This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Game" by Neil Strauss. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.
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Do you want to know how to gain self confidence? Can being a pickup artist help?
Learning how to gain self confidence is difficult, and there are many different ways to go about it. For Neil Strauss, his time in the PUA community was important in learning how to gain self confidence. Keep in mind that while Strauss believed that living the PUA lifestyle improves confidence, he also confesses that tit exacerbated other issues he had, and it took time to recover from the dysfunctional ways he built relationships with women.
Why PUAs Gained Self Confidence
Style wasn’t the only one who’d undergone a transformation—just about every student who took a workshop with Mystery started dressing better and carrying himself with more confidence. Neil Strauss came to believe that the PUA community was an effective way to learn how to gain self confidence.
The seduction game was based on the premise that everything standing between you and picking up a woman was within your control. Mystery and Style felt that they could help men reach their full potential and discover how to gain self esteem.
The workshops made such a profound impact because Style and Mystery were brutally honest. Being successful with women had nothing to do with good looks or innate ability—men simply had to correct bad habits and learn new ones, from their posture to their clothes.
Typically, their workshop students fell into one of three categories:
- Regular guys with average social skills who simply wanted to improve their ability to pick up women
- Men who studied the information and techniques, but who were so uptight that they seldom implemented any of it
- Men who were socially awkward but who were fast learners. These men improved quickly, but they failed to internalize the principles and the confidence behind the lines, and thus they struggled if they had to go off-script.
Papa—a college student who paid Mystery $1,500 for a private workshop, instead of the standard $600 fee for a group lesson—was the third type. When he first met Style and Mystery, he asked to record their conversation so that he could study the information later, to better learn techniques and how to gain self esteem.
Papa was an excellent student, immediately correcting every error and applying the lesson to his next pickup. Style was impressed at Papa’s progress throughout the three-day workshop, and he reflected on the transformational effect that just a handful of scripted lines could have.
However, Mystery and Style didn’t realize that there were some drawbacks to teaching the same lines and routines to student after student:
- The scripted routines substituted genuine connection, which made every pickup and every woman less meaningful.
- Mystery and Style were inadvertently creating clones of themselves, instead of coaching men to be their best selves and helping them develop an inner confidence.
Later, Style would discover the full consequences of training an army of pickup clones—and Papa would be a leader of the clones. In reality, none of the clones had truly learned how to gain self esteem, just to mimic men who had success with women.
Style Shifts His Focus to Building Confidence
Neil Strauss was assigned to interview Tom Cruise for Rolling Stone. He was thrilled; Tom Cruise was a model for the seduction community. He was effortlessly confident—a quintessential AMOG. In fact, most of the men in the community studied Cruise’s characters to improve their body language.
In the film Magnolia, Cruise even played Frank T.J. Mackey, a seduction guru that Ross Jeffries claims to have inspired. However, Cruise told Neil that his character was not inspired by anyone in particular; rather, Cruise and the director, Paul Thomas Anderson, had developed Mackey’s character. (Shortform note: In the movie, Mackey instructs his seduction students to “respect the cock” and “tame the cunt,” while a banner that says “Seduce and Destroy” hangs behind him.)
Cruise lamented that a guru like the fictional Mackey could seduce men into thinking that seduction tactics are the best way to approach women and initiate relationships. To Neil, it felt reminiscent of how Dustin had warned him about the corruption of the seduction lifestyle, and in reality was a poor way of learning how to gain self confidence, since it depended on manipulation and objectifying women.
Neil stayed silent, but, internally, he pushed back against the attack on his community. Neil didn’t see anything wrong with learning the game; how was learning the game of seduction any different from studying and practicing other skills, such as writing or driving a car?
On the other hand, Neil was getting tired of regurgitating the same lines for every pickup. He wanted to be authentic and he wanted that to be enough to attract women. He was beginning to wonder if maybe the PUA community wasn’t the best way to learn how to gain more confidence.
As Neil talked to Cruise, he found Cruise to be centered, grounded, and comfortable with who he was. Cruise also encouraged Neil to embrace himself. Cruise was inadvertently helping Neil gain the inner game—confidence and self-worth—that he’d been missing.
The Game Is About Lifestyle
For Style’s birthday, his friends in the community threw him a party at a Hollywood club. Between friends, PUAs, and former lovers, about 300 people showed up. At first, Style thought this was a huge boost in learning how to gain self confidence.
Style dominated the club all night. People were constantly pulling him aside to talk to him, and women were handing him their phone numbers—and he hadn’t recited a single line of game.
Style realized that he’d been too myopic: He and the other sargers had been focusing on mastering the game simply to pick up women at clubs. But, the real purpose of the game was in creating a lifestyle that was interesting, exciting, and fulfilling. Men with that lifestyle exuded confidence and vibrancy that naturally attracted women. He believed this was part of his quest to learn how to gain self-confidence.
Style was ready to graduate from sarging and build this lifestyle. He decided it was time for him and Mystery to create Project Hollywood, the seduction headquarters Mystery had described when he came out of the hospital.
A Community of Pickup Clones: Is it Really Confidence?
Most of the men who found the seduction community had struggled with women their entire lives, and those failures had damaged their confidence and self-esteem.
In many cases, the game gave the men tools to be successful with women, which created a virtuous cycle: The success boosted their confidence and inspired self-improvements that affected all areas of their lives, which increased their inner game and made them more attractive to women.
However, in other cases, instead of learning from the pickup gurus and using their techniques to develop their own skills, many men in the community were simply mimicking the gurus and becoming pickup clones. Nearly every weekend, men arrived at Project Hollywood to take workshops from Mystery and Tyler Durden. They were all learning the same scripts, practicing the same routines, and buying the same gaudy clothes and accessories (per peacock theory). As a result:
- Instead of being empowered to use their new skills and knowledge as a foundation to build upon, these men often panicked when they ran out of scripted lines.
- Instead of developing confidence and self-worth independent of women’s acceptance (or rejection), these men placed all their value on the success of their pickups.
Style Reevaluates His Confidence
Before Style left the community, he met with one last guru, named Eric Weber. While Ross Jeffries earned the title of godfather of the seduction community in the 1980s, Weber had laid the foundation for future PUAs with his 1970 book, How to Pick Up Girls.
Weber had since gotten married, had kids, and left the game. Style sought his advice on how to get out of the community.
Weber told Style that the primary tool to get out of the community was to learn how to gain confidence. Weber warned that men who don’t attain that inner confidence become obsessed with the game, in a futile attempt to fill their psychological holes.
On the other hand, men who developed enough confidence and self-worth no longer needed validation from women—although, Weber admitted, even he still had moments of self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy every now and then. Style wondered if this was the secret on how to gain more confidence.
Style Leaves With Everything He’d Come With—Plus Confidence
During Style’s two years in the pickup world, he had:
- Met with the top gurus
- Learned every line, routine, and trick—and then developed his own
- Enjoyed success with women—including the number and attractiveness of the women he picked up, dated, and had sex with—unlike anything he’d ever thought possible for himself
- Developed confidence in his ability to navigate social interactions
- Risen to celebrity status within the community
- Entered into a relationship with a woman with whom he felt an unprecedented connection
The game had helped Style recognize the assets that he already possessed, learning how to gain more confidence.
Like Weber—and everyone—Style would probably have moments of self-doubt. However, he would always know that he had within him the traits and abilities that he previously believed were out of his reach.
(Shortform note: In the years after this book’s publication, Neil was treated for sex addiction, among other mental and emotional conditions. While in rehab for this addiction, a doctor told him that his years in the seduction game had deeply ingrained his dysfunctional behaviors.
After receiving treatment, Neil got married in 2013 (not to Lisa) and had a son. In 2015, he published another book about his recovery from the seduction community, titled The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships. He no longer leads seminars on seduction techniques, but rather on how to be happier and more confident.)
Learning how to gain self confidence is tricky. While it is in unconventional method, Neil Strauss believed that time in the PUA community was an important part of the way he learned how to gain self confidence.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Game summary :
- The secrets of the Pickup Artist community in seducing women
- How key Pickup Artist leaders fought with each other and split the group apart
- What author Neil Strauss took away about women from his years of training