The 'Pragmatic Adaptation' Approach To Changing Socially

One broad philosophy toward the question of whether or how to change or improve your social skills is what you could call the Pragmatic Adaptation approach. As some related articles talk about, two other approaches are being true to yourself and not changing, and truly trying to change. None of these are an All-or-Nothing proposition. Depending on their goals and values each person is going to have their own mix of social areas where they stay true to themselves, legitimately try to change their personality, or adopt a practical attitude of going along to get along. This article will go into detail about the last of those three.

The main ideas of the 'Pragmatic Adaptation' approach

The core concept of this approach is that there are aspects of the social world that aren't going to change anytime soon, and that it can just be practical to know a thing or two about handling them. Going against the grain may just cause too much of a hassle. There may be certain social rewards someone feels they can't access if they stay 100% true to themselves.

Some well-known examples are learning to mingle at parties, or getting the hang of making light small talk. A lot of people feel like they don't naturally enjoy these activities, but they've decided it's easier on the whole to learn how to do them. Some other areas where people may be practical are:

Playing along on the surface

Another key piece of this approach is that you're conscious of what you're doing. You're aware you're making a calculated attempt to adapt to the world to make your life easier or get something you want. So a guy may decide to keep up with some basic sports news because he's found it makes it simpler to chat to his co-workers. However, deep down he knows he doesn't care what player got traded where, or who's still out with a concussion. When you're doing the pragmatic adaptation thing you're keeping your inner core preferences and values intact and just choosing to make little external concessions here and there.

Being true to yourself is still the best option if you can manage it

Being practical is a compromise. Yeah, you go in knowing the trade-off you're making, and hopefully you're getting more out of it than it's taking away. Still, if you can somehow figure out how to approach a situation in a way that allows you to be true to your tendencies and not have to change, than that's obviously better.

It's that if that's tricky. It can be hard to tell if you should pragmatically adapt or if you can manage to stay true to yourself. Sometimes someone will take the practical route and then realize later there was a way they could have been true to themselves all along. Two situations may look similar on the surface, but because of various subtle details, they offer different opportunities to stay in line with your default values or not.

Adapting adds new facets to your personality, it doesn't overwrite anything

If someone learns some new conversation skills, or figures out how to handle loud, boisterous groups, or gets into snowboarding so they can meet more people, then they're adding a new 'module' to themselves. All their old interests and traits are still intact. Nothing gets erased or replaced. It's just that the new module gives them a skill they can turn on or turn off when it's required.

For example, someone's natural preference is to spend a lot of time alone reading or walking in nature. They've also decided that even though they're not super-keen about house parties, it's important that they go to them occasionally. The majority of the time they still get to hang out alone, but when they want to, they have the option of switching into 'party mode'.

Someone else's far-and-away main interest may be Russian history. They may decide that that alone isn't enough to help them meet and relate to people, so they take on some other hobbies as well. They still get to be interested in history, and will look for friends who share that passion, but they now have some other topics to turn to to keep a conversation going or connect with others.

Everyone makes at least some social concessions

To a degree we all have to be practical and adjust how we'd like to act by default in order to fit into social norms. It's easy to think of more extreme examples, like how you can't walk around in public naked. It's too idealistic to think that every single person on the planet can somehow get everything they want out of the social realm without ever having to adjust a single aspect of themselves.

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Deciding what to be practical about

Everyone is going to make their own decisions about which areas they're willing to pragmatically adjust, and which ones they won't compromise on. Like one person may feel getting enough time alone is extremely important, and would never think of changing that. Someone else may have no problem cutting down their alone time so they can be seen as more social in the office. There are no right or wrong answers. What makes perfect sense to one person, another may think is ridiculous.

Here are some considerations on whether to be practical about something:

Sometimes a side effect of being practical is discovering new things you legitimately like

At times someone will initially approach something with the attitude of, "I don't really like this, but I'm going to learn it because it's important to know", and once they get a little more experience with it they realize they truly enjoy it. Like at first someone may think they don't like loud, crowded parties, but come to decide they're really fun.

The downside of the pragmatic adaptation approach

As I've touched on a bit already, the biggest problem with this approach is that it can make some people unhappy to follow it. They get this unpleasant sense that they're betraying themselves, being fake, and compromising in too many areas. They may also become resentful and think, "The world is so unfair. Why are things like this, where I have to force myself to do something I don't care about?" Again, it's important to pick and choose which issues you want to be practical about and which ones you won't budge on.