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What do I mean by "pacifying behaviours?

A pacifying behaviour is any behaviour you engage in automatically whenever you become nervous or stressed that help you calm down.

It can be any number of things, such as pacing up and down, or biting your nails, or playing with an object.

Pacifying behaviours are normal and we can't get totally rid of them, but why should we want to restrict them at all?

Mainly because people recognize them, and see them as signs of weakness and nervousness.

Now, there are three fundamental ways you can address this:

  • Accept it and move on, while possibly taking advantage of the behaviour
  • Fix the root cause. E.g. remove yourself from the situation, or find a way to stop being nervous in that situation.
  • Learn how to suppress specific pacifying behaviours.

As an example, when I got the idea for this subject, I was out researching another article, and one of the thing I'm accutely aware of when approaching women during the day is that I have a tendency to be very self conscious about turning after a woman on the street. I think about what others might think, especially if they walk behind me and see me doing it again and again.

So one of the challenges I set myself when I realized this was exactly to do that: Just turn after every beautiful woman I see. I've been desensitizing myself to it.

However, while I did this, I noticed a pacifying behaviour.

Whenever I turn around after a woman, I will put one hand in my pocket. It's consistent. When trying not to do this, I am noticeably more nervous or hesitant, so it is clearly a pacifying behaviour.

Let us examine this in the context of the three suggestions above:

Accepting the pacifying behaviour

I could just accept that I put my hand in the pocket and that it makes me more comfortable, and move on. Is there any reason not to accept it?

Not particularly in this case. A hand in your pocket isn't a big deal. Though if I were to want to run after the woman to approach here it would mean I'd lose a second, maybe. I could just accept it.

Alternatively, though, are there any ways I can take advantage of it?

The answer to that in this case is yes: It functions as an effective gauge of how nervous it makes me to turn around after a woman. It is much more reliable that just trying to feel it.

This is a good reason to not make any massive efforts to suppress it right away.

Fixing the root cause

With this pacifying behaviour as a tool of sorts, to measure how well I'm doing, what about fixing the root cause?

In this case the most straight forward approach is simple exposure:

Keep turning around after women. I solved this by regularly going out for my lunch hour with the goal of going to a specific place about as far as I can walk and still get back in time, with my only task on the way and back being to look out for beautiful women, try to get eye contact, and turn around after them.

Every time I do, I pay attention to whether or not I still engage in the pacifying behaviour, and how much resistance I meet if I try to hold my hand back.

Slowly but surely the compulsion has reduced.

Suppress the pacifying behaviour

If the pacifying behaviour is really problematic, such as a tendency to repeatedly touch your face or slide your hands down your thigh (one that is really common in high stress situations), which can be very obvious and strong signs to other people of your discomfort, you may decide it's best to try to suppress it.

The simplest approach is to make the behaviour impossible.

As an example, while addressing my tendency to put my hand in my pocket, I decided to experiment with this, and one of the most effective and simple methods was to simply hold an object, such as a juice carton or an umbrella - anything - that prevented me from putting my hand in my pocket.

You can also apply distraction: When about to engage in something that you know is likely to trigger the behaviour, try to distract yourself by thinking about something, or studying a object, or anything, and then do whatever will trigger the behaviour very quickly. Note that this often works, but is less practically applicable than the other methods in the long term - for it to be useful you largely depend on whether or not repeated use of it starts to cause your compulsion to engage in this pacifying behaviour to die down.

Another alternative is to pick an alternative behaviour.

For example, I can get away with not putting my hand in my pocket if I instead grab the lapels of my coat, with thumbs up. This is a very masculine move if it comes naturally, and signals confidence.

In this case it's still a pacifying behaviour, but I've consciously pushed myself to use a behaviour that gives a beneficial signal (both to anyone who might see and to my own subconscious) rather than one that is more likely to be interpreted as weakness or nervousness.

For more extreme pacifying behaviours this can be harder, but also far more worthwhile.

The third alternative is "simply" to pay attention and stop yourself.

This is easier said than done, but if it works for you then go for it. You'll find some alternatives are far easier to just stop than others. The biggest challenge here, though, is to consistently pay attention enough to catch it before you do it.

A long term strategy

Chances are it will take you quite some time to address your various pacifying behaviours (or even noticing all of them).

Don't see this as a problem, but decide what makes sense for each one of them, and remember: It's perfectly ok to show them to some extent, especially in situations where everyone expects you to be nervous. It can even be endearing and help demonstrate that you're a normal guy, so don't go overboard trying to suppress them. You're not a robot.

Pick a strategy, and work down the list of the ones you believe are most problematic for you.

For my example, which is admittedly fairly trivial, I've long term chosen a combination:

  • As long as I'm still occasinally "tuning" my willingness to react instantly and turn after a woman, I simply pay attention to it and use it as a gauge of progress.
  • When I'm approaching women, I aim to either hold an object or grab the lapel of my coat if I'm wearing one.
  • Occasionally I practice simply paying attention and not carrying out the behaviour at all. I'll just now and again decide not to do it for a few approaches, and take care to notice when I'm about to and stop it.

I don't see a problem with this behaviour, really, but I do consider the underlying nervousness an issue, and so I address this in large part as a way of attacking that nervousness.

Of course, there are many other pacifying behaviours I engage in that I'm not going to discuss in this article that I'm putting more effort into correcting.

Epilogue

Just as I had finished jotting down the title for this article, I looked up, and in front of me was one of the most well formed ladies I've seen in weeks. As she walked past, I immediately spun around and enjoyed the sight of one of the most well formed behinds I've seen in weeks too. And, behold, not a hint of the pacifying behaviour, largely thanks to being totally distracted by my subject. Then again, I also went onto the wrong train this morning, due to another distraction. Win some, lose some.