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Dating Boot Camp


Tired of making excuses about your love life? This boot camp-style program created by dating experts and coaches will help kick your motivation back into gear and turn you into a lean, mean dating machine.

By Dave Singleton

t's rough. It's grueling. But you know that if you tough it out, you'll be in better shape for the long run. Think I'm talking about exercise? Think again.

I'm talking about using the same "tough love" approach employed by boot camp coaches to help you get your love-life perspective back on track. You know it's time to access some no-nonsense expertise when the most romantic effort you exert is eating
You've got to work on the skills that allow you to get dates.
ice cream by yourself while scanning online dating profiles. Who wants to be a voyeur when a little tough love is all it takes to get your heart pumping and be a full-fledged participant in your own romantic fulfillment? Personally, I hear the Nike slogan — "Just do it" — every time I feel the pull of my comfy sofa while I waffle about moving ahead in any area of my life… whether it's work or romance.

Excuses don't work; effort does
Different messages work for different people, but all daters need an occasional jolt to get their love lives restarted. In a way, isn't that similar to what we all need to kick our exercising up a notch occasionally?

"Yes!" says certified dating and relationship coach Kimberly Dawn Neumann, author of The Real Reasons Men Commit and founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com. "It's so easy to get complacent with dating and come up with excuse after excuse as to why you just can't do it… which is very similar to the same things you hear from people who don't go to the gym: 'I'm too tired. I work too much. I can't find the time. It's boring for me. It's too much work.' And in this day and age, it's also very easy to convince yourself that the couch and remote or time on the Internet are keeping you connected, 'out there' and in touch with others," Neumann explains. "But the reality is, there's no substitution for getting out there and just doing it!" Amen, sister! So let's get started and learn just what dating boot camp can do for you.

"When it comes to love," says Dr. Belisa Vranich, advisor for the Fitness Institute for Gold's Gym International and author of He's Got Potential, "a boot camp strategy won't mince words and will focus on solutions rather than your feelings. The three things that a boot camp will address are: 1) Your expectations are too rigid, 2) your strategy is antiquated, and 3) your negative self-talk is making you get in your own way." With Dr. Vranich's advice in mind, I reached out to several other top dating coaches who have singles' best interests at heart. Here are five tough-love tips from the experts I spoke with on how to get in shape, stay motivated, and keep accountable:

1. Create a dating boot camp plan with realistic goals
It's very important to set up a dating plan much like you would a fitness plan. In the next three months, what will you do to kick up your love life? Some options include: joining an online dating service, letting friends know you're on the market, and making a commitment to stepping out of your comfort zone to meet a few new singles every week.

"And while goals are important, make them realistic," says author and dating coach David Wygant. "If you haven't been on a date in six months and your goal is to go out and date 10 people this month, how about just trying to get one date? Take small baby steps. More importantly, you can't just get dates because you decide to date. You've got to work on the skills that allow you to get dates," Wygant explains. "You've got to learn how to flirt. You've got to work on your confidence. You have to love who you are, and you also have to realize what you learned from all your past relationships so you don't repeat the same mistakes."

If you find your goals are initially too high, adjust them, since boot camp is about building your stamina so you have greater staying power. After all, the goal isn't to flicker brightly for a few dates, then fizzle out. "Lower your expectations to avoid continual disappointment and burnout," says Dr. Diana Kirschner, creator of www.lovein90days.com. "Lowering your expectations will allow you to stay in the game until you meet the right person."

2. Give yourself an honest self-assessment
What's your dating "fitness" level right now? Are you ready to get out there and show off your best self to others — or are you holding yourself back because you're out of dating shape? "If you take a realistic assessment of yourself and where you're at during this moment in your life and realize that you aren't feeling a strong sense of self-esteem, then try to isolate what really bugs you the most," says Neumann. "Don't overwhelm yourself by trying to
Variety can challenge you in ways you might never have considered.
completely overhaul your life before you date, however. Make little goals that you can accomplish that will just boost your dating mojo even more — like getting rid of those love handles or really looking at your past relationships honestly and figuring out what happened, where your head is at now and what you'd like from a relationship today," she suggests. "Make a list of the things that make you feel insecure on a date — and we're not just talking physical here — and then brainstorm about ways you can start to check those off, one by one. It's the same idea as deciding you want better abs or a tighter tush."

3. Get disciplined and stay motivated
What do dating and exercise have in common? For one thing, you have to engage in both in order to see results. That's why it's important to be disciplined in exercising your dating muscles. "Both are also very goal-oriented activities," says Dr. Vranich. "They are proactive and require motivation and focus. Often, people spend so much time complaining and venting that they lose the gumption to get moving. A successful dater isn't complacent, just as an avid weightlifter will push his/her limits — even to the point of being uncomfortable — to see gains."

Once you've made that initial push, you have to stay motivated, which means be ready to weather the inevitable disappointments and crises of confidence that come along. When you get discouraged, find a way to build yourself back up again.

"Stay in the moment and be present and forgiving when things don't work out the way you want," says Wygant. "There's going to be a ton of one-and-done dates. Don't blame yourself. Don't think about what you said, what you could have said, what you didn't say or what you should have said. Realize that the majority of first dates never go anywhere and be OK with that, because all you want to do is find the one date — the first date, the only date — that goes somewhere."

4. Mix it up!
"One premise of boot camp-style workouts is to 'mix it up,' which allows for greater gains because your body doesn't get accustomed to one thing all the same time," says Neumann. "Employing the same principle with your dating life can help you step out of your comfort zone and perhaps allow you to find dating prospects that you might not have considered because you were stuck in the same routine. Variety can challenge you in ways you might never have considered… both physically and mentally."

Variety includes making sure you mix up your off-line and online activities so that you're out there regularly in lots of different channels: your online profile is up and shining, you're attending parties and singles events, and that you're engaged in organized activities that you enjoy doing with other single people — including sports groups, book clubs, and volunteering.

"Stop evaluating the worth of an event by trying to predict the chance of meeting someone at it," suggests Dr. Vranich. "It might be the friend of the person you meet who ends up being your love interest (whom you never would have met otherwise!). Go to events that allow you to multitask with something else (i.e., a business opportunity or fundraiser for a good cause) so that they're never a waste of time."

5. Start holding yourself accountable
Successfully sticking with any new fitness program requires you to become accountable. You can do this through check-ins with friends and/or trainers, periodic self-assessments… even journaling. The same thing applies with your dating life. "Having a boot camp dating coach or concerned friends give you a pep talk can be effective in getting you to push your limits and stick to your plan," says Dr. Vranich. "When it comes to dating, you may need a loving kick in the pants to get you to break out of old patterns and negative thinking."

"If you and a friend decide that you won't let each other give up on the scene and keep encouraging each other to try and hang in there, you'll up your collective chances of finding a match," says Neumann. "There's nothing more effective than staying accountable through regular assessments with someone kind, wise and caring," says Ken Page, psychotherapist and author of the Finding Love blog. "You keep yourself on track by reviewing your progress with this person: how the dates went, how you felt, and whether he or she is worth pursuing. You learn through sharing." Another way to improve your dating habits is by keeping a dating journal. "In order to get better dating habits, start writing down all your dates," says Wygant. "Write about how you felt, pros, cons, some of the warning signs, and what you spoke about with the person. How do you feel in the presence of this person? Do you align when it comes to your core values and issues?"

And finally, no good boot camp would be effective without this strong message: Don't quit! As Winston Churchill famously said (and it applies to dating, too): "Never, never, never give up." Dr. Kirschner agrees: "It's when you are getting to the top of the mountain that you feel like you absolutely can't make it," she says. "If you give up now, you will lose all the ground you've covered and miss the summit! Spend some time right now finding new dates that are intriguing."

It may be rough at times, but when you want to throw in the towel, can't you just hear the coach's voice imploring you to "stay at it, because you'll never know unless you try and, besides, quitters never win?" Exactly!


Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for Match.com since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at davesingleton.writer@gmail.com.
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