Calibration

December 4th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

In personal development terms, calibration is the process of progressively refining your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors until you shift your equilibrium to the point where you can consistently achieve the results you desire. Just as you might calibrate a scientific instrument to provide consistently accurate measurements, you can calibrate your skills to generate consistently good results.

This is a majorly long article. At about 8,600 words, I’m pretty sure this is the longest article I’ve ever written. It’s more like a free book chapter. The length is because my goal is to share one of the most comprehensive articles ever written on this topic. If you actually read the whole thing, you should gain many helpful insights from it. There are many subtle ideas here. If you don’t have time to read it now, feel free to print it out for later. It goes good with peppermint tea. :)

Calibration for Long-term Success

When you begin any new activity or endeavor, initially you won’t be calibrated for success, so you’ll experience mostly failure. However, if you keep moving forward with a clear goal in mind, and if you progressively adjust your thinking and actions along the way, you’ll eventually calibrate yourself to get the results you want. This calibration only occurs from directly applying a skill under real-world conditions, not by reading about it.

When you’re in the pre-calibration period, achieving even a small degree of success in a new field requires a massive, all-out effort. Post-calibration, success is practically on auto-pilot; you can consistently achieve the results you want with minimal effort.

Calibration Examples

It’s easiest to understand calibration by way of example, so here are some detailed examples to consider:

Social Dynamics, Making Friends, and Dating

In the field of social dynamics, calibration is the process of learning how to meet new people, initiate conversations, keep conversations going, make new friends, get dates (second meetings), and basically achieve positive social interactions.

How you calibrate your social skills will depend on your personal goals for this area. A salesperson may focus on learning how to build rapport, generate interest, close sales, and construct a database of quality contacts. A professional speaker may learn how to get attention, arouse emotion, generate laughter, and inspire people to action. A pick-up artist may study how to initiate conversations, demonstrate value, build attraction, and achieve successful closes (a close could be getting a phone number, a date, or a sexual encounter).

In high school I was comfortable within certain social circles, but I was still more introverted than I wanted to be. So when I started at college, I decided to remake myself into a more extroverted person. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I just dove in and attempted to be as social as possible. I accepted any and all opportunities for social interaction. If anyone invited me to go out, I always said yes. I made a huge commitment to elevate this part of my life, and I stuck with it for my entire freshman year.

This strategy actually worked. I hadn’t read any books on social skills at the time, but I quickly calibrated my social skills via trial and error.

Within a few weeks, I’d made dozens of new friends, and I was going to parties every week. If I ever wanted to hang out and do something fun, I could always find someone willing. Not including sleep time, I’m sure I spent more time in other people’s dorm rooms than my own. I was always going out — for parties, poker games, volleyball, ping pong, or just for pizza. I created an absolutely amazing social life and packed more fun into each month than I used to enjoy in a year. I practically became like a different person.

What I found interesting was that in the beginning, it seemed like I was always the one to initiate new connections, but once I felt comfortable doing that, additional connections began flowing into my life almost effortlessly. During my first week at college, I noticed a party across the hall and asked if I could join in the fun (and got a quick yes). After that I was always getting invitations to parties and virtually never had to ask. During the first few months, I initiated a lot of social experiences (Wanna join me for dinner at the dining commons? Wanna grab a slice? Wanna get a poker game together?). But eventually I had so many invites coming to me passively that I didn’t have to initiate as much.

Looking back, I probably went way overboard. The good news was that I really took control of this area of my life. By throwing myself into it with a passion, I quickly became comfortable meeting new people, and I learned to make friends easily. The bad news was that I totally blew off my studies and was flunking out of school. In retrospect it wasn’t such a bad trade off though. I got expelled after my third semester, but the social calibration I gained during that time has served me well ever since. I went to a different school later and still earned my college degrees, but I think the social calibration has proven more valuable in the long run. I don’t feel intimidated in new social situations, and it’s normally easy for me to make new friends and connect with people.

When Erin and I moved to Las Vegas in 2004, we didn’t know anyone in the city. We went from having a lot of friends in L.A. to having zero local friends in Vegas. It was just the two of us and our kids in a big city of strangers. But part of the reason I was happy to move to a new city was that I knew I could make new friends easily. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before I had plenty of great local friends. The bigger challenge for me has been feeling over-socialized at times. There have been some weeks where I’d have preferred more alone time.

This social calibration has benefited me tremendously in business. I can go to a mixer or conference where I don’t know anyone, and I have an easy time making new friends and contacts. I remember when I first started attending the Game Developer’s Conference many years ago, most of the attendees seemed shy and socially awkward. They’d mostly keep to themselves or cling to their co-workers, especially at meal times. Meanwhile, I was going around making new friends, which just felt natural to me. Some of those chance encounters led to new opportunities and deals that helped grow my business. It was also nice to have more friends with similar interests.

One year at that conference, I hung out so late that the shuttles had stopped running. It was pouring rain outside, but a new friend offered me a ride back to my hotel. In fact, something similar happened at a different conference this year. It’s nice to know that my social calibration can keep me out of the rain when necessary. :)

To some people this may not sound like a big deal. Many people develop such skills in high school or younger. But for a shy kid like me who went to an all boys Catholic high school, it was indeed a big deal.

Although I use my social skills mainly to make friends and business contacts, you can use a similar process to develop dating and relationship skills. For example, if you want to go on more dates, you can calibrate your skills to get good at opening conversations with strangers, develop fun and interesting conversations, build attraction, and at least close with a phone number. There are lots of people teaching this stuff online now, with varying degrees of credibility (and sanity), but the most important thing is to just dive in and start experimenting. You’ll experience some rejection at first, but if you just keep learning and adapting, your skills will calibrate to the point where you’re able to get consistently good results.

If you happen to be suffering from loneliness, most likely it’s because you never took the time to adequately calibrate your social skills. Consequently, you may avoid making new friends because you don’t understand the social nuances of how to do it. You probably feel socially awkward and suffer from an amplified fear of rejection. The solution is to focus on a different goal first. You need to calibrate your social skills before you can apply them. Go out and socialize for the sake of learning how to socialize. Don’t worry about whether or not you make any new friends. Once your social skills are calibrated, which may take a few months, then you can focus on building the kinds of friendships you desire, and it will be much easier for you. Aim to get good first. Then aim to get results.

Martial Arts

If you study martial arts and begin learning to spar, you’re going to be pretty bad at it initially. You’ll have no sense of timing, and you won’t grasp the rhythm of a sparring match. You’ll probably bang knees with your opponent a lot. All the newbies do that.

For the most part, you can expect to look and feel like a total dork. The first time I sparred, which was more than 10 years ago, I was laughing during the match, mostly at how awkward I felt. I’m sure I looked like a total dork.

This is to be expected. You can try to play it cool, but the truth is that the first few times you attempt any new sport, you’re virtually guaranteed to look and feel like a dork. This is because your mind and body aren’t calibrated to that sport.

Within a few months of regular training, your sparring should be fairly well-calibrated for an intermediate level of skill. At the very least, you won’t embarrass yourself. You’ll have sparred many different opponents, and you’ll have a good sense of what to expect. You’ll be able to use different moves successfully, land punches and kicks, and pull off the occasional surprise. I remember how cool it was when I stripped an opponent’s helmet off with an axe kick during a sparring match. :)

While sparring at the beginner level feels awkward and intimidating, once you gain a little competence, it becomes a fun challenge. At this point the subtleties of the skill begin to reveal themselves. Once your basic sparring moves and tactics are calibrated, you can begin to calibrate your strategic decisions, and this is where the richness of sparring really opens up. The game becomes less physical and more mental. Some would even say it becomes spiritual at a certain point.

Calibrating to a particular sport is a lot like learning to ride a bicycle. Even if you don’t train for a while, the mental calibration remains, and you can easily pick it up again later.

I trained for about three years in Tae Kwon Do in the late 90s with a mix of group classes and private lessons. Over time I got pretty good at sparring and really enjoyed it. I moved away from the studio and stopped training, but several years later, I started training in a different martial art, Kempo, starting as a white belt. Kempo is geared toward self-defense, while TKD is more sporty. Fortunately, all the moves that are legal in TKD are also legal in Kempo, and Kempo allows you to do some things that aren’t legal in TKD, such as punching to the face. (Protective gear is worn during sparring, but there’s still some risk. I suffered a bruised rib and a split lip on different occasions.)

Even though I’d lost most of my flexibility, the first time I sparred in Kempo, I did amazingly well, certainly far beyond the white belt level. From my first Kempo sparring class, I was able to hold my own against one of the black belts in the studio. I was sparring TKD-style, not Kempo-style, but that actually gave me an advantage because the other students weren’t calibrated to that style. TKD is mostly kicking, but Kempo uses more hand techniques. My preference for kicks surprised the other students because they would hover just outside of punching range, but they were still within my TKD-calibrated kicking range, so I hammered them with kicking combos until they figured out they needed to back up. This threw them off mentally, and it took months for many of them to adapt to my style. Of course, it also took me a while to get used to having punches thrown at my head. :)

After a year of training in Kempo, I was fairly well-calibrated to that style, but I had to unlearn some of my TKD habits that were ineffective in Kempo. I had to work on my speed, defensive maneuvers, and incorporating punches, strikes, and backfists into my sparring.

The point is that once you gain calibration at a particular skill set, you may very well lock in that skill for life. I feel as if basic competence in sparring is so ingrained in me that even if I didn’t spar again for 20 years, I’d be able to quickly pick it up again. I can actually feel that calibration in my body.

Blogging

Since blogging is still a fairly new medium, it usually takes new bloggers a while to properly calibrate. The failure rate is pretty high for newbies because most of them give up before they calibrate for success. I’d say you need to write at least 200-300 posts before you get a decent calibration going, and that assumes you’re making a solid commitment to getting better. For some people it will require more than 500 posts to achieve reasonable calibration, especially if they aren’t very good writers. There’s just a lot to learn.

In particular, there’s a huge gap between writing posts that people read and forget vs. writing posts that people will remember well enough that they’re still referring their friends, family members, and co-workers to read a year later. One of the key calibrations for long-term blogging success is to learn how to write the latter type of post; that’s how you get your archives working for you, and your traffic can still grow even when you aren’t posting anything.

For example, of the top 10 articles on my website that generate the most referrals, only one was written this year. Articles I wrote years ago continue to attract new readers today. However, it took me a long time to learn to write the kinds of articles that would produce such results. I’ve publicly shared how I do this, and that’s been helpful for some people, but it still takes time for new bloggers to “get it” to the point where they can apply it.

Not long ago I was at a party, chatting with a woman who got started blogging after attending a blogging workshop I did a couple years ago. She was telling me some of the mistakes she made with her blog during that time, all of which were mistakes I explicitly said to avoid during the workshop. For example, she wrote lots of timely content instead of timeless content, so she felt like she was on an endless treadmill, and her archives were largely worthless. She remembered that I said to avoid those mistakes too, but that wasn’t enough to stop her from making them. Despite having the opportunity to learn from my experience and avoid the pitfalls I described, she still had to go out and make those mistakes in order to refine her own calibration. I’ve seen countless bloggers make the same mistakes. They seek my advice, I tell them what to do and what not to do and why, and they do exactly what I tell them not to do and then wonder why it isn’t working. Oy vey! This is okay though, as long as they keep plugging ahead and learn from those mistakes. We human beings aren’t known to be the best listeners in the galaxy. We learn much better by doing something than by reading about it.

Different bloggers will naturally calibrate themselves toward different goals. For example, I wanted to calibrate my blogging skills to the goal of having a deep, long-term impact on my readers. I want to change people’s lives for the better. This is partly why I do things differently than most bloggers. I blow off many practices that other pro bloggers defend as sacred. My articles tend to be very long and detailed. I typically avoid posting shallow short info-crack pieces. I post less frequently, sometimes going a week or more with no fresh content. I largely ignore current events. I don’t often link to other blogs. This is all because I’m calibrating my skills toward a certain type of result. Those popular strategies just aren’t very helpful at achieving the results I desire, so I don’t use them. If you want this to become yet another info-crack blog, get used to disappointment. I want to change your life, not provide you with a five-minute distraction.

So be careful when taking advice from others. If you’re calibrating toward a different goal than they are, their advice may hurt you more than help you. It’s best to learn from people who’ve already achieved a similar calibration to what you want to achieve. For example, if you just want to make as much money as possible and don’t care how you get it, then you probably wouldn’t want to model my blogging methods because I’ve calibrated myself toward a different goal. But you might want to follow those bloggers who proudly proclaim they’re in it for the money — there are plenty to select from. On the other hand, if you believe you’re here for a reason and that blogging could potentially become a sustainable expression of your life purpose, then you’d probably benefit greatly by studying my style, since I’ve been getting positive results in this area for years. The point is that if you decide to model someone, be sure you’re modeling someone with compatible goals (and thus a compatible calibration).

One thing I’ve learned from 4+ years of blogging is that it really isn’t that hard in principle to become a successful blogger; however, it’s very hard in practice. Newbies’ minds are typically filled with many false notions. In some ways they need to unload more useless ideas than they need to absorb useful ideas. I’ve raped quite a few pro blogging sacred cows, yet my blog is still going strong.

There are a lot of blogging success factors that are somewhat counter-intuitive. You won’t realize this if you just read sites about blogging because they’ll rarely write about these factors. For the most part, it’s not that anyone is intentionally withholding information. The ideas are simply too subtle for most bloggers to be consciously aware of them. Many calibration issues are like this — they’re just too subtle to appear on any “top 10″ or “how to” lists. Sometimes people who succeed can’t document all the specific reasons they’ve succeeded. They can’t consciously unearth every detail of their unconscious calibration. There are some things I do as a successful blogger that I’ve never seen anyone write or speak about publicly, myself included. Some of the concepts are so subtle or intricate that even if I explained them in detail, nobody but other successful pro bloggers would even understand what I’m talking about, and some people would accuse me of lying.

Yesterday another blogger emailed me a link to a post he wrote, explaining why he personally dislikes my writing style. This is a blogger who says he gets significantly less traffic than I do. His main criticism is that I state my opinions too directly, as if they’re facts. This is a perfectly valid criticism of course; I confess to doing this liberally. The attitude of that blogger was that this is a personal defect I should correct. However, what he probably doesn’t realize is that this is a trait I developed over time as part of my calibration process for blogging success. I’m sure his advice is well-meaning, but I know that if I take his advice, my results will actually decline. I can say he’s wrong and that I’m right because I’ve learned which approach works best for me via trial and error. As a generalization, I know that making strong statements works better than making weak statements.

This is one of many subtle calibration refinements I learned from years of blogging. I discovered that prefacing every opinion with phrases like “I think…” or “I feel…” or “In my opinion…” leads to the creation of wimpy content. So this was actually a personal defect I learned to correct, and I intentionally make strong statements. My readers aren’t stupid. They know that since this is my website, such statements represent my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. When I offer up my thoughts directly, as opposed to watering them down with qualifiers, people are challenged to agree or disagree with me. This helps people question their beliefs, strengthening some while weakening others. This is what I like to see.

Another benefit to making strong statements is that other bloggers, including the one critical of my posting style, will take the time to write posts just to disagree with me, thereby sending traffic to my website and actively helping me achieve my goals. Yet because their content is usually wimpier, they don’t benefit equally from this same mechanism. There are a lot of subtle interactions going on here, and I’m only offering a cursory overview here, but the net effect is that by posting strong statements, I enjoy more blogging success, but I also attract more criticism. However, the criticism actually benefits me. This is pretty counterintuitive, isn’t it?

Part of the reason I’ve been so successful as a blogger is that people remember what I’ve written, especially if they disagree with it. If you look at the comments written about my work throughout the blogosphere, you’ll find that most people have very polarized opinions about my work. Some people love my work. Some absolutely despise it. Very few are neutral. However, love it or hate it, these same people keep discussing my work, constantly spreading the word to those who don’t know about me. Such controversy makes people curious and brings new readers to my website every day. Isn’t this just insidious? The more people dislike me, the more they actively go out and market my work to others, and the more they help me achieve my goal of helping people grow. This is so effective that I can even tell such people how they’re helping me, and they’ll keep right on doing it.

I could certainly write more agreeable posts that few people would find objectionable. I could apologize for every opinion of mine that isn’t mainstream. But that’s totally the wrong calibration for my goals, not to mention for my personality. It’s way too cowardly. I don’t want to calibrate as a wimpy blogger that nobody can find fault with. It’s more effective to calibrate as a blogger who challenges people and makes a difference, even if it sends some people running the other way (to go out and promote my work instead of reading it themselves).

Uncalibrated newbie bloggers often blog scared. They try to please everyone and avoid taking risks. Consequently, they write posts that are easily forgotten and which will generate few referrals. Then some new upstart blogger comes along with a better calibration, breaks all the newbie rules, and surges ahead in traffic. And the other newbies think it’s luck. It’s not luck though. A good example is the blog Stuff White People Like. I first happened upon it shortly after it launched, and I knew it would become successful. I could see it had a great calibration for building traffic quickly — it was only a matter of time before it took off. The posts were politically incorrect to the max, but they were witty and memorable. Sure enough, that blog became a hit and even led to a book deal. If this sort of success surprises you as a blogger, it means your calibration is off. If your calibration is solid, you should be able to browse through the early posts on that blog and NOT be surprised by its success. Overall, if you’re often surprised by the success of others in your field, it means your calibration isn’t very good yet. As your own calibration matures, you’ll get better at being able to predict successes.

One of the keys to success in any field, especially blogging, is to accept that there are good reasons the successful people are succeeding, and it has nothing to do with luck. If you see someone who’s getting better results than you, even if it’s someone with less experience who started after you, chances are they have a more accurate calibration than you. You can rail against that, feel jealous, and call them names, but it’s better to take a step back, eat your humble pie, and learn from such people if you can. I’ve learned some pretty cool things from bloggers who started long after I did. Although my current calibration is obviously working, I know I can always improve, and I never want to think of myself as such as expert that I can’t keep learning and growing.

One of the worst things you can do in blogging is to write in such a manner that will offend no one. If you don’t offend or challenge anyone, you’re probably writing content that isn’t very memorable or meaningful. If you write what people expect, their minds won’t store it. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any highly successful bloggers that don’t have multiple negative rants written about them somewhere. All of them piss people off. Most of them aren’t intentionally trying to upset people. It’s just that upsetting people seems to be a natural consequence of the calibration required for blogging success.

This isn’t unique to blogging either. Think of any successful media personality, and I’m sure you can find some rants about them with a quick online search. In fact, the biggest stars will have tons of rants. Consider Tom Cruise for instance.

Some people might assume this sort of controversy is a side-effect of success, like perhaps that celebrity got a big head after enjoying some success (causing people to turn against him/her), or maybe the rants appeared as a side effect of the celebrity’s popularity (like it’s just a numbers game). I’d say that’s the wrong way to look at this. It’s more likely that generating controversy was part of the celebrity’s early calibration process. If anything, the ability to handle controversy probably helped them become a celebrity in the first place.

Some of the first articles I ever wrote, even before I launched StevePavlina.com, generated controversy that helped turn them into fast hits. An example was the article Do It Now, which I wrote in 2000. Lots of people love that article, but some people find it disturbing and feel compelled to rant about it (even eight years after it was first posted online), perhaps because it makes them realize just how unproductive they are compared to what they could be achieving if they really made an all-out effort. Unfortunately, it took me years to figure out why that article became a hit and to learn how to reproduce the kind of impact it had. It also took me a long time to realize that the negative backlash generated by that article was actually helping me grow my readership… and that I should accept and embrace such critical feedback rather than worry about it. What I initially interpreted as negative feedback (i.e. I did something wrong) was actually positive feedback (I did something right). Interpreting emails from people saying “you are wrong” as evidence that you did something right is again pretty counterintuitive, isn’t it?

This is a key point of calibration. When you’re building a new skill, you have to look at the big picture in terms of the results you’re getting. You might do something that seems to generate immediate negative feedback from people, but when you step back and look at the big picture, you may see that the overall feedback is overwhelmingly positive. This happens a lot in blogging, where a reader may chew you out for something you wrote, and then six months later, they’re singing your praises for helping them achieve a breakthrough they never thought possible. And even if they aren’t singing your praises, they’re out there telling people why they hate you, thereby making people curious and sending you more traffic.

A similar effect also happens in social dynamics, where the “bad guys” can actually attract more success because they have so many detractors unwittingly doing their marketing for them.

Newbie Fear

Perhaps the toughest part of calibration is dealing with newbie fear. This is the fear of failure or rejection we experience when learning a new skill. Initially we suck, we know full well that we suck, and we really don’t want to deal with the embarrassment and humiliation of other people witnessing just how badly we suck. This is most distressing with skills that must be calibrated in public, such as dating skills and public speaking.

There are some ways to mitigate newbie fear. One of the best ways is to connect with other newbies and go through the initial training together. When you look up to experts who are already well-calibrated, it’s easy to become intimidated and psyche yourself out. You’ll tend to hold yourself to an unreasonable standard of performance. But if you befriend and hang out with other newbies, the learning process can be a lot more fun. It’s comforting to have buddies that suck just as badly as you do. You can blow off steam together, share your latest insights, and poke fun at each other as you learn. “Misery loves company” isn’t such a bad idea in this case.

The key is to associate with newbies who are committed to learning and growing. If you hang out with flakes, it probably won’t help you much. Try to identify other newbies that you predict are likely to stick with it and succeed, and hang out with them if you can. This will help increase your commitment without making you feel too intimidated.

When I first started learning about blogging, I enjoyed connecting with other newbie bloggers. In the old days (old as in four years ago), we swapped links with each other, shared advice, and found ways to help each other gain traffic. Many of those people gave up and quit of course, but a few are doing very well today. It’s cool to watch your newbie friends improve their calibration right along with you, even though everyone improves at different rates.

Ultimately, you’ll only get so much mileage out of trying to reduce newbie fear. The fastest way to overcome it is to simply charge straight at it. Just accept that you’ll suck, that some embarrassment will happen, and that the only way out is through. This is especially important for building good social skills.

You’ll only get so far by sitting at home reading, listening to audio programs, and watching videos. Such educational aids can help, but they can never substitute for real-world experience. Use them as supplemental materials to refine your in-field experimentation. If you want to become a successful blogger, start blogging immediately. If you want to build an online business, get some kind of website online right away. If you want to improve your social skills, go outside and meet people tonight. Yes, you’re going to suck at first. But if you push through the newbie fear and do it anyway, the fear will subside, and you’ll begin to calibrate your skills very quickly.

Even if you read all the books in your field, you will still suck on your first in-field experience. You won’t even be able to apply what’s in those books. So get out in the field and start calibrating.

Get that first crappy “Hello, World” blog post under your belt. Let out that inane “Hey, baby. What’s your sign?” pick-up line. Bang shins with your sparring partner as you scream, “Ouch!”

Newbie Pride

If you’re a newbie at something, and you’re feeling hesitant to go after some live in-field experience, realize that this is very normal. Many newbies resist being newbies, but this resistance only makes them more nervous. So realize that a big part of the problem is your own resistance to being a newbie. You’ll get into the field sooner if you can accept this phase of your learning curve.

My advice for turning this around is to fully embrace your newbieness. Don the badge of Newbie Pride. Instead of fearing that you’ll look like a total dork, take this the other way. Embrace and even exaggerate your dorkiness. Don’t try to resist it. Blow it up even larger.

In martial arts classes, there’s no hiding your newbie status. You wear a white belt, so everyone knows you’re a beginner. This actually makes it easier because you know people don’t expect much of you. The lower belts may be nervous about sparring, but since they know that nobody expects much of them, most are able to get out on the mat and spar without undue hesitation.

However, in other fields, people don’t wear white belts. This has positive and negative side-effects.

In online business, for example, many newbies try to hide their newbieness. I made this mistake when I started my first business. I pretended to be an experienced business person when I just started. I talked about my staff even when I was the only person in the business. That was totally unnecessary, not to mention really dumb. When I started blogging, however, I didn’t try to hide my newbieness. I embraced that dorky beginner phase and had fun with it. And because of that, more experienced bloggers reached out to help me. Back then, “more experienced” meant they started blogging a month before I did. :)

I still maintain this attitude today. If I’m new at something, I’ll openly share my newbie dorkiness and hesitation. It doesn’t embarrass me to share my weaknesses. On the contrary, it actually invites a lot of help and advice from non-newbies who want to help me calibrate.

The Master Newbie Pick-up Artist

Suppose you’re a guy who wants to learn how to pick up women at night clubs, but you’re terrified of going out, and you can’t imagine walking up to a woman and delivering an opener. Realize that so much of your resistance is because you’re trying to appear cooler and more experienced than you really are. Do you realize this is totally unnecessary? It’s better to embrace your newbieness and use it to your advantage.

If I were trying to develop this particular skill, here’s what I’d do. I’d go up to women and tell them the plain and simple truth. I’ve never actually done this, so take my advice with a grain of salt because this isn’t a calibration I’ve bothered to develop, but I’ll bet you it would work well at initiating fun conversations.

I’d walk up to a group of women with a big smile on my face. I’d get their attention and say to them, “Hey guys, I’m currently learning how to meet women at night clubs, but I’m a total newbie at this. Would you mind if I practice on you just for fun for a couple minutes? And would you give me some honest feedback afterwards?”

I suspect you’ll probably get a laugh if you do this, and if you don’t, then the women aren’t likely worth talking to anyway, so you can quickly disqualify them as boring or humorless. You’ve taken the pressure off by initiating a “practice session,” so it doesn’t even matter what you say next. Your next line could even be, “Okay what do you think of this? [Switch to deep voice] Hey, baby. What’s your sign?” That would probably get another laugh, but even a groan isn’t bad. You can keep saying other funny lines. You could also kick off a meta conversation about meeting women at night clubs, such as by asking a question like, “Okay, after I do the opener, what should I talk about next? Would this be a good time to tell you a quick story to demonstrate that I’m a cool guy? Should I tell you about the time I …?” The context is that you’re just practicing, but in truth you’ve already opened the group.

This is an untested suggestion of course, so you’ll have to try it yourself to see if it works for you. The general idea is not to hide your newbieness. It’s perfectly okay to be a newbie and even to admit it to people. When you’re a newbie, your initial goal is to calibrate your skills, not to achieve a particular result. So take the pressure off as to whether or not you succeed or fail. You can go for results after you’ve calibrated your skills.

If you pretend to be an expert when you’re not, you’ll just stress yourself out. Wear the badge of Newbie Pride.

Incidentally, if you actually try this, please let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear how people react to it. I think this could work for men and women alike.

In fact, if a woman came up and used this opener on me, I’d probably laugh and say, “Sure, let’s practice.” I’d be pretty impressed by a woman who used such a line because it demonstrates a high level of awareness with a certain playfulness. I’d probably fall in love on the spot. :)

Great… now I’ve gotten myself all riled up to the point where I totally want to go to a night club and try this for real just to see what happens. :)

The Skill of Calibration

Being able to calibrate yourself to a new skill set is a skill in itself. The more skills you learn, the faster you’ll be able to achieve competence in each new skill you attempt.

One thing that happens as you calibrate to many different skills is that you become more comfortable being a newbie in general. Once you’ve gone through the newbie phase enough times, it ceases to bother you so much. You can start from rock bottom in a new field and be mostly okay with how badly you suck. You get used to it, and you know you’ll eventually get better. This makes it easier to put in the time as a newbie, so you can quickly progress to intermediate. For me the newbie phase is often the most fun and exciting because I learn the fastest during this time.

Another benefit of having lots of calibration experience is that you’ll be less intimidated by the experts. You’ll accept that they fine-tuned their calibration over many years. This will help you develop the patience necessary to keep hacking away in order to build long-term competence.

When I became a raw foodist earlier this year, I spent a lot of time communicating with successful long-term raw foodists. Initially, the information I gained was just overwhelming. I was offered thousands of pages of text to read (books, e-books, articles), plus audio, video, and live lectures to attend. There were some weeks where learning this skill practically became my full-time job. I had to unlearn many bad habits that were holding me back, not to mention breaking a lifelong addiction to cooked food. This was a total lifestyle overhaul, not just a minor diet change.

After months of study and practice, I eventually calibrated myself to being a successful raw foodist, well enough that I felt I could maintain it on autopilot. I’d probably label myself an advanced intermediate at this point. I have a solid grasp of the fundamentals, cooked foods are no longer appealing to me, I feel fantastic, and I love the foods I eat. As part of this re-calibration to raw foods, my taste buds have shifted a lot. I actually crave fresh greens now. I feel mildly deprived if I don’t eat at least a pound of greens each day. Now that I’ve achieved a decent calibration, maintaining this lifestyle is pretty much a no-brainer for me. But during the first few months, I had to invest a lot of thought and effort into it.

Immersion and Experimentation

When learning new skills, my preference is to get through the newbie phase as quickly as possible, so I can start enjoying some good results. In order to accomplish this, I’ll often put other areas of my life on hold, so I can devote the bulk of my time to building competence in the new skill. I don’t always do this, but if the skill is important to me, I prefer the strategy of total immersion instead of working on it a little bit each week.

The danger of being stuck in beginner mode for too long is that your early motivation may fade, and more self-discipline will be required to keep going. Many new bloggers give up within the first few months, well before they’re getting any results. It takes them too long to calibrate their skills to what is required for success in blogging, so they never make it past the beginner phase. After a few months, they still haven’t calibrated, so they continue to make the sorts of mistakes that a well-calibrated blogger could spot within seconds. For example, they write boring posts that nobody cares to read, or they write time-bound posts that will be worthless a year later. It takes too much discipline for them to keep going with no results to show for it, so they give up. Then they repeat the same process again in a different field. Hopefully by now you can clearly see that this is a loser strategy.

On the other hand, I’ve seen bloggers who’ve built a lot of traffic very quickly, earning $1000+ per month within a few months after they started. They threw themselves wholeheartedly into learning everything they could about blogging, and they were willing to be open-minded and flexible. They learned what worked for them and did more of it. They learned what didn’t work and stopped doing it. They understood that if they wrote a blog post, and it generated no increase in traffic whatsoever, then perhaps they should write something totally different instead of sticking with more of the same.

Proper calibration requires a lot of experimentation. If you don’t get a good result, you can interpret that as a negative result, and change something — change anything. But don’t keep doing what didn’t work, expecting that it’s just a matter of time before things pick up. It’s not really a matter of time. It’s a matter of skill.

When you immerse yourself in learning a new skill, don’t focus on trying to get results with the skill — at least not right away. Instead, focus on getting good at the skill.

For example, if you’re learning to blog, focus on writing posts in a variety of styles. You want to calibrate yourself to get good at writing blog posts that generate referrals. Don’t worry about trying to make money with your blog. Don’t even worry about trying to build a certain level of traffic. You can focus on those goals later. But initially, aim to figure out how to semi-consistently write awesome posts that generate referrals. If you can’t figure out how to do that, your blog will surely fail. But if you can calibrate yourself to this skill, then you can shift from building your skill to applying your skill. That’s where you can start really building your traffic and generating income from your work.

A New Equilibrium – Post-Calibration

The funny thing about calibration is that once you reach a certain point, you’ll tend to let go of all the tricks, tactics, and techniques you learned along the way. Now you’re able to maintain a certain level of success just by being yourself.

This happens because the skills you learned have been internalized. You no longer have to think about the details because your subconscious mind takes care of them for you. Applying your skill becomes much easier when you reach this point.

Blogging is largely effortless for me these days. I can crank out a detailed new article with fairly little effort. I got the idea for this particular article while I was at the gym this morning. I outlined it in my head while I took a shower. Later I sat down to write, and the words just flowed. It took me a while to write an article of this length of course, but the process was easy and effortless. The reason it was easy is that I’ve already calibrated myself to the skill of writing articles. There are lots of details that go into writing an article of this length, but I don’t have to consciously think about the process of how to write. It’s all internalized. I can just sit down at my desk, the ideas start flowing, and my fingers automatically start typing. I can chunk the task of writing an article as a single to-do item, even an article of this length, and it isn’t a big deal to me.

When I write a new blog post, I don’t consciously think about all the details that other pro bloggers would tell you are important. I just blog. It feels like a very simple thing to do, not nearly as complicated as it might seem. However, the reason I can keep it simple and still do well in this field is because I went through that complicated newbie phase years ago. I internalized the techniques that proved effective for me, so today I don’t even think about them anymore.

Putting a skill on automatic pilot is the long-term benefit of good calibration. Once you gain this calibration, you can’t really lose it. You may need to re-calibrate your skills from time to time to adapt to changing conditions, but that usually isn’t as hard as acquiring the initial calibration.

If you took away my blog and all my articles, and I had to start over from scratch as an anonymous blogger today, do you think I could repeat my success? I’m sure I could do so very quickly because I’ve already calibrated my blogging skills. I typically experience quick success when I can rely on a previous calibration, such as learning to spar in a new martial art or building a social network of friends in a new city. One of the reasons I achieved quick success as a blogger was that I benefited from my previous calibration of running a profitable online business for years, so I was able to adapt much of that skill to the medium of blogging. I was also able to adapt my blogging calibration to writing a book.

When you calibrate, you lock in a new skill. Then you can use that skill to generate consistently good results. This is a wonderful place to be. Post-calibration, you’ll typically feel very confident within the realm of that skill. You have every reason to feel confident because you’re genuinely competent. I’d feel comfortable starting a new online business. I’d feel comfortable moving to a new city where I didn’t know anyone. I’d feel confident studying a new style of martial arts. I’d feel confident giving a new speech. However, the first time I did these things, I hadn’t yet calibrated myself for success. The only kind of confidence I was able to muster back then was the “fake it till you make it kind,” which is more false bravado than genuine confidence.

Calibrate Is a Verb

Don’t let the newbie phase get you down. Everyone has to go through it. Get a newbie training partner if you must, but turn toward that newbie fear, and run straight at it. The fear will soon go away. It’s not a big deal to fail or to get rejected. That’s part of being a newbie. Accept it. You will get better.

In order to calibrate your skills, you have to take action. You can’t just sit at home reading or studying training materials. You must go into the field and do field work under real-world conditions.

As Mike Tyson said, “Everybody’s got plans… until they get hit.”

I know so many people who’ve spent months reading about and talking about starting an online business. They still don’t have an online business. But they just keep talking about it and planning it, as if that’s some form of phantom progress. Their calibration is still at zero. They think they’re getting closer to their goal. From my perspective, they haven’t even started yet. They’re just procrastinating.

Such people would do much better if they stopped reading and planning and started doing. Nobody earned a black belt from reading about martial arts.

Which approach do you think will generate the best results? Reading about a diet for 30 days? Or doing a 30-day trial of that diet?

Which will improve your social skills the most? Watching social skills videos for 30 days? Or going out every night for 30 days and starting up conversations with strangers?

Which will generate the best blogging results? Reading blogs on blogging for 30 days? Or starting your own blog and posting your own blog entries for 30 days?

Which will generate the best physical results? Read about weight training for 30 days? Or hit the gym and do 30 days of weight training?

Reading and studying will give you knowledge and information that sits in your mind. That seems like a good thing, but you’ll still have zero results to show for your efforts. You’re actually no closer to your goals. You’re still at the starting line. But if you go out and do the best you can to apply what you know right now, even if your understanding is full of holes, you’ll quickly learn what works under real-world conditions, and you’ll adapt. You’ll make a huge leap forward in your calibration. You’ll also generate some real-world results that may benefit you.

Get your nose out of the books and onto the field. Take your licks as they come, and learn from them. Build your skills under real-world conditions, so you can actually apply them to get results. Don’t just read about life. Live it.

Reading and learning are awesome, but make sure you’re using these as supplements for in-field experience, not substitutes. If you’re reading about any skill you want to develop, but you aren’t regularly performing in the field yet, you’re just procrastinating. Deep down you already knew that, didn’t you? I’m here to remind you of this, so you can hate me for it and help spread the word about how awful I am. ;)



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