Ever wondered what it's really like to do one of those dating workshop bootcamps where a pick-up artist takes you into nightclubs and teaches you how to approach women? One of my new year's resolutions for 2010 was to finally overcome my fear of approaching and interacting with attractive women. I already had an interesting life, but how are women supposed to get to know me if I'm too afraid to approach them because I've never learned how to do it?
So I went along to a seminar run by street pick-up expert Alex Coulson, and decided it was time to get serious by signing up to one of Alex and Moxie's dating workshop bootcamps. I already knew Alex as I had interviewed him on one of the Confident Man bonus products, and Moxie was an ex-Love Systems instructor so I figured these guys were the real deal.
On a weekend 2 months later, they would take a small group of guys out into nightclubs on Friday and Saturday night and teach us how to approach and interact with women. In the weeks leading up to the bootcamp, Moxie would give us coaching over the phone to prepare us for the big weekend.
I've never been a nightclub kinda guy. That whole partying scene wasn't part of my conservative Christian upbringing, I never got into going clubbing, and never became comfortable in that environment. Add loud noise which makes conversation difficult and my awkwardness about approaching and meeting new people, and the whole nightclub experience was just unpleasant for me. But clearly for other people comfortable in that environment it looks like a lot of fun. So I was keen to learn the approach skills I need so that I could enjoy it too.
Before The Bootcamp
Every couple of weeks before the bootcamp I had a coaching call from Moxie to give me a series of assignments to complete. My first assignment was to just go out into some clubs, get comfortable being there, have a look at the sort of people who went and decide which clubs had the women who I thought seemed most interesting and attractive. I felt pretty awkward at first going into an unfamiliar environment, but slowly got comfortable wandering around different clubs, sussing them out.
The next assignment was to start making approaches to women, using a simple conversation opener with the aim of starting a conversation lasting at least 90 seconds. I told Moxie I thought I'd be more comfortable with a direct conversation starter (a.k.a. opener), and he suggested I go with: “Hey, you guys look like fun. Are you friendly?”
First time I went out to do this I was so nervous, I nearly chickened out at the door of the nightclub thinking "I just want to go home!". But I also really wanted to get this fear handled. So in I went. It was important to have minimal expectations: simply to make an approach and start a conversation was my measure of "success". I was pretty rough at first, but I did about 8 approaches per night and around 50% of the women I approached talked to me without immediately blowing me off. I drove home afterwards on a real high.
Wing Man One
Going alone was really hard work; when a woman didn't want to talk to me, it was very hard not to beat myself up about it. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't a “rejection” and that learning how to handle knock-backs is just part of the process; but that still didn't stop the voice in my head berating me when a woman didn't appear interested.
I'd swapped numbers with a couple of other guy's I met at the introductory seminar, and one of them rang saying he was really keen to meet up and go out as wing men. I didn't feel entirely comfortable about this guy since he seemed to be just out to get laid, but I thought it would be valuable having some support and he seemed more comfortable in the nightclub environment than me. I quickly learned the value of having a wing-man: there's a real psychological boost in knowing that you're not alone, and it's a huge relief to have someone to go back to that you can have a laugh with after an approach goes badly.
It turned out my wing man was more nervous about making approaches than I was. We'd take turns picking women for each other to approach, and he'd be all fired up when it was my turn saying “Go Graham! That one! Go approach that girl over there!”, or “That couple in the corner! Go, go, go!”. And so I'd go, hit them with my opener and then take it from there. But when it came to his turn, he chickened out almost every time. I'd get so frustrated with him I'd be like “Look, if you don't go approach them in the next 10 seconds, I'll do it!”. And more often than not, I'd end up approaching the girl I'd picked for him instead.
Women rarely hang around nightclubs by themselves, so being able to approach pairs or larger groups is important. I actually don't mind this so much; when first meeting, I find it easier to sustain a conversation with a pair of women than with just a single woman. Three or more though and I start feeling seriously outnumbered.
The Rejection From Hell
I was still getting comfortable with this whole nightclub thing when my wing man took off to meet up with some friends who knew these girls that... some kind of story that led him to take off leaving me by myself in the nightclub for a half hour.
I was there to do approaches, so I looked around for a target and spotted a couple of girls talking to each other by the far wall in a relatively quiet zone. The main thing that attracted me to them was that they looked pretty, and were by themselves; one a blonde, the other a redhead. I was working on developing the mindset that I wasn't being rude when I interrupted people who were in conversation; I was doing them a favor by giving them the chance to meet me that they would otherwise miss out on.
So I wander straight up to the girls in question, hitting them with “Hey! You guys look like fun; are you friendly?” accompanied by an I'm-too-nervous-to-be-smiling-because-I'm-happy-about-doing-this half-smile.
The blonde turned towards me with a death stare that felt like laser beams burning right through my retinas and out the back of my head, telling me to fuck off. Oh-oh. Then the redhead turned to me, looking genuinely upset and said “My 'friend' here has just told me that I should throw myself off a building and kill myself”. She was obviously serious.
Ah. OK. Don't think Moxie had coached me on how to handle this particular situation yet. So I replied “Huh? Umm... look I don't know what's going on here, but I definitely don't think you should kill yourself.” I turned to the blonde and gave her a curious “Why would you say something like that?” look.
“Why don't you fuck off and mind your own business!”, she replied cheerily. By now the laser death powered stare had been upgraded to a full on Death Star planetary demolition ray.
Desperate to salvage a hopelessly awkward situation, I turned to the redhead and said “Look that's not on; you don't deserve that. I mean I've never met you before, but you're probably a good person...”
“I try to be”, she said tearily.
“... well right then, you don't deserve to kill yourself.”
“Well it means a lot to me that a complete stranger would walk up and say something like that.”, redhead replied as the death ray from her ex-friend continued to intensify.
“Abort! Abort! Eject! Eject!” screamed the voice in my head. Actually it had been screaming that for a while; it's usually saying something like that when I talk to women, and I'm trying to teach myself to ignore it. But this interaction had crashed and burned irreparably.
“Well I'm gonna leave you two to sort this out; I hope you have a good evening.”
“Thank you”, said the redhead, while the blonde's look still said “Get fucked!”
I decided not to ask for their numbers.
Walking away it occurred to me that if I was going to keep using an opener starting “You guys look like fun...”, it was important that they actually did look like they were having fun. I needed to pay more attention to where the girls were at before I approached, so I sounded congruent instead of like an idiot. Hopefully this would also make me feel less nervous as my attention would be on them instead of on me.
I told the guys in my men's group that I was doing this course, and they were pretty keen to learn more about it. I hit the city the next weekend with one of the guys from the group and we checked out a few nightclubs. He was a bit older than me and interested in a somewhat older demographic. Rather than making approaches, we wandered from club to club aimlessly which made me a bit restless. I was there to practice approaches, not to wander around feeling inadequate.
About 1 AM we decided to head home, and ended up having a conversation with a really lovely (and very attractive) woman at the ticket machine in the parking station. After driving back home we reminded each other about the importance of remembering our successes, and spending less time beating ourselves up about our failures. We could choose to focus on the positive interaction with the woman at the car park, or on the missed opportunities in the nightclubs. Focusing on the positives will always make you feel better, and good vibes lead to more good vibes. We just have to undo the conditioning that leads us to focus on fear, doubt, uncertainty and failure too much of the time.
Meanwhile, my wing man had hooked up with a girl we'd met on the first night we went out. He was still keen to go clubbing with me, but the dynamic was different since I knew now he had a girlfriend. His first priority was to get her to have sex with him as soon as possible, and he was very proud about how quickly he could get women into bed. I felt a mixture of intrigue and revulsion. I could learn valuable things from this guy, yet he felt creepy even to me; and I'm a guy.
My New Wing Man
Moxie rang one afternoon to give me the number of another guy signed up for the workshop named John, suggesting we go out together. I talked to John on the phone, and we were both very keen to meet up. He seemed a really genuine guy and more on my wavelength than my first wing man. I also figured he was more committed to getting this approach thing handled, because he'd forked out his cash. A lot of other guys who expressed interest in "winging" with me didn't have that level of commitment, and it showed. If you want to be successful at anything, you need to be committed.
I started celebrating more of my successes to help develop the positive mindset I needed to become successful. With more energy spent on celebrating my successes, I had less energy wasted on the approaches that didn't go so well. Even on those I learned something, but it was easy to fall into the trap of beating myself up when a woman blew me off or didn't want to engage with me. So I started talking more about the successes and less about the so-called failures.
From then on, John and I hit the town every Friday and Saturday night that we could. Our assignment was to approach as many women as possible, and it was awesome having a wingman on the same wavelength as me.
We started by hit a club in the city nice and early so we had no trouble getting into the classier venues that start turning guys away once they start filling with the beautiful people. Then we started approaching! We got a bit competitive about it, and all up I did about 8 approaches in the evening, while John did about 6. He'd have to make it up to me next week.
The friendliest girls I met happened to have boyfriends or fiancé's, but some were super-encouraging. One of them thought it was awesome what I was doing to learn to engage strangers in conversation. She knew what I was up to straight away, but we ended up in a really enjoyable conversation that was fun for both of us. Almost everyone I approached that night was up for at least a brief chat, and as the evening wore on it gradually got easier. There are some good people out there, and it's worth taking the time to learn how to approach them.
We had about another month till the actual bootcamp weekend, so in the mean time there were lots more opportunities to do more approach practice, and gradually lessen the old approach anxiety.
More Pre-Course Practise
I headed out to acting practise in the city one Thursday night, before meeting up with John to hit some clubs. We wanted to see what the Thursday night crowd were like, thinking they might be a little older and more mature than the Saturday night-ers. Our objective was still to get over our approach anxiety by approaching women and starting conversations. Minimal pressure on ourselves; just chat for a minute or two, and we've met our goal. Moxie was telling me in our coaching calls that I needed to ask for phone numbers so I could learn to calibrate when & how to ask for a woman's number; but I really didn't want the extra pressure just yet. I was still getting comfortable just being there and starting conversations.
We started off approaching a pair of girls who were sitting in a lounge bar. They were a little hesitant at first, but soon warmed up and were quite receptive to a chat. Turned out they had boyfriend/husbands, but when we didn't flinch or run away when they said that, they relaxed a bit and became more chatty. It was good conversation practice, which helped put us at ease. One of them had a girlfriend who'd had a one night stand with Sam Worthington. The story was that he'd just walked up to her and said “You're coming home with me tonight”, and because he was so confident she obliged. Of course it helped that he was Sam Worthington; bloody big name actors get all the opportunities.
John had never heard of the guy, which led him to his favorite indirect opener for the rest of the course: “Hey, do you know who Sam Worthington is? I was just talking to this woman and she started talking about how a friend of hers got together with him, but I don't even know who she was talking about”. Seemed dicky to me, but he really felt comfortable with it, and it seemed to work when starting a conversation.
After that John and I approached a few more pairs of girls individually. I kept using the same conversation starter "Hey you guys look like fun, are you friendly?", because I felt that in the past I'd been too inconsistent and just wanted to stick to one thing rather than changing my approach all the time. If they answer “Yes”, then they're obliged to follow through and actually be friendly; and if they answer “No”, I'd just tease them about it. Either way, it worked.
Another Weekend On The Town
The next weekend, a girl I met online earlier in the year in Canberra was coming to visit Sydney for Fashion Week, bringing 4 of her girl friends. They wanted to hit the town on Saturday night and I was wondering where to take them. So I started using this scenario as conversation material, saying "Hey, I need your advice on something. I've got 5 girl friends coming from Canberra this weekend, and they want me to show them around town on Saturday night. What clubs do you recommend I take them to?". This really worked well because the story was true, it had some social proof built in because it shows that I have other female friends, and it's asking the girl's opinion on something.
It was pretty cold in town that night, so there weren't a whole heap of women to approach and we called it a night about 11pm. We were pretty happy to say that we approached every available group of women that we saw in the clubs that night. We were nervous right before every approach, but we did it anyway. There's something about being a man who faces his fears that builds self-confidence. And as John said "Imagine where we're going to be in a years time if we keep practicing 2 nights a week..."
The Next Saturday Night
John and I went out again the next Saturday night, and did about 8 approaches all-up. He was late, and so my first few approaches were before he arrived, and a couple of them were brutal! I was having trouble reminding myself that the goal was simply to practise, and not take the brush-offs personally. That was when I started getting really nervous.
After being blown off by a couple of groups of women, I tried a bunch of guys just to get back on my feet again... but they were too nervous to talk to me! At least I could see the problem was them, not me. So I persisted, and found a couple of groups of girls who were prepared to chat for a bit. Two groups were there for a birthday party, and I ended up chatting to the guys... which wasn't a bad thing, since you need to befriend the guys of the group in order to get access to the girls.
Eventually John turned up with a female friend of his who seemed to be in on the whole attraction/pick-up thing, and said she helped out with other similar bootcamps. Hmm... interesting I though, but didn't think anything much of it. All in all, a good night.
The Friday Night Briefing
Finally the Friday night of the actual workshop had arrived. I felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I drove to Moxie's house for the late afternoon briefing.
We got introduced to the other guys doing the workshop with us, about 8 in all including a couple of trainee instructors. Moxie and Alex explained how they had come from being hopeless with women, to learning the cold-approach skills and then to teaching other guys how to do it. Each of the other guys had a similar story of being frustrated with not being able to meet women as easily as they would like. It's a common problem for many guys.
Then we did some role-plays to practice approach skills. I picked a direct opener again that Moxie suggested, this time being: “Hey guys, what's the story? Two beautiful girls standing here with no guys around. I thought you'd be beating them off with a stick. Are you unlucky in love? What's going on?”
I went first, and the result was incredibly awkward. I either overdid it sounding like I was on drugs or something, or underdid it sounding like a robot. I was glad this was just a practice so Alex and Moxie could give me feedback on how to improve before trying it on real women. “Just relax and be casual about it; you're just curious and you want to find out what's going on”. Relax, yeah... easy for them to say. Not so easy to do. After a few practices, I was feeling a bit more relaxed about it. Listening now to the audio recording of the session, my first attempts were so bad it's hilarious..
Friday Night Workshop
Then we headed to the city to hit one of the clubs which had a large outdoor area where it was possible to talk to people without screaming at each other. Our mission for the evening was to spend as much time as possible approaching women and holding short conversations with them. Quantity not quality was the goal, to help us overcome our approach anxiety. We were to avoid hanging around with each other in a group of guys looking lost and scared, also known as the Circle of Death.
As I entered the club, my anxiety went through the roof. I knew Moxie and Alex were right; if I spent the night just talking to the other guys in the group, I'd be avoiding doing actual approaches and get nothing out of the course. So I grabbed a drink, and got ready to start approaching.
The afternoon briefing had included some simple wing-man rules, including walking up to another guy already in conversation with one or more women and asking "Hey, have you seen Michelle?" as a test to see if he wanted you to join him and engage in the conversation. I noticed Alex chatting to a cute looking girl, and thought I'd give it a try. "Yeah, she's upstairs", he replied, and then added as I went to leave "Hey Graham, let me introduce you to this really cool girl named Sarah". I took the bait and began chatting to Sarah, and Alex soon left me to it. I wasn't doing too badly, but soon ran out of things to say and bailed; even though I realized that wasn't the right thing to do. Alex reprimanded me later: "Why did you leave that cute girl we were talking to? You don't just leave a girl like that." I'd also focused too much attention on her initially, leaving him out of the conversation he'd just introduced me into. Social faux pas. Lesson learned.
For the rest of the evening, I approached as many groups of girls as I could. I was so nervous at times that it was a huge relief just discovering some women that would talk to me. I avoided asking what they did since that rarely leads to an interesting conversation, and instead tried to think of ways to joke around and tease them. When they asked me what I did I either said I was a brain surgeon, which was an amusing and obvious lie, or told them I was studying acting, which was the truth and often led to an interesting conversation. The friendliest group I talked to were a bunch of film students who wanted to be directors. One of them said “I hate actors", before asking me “So what do you do?”. "I'm studying acting". Classic moment. I got the red-head's number even though she had a boyfriend, because she was pretty and really friendly.
Groups can be a mixed blessing; there's more people to talk to so I was less likely to run out of material to talk about, but there's also more egos to manage. I approached a group having after-work drinks and found one girl who was slightly reluctant to talk to me, with a girlfriend who was outright hostile. The former warmed up somewhat as we began chatting, which appeared to make the latter jealous to the point where she point blank told me to "go away" and then went off in a huff when I persisted in staying. Awkward. I did end up getting the more friendly one's number after she told me she was interested in learning public speaking and I told her I'd give her details of the Toastmasters club I was president of.
A few hours and several more approaches later, and it was about 2am. I was feeling exhausted and headed home. That nervous feeling I'd had before had been replaced with one of elation at having overcome my fear. Maybe I could do this, and perhaps there was hope for me yet.
Saturday Afternoon Seminar
On Saturday afternoon Moxie and Alex ran a mini seminar at his house to teach us more pick-up skills. John didn't show, saying something vague about a family thing. I was starting to wonder just how committed to this thing he really was. Oh well, his loss I figured.
The seminar covered:
- Individual feedback on how we went Friday night.
- How to calibrate an interaction to improve next time.
- Don't take it seriously. Just have fun.
- How to put the most interesting spin on what we did for a living.
- Going straight from one group to another.
- Indicators of interest.
- Day game.
Saturday Night Workshop
John and I had organized to meet at my place on Saturday evening, to head into the city together. I'd been suffering from Chronic Fatigue during this whole process, which limited how often I could stay out in nightclubs. Although I was making progress, I found the whole approaching-women thing tremendously stressful, and as Saturday evening approached I started to feel a mixture of nervousness, exhaustion and a headache coming on. I felt sick in the stomach and head, and decided to bail.
I SMS'd John to let him know that I was going to skip the Saturday night part of the workshop, and he replied saying he'd like to come around and talk to me about it first. Ok, fair enough. When he arrived, he came into my place and dropped a bombshell.
“I haven't been completely honest with you Graham”, John said.
“Well, I feel really bad about this. As I got to know you while going out into the clubs I realised that you're actually a really great guy. So I feel really bad about misleading you. The truth is I'm still married.”
“Huh?”, I replied wondering why on earth a married guy would do a workshop teaching him how to approach women.
He explained: “My wife and I did have a rough patch a while back, but we're still together. She knows I'm here. This other group have paid for me to come on this course to find out what it's like.”
John was actually a spy. All the conversations we'd had on the phone and during the nights we'd gone out together all went through my head. “So is anything you're told me about yourself actually true?”
“Yes, really, most of it was true. I just had to be really careful about what I told you. To be honest, I'm relieved to finally get this off my chest”, he said.
Well, what a head spin. It turned out my wing man was working for another team. And he was getting a bit tired of doing courses like this one just to check them out. It was starting to make sense to me; his reluctance to approach women on our previous outings wasn't just because he was nervous. I had really mixed feelings about all this. We had seemed to click pretty well, but now I was questioning everything. We ended up talking about personal development for men, the book on confidence that I was writing, and whether workshops like this one were the best way to help men who were struggling with meeting women and other areas of their life. John still seemed like a pretty genuine guy; just not quite the genuine guy he'd led me to believe.
With all that out of the way, I relaxed somewhat and my incoming headache dissipated. “Well what the heck, let's just go out and have fun tonight then and not worry so much about approaching women. Just go and enjoy it”, I said.
And so we did. That night we went out again, met up with the rest of the group and just had fun. Ironically, this made approaching women so much easier. In the back of my mind was the fact that John was a spy, unbeknownst to any of the other guys. What a slimy bastard; the very thought made me laugh. I had several conversations with groups of girls that night, most of which were pretty good fun. I didn't worry so much about getting phone numbers, although I ended up with a couple anyway.
At the end of the workshop, we all met up for a debrief. We were all on a high and the other guys were excited about how easy it had all become. I still felt somewhat nervous about approaching women. It hadn't been a magical cure for me, although I had made a lot of progress. Before this workshop I'd never got a woman's phone number in a nightclub just by approaching her for a conversation. So I had made a lot of progress.
Moxie advised us “You guys would have to be insane not to keep going out every weekend from now on to keep learning and practicing these skills. If you don't keep practising, you'll go backwards and this whole bootcamp will have been a complete waste of time”.
Call me insane, but that's exactly what happened. Going out every weekend was exhausting physically and mentally, and frankly I wanted a break. I was also doing an extremely demanding acting course which took up all my energy and was teaching me other ways to relate to women and giving me more confidence. Naturally enough John didn't call to get together again and go out to meet women, and I didn't keep in touch with any of the other guys in the course.
I knew little about nightclubs in my own city before this course, and now I feel much more comfortable in them. Not perfectly, but I can get by. When the female friend I'd met online visited with her girl friends, I knew where to take them and we ended up kissing in the back of one of the popular clubs. I never would have been comfortable to do that if I hadn't sussed the clubs out as part of this course.
I feel like I've regressed somewhat since then. When I bumped into a pretty girl at a party recently, my mind went blank. This is a skill set that takes practice and effort to develop. You don't master it in a single weekend bootcamp, no matter how good the instructors are, and if you don't use it you lose it. In Neil Strauss's book The Game, he mentions how he feels his skills slipping away when he's locked in a room writing a book instead of out meeting women. He's right.
The flip side is that I've become more comfortable having more deeply revealing conversations with my female friends, and have attracted many more great women into my life as a result. But to get there you have to overcome the initial hurdle of meeting the women in the first place.
Cold-approach is still a skill I'd like to master in more depth since it gives the widest possible options when it comes to relating to women. If you can't do it, your options are limited dramatically. But if you can't make it to a workshop in person, your next best bet is to check out some of Alex Coulson's approach and conversation products.