This is part of my Start Here series of posts aimed at teaching beginners the basics of the meditative journey.
I am by no means a master at socializing. In fact, I am somewhat introverted and reclusive, preferring my own company most of the time and using social contact mainly to “tick a box” on the human needs list. However, I have come a long way from where I started — a place wherein, due to disastrous parenting, I was completely clueless about the ins and outs of the human social world and as a result managed to broadly alienate or outright piss off just about everyone I came into contact with, to varying degrees.
The turnaround for this state of affairs came one day as a dawning realization: Interactions between humans are so profoundly based in the intent of each individual involved that they are better off modelled as psychic events — a mind-to-mind exchange — and managed as such. At that point I found that just changing my intent towards each person had dramatic effects on the interaction. I then went through a phase of trial and error, swapping in and out intentions based on real-world results, and this phase continues to this day — hence, “intentional socializing”. This process also helped reveal my existing (pre-installed) intentions which mainly came from my parents. One benefit of starting from level zero in this way is that I now have a good idea of the problem and the solution and can help anyone lacking in this department get up to speed potentially quicker than if they were just muddling through it themselves.
Despite my invocation of the word “psychic”, this article will not invoke “woo” and is designed to cater to people of literally any worldview — from scientific materialist, to religious fanatic, to model agnostic chaos magician.
The inspiration behind this article comes largely from my time spent on “pickup artist” forums, and my own forum here at PPM. A very concise history is that I started lurking on pickup forums (such as the old FastSeduction) back in around 2002, and came across some truly horrible advice for men trying to pick up women, which basically consisted of giving them a technique then having them approach hundreds of women till one “took”. The issue is twofold: first that the techniques themselves were largely ineffective, second that doing any of this from a basis other than social competence is guaranteed to make you look like a total weirdo and will batter your self-esteem via the negative results that ensue.
Later on, dealing with my mostly male readership on a more personal level on my own forum, I came to realize that many guys’ problems boiled down to an inability to get what they wanted from others, and from not understanding the intentions of themselves and others going in. Social anxiety itself can be very broadly recognized as an inability to navigate the social world, and this again comes from a lack of understanding of the interplay between intentions going on in any social interaction. An anxiety arises when you either don’t know what’s going to happen, or you assume everyone intends to get you, or you don’t think you can cope, or you don’t believe you can get what you want from others. The whole thing is just a frustrating, agonizing mess. There is a tradition of guys seeking esoteric techniques, drugs, jhana, enlightenment — you name it — to solve this problem, which is the equivalent of calling in a nuclear strike when a handgun would do. More accurately, you need a hammer and to be able to see where the nails are.
Good socializing is a matter of good modelling and methodology– how you think about it, and how you carry it out based on that model. There are infinite models, but the one I use is based on the intentions of the individuals — mainly yourself, since yours are the only intentions you can control directly (and they are far more programmable than you might think).
Intention as a Basis for Social Interaction
In any social situation you are trying to get something out of the other person. In the majority of cases this goal is an emotional exchange — you are scratching each other’s backs. This is probably the number-one thing to realize for overly linear thinkers who tend to assume interactions are based on informational exchange. They’re not. You usually don’t ask someone “how are you?” to get the informational facts about their emotional state, but rather to set the emotional basis of the interaction as “interested” and “caring”. That is the intention. This is real primate grooming stuff. But how you ask that question will completely shape the nature of what follows. If your intent is to just tick the box of bare minimum social convention — saying “how are you?” to “get it out of the way” — then you will come across as dry and disinterested. The words are polite, but that’s irrelevant because the frame you are setting is that you really don’t care either way, and this is how you will be perceived.
Such nuance has been modelled in the past in terms of body language, vocal inflexion, and so forth, and there are many materials out there instructing you on how to tweak those things (micromanagement-style) to get the result you want, in what inevitably comes across as manipulative and disingenuous to whomever is subjected to such practices. Make no mistake: for the vast majority of you, taking such advice will make you look like a maladjusted weirdo or creep who is trying to pull a fast one. Humans are massively attuned to the intentions of others no matter how well veiled the initiator believes them to be. Sadly, the pickup forums were filled with such techniques. Trying to disguise underlying intentions by masking their outward manifestations is entirely the backwards way to go about things. Instead, you should set the intention correctly from the outset. If you want to come across as caring and compassionate, then start off by actually deciding to care. In your mind, set the intention, I intend to care about this person. Then ask, “How are you?” All the body language, all the vocal inflexion, and all the basis of the interaction, is downstream from the intention. Those outward signs of caring manifest from the intention to care.
That, in the shortest way possible, is all there is to this, and is the crux of this post:
set intention → act
To start getting positive outcomes, you need to be very straight with yourself about what your intentions are, and begin getting into the habit of purposefully setting intentions mentally before interactions.
What’s the Problem?
For those who currently aren’t very good at this, it boils down to one problem — unhelpful intentions — which we can further split down into sub-problems:
- Lack of intention. If you don’t set specific intentions before interactions then you are going to default to some autopilot intention. There is never “no intention” present. There’s always something driving why you are there and what you are doing (even if it is just something like “killing time”, which will tend to make you appear very disengaged).
- Unconscious unhelpful intentions. These almost entirely come from your parents. This is where you are trying to get something from other people (praise, attention, even things like being treated as an outsider) which are virtual carbon copies of your interactions with your parents, or how you observed them interacting with others (there will be more on this in a moment). This category also covers intentions such as “just killing time” or “going through the motions” where nothing specific has been set in mind but you just don’t feel like staying at home that day.
- Conscious unhelpful intentions. These are rare since (most) humans want to be liked, and want to experience social cohesion. However, I have included it for completeness. This category would cover things like setting out to make someone feel small, or setting out to fuck with people. Again, these are usually on the back of some unconscious intentions established via parents/upbringing (I doubt there are many people who would choose conscious malevolence if they had an alternative available).
Most of your intentions, when first starting out, come directly from your parents. It means that you are trying to get from people the kinds of interactions you had with your parents or observed your parents participating in. I will assert at this point that, for the vast majority of people, almost all of these intentions are completely unconscious. If your mother is an attention seeker (due to not receiving enough attention from her mother), you will be an attention-seeker (due to not receiving enough attention from your mother who was too busy trying to seek attention from others to give any to you). It is the blind photocopier of history at work. It means that in your interactions with people you will have the unconscious intention to get a load of attention. It’s all about you. We all know someone like that. Hard work, aren’t they? That’s just one example out of almost infinite. Typically people will align along common themes of strategy, though, and psychology for centuries has attempted to categorize people via groups of dominant themes.
The bottom line in all of this is as follows. If you had really socially-adjusted parents who treated others with respect and compassion, who wanted to create win-win situations — in other words, who had helpful intentions — then you will have sucked up all those strategies like a sponge and you will be set for life (and you most likely won’t be reading this article). But, if you had maladjusted parents, always focused on the “little me”, always trying to get some inner emotional need met through desperate means, and who therefore created ongoing win-lose situations (which are really lose-lose situations), then you now have practically a complete explanation for your own social strategies and dysfunction over the years. It really is that simple.
Luckily, you do NOT need to find out all those little idiosyncrasies and bad strategies you have picked up in order to change them. You do not need to debug the old software. You simply format the hard drive and install something new.
This is rather at odds with previous strategies from the fields of psychology which would have you dig into your past and analyse every behaviour, under the incorrect assumption that knowing “why” something has gone wrong will somehow fix it going forward. In my view the “why” is irrelevant. It’s far better to just start something new and better in line with what you want. You begin setting conscious intentions before interactions (with win-win in mind) then act. The results are positive and a reward loop starts whereby the old software is systematically replaced with the new one. Fascinatingly, this is also the best way to figure out the “why” of how things were before: when you have solid positive results in your new system then the flaws of the old strategy become completely patently obvious to you. The memories of your mother doing X or your father doing Y will come bubbling up to the surface. Sometimes it’s nice to know the why, but ultimately it’s irrelevant when it comes to moving forward with your life. This is very similar to how, if you’ve been depressed for a while and now you are now happy, you suddenly realize how completely unproductive and limiting the thoughts you had while you were depressed were. You don’t go back and “debug” those old thoughts! You realize they were just a product of the mindstate you were in at the time and choose happiness as your preferred state going forward. Wipe the slate clean.
So, this article is all about setting conscious intentions, acting, getting the new results, then tweaking the intentions next time if necessary. This can result in largescale rewriting of behaviour and personality in a relatively short space of time. You also do not need particularly to try that hard to “act in alignment” with the intention. So, if you set an intention to care about someone, then ask how they are, you do not need (much) to emphasize some caring vocal tone or body language, either; the intention itself tends to take care of much of that for you. The intention itself literally shapes the interaction. The details of the doing are far, far less important than the thought behind it. You just have to be very straight with yourself about the intention beforehand and decide firmly upon it before you speak. You crystallize the intention in your mind then it becomes the point of reference for the interaction going forward. This can lead to the development of new habits very quickly.
The basis of all good intentions is to create a win-win situation. This means a good outcome for all involved. How do you get what you want without someone else losing something? Usually it can be done. You find something they also want. For the vast majority of casual socializing it is just the exchange of positive emotions. This is the basis of all manners. We are just scratching each other’s backs. There is no cost to this. You don’t lose by “going first”. Feeling good about someone feels better than feeling bad about them. In this light, why would you ever choose to have bad intentions for someone? Pick the win-win.
That’s the best general rule. Now, drilling down, you get some nuance in what different people want as their side of the “positive emotional exchange”. Men and women are a good place to start since they are the first immediate division we find when tweaking the approach for different people. In general:
- Men want respect.
- Woman want attention to their emotional state.
This is blurring a little bit in recent times as the genders are becoming more alike (the reasons for which I won’t speculate upon in this article). This means that some women tend towards wanting respect and some men tend towards wanting attention to their emotional state. However, the bulleted rules above are still good general guidelines, and I have found the following intentions work well:
- For men, literally think the words in your mind, “Bloody good guy.” Then shake his hand. That’s a very English phrase. Maybe you could say, “This is a cool dude,” instead. You firmly say it in your mind, then smile. The interaction is set. Men are basically that simple. The intention is that you will experience him as a great guy, and he will be.
- For women, think the words in your mind, “I wonder how she is?” Then ask how she is and listen. She will most likely say, “Well, so and so happened, so I’m [some emotion].” Then you acknowledge that by matching her emotional state just a little and nod and say to her, “Oh, that sounds [bad, good, interesting, etc.]” Notice how she now seems like she has let off some steam and is back to happy (or okayish). She will probably now ask how you are in kind (emotional exchange). I will usually tell her some upbeat or funny thing that’s just happened to me because I intend to have fun conversations and do not intend to dwell on negatives (see? Intentions).
I will not begrudge anyone stuck on negativity for whatever reason; instead I will tend to just move on to someone whose intentions match or complement my own. This is the basis of all great friendships.
Notice how the “doing” in the above is the minor point. The major point is the intention behind the doing. Imagine if you had thought to yourself, “This guy’s a cunt,” while shaking his hand. Would the interaction have gone well? Unfortunately, unconscious intentions can often take that form. People are walking around all the time with those kinds of intentions as the backdrop to their interactions. They don’t know it. They’re walking into situations on autopilot, with intentions like:
- “I intend to win this interaction to prove to my dad that I’m not a loser.”
- “I intend to get from these people the attention and praise I should have received from my mother.”
- “I feel weak so I intend to make this person feel small so I feel like a big man.”
- “I intend to get mothering emotions from this woman.” (Oneitis)
- “I intend to get this woman into bed so I can feel good about myself for a few days and brag to my friends.”
These are bad intentions because they do not set out to create win-win situations. They are mainly based on taking. That is why you must consciously insert a good intention before you act — an intention to both give and receive. Whatever autopilot intention may have been there is just totally negated and replaced by the new preferred one. It’s that simple. You could spend a lifetime poring over your past and trying to figure out what intention and why is developing at any given time, but what’s the point? Just do the right thing instead, forever.
Why is Existing Advice So Shit?
There are a couple of things going on here. Firstly, the people who are already good at socializing, for the most part, don’t really know why they’re good. Their intentions have just been conditioned positively from birth. If you asked them how to be good with people then their truthful advice would go something like, “Well, you go back in time and be born to parents who have compassion, self-reflection and forethought, a positive emotional base and mental stability, who sort problems out verbally rather than using emotional or physical violence, and you let their behaviours rub off on you over a period of about seven years.” One benefit of being born to atrocious parents is that I had to figure this stuff out myself and arrive at a map of how to go about it, which you’re reading right now, so there was a lot of insight to be gained and shared. That is the only benefit, though: the years have been hell.
The second thing going might involve the brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere handles the underlying emotional themes and contexts, including the autopilot intentions conditioned from birth. However, the left brain handles the execution, the doing, and is mechanical and linear, putting one step after the other to create a result. The left brain also happens to be the verbal centre. So, you ask someone who is good at socializing how to do it, and they have to then explain it to you in words. The left brain kicks into gear and it is its perspective, its processes, its worldview that comes bubbling up and out their mouths. The result is an explanation which falls on a frustrating spectrum of incoherence, from the vague (“Just be cool, maaaaaaan!”) to the overly complex and micromanagerial (“Pace and lead… mirror their body language… make eye contact when he does this but not when he does that!..”). This is a major problem with verbal communication: the narrator, the left hemisphere, always manages to inject its mechanical and idealistic take on things during the translation from thematic to conceptual. The key is to give greater awareness to the themes that underlie the behaviours of the person you wish to mimic, rather than their specific actions. Generally, the more complex and long-winded someone’s explanation of how they do things is, the more they have missed the point.
I’ve given you all you need.
However, using the intention paradigm, some interesting tricks can arise. For example, if you are a shy guy walking over to meet a new girl for the first time and you want to create rapport, imagine her as being someone you already get along with, such as a female friend or cousin. Say “Hi” then think the name of the girl you already know. This will make you feel like you already know each other. The intention is to emulate the positive aspects of an existing relationship. It is techs like these that give things a more “psychic” feel. It can be extremely fun.
It would be great to hear other ideas in the comments section, making this guide a kind of living document where techs are shared using the principle of intention as their basis.