capacity. In anticipation of glitches (because that’s what software does), I had put up a conference call number on the welcome page and Facebook, which some of you were able to use. In retrospect, I should have sent the call-in number along with the original mailing. Live and learn.

    Because of the glitch, I’m doing a second call this Thursday, 14 July at 12 noon PT/3pm ET/8pm London to accommodate all the folks who missed the first one, as well as the folks in Europe, Australia and Hawaii who made the request for a live session. Additionally, all offers mentioned on the call will be good until the end of day on Friday. We’ll still use the webinar interface for its ease of sign-up and ability to field questions, so please click here to sign up. But if it gives you any trouble at all on the day of, use the call-in number:

    DATE: Thursday, 14 July 2016, 12 noon PT/3p ET/20.00 London/21.00 Berlin
    Conference line: +1 712 432 3066
    Access code: 667202

    I look forward to catching up with you!

    All the best,
    Dr Ali