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How “The Dress” Exposes the Psychology of Conflict

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Mark Thursday, February 26 2015 in your calendar – it will forever be remembered as the weirdest moment in internet history. In case you missed it, the internet basically exploded in debate over “the dress”.

What’s there to debate?

When you look at this dress, do you see a white and gold dress, or a black and blue dress?

Well, internet split down the middle, and “the dress” became the focus of debate and analysis in every household with an internet connection. Scientists have explained why we see it differently, but the psychology of why it was even an argument hasn’t been covered.

 

How “The Dress” Exposes Our Psychological Shortcomings

 

A friend of mine first showed me the picture, and I thought he was fucking with me. It’s clearly, CLEARLY white, with stripes of gold. So I showed my wife.

She looks at it and scrunches her nose a bit, trying to figure out what I’m up to.

“It’s blue and green.”

What!??!?!

I was immediately sucked in. How could she possibly see anything other than white and gold? It’s not like this is a matter of opinion, I mean… it’s obvious, right?

This is where things get really interesting.

There are two types of disagreements: objective and subjective. Objective is fact based, like the distance between two places. Subjective is opinion based, like whether a dress is white and gold or black and blue.

Problems start happening when people mistake subjective disagreements for objective ones, which is basically all the time. But why does it happen?

If you’ve never left your own culture, you have culture blindness. You don’t know how your culture influences your world because you’ve never been anywhere else. This is why world travel is so good for growth – it exposes how much of your worldview is blind acceptance of cultural beliefs and traditions.

Since you can’t travel away from your body, you have psychological blindness. It becomes impossible to see how your perception changes the way you see things, so your brain just says fuck it and assumes everything you believe is legit.

A great example of this is language. We all use the same words, but they carry a slightly different meaning to each of us. If you ask one hundred people to define “near by” in terms of distance, you’ll get one hundred different answers.

 

The 2 Reasons Why “The Dress” Became An Internet Sensation

 

The dress was such a hit because it exposed a short circuit in your brain. Two things came together to make this happen:

1) The subtle differences in the way we define words, or in this case, colours.

2) The mental blindness I mentioned earlier.

One and two together creates a seemingly impossible scenario. If you define colours the way other people do, and you see the world accurately, how can there be a disagreement?? Your brain scrambles to try and reconcile the apparent paradox.

Essentially, “the dress” was a form of mental travel. Like stepping out of your house for the first time and realizing how much your windows distort the view. It stripped away the illusion of objectivity, and gave the whole internet a brief glimpse at how plugged in we are to our own personal Matrix.

It’s interesting to note the lack of disagreement when you break down the dress into individual colours. Suddenly, the disagreement vanishes:

When you break it down…

With the colours isolated from the picture, it becomes easy to look at each colour and ask “What colour is this to you?”

I might call one of those coloured squares gold, while you might call it green-gold or brown. Everyone I know who saw this picture only disagreed slightly on how they’d label the colours, but no where near a difference worth arguing about.

It’s when everything is mixed together that perceived differences arise. The ability to spot these similarities in seemingly opposing perspectives is called integrative complexity and it’s hands down the most important skill for resolving conflicts.

I know to some (most) people this is just a weird viral thing, but to me it’s an opportunity to show people why conflict is so insane. The dress is a stunning metaphor for conflict in general.

Whether it’s a disagreement between friends, husband and wife, or world leaders, we’re all looking at the same dress and arguing about the colours.

When There’s a Lack of Sex in Your Relationship

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I doubt you’d be surprised that one of the most common reasons people see me for couples counselling is a lack of sex in the relationship.

In general, sex is a pretty good indicator of how things are going. The F&F rule, for example: if you fuck more than you fight, you’re doing OK.

If you need to bust a sex rut, use these tips. They’ve helped hundreds of my clients banish their bedroom boredom. A+ for accidental alliteration!

Alright, alright… I’m done.

 

The Chicken And The Egg: Sex and Intimacy

 

You know, my job would be a lot easier if couples called me sooner. The average couple puts up with arguments and sex droughts for years before they seek counselling.

I get it – most counsellors are really lame. They’re awkward as hell, boring, and with rare exception, useless.

But how long can you endure a shitty relationship?

Is there a point of no return?

When he’s out of Kleenex and single-handedly (ohhh man, on a roll today) keeps Jergen’s in business. When you’re unhappy. When you’re looking at other people. It’s different for everyone.

No one ever thinks this will happen to them. But somehow, the problem creeps in…

One person wants sex before they give affection, the other wants affection before they get sexual. This sounds simple doesn’t it? One person satisfies the other and the problem goes away.

It isn’t though. Somewhere along the way, little resentments build up. They’re so subtle that they go almost unnoticed, like a leaky tap slowly filling the sink drop by drop.

Because of this hidden resentment, the gestures of affection feel loaded with the expectation of sex. There’s an awkward pressure.

Sex is… difficult. Even if your parts work, you just can’t find a rhythm. It feels disconnected. And this is all assuming that the initial sexual advances aren’t rejected.

 

3 Ways To Break the Cycle and Save Your Sex Life

1) Answer This Question

When’s the last time you went on a date?

I dunno why people assume dating and relationships are two different things. They aren’t.

A relationship is just dating for a really long time. When you date for a long time, you develop a friendship. Take away the dating part, and what are you left with?

Crash course in some basic psychology. In every interaction you’ve ever been in, there’s been “roles”. Doctor and patient. Teacher and student. Boss and employee. Boyfriend and girlfriend. Friends.

Everyone has many roles, and how you act depends on which role you’re in. When you’re dating, you’re in an exclusively romantic role. You’re lovers.

As you get to know each other, you develop a friendship. Passion fizzles when you stop relating to your partner in a romantic role and slip entirely into a friendship.

Friendship isn’t sexy. It’s comforting, but not sexy. Date once a week, flirt, have fun, and turn those sparks back into flames.

2) Break Bad Bedroom Habits

You ever hear of Pavlov’s dog? Guy rings a bell, then feeds his dog. Eventually, the sound of the bell alone made the dog drool.

When you take your phone to bed, watch TV, eat, or whatever, you associate your bedroom with everything but sex. Cut it out.

Seriously – this is one of the biggest difference makers in couples counselling. If you take electronics to bed, you eliminate one of the only opportunities for sex to happen. How often are you alone, comfy, and undistracted?

Make your bedroom sex friendly. Make sure your room is clean. Get silky bedsheets and comfy pillows. Put some scented tealight candles around, and keep lube and a vibrator nearby.

And damn it, go to bed together.

3) Make It Happen

If sex hasn’t happened in a while, it’s gonna be an ordeal. You’ll feel the pressure.

You might have to schedule a time. If it was going to happen naturally, it probably would’ve happened by now.

Don’t make it about coming. That’s awesome and everything, but messing around is a great start.

Instead of worrying about it, appreciate the thrill. If you haven’t hooked up in a long time, it’s almost like you’re doing it for the first time again.

You forget how good it feels, and not just the physical part. Sex brings you closer to your partner in a way that nothing else can.

 

Quick Tips

 

Check medications. Anti-depressants and other meds can make sex virtually impossible. Get alternatives if you can.

Don’t underestimate sex. Sometimes all those fights aren’t actually because of an underlying problem. Sometimes you just need a good hard… you know.

Talk about it. If it’s a concern, bring it up. Don’t let sex become the elephant in the room.

Jump on opportunity. When you feel a little something, look for reasons to do it instead of reasons why you shouldn’t.

Show affection often. Kiss as you pass in the house. Grope each other. Cuddle in bed. Play with their hair.

Try when you’re too tired. When it’s been a long time, it can take a lot of guts to initiate. It hurts even more to get shut down. If you’re a bit tired or not in the mood, try anyway.

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You don’t have to use your real name. If you’re worried about the lack of sex in your relationship and want advice, leave a comment below.

How To Move From Casual Dating to Serious Relationship

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How exactly do you go from dating someone casually to having a serious relationship with them?

Is it some secret, LSD fuelled desert ritual?

Do you just… ask them?

Or maybe even *shudder* express your feelings?

 

Casual to Serious: Why Do You Commit?

 

Most of us have experienced a serious relationship by accident, usually when we really like the person we’re dating and it just naturally develops into something more. Other times you really like someone and it doesn’t work out, and you’ve probably wondered if there was anything you could’ve done differently.

To make yourself a better partner, think about your past relationships. What qualities made you want to get serious with your date? What things turned you off?

Being self-aware of how others perceive you is a huge advantage in dating and relationships. If you’re struggling with this, here’s a short list to help you go from a casual date to a serious mate (so lame, I know).

 

My Top 3 Casual Dating Tips

 

1) Be Independent

Some “experts” say you should act unavailable. It’s true that being overly available can seem desperate or unattractive, but the last thing you want to do is play dating games.

If you’re suffering from no-life syndrome, step back and ask yourself why you aren’t having fun on your own. Sure, acting unavailable might work at the casual dating stage, but what happens after that? How long before insecurities, neediness, and jealousy creep in?

Instead of acting unavailable, be independent. Hang out with your friends a couple times a week. Go to the gym. Play the sport you like or pursue one of your interests. Learn an instrument, a language, or take dancing lessons. Value yourself and your own time.

The main thing here is neediness is a killer. Insecure people push for serious relationships for the security it brings, and people can sense that.

2) Set Boundaries

Why would someone commit to you if they’re getting everything they want without the commitment?

If you’re struggling to find people willing to move beyond casual dating, there’s a good chance you’re giving too much. Why bend over backwards to make someone you barely know happy?

Let them earn it.

Before you open up completely, open a little bit and see if the person shows up for you. Are they receptive and warm? Or judgmental?

Before you start buying gifts for them and imagining your wedding, give the person an opportunity to demonstrate their commitment. Why dive head over heels without some experiences that show you this person is a caring, compassionate partner worth fantasizing about?

Some women might be wondering if having sex too soon is scaring guys away. Holding off to avoid judgement hints at a double standard – how can two people have sex at the same time but only one of them does it too soon?

Any guy who loses interest in you for having casual sex “too soon” is not worth having around.

3) This Secret Psychology Brain Hack

Here’s a way to discover how you might be sabotaging yourself without knowing it.

When you go on a date, what do you think the purpose is?

Whatever your answer is, that’s the main cause of your behaviour. If your answer is something like “to find the one”, you’re gonna come across as needy. If it’s “to get to know someone”, you’ll probably seem interview-ish.

The best way to look at a date is a chance to have fun. This keeps things… well, fun. People like being around fun, low-pressure people with no expectations.

As things progress, that’s when you get to know each other. If you emotionally vomit on someone and spill your whole life story during the first three dates, where’s the fun in that?

It’s like telling someone what’s in the present they’re about to unwrap. Isn’t the funnest part the unwrapping? Focus on having fun, enjoy the mystery, and going from casual to serious will happen naturally.

 

Signs You’re Graduating From Dating to a Serious Relationship

 

If all goes well, you won’t have to do “the talk” of whether or not you’re a serious couple. Watch for these milestones, and you’ll know if the casual dating phase is almost over.

The final milestone is when you know it’s official – whether you say it’s a serious relationship or not.

Unscheduled Time Together

When you start hanging out together without making plans in advance, you know things are getting serious.

Meeting Friends

Meeting each other’s social group is a big step. If you make it past the gauntlet of scrutiny from their friends, things are well on their way.

Sleepovers Without Sex

As long as you aren’t fighting, this is actually a good sign.

You Leave Some Stuff at Their House

If he’s leaving a pair of boxers at your place, it’s a sign. Likewise, if she’s got some clothes or 8,412 bottles of hair product in your shower, you’re in.

The Big One: Your First Fight

If you have a fight and you don’t break up, you’re basically saying this is something worth working on.

 

Troubleshooting: Dating for Months, but Not Serious?

 

Dating Tips and Q&A with Yours Truly

I wrote the first version of this article in 2012, and since then I’ve gotten hundreds of emails and comments asking about what to do in certain situations. Here are the most common questions and my answers to each.

If you have a question about moving from casual dating to a serious relationship that I didn’t answer, leave a comment below the article and I’ll get back to you within a couple days.

Q: I’ve been dating this person for months, and when I ask if we’re a serious couple or not, the subject gets changed or I get ignored altogether.

A: There are two explanations for this. One, they’re interested but not good at communicating or are feeling pressured and don’t like it. Two, they don’t want to get serious but want the other benefits of dating.

Let them know what you’re looking for and pull back a bit. If you drift apart, you know they were never going to commit and you saved yourself time, trouble, and heart ache.

Q: My date says it’s just casual, but acts like it’s serious? Texting a lot, we hook up often, they want to meet my friends. What’s the deal?

A: This scenario usually happens when someone wants to get serious but has a fear of commitment. They get around it by tricking themselves into thinking it’s not actually serious unless it’s labelled that way.

You have a choice to make – can you handle someone whose actions and words don’t align? Is it more important to you to have this person, or a person who’s ready and willing to commit?

Q: No one I date wants to get serious!! There’s always an excuse, why can’t I meet the right people?

A: You aren’t a helpless victim of the dating universe, so this isn’t really a question – you keep meeting the wrong people because you keep choosing to date similar people.

What feels right to you isn’t working. You need to try some wrong. Stop meeting people wherever you’re meeting them now. Date people who you don’t usually go for, and stop dating “your type”.

How You Can Be Pretty Sure Love at First Sight is Real

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If you bring up love at first sight, inevitably everyone and their dog is gonna have a different opinion.

Some swear they’ve felt it, and the skeptics have some really good questions for them. Is it real? How would it even work? If it is real, how could it be the same as “true” love?

Well, after you read my story and do the 10 second thought experiment, hopefully you’ll have the answers.

 

Love at First Sight is Possible Because of Subjective Reality

 

Like most of you, my family moved a few times when I was growing up. This meant switching schools, and in grade 5 I experienced my first move that took me away from a love interest. Before I left, her and I made a pact that if I came back when we were older we would date.

I thought about it when I saw things that reminded me of my old school, or when I visited my old town and ran into friends from back in the day. I lived about 2,000 miles away, so I didn’t visit much. One summer I was in the old ‘hood and I ran into the girl in question.

I was pretty conflicted about approaching her. It’d been like 10 years. Was 10 years too long for a pact? Was it just something dumb we said as kids? Nah… 10 years is perfect timing for a pact. If it was a year or two that would just be a regular plan and defeat the whole point of making pacts in the first place.

Being 18 or 19 at this point, I had changed a lot but I was sure she’d remember. In my mind, it played out with her being thrilled to see me and us going somewhere and catching up. The reality was a bit different.

Love at First Sight

A George Costanza Moment

When I approached her, she gave me that confused, I-don’t-remember-you look.

Not yet ready to throw in the towel, I attributed this to me being older and extremely good looking. I did the classic it’s-me-don’t-you-remember pose that everyone does for some reason.

You know the one – sort of smiling with your eyebrows raised and arms out with a look of expectation, as if this will somehow jog their memory.

I’ll never forget her response. “Ohhh yeah, right… weren’t you that kid that sort of liked wrestling?”

I seriously doubt she could’ve said a more deflating sentence. That’s about as opposite of our pact as you can get. I mean, yeah my mom took me to Toronto to see WWF Raw in ’97, but to be vaguely remembered for that?

The point of this story is that our feelings of attraction and intimacy are based on perception, not reality. This defeats the common objection that feelings of connection, or even love, upon meeting someone “aren’t real”.

Whether you develop an understanding of someone over time, or (falsely) believe you possess that understanding instantly, the experience is the same. You could just as easily argue that loving someone who constantly lies about who they are means your love for them isn’t “real”.

This point of contention aside, how could you possibly believe you know enough about someone to love them on sight?

 

The Psychology of Love at First Sight

 

Alright, so people who experience love at first sight have a couple psychological traits in common. One, they’re raised on boy-meets-girl fairytale stories, or at least believe in the concept of love involving some element of destiny or fate. We all rely on our beliefs to explain the world around us, and the way we filter the world and interpret things is shaped by our beliefs.

Whether or not your beliefs are accurate is irrelevant – your beliefs are accurate to you so your brain will serve up emotions corresponding to those beliefs. Your emotions shape the way you act, and the end result is your brain basically manipulates you into acting in accordance with your beliefs without stopping to question whether or not they make sense.

The second thing you need to know in order to understand love at first sight is heuristics. I’ll spare you the boring explanation. Instead, let’s do that experiment I talked about:

I’m going to describe someone, and I want you to imagine what they look like. Imagine someone really smart, they’re the top performer in the chess club, the captain of the debate team, and they get straight A’s. Hold the image in your head and scroll down.

I asked 10 people these same questions.

There were only two types of people described.

Does the person you imagined look like either of these two?

Scroll down.

First off, I’ll acknowledge that the results you get from your friends might be totally different. That’s not the point of this thought experiment.

The point is you are able to imagine very detailed physical descriptions of people without being given any physical traits.

I didn’t mention gender, height, weight, appearance, ethnicity, hair colour, eye colour, clothing, yet people are able to answer these questions. And not only answer them, but answer them with confidence.

Not a single person said “I can’t tell you what they look like, you didn’t describe them physically.”

This is called the availability heuristic. It’s the tendency for us to accept whatever comes to mind first without stopping to consider whether or not it’s true. If one of the people surveyed came across a guy similar to the photo, they would assume a shitload of information about him, even though it might be totally inaccurate.

It’s not just these people either. We all do this, all the time. Every time you look at someone you have a general idea of what they’re like, if you’d get along, and so on.

This is the basic process behind love at first sight. Take someone who has ingrained ideas about what their ideal romantic partner would be like, who whole-heartedly believes their first impressions of people are totally accurate, and put a person representing their ideal in front of them.

Another factor is the simple belief in love at first sight, caused by a phenomenon known as confirmation bias. You see what you want to see, and selectively ignore things that might challenge your beliefs. The less someone relies on an evidence based interpretation of the world, the more likely they are to believe in hokey shit like astrology, the law of attraction, or that they know and intimately love someone on first sight.

Unlike the former two, however, emotions like love are based entirely upon belief. Think about it – if I show you a picture of a guy and tell you he cheated on his wife and abandoned his kids, how would you feel? What about if I told you he’s a swell dude and an awesome father to his loving family? Obviously, who he actually is doesn’t change, but your emotions do.

In that sense, love at first sight is absolutely real, and the feeling is identical to the love you feel from getting to know someone over a long period of time. Whether or not you actually know someone doesn’t change the emotion you experience.

What do you think? Are you convinced, or do you think this is all psychobabble bullshit? Let me know what you think, especially if you’ve experienced love at first sight yourself!

Keys to a Successful Marriage

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So you want to get married, but you don’t want to end up as a divorce statistic. Makes sense.

But what are the keys to a successful marriage? What determines if your marriage will be successful, or come to an end in the stale smelling office of your local attorney?

While there’s no exact formula for success, there are definitely things you can do to improve your odds.

 

What Do Successful Married Couples Do Differently?

 

I’ve had the pleasure of working with many, many couples over the years. There are definitely clear keys to success, and certain types of people seem to do better at marriage in general than others.

Basically, successful married couples are in sync on key issues. These are very specific issues though – if you like Tim Horton’s and your spouse likes Starbucks you’ll probably be OK.

There are also certain qualities that are helpful, like easy goingness (is that a word?), open mindedness, and self-awareness. Since traits tend to take a long time to change, you’re better off focusing on things you can start doing right away.

 

3 Key Takeaways You Can Use Today

 

1) Never Stop Dating

The most common problem with marriage compared to dating is quality time.

When you’re dating, you can’t make enough time for your new romance. When you’re married, there’s a tendency to make time for you and yours when everything else is done. The problem, obviously, is there’s always more to do.

There’s a kind of false security that comes with marriage, isn’t there? You feel like you can slack because, well, you’re married. They’re not going anywhere.

You can’t use the commitment of marriage as an excuse to slack on your partner.

2) Get Your Priorities Straight

One of the biggest complaints from couples is they’re both trying hard and neither is happy. This happens when you’re doing stuff for your partner, but not the stuff that’s important to them.

A common example is the husband who works 80 hours a week and the wife who says he doesn’t care about her. The husband loses his shit, and screams “What!!! Do you know how fucking hard I work for this family!?” and on and on.

An interesting exercise: Write out the top three things most important to your partner’s relationship satisfaction, and have them do the same. Compare your answers.

When I explain the exercise, people smile and I can see them thinking “Too easy”. Immediately after, jaws drop and I get to enjoy a truly magical moment when they look at each other, and everything clicks into place. There’s so much carried in this look: Amazement, apology, curiousity, understanding, connection. Moments like this fuel my passion for reconnecting couples.

3) Know Your Role

Although you may feel like you’re always the same person, you have many roles that allow you to adapt to different situations.

A doctor, for example, is interacting with people in a different way than he would at home. He’s in a professional role. While in this role, certain traits like empathy are stronger, while others like judgement are minimized.

Your priorities change depending on what role you’re in. As a mother or father, caring for your children and ensuring stability and financial security are important. If you’re too busy being mom or dad, you can forget to be husband and wife.

Be aware of how you define yourself, and how that affects your marriage.

What My Father’s Death Taught Me About Forgiveness

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Like it or not, the success of your relationships – romantic, professional, and otherwise – depends on your ability to forgive.

If you don’t know how to forgive, your relationships only last until some shit goes down. I don’t care how much of a saint you are, eventually something will happen in your marriage, friendships, or otherwise that needs forgiving.

The big problem I see with forgiveness is people wanted to do it but being afraid. Afraid of what will happen, afraid of being shut out, afraid of what others may think.

 

What Forgiveness Is, and What Forgiveness Isn’t

 

Think about your past. Something you wish could be undone. This might be something that happened to you, or it might be something you did to someone else.

I define forgiveness as the ability to cut loose the negative emotions associated with these events. In other words, to let go, stop wallowing, and get a fucking move on with your life. To me, waiting to forgive someone is a tragedy.

You know pretty much immediately if you’re going to forgive someone for something (or yourself) before you die. If you’re never going to forgive someone, that’s OK. You have every right to do so. If you are, you might as well get on it.

What reasons are there for not forgiving someone right away? Anger. Waiting on an apology. Waiting to see if they’ll make amends for whatever they’ve done. Waiting to see positive progress. Generally, things that are reactive.

Any time you make decisions based on what another person does, you’re being reactive. In other words, their actions are shaping your life. Not a great position to be in.

Whether or not you forgive someone is independent of your choice to keep them in your life. In both my personal and professional experience, forgiving is essentially an act of understanding, and I think this is something that’s often overlooked.

To see the extent of this, all you’d have to do is sit in on one of my family or couples sessions. You wanna know the most common phrases? “How could you?” “Why would you?” and other variations of “I no longer believe I understand you well enough to trust that you’ll meet my standards for acceptable behaviour.”

Forgiving someone is saying “I understand why you did what you did. I understand how that could happen. I understand this does not reflect on me nor does it imply anything about me. These actions are yours. I choose to accept you as you are, forgive you, and have you in my life (or not). You are the only person responsible for absolving yourself, and whether or not you do so is up to you.”

 

How You Forgive (Or Don’t) Is Based On Your Past

 

I’m not going to hide my bias here. My advice isn’t based on a book. It’s based on my life. I don’t know if you’ll understand my views without a bit of context, so I’ll do my best to be tastefully honest here.

My parents split when I was an infant. When I was 6, my dad fell from a 7th story balcony. He lived, but as would be the case with any athletic young guy, he was permanently changed. Alcoholism and addiction to prescription pain medication would adversely affect his life, as well as mine.

When I was 14, my father called me up and told me I was out of the family. A couple months later I moved 3,500 kilometres (2000 miles) across the country with no idea what the hell was happening, or why.

On my 18th birthday I decided I was a man now (lol), and as such was owed an explanation. I called him up ready to do battle, but to my surprise he burst into tears when he heard my voice. He didn’t even know what he said to me, and had no idea why I stopped talking to him. It was at this point I realized how mentally damaged he was, and suddenly, my whole childhood made a lot more sense. Talk about a mindfuck.

Three years later, his father, one of the best men I have ever known, died of cancer. I only saw him twice before this happened. Two years after that, my father died of a prescription drug overdose. He was 51. I saw him three times between the phone call and his passing.

I knew he loved me, he was just really messed up. I was willing to endure the shitty parts of our relationship because his days of clarity were so cool. He would make jokes, tell me he loved me, and let me do stuff my mom would get mad at me for. It was like I was a regular kid, and on those days I would pretend things were always that way.

 

The 3 Things This Taught Me About Forgiveness

 

1) Only You Know What’s Best For You

Not your family. Not your friends. Not your spouse. Not your counsellor. Not your priest. Just you.

Take their opinions into consideration, but ultimately you have to trust yourself. Almost every couple I see asks me if they should stay together, and I tell them the truth: I don’t know. It’s not my job to tell them if they should split or stay together, it’s my job to help them figure out which scenario will result in a happier life.

It’s scary to be the sole bearer of your fate. I get that. It’s way easier to trust someone else, that way you have someone else to blame if shit hits the fan. Ultimately though, catering to this fear robs you of happiness, fulfilment, and the satisfaction that comes with being the sole architect of your life.

2) Don’t Fuck Around On the Fence

Like I said earlier, you know almost immediately if you will at some point forgive someone. Waiting is reactive, and it wastes time, which (obviously) is something you can’t get back.

Holding on to anger only hurts you. Not forgiving someone because someone else thinks what they did doesn’t deserve forgiveness only hurts you. If you think they’re remorseful and are taking steps (or will) to correct the action, what purpose is furthered by not forgiving someone?

3) Forgiving Someone Doesn’t Mean What They’ve Done Is OK

Forgiveness isn’t about excusing someone’s actions. It’s about understanding and acceptance. You can forgive someone and let them out of your life.

Or, you can forgive someone and keep them in your life, even if they aren’t the nicest. If my old man was still around, I’d forgive him for the frustrating stuff he does because I know it’s caused by mental illness. If it was just him being an asshole, I’d still forgive him – but we probably wouldn’t have a relationship until he agreed to make some changes.

Thoughts? Struggling with a dilemma over whether you should forgive someone or not? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so take a second and leave a comment now.

New Year’s Resolutions: The Scientifically Proven Way to Succeed

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There’s nothing quite like a new year. That magical time when the hope of change hangs in the air, and the smell of last year’s failure lingers like a stale fart.

Everyone makes motivation and achieving stuff way too complicated. If it’s not an insane 18 step formula, it’s over the top affirmations and false positivity.

Let’s find some balance…

 

True or False: 92% of New Year’s Resolutions Are Unsuccessful

For this statistic, I’m drawing on research by the illustrious Dr. John Norcross. He does in fact say that 92% of people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions after 6 months, if they remain at stage 2 (I’ll explain the stages in a minute). If they move to stage 3, only 52% fail. That’s a six fold increase in success rate!

The 5 New Year’s Resolution Stages You WILL Go Through

This part is key. If you follow these steps, you will be more than 10x as likely to succeed. Forget all the life coaches, motivational products, and spurious online claims. This is proven to help you succeed, and is the only research I know of that can legitimately make such a bold claim.

IMPORTANT: You need to take this advice based on where you are in the 5 stages. If you commit the error Norcross calls “step mis-matching” you’re basically sabotaging your own progress.

Stage One: Psych

This is the stage when you think about your New Year’s resolution. You usually start by considering whether or not you want to do a New Year’s resolution this year, and if so, what you want to change. I’m not gonna spend much time on this because it’s pretty self-explanatory.

Stage Two: Prep

The vast majority of New Year’s resolutioners are at stage two, and most are doomed to stay here. That’s not you though, because you’re reading this article. And you’re not just going to read it and go back to Facebook or Twitter – you’re going to apply the information… right?

Why do most people get stuck in stage two? They don’t plan!

If you have a goal and you don’t know what the next actionable step is, you procrastinate. A great example is getting in shape. How do you start getting in shape without a plan? You don’t, because you don’t know what the hell you’re supposed to do.

Is it going to the gym? Which gym will you go to? Which plan will you sign up for? Which exercises will you do?

One of the leading causes of procrastination isn’t laziness, it’s a lack of information about the relevant actionable steps between you and your goal. Write out a list of milestones on the way to achieving your goal, then put those on a timeline and keep it in a place you’ll see it often. Phone or laptop background, fridge, bathroom mirror, etc.

Stage Three: Perspire

You’ve got your plan outlined. You know the steps you have to take, and you’ve completed your prep work. If it’s getting in shape – you know the gym you’re going to, you’ve scheduled work-outs, booked your personal trainer, and bought clothes, a gym bag, and a pair of those shoes with five individual toes.

Stage Four/Five: Persevere/Persist

I cover this briefly at the end of the video above. The pitfall people run into once they hit stage four is setbacks – missing a day at the gym, having that one cigarette, eating that one cheeseburger. You know these people, they set the same resolution every year and fall off the wagon after two weeks. Why?

Perfectionism.

It’s the belief in an all or nothing approach to achieving a goal, and it’s absolutely toxic. If you have an expectation of perfection, you WILL be disappointed. Ironically, perfectionists fail more than anyone else because their belief system doesn’t leave room for mistakes.

You WILL make mistakes. You WILL have days where you don’t achieve your goals. That’s OK. What matters is that you have a coherent belief system that provides you with a way forward when this inevitably does happen.

So… what do you do when you make a mistake and cheat on your New Year’s resolution?

You write it off as a mistake and keep going. The success of your New Year’s resolution depends on the sum of all the actions you take throughout the year, so as long as your successes outweigh your setbacks, you’re doing great.

What Are Your New Year’s Resolutions? How Are They Going?

I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below, and while you’re at it, sign up for free updates.

Mailbag: She Says It’s Casual, but She Acts Like We’re Serious

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The mailbag is a Q&A column based on the emails you guys send me. If you have a question related to dating, relationships, or psychology, click here to send me your question and your email might be the next one chosen.

This week I got a monster of an email from 18 year old college student “Sam”, who wrote in asking why his girlfriend acts serious if she doesn’t want a serious relationship. You can read it all, or skip to the bottom where I give you the TL;DR version. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi Ryan,

I just finished reading your article about casual relationships and taking them further. My situation is a little different, and I was hoping to get some information or at least confirmation from you.

I’m 18, and my casual “girlfriend” is 18 as well. I met her in one of my college classes, I liked her, but I saw her with her boyfriend the next day and thought no more about it until the end of the semester. Last day of class, class ends and everyone starts walking to their cars to go home.

[Name censored] and I talk for half an hour straight and exchange numbers before leaving. In fact, she mentions that her boyfriend is leaving and she doesn’t do long distance relationships, and she asks for my number at the end! We talk more and more and eventually get into a “casual relationship.” It seems like her ex was a crappy guy, and she seems pretty drained emotionally from that relationship.

When she talks to me about our relationship she says that she just wants to keep it casual and have fun. ( we have had sex once already, and she is eager to do it again.) Her actions however, speak far differently.

She texts me 24/7, asks me how I am, what I’m doing, is sad when I tell her I’m going to bed (after staying up and talking with her until the wee hours of the morning) and many other things that would seem to indicate a desire for a serious relationship.

I got her a present for Christmas after my friends told me I should, even though I had doubts, and she was very happy with it. However, just this last week, after getting into a fight with her ex after he’s moved away (why does she bother to still talk to him?) she tells me that she feels like we’re moving too fast and maybe we should end things so neither of us get hurt.

She also says she loves the present but can’t keep it. (Which I believe is bs. I’m pretty sure we’re both already too invested in this relationship to end things without being hurt.) I managed to talk her out of it, telling her I’ll move only as fast as she wants, and I seemed to have made her feel a lot better. She even apologized for saying that stuff to me, and I told her not to be sorry, and that I was glad she got it into the open so we could discuss it.

Now things are back to the way they were: labelling the relationship as casual and acting committed. (She also mentioned that she would not sleep with another guy while she was with me.) Now, a week from now, one of her friend’s has his house open for over a week, and plans to host parties every night. [Name censored] and I are planning to stay there together the whole time (sleeping together of course.)

Now, why does she act like this? Is she still so emotionally distraught over her previous relationship and needs more time? (She also broke up with him early just as we got into a relationship) Am I going about it the right way? Sorry for the really long e-mail, I felt like I needed to give you as many relative details as I could, and Thank You for your time.

-S.

Whew!

Alright, so here’s what I got so far:

1) You met your girlfriend in class, but at the time she was still in a relationship
2) She dropped a hint at the end of the semester that her boyfriend is moving away, and you went for it
3) She says it’s casual, but acts like.. well, like an 18 year old girl
4) After a fight with her ex, she wanted to end things with you
5) Now you want to know what the hell is going on

Well my friend, first off I’d like to welcome you to the world of post-high school dating. Be prepared for things to be exactly like high school, despite what people have been telling you for the last couple years.

The vast majority of my readers are in their mid 20s – early 40s, so I imagine there will be many nostalgic smiles as people remember their 18 year old escapades. My totally honest opinion is that she’s young and doesn’t know what she wants yet, but I doubt you’ll find that answer very satisfying.

Her behaviour seems to be on the needy side, and that she went directly from previous guy to you also supports that. But that’s pretty much every girl under 25 – and many well beyond that – so no surprise there. The interesting thing is she’s still fighting with her ex after they’ve broken up and he’s moved away.

Does this mean she isn’t over him? Well, this is a perfect time to get better at relationship communication. This is something I just can’t answer – maybe she’ll be willing to tell you if you bring it up.

I’d say you’re doing fine. If your goal is to keep it casual, keep doing what you’re doing.

If you want to get serious with her, ask her what serious means. Since she’s already sexually exclusive with you, texts you non-stop, and plans on spending an entire week with you, where could it go from here?

Personally I wouldn’t do a serious relationship yet. Most people don’t level out until they’re nearing their late 20s (I generally don’t work with couples under 25) so it’s a really unstable time in terms of identity and development.

On top of that, you don’t know what kind of crazy opportunities are gonna come up in your life. Travelling, exchange studies in foreign countries, hot girls you meet while you’re drinking with buds, it’s primetime for discovering who you are and what you like.

Good luck man, hope things work out for you.

-Ryan

Does Having Sex Too Soon Ruin the Chances of a Relationship?

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Before I wrote this, I searched up on the topic and read every result in the first couple pages of Google. NO ONE agrees… talk about frustrating! I was pulling my hair out halfway through, and I don’t want you to do that. You have really nice hair.

How could this be? Why are half the dating columnists saying one thing, and half saying the opposite?

Unfortunately the majority of people giving dating advice are basing their opinion entirely on personal experience. That’s like going fishing and not catching anything, then coming back and telling people there aren’t any fish. It just doesn’t make any sense.

 

Having Sex Too Soon Doesn’t Ruin the Chance of a Relationship… with One Exception

 

Ever had sex with someone, only to regret it and feel it was too soon? Maybe you even blamed the timing of your first romp in the sheets (or elsewhere) for the lack of romantic development. You wonder if you should hold out longer next time – maybe then the next guy will stick around and actually get to know you.

The thing that really pisses me off about this is that it takes two people to have sex. If you have sex with someone on the first date, THEY also have sex with YOU on the first date. If you’re easy, they’re just as easy. The facepalm required for this level of double standard would be fatal.

And yet, this perspective continues. Women are told to repress their sexual urges so they don’t scare men away. Great strategy right? “What you want is unattractive to men… just suppress yourself and wait for his approval.”

Shame is something that should NEVER be associated with sex. Whatever you think is best, that’s the best for you. Whatever your sexual kinks and fantasies, awesome. However long you think is the right time to wait before having sex, that’s the right amount of time.

Any guy who thinks less of a woman for having sex with him shouldn’t be dating. If you feel like you have to play games to keep someone in your life, they aren’t someone worth keeping. Cut your losses, be thankful you figured this out sooner rather than later, and move on.

 

So What’s the One Exception?

 

The only rule about when you should have sex is waiting until you’re ready. Assuming you’re ready, it doesn’t matter if you hook up on the first date or the fifth. If you aren’t ready and do it anyway, having sex too soon can definitely ruin the chances of having a relationship.

Having sex before you’re ready means you disrespected yourself. Usually you feel shitty, uncertain, you wonder if they’re judging you, and this can lead to needy behaviour. Neediness happens because you lost your own validation, and now you’re trying to regain your self-esteem by getting validation from someone else.

This is toxic. One of the keys to healthy relationships is being internally validated, rather than relying on other things or people to help you feel good. If this describes you or your situation, here’s what you should do.

First, figure out why this happened. There are three basic scenarios, and my advice to you depends on which scenario you’re in. Were you pressured? Did you have sex because you think it’s expected? Was it just because you were drunk or on something?

If you were pressured, don’t spend anymore energy on the relationship. No one worth keeping will pressure you into choices that make you feel bad about yourself.

If you think it’s expected of you, stop and ask yourself why these expectations influence your decisions. What are your expectations? What are you looking for? Focus on your own wants and needs.

If you were drunk or stoned, well… hopefully you had a good time. We’ve all had drunk hook ups and there’s no reason to feel bad about them.

Did you end up in a relationship following a hook up? Are you wondering about your relationship? I’d love to hear your story – tell me what’s going on in the comments below.

Cognitive Reframing

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Cognitive reframing is extremely effective, if you know how and when to use it.

Used properly – and consistently – it will help you eliminate negative thoughts, challenge limiting beliefs, and become a happier person.

Thoughts shape beliefs, beliefs shape emotions, and emotions shape behaviour. If you want to change something you think, feel, or do, start by using reframing to shape your thoughts.

Let’s get to it…

First Off… What IS Cognitive Reframing?

Cognitive reframing – also known as cognitive restructuring – is a psychological technique that allows you to actively reprogram your brain. In short, if you change your beliefs, you create a real, physical change in your brain.

Your brain is like a muscle with many different parts, and just like a muscle, the parts you use often get bigger and stronger. There was a study done on cab drivers in London, comparing their brain scans with brain scans of average people.

They found the brain area responsible for mapping and memorizing routes (the hippocampus) is more developed in cab drivers. And not just more developed, but physically bigger.

When you think negative thoughts, you strengthen negative parts of your mind. A negative thought becomes a negative belief, a negative belief becomes a negative emotion, a negative emotion becomes negative behaviour.

No matter what you want to change – something you do, something you feel, or something you believe, the change begins with your thoughts.

Let’s run through a mental exercise to see exactly how cognitive reframing works in real life. After the example, I’ll break the process down into steps so you’ll be able to apply them right away.

Say you’re telling your friend a story. You notice him looking around, and attribute it to disinterest. Seconds later, he checks his phone. Now you KNOW you’re boring, and feel embarrassed. You question yourself, and for the rest of the day you feel shitty and insecure.

In this situation, the conclusion seems bullet proof. But it isn’t so – the idea that your perception matches reality is called “naive realism”. The truth is, it’s all a matter of perception.

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you perceive what happens to you.”-Click to Tweet</>

 

Cognitive Reframing in 5 Easy Steps

1) Learn About Basic Cognitive Errors
You don’t perceive reality accurately. Between what happens, you perceiving it, and you drawing conclusions about it, there’s a lot of room for mistakes. Here’s a list of common mental errors.

2) Develop Mental Awareness
Once you know what to be aware of, it’s time to start practising. A trained mind is like an exclusive club – before anyone gets in, they go through security.

That’s exactly what I’m asking you to do now. If you’re harbouring negative thoughts, it’s because your security is weak. You let in some lame ass people and they’re ruining your club.

3) Challenge Your Conclusions
This is the most important step of cognitive reframing. Once you understand the types of mental errors and develop an awareness of them, it’s time to start challenging your ideas.

In our example, challenging the ideas means looking at alternatives. Does your friend usually look around while you talk? Is it just you, or does he do it to other people? Is he usually attentive? Could he be expecting an important phone call or text? Could there be something going on he might not want to talk about?

Usually, this process happens at the subconscious level. Your brain would’ve quickly ran through these options, and based on your past experiences, brought the most likely scenario to your conscious awareness.

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened.”-Click to Tweet</>

4) Replace Faulty Beliefs
Faulty beliefs are the fuel of negative patterns. Find and replace the faulty beliefs, and you’ll free yourself from negative patterns in your life. The most extreme attempt at this was in the 1600’s, when some French guy named Descartes ran off into solitude in an attempt to examine and replace every single faulty belief he held.

A much less lonely option is to deal with negative beliefs as they come up. Each time you reframe a negative thought, you prevent one more brick being added to the wall.

If you really want to go next level and dive into your mind, think about WHY those negative beliefs came to mind in the first place.

5) Practical Tips
All of this is useless if you don’t use it. Here are some ways you can actively practice cognitive reframing right away, in your day to day life.

The Elastic Band Technique: Wear a rubber band around your wrist, and whenever you have a negative thought, snap it lightly. It’s not to hurt yourself, just a gentle physical sensation to raise awareness.

Watch Your Words: The language you use creates your reality. Do you really HATE your job? Is the food really disgusting, or just not that good? Are you really a useless idiot, or did you just make a mistake?

Look For Positives: On a day to day basis, whether you feel positive or negative is mostly a matter of perception. For every negative thought, there’s a positive counter, and vice versa. The state of your mind will reflect where you place your focus, so be mindful of your choices.

Dirty dishes – an annoying chore, or a sign that you’re eating well? Stuck in traffic – an infuriating combination of bad driving and bureaucratic incompetence, or time to relax and listen to a new podcast?

Have a negative pattern you’re trying to break? Struggling with an insecurity? Feeling anxious because of troubling thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know!