About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.

I hope to avoid offending anyone--either nerd or non-nerd--but please understand that the manual will get into some sensitive topics, stray into contentious territories, and even use stereotypes to illustrate points. It's OK to disagree with something, but keep your comments civil.


Nerd Q&A: Swimming in the Mainstream

I'd like to be able to send a message back in time to my teen self and answer this question: 

I am a socially awkward nerd. How can I become more social and mainstream?

Being social is something everyone learns, just like talking or writing, so you just need to approach it as such.

The number one thing to do is to get practice by talking with more people. It doesn’t matter if these are co-workers, members of a hobby club, or people in a class. Just get outside your home and talk with people.

Don’t worry about the “nerd” part of your question, focus on the “more social” part.

If you’re not sure how to behave, here are some tips:

Eye contact - This says you're paying attention to the other person. Don't laser lock, but look at the other person's eyes for 5 to 7 seconds, nod or shake your head as appropriate for the conversation, then look away for a second before you establish eye contact again. This might make you feel uncomfortable, but you can practice by looking everyone you pass (in the street or supermarket, or wherever you see people) in the eye for a full second. Smile or nod slightly and look away if the person returns the contact. This will help you feel natural about looking people in the eyes.

Posture - Standing or sitting up straight shows you're confident, even if you don't feel it. Pull your shoulders back a little and raise your chin so it’s parallel to the ground. This will feel like you’re staring at the ceiling, but practice in a mirror and you’ll see that you’re not slumping. You’ll look taller too. People like confident people and naturally feel comfortable around them. If the people around you feel comfortable, you will pick up on this and feel comfortable as well. It’s a positive feedback loop that makes everyone feel better.

Listening - Listen more than you talk at first. If you have no idea what the conversation is about, it's OK to start out being quiet. Inject a comment once in a while to show you're paying attention like, "I didn't know that," "can you believe it?" or "that's interesting, tell me more." By listening you can gather information about what mainstream people like discussing. Once you have some subjects you can proceed to the next step.

Engaging Interest - There are two sides to this. If you only know about subjects that the majority of people find boring, then you have a choice: hang around with a smaller group of people who find these subjects interesting, or learn about new things that have a broader appeal. If you want to be more mainstream you will have to learn about mainstream topics so you can engage people's interest. If you don't like mainstream subjects because they aren't intellectual, just remember that anything can be made nerdy, it's only a matter of study. Most sports are full of statistics and packed with strategy. Reality TV is often scripted to manipulate viewers psychologically so you could work out the script and try to figure out what will happen. Fashion is engineered, just like any product, so you can approach it from that angle. Anything that makes a subject interesting to you will help you become confident talking about it, and you know people like confidence.

Voice - Adjust your volume to the situation. In a library you should whisper. In a group of 3 or more, you need to speak louder. At the seaside you may need to speak very loud. Don't shout unless background noises make it necessary. If you’re shy, you probably speak softly, so practice talking louder than normal. Project your voice by opening your mouth wide enough for all the words to fit through. You can actually take public speaking classes that will help you practice talking so you sound confident no matter what you're saying.

Honesty - This is the most important part. Remember that choice about hanging out with a smaller group or joining the mainstream? Ask yourself which you really want to do, and be honest with the answer. If you don't have a genuine desire to join the mainstream, you're eventually going to find yourself caught up in a deception, pretending to be interested in people and subjects you don't really care about. You won't be making deep connections with these people. It's fine to exercise your social skills, it's a great idea to increase your confidence, and fantastic to get out into the world and see what interesting things are out there, but stay honest with yourself. Don't give up the things you love just because you think you'll be more normal. Make friends with people who resonate with you and understand the things you really enjoy, and you'll be much happier.

Confidence - Simply looking and sounding confident is going to build your confidence rapidly, but you still need to talk with more people. Interacting with people will help you realize that they all have their own vulnerabilities, so you don't have to worry about what they think of you. When you can see that everyone else is worried about how they look or what they say and do, it takes a lot of pressure off you. Just like anything that you've become good at through practice, you will stop thinking about how to do it and just get on with doing it.

That's confidence, and people like being around confident people.

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