Category: Personal Development

  • The 3 Big Questions to Turn Your Dating Life Around (10th Anniversary Post)

    It’s been about 10 years since I published The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible (ebook, print, audiobook). Although most of the stuff I wrote that long ago has become too cringeworthy for me to read, this book is mostly okay. And thanks to the support of readers like you, it’s once again Amazon’s highest-rated dating book for women (4.5/5 stars). So I’m starting to think it’s useful to people.

    In the meantime, I’ve had a decade’s worth of personal experience, 5000 letters from readers, and countless talks and seminars to reshape my thinking about dating and love for the modern woman. From that mass of data, three big principles have emerged that I’d like to share with you today.

    1. Are you buying or selling?

    When I was in Helsinki last summer, going to the farmer’s market was one of the most enjoyable things I did. Finland is big on berries, and has an abundance of wild blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cloudberries, lingonberries, hinkleberries and floinkenberries. Okay, so maybe I made up the last two, but the rest are real and tasty. And at the farmer’s market, you’ve got all these vendors with acres of the stuff selling it for cheap.

    So there I was, armed with my all-powerful berry-buying euros, thinking, “Hmm, which vendor should I buy from?” Here, let’s make it a multiple-choice quiz so you can help me out:

    Vendor A: pretty solid berries but starting to look a little tired, 4 euros
    Vendor B: big juicy bright superfresh berries, 3 euros
    Vendor C: big juicy bright superfresh berries, 5 euros

    So—which one should Dr Ali choose? If you said “B, duh”, then you understand the idea of being a buyer with money in your pocket and options to choose from. You know what you want, and you pick the best option.

    Now, let’s switch the scenario around a little bit and pretend this is what happens instead:

    You arrive at Vendor A. Hey, look, berries! They look a little worse for wear, but overall not bad. Oh, you’re willing to sell to me? No way! It must be my lucky day! I’ll take ‘em all. Will you pleeeez take my money?

    What, you won’t even look at the other vendors, even though you’ve got money in your pocket? Do you see how much nonsense that makes? And yet, that is exactly how most people approach the relationship market. They act like they’re selling when they should be buying.

    You’re selling whenever you try to persuade people how wonderful you are. I’m a great cook! I make mad money! I give body-melting massages with hot chestnut oil! I’m great in the sack! I’m pretty! Choose meeee!

    And it’s possible that you’re all of those things and an excellent salesperson, and thus get all kinds of attention.

    But in the end, the best salesperson in the world has less power than even the least skilled buyer. The science of game theory guarantees it. Because the buyer has choice. And choice in the marketplace is power.

    How do you practice being the buyer in the dating world? By being playfully discriminating. The attitude is something like, “Hey, you seem pretty interesting. Let’s find out what you have going for you and whether there’s a potential match here.”

    This would be in contradistinction to “Omigod you are so amazing and beautiful and great please give me a smidgen of attention pretty please I promise I’ll make it worth your while even though deep down inside I’m not worthy but give me a chance anyway? Pretty pleez?”

    Yeah, that may not work so well.

    And yet, in spite of the inherent weakness of the seller stance, it’s the one most people in the relationship marketplace assume by default. So if you are that rare person who has the presence of mind to adopt the subtle shift in perspective to become the buyer, you will win more often.

    It does not cost anything to assume the buyer stance. You don’t have to lose weight, get a new hairdo, go to the gym, go on a diet, or get cosmetic treatments to assume it. And yet, it will make you more attractive than all of those external interventions.

    In The Tao of Dating, I call this the picky buyer stance. And while I want you to be picky, I also want you to remain compassionate and kind. It’s very easy to lapse from picky to hardass to jerk. But you will never do that, because you will remain your playful, fun, kind self. Right? Right. The point is to keep your heart and mind open while conveying that you have standards.

    The picky buyer stance is especially important to remember when meeting people online. This is because an online profile is basically an advertisement, which is by definition what people utilize to sell things. So when you go online, there’s no way around going into sell mode initially. Once you receive some messages from interested parties, then you can go back to being the picky buyer.

    Being the buyer vs the seller feeds directly into the next principle, which may not only be the most important principle for dating, but also for lifelong happiness and fulfillment.

    2. Are you enough?

    One of the two things that struck me about the 5000 or so readers’ letters I’ve received in the past 10 years is that they all basically contained the same question even though on the surface, they looked different:

    • “I’m a 37yr old divorced mother of two. Will any guy want to go out with a woman with young children?”

    • “We had a great first date, and I texted him the next day to thank him. It’s been two days and he hasn’t responded yet. Has he lost interest?”

    • “We’ve been dating for three years and I thought we were headed towards marriage. But now he’s saying he wants some space. What should I do?”

    • “Does my butt look good in these pants?”

    But deep down, they were all variations on the same question:

    “Am I enough?”

    The problem: it’s the wrong question. Merely attempting to answer it puts you in a seller position that’s impossible to escape from. Also: Enough for what? The changing whims of culture and fashion? The unfathomable desires of millions of different potential partners, most of whom don’t even consciously know what they want? Your own pointlessly harsh standards?

    Some of you reading this right now are probably thinking, “Omigod, he’s right! I’ve been am-I-enoughing myself forever! How terrible!”

    And that would be funny, ‘cause there you go doing it again. But it’s okay: everybody does it. There are multi-billion dollar industries arrayed to make us feel terrible about ourselves: TV, movies, cosmetics, advertising, exercise, diet. Making us feel bad about ourselves is how people sell us stuff.

    Luckily, there are remedies. You can re-read The Tao of Dating and Marianne Williamson’s A Woman’s Worth. Then, for a permanent solution, do these three things:

    (a) Instead of asking “Am I enough?,” ask “How can I be of service?”

    Even if you do happen to think you’re enough for one brief shining moment, that moment will pass. The hair will have a bad day. The outfit will go out of style. The culture’s ideal butt will go from Reubens to Marilyn to Twiggy and back, while yours stays attached to you mostly unchanged. And there’s no escaping self-criticism (except for the solution in (c) below).

    Trying to be enough is a game you cannot win. It is temporary power at best, because it can be taken away from you.

    The good news is that on any given day, wherever you are, you have the opportunity to be someone’s answered prayer. You have the power to elevate those around you, appreciate them genuinely, and make them feel like a billion bucks:

    “Love how you’ve put together that outfit!”

    “Really enjoyed your presentation. So uplifting!”

    “Thank you for a fantastic dinner! So wonderful of you to bring us together!”

    The power to elevate others is power that cannot be taken away from you. You can do it anytime, anywhere. And because of the hypersocial human brain, when you make other people feel good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you glow, and people want to be around you. You’ll feel great, and you won’t ever be lonely again.

    To implement this into your life, start by setting a goal of giving one more compliment per day than you were before. For most of us, that adds up to one compliment per day. The bus driver, the receptionist, an old friend, your partner—everyone is eligible. Let’s make a habit out of this.

    Another interesting thing happens when you make being of service a part of your identity. Potential partners will go from wondering if you’re good enough for them to thinking if they’re good enough for you. Your mere presence will want them to be a better man! How’s that for a shift from “Am I enough?”

    (b) Practice self-compassion

    Self-compassion would be the opposite of the voice inside your head saying stuff like “I can’t believe I left the food on the stove overnight again what a bonehead just shoot me now.” Prof Kristin Neff of the University of Texas suggests three things you can do to replace the habitual self-harshness with some self-compassion:

    1. Self-kindness. Imagine your 7-year old nephew breaks a plate. Would you crash down on him like a titanium anvil, or say something like, “Oh, careful now but don’t worry about it too much”? Self-kindness means being as nice to yourself as you would be to the 7yr old nephew.

    2. Recognize our common humanity. Everyone screws up. Everyone has issues like Kleenex has tissues, and they’re all the same issues, no matter how exotic and unique you think yours are. As the recipient of all of your letters, I have proof that whatever problem you’re having, hundreds of others have it, too.

    3. Mindfulness. According to Prof Neff, “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.” This is about allowing yourself to feel whatever emotion you’re experiencing without over-identifying with it. Acknowledge it, feel it, and let it pass.

    (c) Get rid of your small self.

    One of the foundational tenets of Buddhist philosophy (and all mystical traditions) is to get rid of your sense of self entirely. If there is no you, then nobody can belittle you, insult you, betray you, or break your heart. No self, no problem!

    The problem is that getting to no-self ain’t so simple. One path is to meditate. A lot. And while you meditate, you take one step back from your own thoughts and feelings so you can stop identifying with them. Instead, you identify with the pure consciousness behind those thoughts or feelings. Think of your consciousness as the TV screen, with your thoughts the programs showing on it. You are the TV screen, not the programs.

    Eventually, the state of dis-identifying from your thoughts goes from being a state to becoming a trait. That’s what the sages call samadhi, or satori, or awakening.

    As a regular meditator, I’ve come to appreciate the slight impracticality of telling folks to solve their relationship problems by practicing no-self (anatta). It’s like telling an out-of-shape person to take up ultramarathons. That said, you can begin the practice of dis-identification by meditating.

    Meditation is by far the single most beneficial practice I’ve taken up. And you can begin with just 2 minutes a day. Who doesn’t have time to sit and do nothing for 2 minutes? Apps like Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up are excellent ways to ease yourself into it.

    3. What do you want?

    The second thing that struck me about the 5000 letters was that they almost never contained a real question. I’d get a novella about how they met, the minute-by-minute unfolding of the first three dates, his lingering attachment to his ex, and then: “What do you think I should do, Doc?”

    And that’s when I would say with total certainty, “Buy Tesla stock! It’s, like, totally undervalued.”

    Well, actually, I don’t really know about that. I also don’t know about what you want. And until you tell me what you want—some kind of desirable outcome—I have no basis to dispense advice, dubious or sage.

    There are some general guidelines, of course. Hang out with people who bring out your best self and catalyze your growth. Don’t chase bright, shiny objects without regard for whether there’s an actual fit between you. Only date people who are actually single and available. “Separated”, “divorcing”, and “like totally separated but ex still lives in the house” are not the same as single and available.

    So. You need to ask yourself, “If I could wave a magic wand here and get exactly what I want, what would that look like?” You’d be shocked and amazed how much clarity this simple mental exercise will give you.

    For example, sometimes what you really want is not a relationship with a hotshot who has repeatedly signaled his unavailability with poor communication and a busy schedule, but something simple and more reliable. Sometimes you just want a fun fling, not something serious. Sometimes you don’t actually want the long-distance relationship to work out, but rather to handle your latent tendency to avoid real intimacy. Sometimes you want the bad boy you’re dating to propose to you, and you know he’ll never do that, which means you’re free to look elsewhere.

    Sometimes it’s okay not to know exactly what you want. Last thing you want is to spend lots of time and effort attaining a lofty but ultimately wrong goal. On the other hand, things like growth and fulfillment are directional goals. So long as you’re on the path to greater growth and fulfillment, you know you’re going in the right direction.

    And sometimes, it’s okay to just go into the silence and practice solitude. Work on yourself. If you can’t stand your own company, how can you expect anyone else to stand you? Learning to be alone without being lonely is one of the cornerstone skills of relationship.

    Conclusion

    The principles I just described are simple to grasp. They may not be trivial to implement them into your life, especially if you’ve been practicing their opposites for years. But it’s certainly possible to change. One of the most hopeful aspects of human existence is neuroplasticity. The brain can change and grow no matter how long you’ve been alive. You can learn new ways of doing things.

    So if you’ve been playing the seller your entire life, go ahead and try playing the buyer for a while and see what happens. Experiment! Make a game out of it. If you’ve been acting as if you’re not enough, shift to practicing self-compassion and being of service, and notice the results. If you haven’t been a meditator, start with 2 min a day. And if you’re having a difficult time figuring out what you really want, start with a list of things you really don’t want. That should help clarify the values you hold dear, which is a signpost to what you want in your life.

    I hope you find a way to implement these principles into your life. I’m interested in hearing about your thoughts and experiences. There are thousands of you and only one of me, so there’s a lot more collective wisdom in your midst than in my noggin. Either comment on the article below, or write to me directly at DrAliB (at) TaoOfDating.com. If you have a question, keep it under 250 words and make sure you include a question :) And if you’d like me to do more consultations and office hours, let me know so I can make time for it in the schedule.

    All the best, Dr Ali

    Additional resources

    To further explore some of the principles I discuss in the article, here are some useful resources:

    Prof Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion website

    Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach (ebook & print). One of the best books ever written on meditation and living at peace with oneself. Just might be the best $11 you’ll ever spend.

    A Woman’s Worth by Marianne Williamson. Great antidote to feelings of not-enoughness.

    • Meditation apps: Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up.

    The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Norman Doidge, M.D. (ebook & print). Neuroplasticity is real and applies to everyone, including you right now. Some tremendously inspiring stories in here. Probably the most hopeful book I’ve ever read.

    The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible by Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil. (ebook, print, potentially free audiobook). Just in case you haven’t read it yet.

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  • Tao of Dating 2018 Workshop, Helsinki Edition (audio)

    Over the weekend of 3-5 August 2018, I presented some workshops at the Magnesia Festival in Helsinki. One of them was entitled “The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved.” Some things have changed to modern romance since I first published The Tao of Dating book (ebook and print). I’ve also learned a lot from the 5000+ letters readers like you have sent me, so think of this talk as an update and supplement to the book that incorporates the new stuff.

    The talk has 5 themes:

    1. How to get better at selecting men: Avoiding psychopaths and sociopaths. The heart-spine selection criteria. Avoiding Bad Boys in favor of selecting Good Guys.
    2. How to present the best possible version of you.
    3. How to find him at his best: the importance of venue and context.
    4. Set up dating so you win.
    5. How to avoid unforced errors: on communication habits, giving love a chance, overdependence on devices, and the cure for negative self-talk.

    Download link for The Tao of Dating: The Modern Woman’s Guide to Loving and Being Loved (Sun 5 Aug)
    Download link for Saturday version of same talk (Sunday one was better)

    If you are a fan of yoga, meditation and dance and can free your schedule for the first week of August, I highly recommend the Magnesia Festival. It’s set on a beautiful island in Helsinki harbor, with healthy food, fun classes, and serious sauna. Many thanks to Mari Rasimus, Kaisa Kärkkäinen, Asaf Peled and Oded Peled for inviting me and taking such good care of the speakers!

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  • Tao of Dating 2018 Workshop recap + recording + Mindful Living

    Thanks to all of you who made it to the “Tao of Dating 2018” workshop last week in Santa Monica! When you spend months on end like me staring at a computer screen, it’s a real treat to see some of you face-to-face and answer your questions in real time.

    We covered a lot of ground during the workshop. More specifically, I talked about six themes:

    1) The fallacy of the Western Romantic Narrative and how it can cause more pain than joy
    2) Guy selection.
    3) How to present the best possible version of you, and how online dating apps can hinder that.
    4) How to find him at his best
    5) Benefits of prolonging the courtship: patience pays!
    6) How stop inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot in the dating arena.

    It’s this last one that I want to touch upon briefly. Dating can be plenty challenging as it is without committing unforced errors. Here are some simple ways you can get out of the way of your own success:

    Minimize negative self-talk: Do you ever find yourself saying things to yourself like, “Omigod you’re such an idiot!” Or “You screwed that one up again because you don’t really deserve to be happy anyway.” Or worse?

    Everyone has a little negative soundtrack running in their heads, and scientists have noticed that it’s particularly prevalent amongst women. Nobody knows exactly why, but I’m pretty sure that all the advertising imagery emphasizing women’s inadequacy is probably not helping.

    What’s the solution? Two ideas: First, limit the amount of (more…)

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  • “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

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  • 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

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  • 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.

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  • Marriage Part 2, crash test dummies, and how to stop beating yourself up

    Wow! So many comments from the Garden Gnomes article — a new record for the site, in fact. Apparently marriage is on people’s minds. Some of the ladies had pressured to get their partners to propose, and saw the error of their ways:

    “This was just what I needed to hear today, thank you! We have an amazing relationship & have only been together a little over a year. I don’t want to weaken it by putting pressure on him about marriage. Now I just need to share this with my well-meaning friends who pester me about why I don’t have a ring yet every time I see them! Thank you!” – Renee

    “I recently put pressure on my boyfriend about this, and we can both feel the strain in the relationship now. It’s not worth it to push any issue. It would definitely feel much better if it were his decision without the pressure, and I feel very selfish now. I guess I needed this article, and I thank you. Marriage does still remain important to me, but I think a good relationship with a man I trust is better.” – Michele

    Others were more of the Beyoncé camp: girl should stick to her guns, and if the dude wants to stick around, he should put a ring on it:

    “She should be able to discuss what her relationship needs are. Most women do not thrive when they are in limbo. Most women want relationship security. Most women want to know that the man they are with has a current intention to be with them in the future. Maria should feel 100 percent comfortable checking in with her man to see if they are still on the same page. If she genuinely and lovingly communicates to him what her genuine needs are, and he cannot meet them, she should wish him the very best for the future and move on. There is abundance and a lot of opportunities for love in this world.” – Elle from Oz

    All salient points. Now I know a little bit about the courtship and dating — y’know, the part leading up to the scary forever promises and written contracts and stuff. But if you want advice on marriage and relationships from the source, I encourage you to consult the magus himself, Prof John Gottman, starting with The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (ebook and paperback). In addition to being married himself, he has videotaped, analyzed and advised thousands of couples and written reams about the topic. 

    Marriage is a supremely complex topic that we could debate till the end of days. So I’ll just say a few words before we move on to new letters. Specifically, that marriage does not necessarily bring you security.

    Reader Tess Bee’s comment encapsulated the theme of the pro-marriage camp: “I’m not saying a marriage certificate will stop a man from leaving. But the very fact of swearing in front of witnesses to remain “’til death us do part” shows a level of commitment which imbues a woman with a sense of security that is simply not there without a tangible commitment.”

    Well, let’s imagine this scenario: suppose I offer you a ride crosstown, and I tell you, “By the way, there’s only a 50% chance that we’ll crash — you should be fine.” How safe would you feel about that ride? Would you even take it?

    Dumb question, I know. That’s what crash-test dummies are made for. And yet, 50% is also the intrinsic failure rate of marriages in the US. And for some reason, there are millions of people clamoring to get in on that deal.

    Dunno about you, but a coin flip to crash ain’t my idea of security.

    Now I know what you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s the other 50%. They weren’t talking about us. Our bond is special.” This would be a prime manifestation of one of the most pernicious cognitive biases known to man — namely, the bad shit only happens to other people bias. May want to go ask those other people if they thought themselves “other people” when things went sideways.

    There is only one thing that will bring you security in this world: being comfortable with insecurity. There’s a great book about it — The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (ebook and paperback). Because the truth is that the world is eternally in flux. Everything is jiggling, twisting, shimmying, dodging, weaving, all the time. Even that rock sitting there, seemingly quiescent, has quintillions of molecules vibrating unimaginably fast, perpetually. Everything is moving and alive. Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching has something to say about this:

    Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard.
    Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry.
    Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
    Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
    The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

    So according to Taoist thought, wishing for ultimate security — a form of stasis — is like being anti-life. I see how a huge promise made in front of all your friends may make it harder for both parties to back out. But like any wall, it also makes it harder for you to get out. What if he or she turns into a monster right after the marriage? What if you find out you’re not the one suited for married life, even though you asked for it?

    The other thing is that marriage is a cultural construct, not a natural phenomenon. We made it up. And, like tattoos and skinny hipster jeans, just ’cause everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it necessarily the right thing for you. Data shows that single women’s overall life satisfaction goes down after marriage (while that of men rises). You sure you want to sign up for that? Like the Buddha said, ehi passiko — go figure things out for yourself and see if it works for you.

    Which brings us to a letter about uncertainty:

    Hi Dr Ali — I told myself that all I really wanted was to just meet the guy and have fun so I messaged him last Wednesday and told him that I was free Saturday afternoon. He never replied. And for some unknown reason, and never having met the guy even, I’m absolutely heart broken.

    All I really wanted to do was to meet the guy and break this fantasy that I have of him in my head. Meeting him would have shown me that he is human, giving the infatuation less power. But now I am devastated because I don’t think I’ll get the chance to do that and I’m feeling awful. I’m regretting not talking to him at that event and really beating myself up for it to the point of it feeling painful. I’m upset that he wasn’t willing to follow through with asking me out and just disappearing. I know, it’s likely just a simple case of not being interested or even dating someone else, but I can’t help feeling as awful and sad as I do. I felt like you may have some words of wisdom for me, and actually being on my trip to do my rotation without my friends or family isn’t helping me much. — Lily the 24yr old med student from last time

    Well, Lily, one thing I know for sure: this is no longer about the guy, since he is nowhere near, and you haven’t even met him in person yet. So right now he is about as real as the spawn of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. What is very real is the misery you’re feeling right now. And since he’s not there, we know the exact address of the source of your pain: your own mind. This is a good time to learn how to run it so it serves you instead of running amok for the next 70 years. Three main suggestions:

    1) Meditate every day. If one good thing can come from this mediocre experience, it’s that it got you started on a lifelong practice that improved your existence more than anything else. So get meditating. Start with 2min a day, and extend it to 20min or beyond. If you don’t know how, get Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance (ebook and paperback) or the “Headspace” app. If you don’t start meditating, I’ll just assume that you prefer to feel miserable.
    2) Exercise. A run or yoga session will clear your head and expand your vision in a way to make this issue shrink to its proper tininess in the grand scheme of things.
    3) Practice self-compassion. This beating up on yourself needs to stop. I know it’s a pretty common practice nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less weird or pathological. Also, which part of you is beating up on which? Are you slapping yourself in the face like Annette Bening in American Beauty? Is it the left hemisphere of your brain attacking the right? I’m asking these questions to illuminate the absurdity of beating up on yourself. Just stop and do crochet, street graffiti, skydiving — y’know, anything less detrimental and annoying.

    Prof Kristin Neff came up with the three elements of self-compassion:

    • Self-kindness: “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.”
    • Common humanity: “…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.”
    • Mindfulness: “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.”

    On her website, she has some exercises you can try out. If what I’ve said to you about self-compassion so far speaks to you, the exercises can be life-changing. When you combine practices like meditation, exercise and self-compassion, you become resilient, like the reed that bends in the wind instead of breaking. And that is real security in the face of the flux of the world.

    I understand that change is hard, though. And even ideas that cognitively make a lot of sense — “Wow, I should totally do that!” — sometimes pass us by without making a lasting difference in our behavior. So for those of you interested in real change and tangible growth, I propose Project Irresistible. In it, we address some neglected but fundamental questions like, who are you, really? What’s your point for being on this Planet Earth? What are your most deeply held values? What are your goals vis-à-vis men and relationships? Do they mesh with those values? Are you ready for love? And that’s just the first two modules. Written exercises, listening assignments, guided meditations and real-world exercises get you expanding your envelope of existence to embrace a grander vision of you — and to manifest that in your daily behavior. The $100 off promotion is over, but you can still use coupon code “SPRINGY” for a $75 discount, which makes the price for the 6-week course less than a single session of therapy.

    And finally, to Lily and all the other ladies out there: the pain of being neglected and rejected is very, very real. Return people’s phone calls, texts, and emails, especially when it comes to romantic matters, even if it’s just to say “No thank you.” A clear “no” is a thousand times better than silence, which is perceived as “You’re not even worth a response.” As guys, we’re used to rejection, but the amount of infelicity and casualness in communications these days must be at an all-time high. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and be the change you want to see in the world.

    THERAPY THURSDAYS

    By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. If you’re from a time zone where these slots are inconvenient, let me know and we’ll see what we can work out for you. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address and Skype ID. $175 per 60min session.

    SPEAKING SCHEDULE

    Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.

    Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful, effective, fun stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. Early bird tix are $45. Sign up here.

    Thu May 12, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location not yet confirmed — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.

    Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali

     

     

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  • Love Better, Present Better, and Perform Better Through Presence

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: The next This Is How You Heal Yourself: Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Pain workshop is in San Francisco on Tuesday, 19 Jan 2016. I’ll be teaching you tools to get over heartbreak, phobias and trauma. Sign up here.***

    Here’s a story for you: just last month, my professional singer friend Valerie was terrified of her upcoming auditions because of crippling stage fright. Right about that time, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Amy Cuddy on her new book. Valerie couldn’t attend, so I gave her an advance copy of Presence (hardcover and ebook) that Amy had kindly given us. Valerie watched Amy’s TED talk, read half of the book, executed the “power pose” (i.e. expansive body postures like the “Wonder Woman” and the “Usain Bolt” held for 2min) and “self-affirmation of core values” techniques right before her auditions, and nailed ’em: three auditions, three gigs booked. And it all worked that fast.

    What would you say if I told you that there was an essential life skill that could make you a better speaker, help you nail job interviews, get you better dates, improve your performance, and make you a better partner and parent? What if I told you that no one has ever bothered to teach you this skill, mostly because we didn’t even know what it was? That secret skill is presence, “the state of feeling connected with our own thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions, so that we can better connect with the thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions of others.” And Amy Cuddy’s book can teach this state of “self-assured enthusiasm” to you and a whole lot more.

    People — this is life-changing stuff. We can all think of a time when (more…)

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  • How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition

    I had a breakup recently. It sucked royally.

    Except that it wasn’t even a breakup. The woman just stopped returning my communications. Calls unanswered. Voicemails not returned. Texts unacknowledged. Emails languishing in a mailbox, gathering e-dust. Hell, I even wrote her a handwritten letter. Four pages long! Hadn’t done that in over 15 years. Still nothing.

    Breakups are never fun, but of all the ways one can be dumped, the disappearing act probably feels the worst. I mean, it’s one thing to say to my face that I’m a terrible boyfriend/husband/partner/lover and you can’t stand me anymore for reasons X, Y and Z, spurious or true. It’s a completely different thing to vanish completely. Because in the former case, the mind perceives it as rejection, which registers in the same part of the brain as a poke in the eye That pain is so similar to regular pain that it is ameliorated by acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, paracetamol). Bet you didn’t know that.

    But when someone goes poof, the brain perceives it as a death. So you don’t just experience the pain of rejection, which is bad enough already. You go into mourning.

    The disconcerting news is that this kind of thing seems to be happening with such frequency nowadays that it has a name: ghosting. How fucking terrifying is that?

    So lest anyone think that the existence of this word somehow legitimizes the practice, let me make this clear: ghosting is an act of violence. If you ghost on someone — especially someone with whom you until very recently used to share secrets, food, bed space and bodily fluids, and was basically decent to you — you are a horrible, terrible, awful human being. This is an act of omission that is very much an act of commission: you are leaving someone for dead. And nice people don’t do that.

    But I’m preaching to the choir here, because you’re probably reading this to recover from a breakup, not to inflict one. Well, you’ve come to the right place darlin’, because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. I should know from breakups.

    There’s more that makes a breakup painful than the pain of rejection and mourning, however. You also come to (more…)

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  • How the Psychologist Found Love + Beta Testers Wanted for New Course + Birthday

    This last week was my birthday. I received a hundred or so messages from readers like you via my Facebook profile (to which I’d be delighted to add you should you wish to witness my miscellaneous ramblings), and another few hundred messages, texts and phone calls from friends and family. If you were one of them — thanks so much! By the end of the week, I was brimming with gratitude & joy from all of your kindness and support. This one below was one of the most heart-warming of all, and it wasn’t even sent for my birthday:

    “Hi Dr. Binazir! I don’t have a question, just a testimonial for your book (and I’ll add one on Amazon, too)! I read it about a year and a half ago after some unfortunate online dating experiences (I admit, you were right).

    weddingcake

    I’m a psychologist, but at times even the principles of therapy you provide for others just don’t sink in with regard to yourself. Your book really helped me with that, and I was able to let go of my desperate search for a partner. I think the things that helped the most were starting to attend a guided meditation practice, and using much of that time to focus on the principle of abundance. I really began to see my life as complete, and also kept my eyes and heart open.

    Almost the instant I reached and maintained a state of acceptance and peace, my friend happened to (more…)

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