Thursday, October 23, 2008

Article: What does it take to be "cool"

Like many other kids in middle school and high school, as a teenager I tried to figure out how to be “cool.” It seems some guys just had it, they were popular and always had a swarm of people around them and the girls were always flirting with them and vying for their attention while they seemed relatively indifferent.

I tried asking some guys and the ones who tried to be helpful just didn’t seem to able to explain exactly what they did or how they did it. They would say things like be yourself, be laid-back and relaxed, don’t try too hard. While these were helpful tips, they were parts of an overarching concept that seemed ellusive.

Fast forward to the adult world and I came to the realization that there are several characteristics and personality traits that together form the concept of “cool” and the perception of having higher social value. The truth is that many of the same elements apply to adults just as they did for adolescents. Here is a brief outline.

What does being “cool” mean?

1. Independent, Not “needy” - Another part of being “cool” is that you are self-validating. That is you do not need approval from other people (needy) and that your attitude is such that you don’t care too much about what other people think. This attitude also demonstrates a degree of strength that is attractive to others, especially women, but to people in general. As other people see you as being relatively unaffected they will recognize that and display that recognition in how they act toward you which will further strengthen how they respond to you.

2. Comfortable with yourself - Cool is also the ability to demonstrate that you are comfortable in your own skin and comfortable with your own personality. This can be demonstrated non-verbally through your body movement and your body language.

3. The ability to stand out as an interesting person of value than most if not all of the other people in your environment by being a good story teller and a fun person. The key is to do this in such a way where you “show not tell.” Bragging might work some of the time when people are adolescents, but over time is it not as effective as people get older and become more mature adults. The key is to demonstrate key personality traits through your actions, your body language and indirectly through your stories and behaviors.

Over time others will seek to emulate you both consciously and unconsciously, and copy your mannerisms, favorite words and behaviors so that they can be cool too. As others copy you and follow your lead you will demonstrate their acceptance of you as a social authority and that you are a leader of others.

4. Knowledge of unique and interesting things. This is another aspect of being cool, however it has to be done in such a way that you are not needy, you are comfortable with yourself and aware of how your actions are being perceived by others.

5. Social awareness - The ability to understand how others perceive you and respond to you is another key component of being cool. While you do not want to be needy and do things simply to please other people, you also need to be aware of how your actions are affecting someone else and change them as necessary to maintain comfort. If you notice that another person or the group of people that you are talking to notice are not feeling comfortable or are disagreeing with you. You can change course by recognizing that and either bring it up directly, or change the direction of the conversation, maybe even by quickly changing topics.

Changing topics due to social awareness of others body language and cues is different than being needy although the difference can seem subtle. The main difference boils down to why you are changing course, are you doing it to seek their approval or to keep things fun and comfortable.

So there you have what it takes to be “cool.” I wish someone could have explained it more like that when I was a kid. While it is easier said than done, as you become aware of or are reminded of the attributes of a person with higher social value you might find yourself making changes where necessary.

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