Sunday, April 5, 2009

How He Got His "Blink" Back

When you counsel people on a variety of life situations, as I do, you eventually notice that certain basic principles apply well to different situations.

Friday, psychologist Brett Steenbarger demonstrated the point by explaining how some dating advice he once gave to a young man also applied to trading, blogging, and interviewing. Link here.

The principle is trial-and-error. Steenbarger was telling a young man: have many first dates and far fewer second dates.

He was saying: try getting to know many different women, but only pursue those with whom you have connected.

Most young people would profit from this advice. Being traumatized by bad dating experiences is an everyday part of growing up. And most people who have been burned by a date or a relationship will start developing trauma-avoidance strategies.

In the worst case, this leads to withdrawal from the dating game. If you really want to guarantee that you will never be traumatized by a date, the only foolproof way is to not to date. The same applies to relationships.

But this takes you out of the game. And, as Steenbarger notes, not being in the game is the only real failure here.

Other, less effective tactics, develop like this. A man who was dumped by his blond girlfriend decides that he will never again date a blond. The man who was burned by the sorority girl decides that he should avoid sorority girls. And the man who had a bad experience with a woman from the Midwest... you get the picture.

The next step is obvious. A man who associates blue-eyed redheads with relationship failure might conclude that he must date only brown-eyed brunettes. He might even fetishize brunettes because he feels that when he is dating one he is completely protected against the ravages that the last redhead inflicted on him.

Trauma causes people to lose their "blink." Here I am referring to Malcolm Gladwell's concept. "Blink" refers to the snap judgments we all make, about people, places, and things, that turn out to be uncannily accurate.

When you have been traumatized, your normally reliable "blink" starts giving you false signals.

Once a man loses his "blink" he does not know whether his attraction to this woman or his disinterest in that woman is based on something real or is merely a way to avoid a repetition of a past trauma.

And there is no mental exercise that will tell him. The only way he can find out is to go out on a date.

If he does it often enough, he will learn to get his "blink" back.

Experience teaches. And it does not merely teach: it heals. It helps people to correct the errors in judgment that are induced by trauma.

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