We might call Sherlock Holmes an early adopter — in the West, anyway — of the practice of mindfulness in everyday affairs. For more than a century, people have admired his skill at solving the most challenging of cases.
They probably didn’t associate his success rate with mindfulness; they just watched in awe as he used his mind to thwart wrongdoers by pulling together apparently random data to make creative deductions.
But what does detective work have to do with dating? Think of it this way: Sherlock’s success relied upon mindful attention and focus. These are the very skills you need to apply on a date.
Unfortunately, in my experience, they aren’t the things most people think of while out with an attractive potential partner. So how can you turn this around for yourself as you explore a new relationship?
Here are three basic Sherlocking skills you can put into practice on your dates:
1. Read your date’s clues.
To be a good Sherlock, you have to be aware of the world around you. On a date, that means paying attention to the person you’re with. Reading the signals your date is giving you lets you determine whether this is someone you really like — someone you could possibly go the distance with.
When you go out with someone you just met and really like, you tend to focus on yourself and how nervous you feel. You may worry whether or not you’ll be asked on another date, or about how to ensure your date doesn’t contact you again. Either way, you are not fully present in the moment. You’re not being mindful.
Instead, consider the best way to get to know someone. I don’t mean just the questions you ask. In fact, asking too many questions on a date can be annoying. I’m talking about your more subtle (yet potent) detective talents. Do you pay attention to people’s faces, eye movements, vocal patterns, gestures, posture, and other nonverbal clues about who that person really is? It all helps form your perception of the other person. To be a Sherlock, you need to learn to read people.
For starters, try reminding yourself before you go on a date to observe these kinds of clues. And keep doing it periodically throughout the date. Now, you might be thinking, “Not one more thing to remember! That will just make me more nervous.” But the paradox here is that focusing mindful attention on another person can actually have a calming effect.
2. Relax yourself.
I just told you to learn to focus your attention outside yourself on a date. Now I’m going to give what sounds like contradictory advice: Observe your own nervous system. I’m not talking about obsessing over how nervous you feel, as I mentioned before. Rather, be as cool as the proverbial cucumber. Sherlock was imperturbable, right? To find this sort of stillness yourself, scan your body for muscle tension. Notice where you are tight, and breathe into those areas to relax them.
You can begin to do this on your drive (or walk or cab ride) to meet your date. If you are driving, for example, focus on the act of driving itself. Feel your hands on the wheel, your foot on the pedal, your legs on the car seat. Wherever you notice tension, mindfully release it.
When you meet your date, periodically redirect your attention to relaxing yourself. The trick is to do this without making it visible to your date, as though you were practicing an exercise. See if you can let it be natural.
Relaxing yourself while also observing your date’s clues might take practice. But these two Sherlocking skills go hand in hand. Unless you are sufficiently relaxed, you won’t be able to focus on your date’s clues and read them accurately.
3. Put together the clues you find.
All this effort is ultimately only worth it if you can use what you discover to help you find and create the relationship you want. You have to put the clues together in a meaningful way. Obviously, this will take practice. But a lot of it is common sense.
For example, if you observe that your date doesn’t meet your gaze, you can deduce something is preventing closeness between you. This clue alone may be enough to halt the date, or at least prevent future ones. Or it may be information you can combine with other clues — such as blushing or sweaty hands — that tell you your date is overly nervous.
That fact by itself may not be reason to break things off with an otherwise attractive date. In that case, use the clues to gently ask your date about his or her shyness. See if the problem has a solution. In this way, you can potentially save a relationship that would crash and burn if you didn’t use your Sherlocking abilities.