Sunday, 6 May 2012

Mental DIY Failure #1

I know that I haven't posted here in a while. Well I've been very busy. "Doing what?" nobody asks. "Improving myself" comes my ridiculous reply. That's right I have recently embarked on a mission of self-improvement. To better myself and somehow forge an improved version of me, from the weathered scrap metal I am currently composed of. So. How has that gone?

Not great.

My main problem is just that I am a walking catastrophe of a human being. That's all. So, in the spirit of sharing, here is the first part of a list of my failures:

1. First Impressions

Have you ever met somebody and just instantly felt like they were a great person? Even though you've only known them for 4 and a half seconds you already want to go out for a beer with them, tell them your secrets and become the best of friends. Maybe even BFFs? Unsurprisingly I do not make a great first impression. That may have something to do with my intimidating intellect or it could be my cripplingly awful social skills. We'll never know.

Pictured: me asking a stranger for the time.

I always thought that poor social skills was something all nerds just have to put up with. It comes with the territory - we can hack into the Pentagon but we can't order a drink at a bar without stumbling over our words like we are trying to describe quantum mechanics to a girl with a distractingly low-cut top. But when I started on my first contract 5 months I saw something that blew my mind.

(No, it wasn't Christina Hendricks naked.)

Real live nerds, who can talk to normal people. Normally! At first I thought there was some kind of magic at play but I soon realised that these people had adapted to their environment and learned to communicate effectively with ordinary people. I didn't even know that was possible. At first it seemed a little creepy to see guys and gals who should be communicating entirely over IRC having actual conversations. But then I realised we could be seeing the beginnings of... the super nerd.

"Sure, I'd love to take you for a drink. Just as soon as I've finished compiling the latest kernel update."

The most noticeable thing they had picked up was creating a good first impression. I wanted to know how they managed this, so I did the nerdy thing. I analysed them. I brought the scientific method to good social interaction, which is either brilliant or indicative of my problem. I eventually realised it was the simplest thing. Smiling.

Pictured: one of the foundations of good social interaction (that I somehow managed not to learn).

Perhaps I need to explain. I only smile when something that makes me happy is occuring. I laugh at things that are funny. I don't smile for no reason. I certainly noticed that whenever these people greeted anyone, they always smiled. This is something I almost never do.

"Oh hey. It's great to meet you."

And the thing is, if you aren't used to it, forcing yourself to smile when you talk to people is incredibly difficult. It feels forced (because it is), insincere (because it is) and weird (because it... could be). But other people do this all the time, and when they do it to me I like it! We all like to be around happy people, so it makes sense for us to be happy around each other - or at least act it. Don't get me wrong, people who smile too much will look strange. But the right amount is extremely pleasant.

Even the most cold-hearted, pessimistic, cynical, negative and angry of people would still want to buy a cup cake from her.

So I tried it. Every time I greeted someone, from a co-worker to a shop assistant, I tried to force a smile. And it was tough. It was tough in the same way forcing youself to sing every greeting would be tough. It was embarassing and it felt unnatural. Sometimes I forgot to do it. Sometimes I remembered and the person on the receiving end of the greeting was so miserable it barely seemed worth it. Sometimes it felt like I was beginning a job interview. But I was definitely seeing results.

People are nicer to you if they think you are a nice person. If you start a conversation with a smile they will be more inclined to continue it. It was a magic wand to conjure up pleasant social interaction. How the fuck did I miss this?!

"It looks like Dan isn't in today, but I guess he can catch up on today's lesson "how to interact like a human being" at some later point."

This might sound like a success story. And it would be, if I had used what I had learnt all of the time, correcting a flaw that I found in myself to become a better person. But... I just can't do it. This is something I have simply learnt too late to integrate into my social interactions. Oh sure, I'll occasionally remember. But a lot of the time I won't and a lot of the time I am too embarassed to do it. This lesson has passed me by, like tying my laces using the "one loop" method (I am a "bunny ears" guy).

I am irrecovably broken.