After listening to my recent interview on the Figuring it Out podcast on how to write dating profile that actually works, something stuck out to me:
I named cultivating a positive mindset as an actionable tactic for success in online dating.
Why is this a tactic worth considering? Consider the facts: we are fortunate to be online dating. Our parents and grandparents didn't have these opportunities. The world – and love – is more open to us. It helps to remember that online dating is an advancement working in our favor.
Of course, as our chances of finding love grow, so too does complication. Here’s where a positive mindset becomes not just a nice-to-have, but critical in our success.
The Brain’s Negativity Bias
It can be easy to dwell in the negative. It’s hardwired into us: our brains actually have a negativity bias. Then, enter dating. A venture that’s inherently tricky. It’s emotional and subjective and requires, let's be honest, at least a little bit of magic – not something you can just manufacture.
Then add in all the parts of dating that can be difficult: being vulnerable, putting ourselves out there, risking feeling disappointment or hurt, or knowing we have to let someone else down.
That's the big stuff. The little stuff might not be as painful, but it can wear on us: tiny rejections, people who don't communicate well, leave you hanging, ghost you, lead you on, or don't treat you well on dates. Those frustrations and insults and attacks on our ego can get really fucking hard to deal with.
That's why positivity is so incredibly critical in online dating.
It's a mindset that requires real, intentional, conscious cultivating. We need to train our brains not only to see possibilities and silver linings to overcome its negativity bias but also to have this point of view become our brain's default reaction.
When we see life through a positive lens, we’re more likely to see solutions and opportunities, to be creative, to experience gratitude, and become more resilient. Yes, please.
A positive mindset doesn't come easy, but there are hacks to cultivating it faster so it can become an actual tool in your online dating toolbox.
It's work worth doing for yourself and your quality of life, and eventually for others – especially that one big significant other.
What I Struggle/d With
I’ve been working on this for the last 15 years or so. I can be a harsh critic of myself, and therefore others. I have high standards for myself and the life I want to create. I tend to see end goals more clearly than I see how well I'm truly doing in the present moment.
As a result, I often find myself in a place of wanting, of “contrast” – I am here, but what I want is there. I feel this, but I want to feel is that.
You can probably relate to this, right?
This place of contrast is not all bad. It keeps you motivated to achieve your goals and meet your high standards. On the other hand, it can cause you to not celebrate what you do have, to beat yourself up when you don’t do as well as you want, and perhaps appreciate others less or give them fewer chances.
I've spent a lot of time figuring this out – research, reading, therapy, talking with others, and analyzing my experiences. In doing so, I’ve begun to learn something that sounds a little crazy:
My thoughts – which so often tilt toward the negative – are not necessarily “real.” They may a signal or a sign of something. But they are not always concrete fact.
Recognizing & Stopping Negative Thought Patterns
Especially when my thoughts are negative, I’ve been trying to figure out what I would rather be thinking and feeling. Rather than being unhappy, sitting in “contrast” all the time – seeing myself as stuck here when I perceive it “better” to be there – I’ve begun to ask myself:
Is this how I want to feel? What do I want to feel instead? How do I want to experience my own life?
I pause to ask questions like these for three reasons:
- It separates me from the negative feeling by creating some objective distance.
- It helps me figure out what positive feeling I’d rather be focusing on.
- It reminds me I have agency in my life and I get to choose how I live my life!
When I reflect on my life as it is, I usually see how wonderful it truly is. I'm financially secure, my body is healthy and strong, my brain is capable of learning and growing, and I have/have had great friendships and romantic relationships. These make my life a wonderful whole. I know that inherently, but I have to pause to look at it. Then I get to choose how to channel more of that positive feeling.
It's in that pausing, that practice of stopping the script I am writing, that puts me on the brighter side of that contrast.
I think it's possible to live mostly on the light side and to reduce what we experience of the pain, frustration, and turmoil that comes from the dark side of contrast – that focusing on or obsessing over what could be better, what we could change, what we would do differently, how we would have others treat us better, what we "deserve" that’s better/nicer/easier than what we have at the present moment.
When I stay focused on the present and reflect on how I am ultimately well and “enough” just as I am, this practice brings me considerable lightness of being.
That lightness has shown me how to recognize and sometimes completely override my brain’s negativity bias.
This mindset shift has been spectacular. I see myself differently, with more kindness and compassion. I experience life’s events as easier, more positive, and smoother overall than I did even one year ago. And I am a better friend, partner, daughter, professional, and member of my community as a result.
Why This Makes Dating Better
When it comes to dating, specifically, I'm much more comfortable knowing I do not need someone to make my life feel better or whole right now.
As a result, I'm much less likely to put myself in positions where I am talking with people who aren't a great fit or staying with people for longer than is right for me.
I'm less likely to find myself opening Bumble or OkCupid and scrolling and swiping numbly, waiting for a feeling of excitement or validation or a spark of hope. Because, when I'm honest with myself, I don't get those feelings from swiping at 10:30pm. I would be happier reading, going to bed early, or reflecting on the best parts of my.
So how do you get there, too?
How do you date – a potentially negative experience – while staying positive? It’s possible. Here’s how I’ve done it.
Consider this a simple but foundational practice.
“What you measure grows.” “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” We’ve heard these ideas related to business, fitness, good habits. Apply it to gratitude and watch the growth of your awareness and capacity for appreciation of the gifts and joy in your life.
Try a gratitude journal of one item a day, a note in your phone before bed about what you appreciated in your day or what you are looking forward to tomorrow. Whether it is as small as a workout or as large as the opportunity to spend an evening laughing, bullshitting, and just being yourself with a friend for a few hours – recognize and take a moment to appreciate the positivity in your life.
Or, incorporate this practice elsewhere into the recurring parts of your day: when you pour a cup of coffee, think of something you’re grateful for; when you brush your teeth, think of three things, etc.
The next step is to start becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings. Journaling works for me. So does therapy, or talking with friends and sharing my actual thoughts and feelings – rather than always keeping things “light” every time we hang out.
You might find you like to speak stream-of-conscious voice memos to reflect on later – or jotting down a note in your phone every time you notice a negative thought.
Seeing your thoughts and feelings in words outside of your brain is powerful. We’re able to assess them more objectively, and notice when they might not be true or actually serving you. Then, you will become more self-aware, and better able to take on the next step.
Check the Facts
After becoming aware of your thoughts, learn to challenge them.
When I encounter a negative thought or feeling, I ask myself: “Is it true? Can I absolutely know that it's true?” (Thanks, Byron Katie.)
If the answer is no, look at what the other possibilities are. Give yourself permission to not be so cruel, judgmental, or harsh. Give yourself permission to step a little bit closer to the light side, to be optimistic.
This has been ridiculously helpful to me. As someone who has a lot of judgmental thoughts, it is a relief to counter them with what is actually true.
Here are some pretty vulnerable examples of how I have done this:
I have caught myself thinking: “I'm too neurotic for someone to love.”
To check the facts, here I would first ask myself, “Is this true?” Immediately, I know it's not true. I have been in wonderful, loving, romantic relationships in the past, and I have many people around me who love me now, who have told me so, whom I believe.
Challenging this negative thought stops here. I’ve succeeded in disproving it. I now can focus – and believe – what is true, that people have loved me and do love me, exactly as I am, beautiful neuroses and all.
Another example of a reoccurring negative thought I’ve had is: “I'm too introverted to be good at dating.”
This is an interesting one because it’s subtle. Like, what is too introverted? What does it mean to be truly good at dating? There's a lot of judgment here I have to challenge.
First, I break it down into pieces. The first is “too introverted.” Can I know that this is true, that I am “too introverted”? The fact is, no, it's not true. I regularly make social plans and love the shit out of the time I spend with others. Yes, sometimes it drains me, and then I know to have time to myself to recharge. So, can we know, without a doubt, that I am too introverted? No, definitely not. False.
The next part of this is “to be ‘good’ at dating.” Frankly, the first thought I have upon challenging this is thinking, I'm actually great at dating. I am kind and conscientious. I'm curious. I am innately good at making other people feel comfortable, seen, heard, and at ease.
BUT, as I think all that, I can feel my subconscious negativity bias saying, “Well, that's not what I mean by dating…That’s going on a date. Actually dating is revealing your true self to others. Dating is being honest, and open, and intimate, and sharing your insides – the dark and the light of who you are – with someone who might choose not to like it.”
So, if we are looking at dating as that sort of deepening of a relationship, can we know for a fact that I'm not any good at that?
Again, whether or not I have been in past relationships that were romantic, I can know for a fact that this statement is false because I have had and do have strong platonic relationships in which I do share with other my guts, dark thoughts, fears, neuroses, and the stuff that I judge to be “not good.” Plenty of people have chosen to deepen our relationship as a result of seeing who I am. Yes, some have also chosen not to continue our relationship, but the fact is, I can't remember any of them because those that do stick out are the ones who have stuck with me, my soul mates in big and small ways.)
That's why I know for sure that I am not “unable” to date or be in relationships.
This is the beauty of becoming 1) self-aware of the thoughts I’m having, and 2) checking the facts.
When I look at a thought, ask myself if it is true, then say aloud, write down, or think about the ways it is false, not only have I challenged a self-limiting belief, but I have brought myself out of darkness and into at least a small glimmer of lightness – if not the full beaming light of feeling more at ease, safer, more hopeful, and more joyful about what I have, and have had, and have the possibility to have.
I can't stress enough how magical, peaceful, and calming this feeling is.
Creating this ease in my mind by challenging false thoughts and choosing to believe what is actually true has made me a better friend, more willing to take emotional "risks," more likely to share myself with others whom I know have the ability to understand – or at the very least, listen to – what I am saying or sharing of my experience.
When you start to just tweak your thinking this way, to become aware of what that unconscious script is saying, you can begin to check the facts and rewrite it in a way that will make your quality of life better day-to-day. It doesn't have to be a stark joy or depressed, love or hate, good or bad dichotomy. It can simply be that instead of feeling slightly down you recognize that life might not be so bad.
When you start to really practice this continually, others will feel your light.
They will experience the positivity that is starting to come off of you and it will feel good to them. They will act in-kind in small or big ways – a smile in a bar or a first message on OkCupid. They will show you they want to engage with you, dance in that light with you. That's what we're looking for in this experience, someone who is fun to “dance” with, share our thoughts and experiences with, create new connections, conversations, and adventures in life with.
Others responding positively to you will become more frequent and more obvious to you as you train yourself to look for the positive.
You will also become less likely to tolerate negativity in others.
The stuff that used to make you feel shitty – someone's lack of response, lazy communication, or disinterest in learning more about you – will bother you less. You will find it’s easier to let go of the wrong people for you because they are no fun to dance with.
When you know what you want – because you are choosing it in yourself – you can begin to choose more consciously the people that are fit for that.
That's why I recommend starting with seeing the opportunity to online date through a positive lens.
Because when you open the app or start to type a message, and the neurons in your brain are flowing down a positive neural pathway, it gets better for everyone – for you and for the people you're sharing your life, time, and energy with.
When we see the positivity that is really present in our lives, we also get better at this next tactic, reframing.
What reframing means to me is actively taking something that is happening (or has happened) or a thought we're having, and then either flipping it completely or just tweaking it slightly so that we're looking at it differently. Putting a new frame around it.
An example of reframing might be useful when someone you thought you had a great date with ghosts you:
Your first thoughts might be, "Ugh. I must be so boring. I must be unattractive. I must be someone who is not even good enough for someone to give the time of day to and the consideration of saying they don't want to meet up again."
To reframe this would be to say, "That person's treatment of me, that person being who they are, has freed me to meet someone and give my time and energy to someone who wants to be with me – someone who sees me as interesting and attractive and worthy of their time and energy and interest."
Reframing can be some mental ninja-level shit, but it works.
Over the past year or so, I have become really good at reframing. Yes, sometimes it can feel like I am just fooling myself, telling myself what I want to hear. But frankly, if I'm going to believe a thought, why not believe the one that is kind and more likely true?
For example, can I know for sure that person ghosted me because I'm ugly and boring? No. But is it true that others find/have found me decent-looking and interesting? Yes.
Reframing is not lying to yourself. It is teaching yourself to see the world and your experiences in a way that supports your positive mindset, rather than letting your brain default to its negativity bias. Reframing has pulled me out of some really automatic and unhelpful reactions.
Think About What You Do Want
Here’s where it's OK to notice the contrast a bit – not so much what you do have and what is great now, but what you do want in the future. The key is to then think about how you will get there…and take the steps to achieve it.
You might push back and say you’re already doing this.
For example: what you want is a relationship and you're already trying to get there by being on Bumble and swiping for hours and going on dates. You just keep having experiences that are negative and exhausting and depressing.
But, think about is this way instead: what do you want, really?
If what you want is a relationship, think about what that actually means to you. Is it that you want to feel loved and accepted? Is it that you want someone who cares about you and is invested in your happiness and wants to share your life with you?
If we look at those two aspects – being loved and accepted, and someone who wants to share life with us – we can begin to go about creating those feelings and experiences without necessarily being in that relationship yet.
First, are there ways we are not loving and accepting ourselves?
Maybe calling ourselves fat or lazy or boring? We can take action now to disprove those beliefs: going to the gym, reading about topics that interest us, taking classes, going on long walks or bike rides, playing basketball with a friend, cooking differently, practicing yoga or meditation, even just creating a more regular practice of challenging our thoughts.
These are all ways we can begin to love and accept ourselves more readily and actively – and eventually unconsciously – rather than defaulting to the negativity bias and our self-limiting beliefs. That feels so much better than sitting around feeling shitty, waiting for someone else to show up and make it better.
Second, let’s address having someone who wants to share our lives with us.
I'll bet you have people in your life like this already, right? Friends, family. If you don't have close relationships, there may be others with whom you can begin to develop deeper friendships or closer bonds with by starting to practice some of the things that you want to do with a partner. Share new experiences, share your thoughts, talk about new ideas, joke with, talk through difficult or stressful situations with.
In the meantime, why not give yourself the experience of what you really want with what you have – or by creating more of it by making new friends, asking a coworker out for drinks, going to a meetup, asking an acquaintance to hang out with you.
When you are aware of what you want, you can begin to go about getting it. It might not mean that you get it in the most obvious way, like by going on five dates this week with anyone who has agreed to meet you.
It might be that you look outside of the "end goal" to find a different route to get there.
It may seem counterintuitive to not go on more dates or more dating apps in order to get a girlfriend. But you will begin to feel better overall about what you do have, by enjoying what is already going amazingly well in your life or by practicing the skills you will need for when you do meet that goal. Your quality of life will be so much better so that…
When You Get There…
When you do feel great about your profile, and match with someone who seems awesome, then start a conversation that feels immediately engaged and interesting, and go on that first date that’s easy and fun…
When she turns into someone who becomes an important part of your day and your life, you will be ready.
You’ll be able to be the partner to her that she has also been looking for – and doing this work for in herself this whole time too. You will truly be the match you have both been looking for, with the skills to build your relationship on a foundation of positivity and hope.