The Dangers Of Over-Optimisation And Burnout

I recently read this post by Pancake Mouse: “The Rebirth of Pancake Mouse: Year Two of Cold Approach.” The first thing I want you to do is to read the original article. Here’s the link. Go do that first.

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Before getting into the article this is where I stand on Pancake, for clarity. I think that he is an “over-optimiser” (an oxymoron I know): someone who goes beyond the point of diminishing returns and is looking too much for a perfect fit.

Sometimes you can try and make something that is too exact for the real world. Take modern portfolio theory: if you get just one of the inputs incorrect (the real world doesn’t line up with your expectations) then your portfolio is a pile of dogshit. In reality the best and most robust portfolio is simply 1/N (each asset gets an even share of the capital). Most of the time the simplest approach is the best.

I think that the place where Pancake tried too hard to optimise was in finding the combination of things to say and do to unlock any particular girl. He commonly described this (on Twitter) as, and I’m paraphrasing here: “optimising for different archetypes.” I’m not saying he believes this, but it smacks of trying to “get any girl,” a marketing tactic which is often used by unethical sellers in this space. The truth is that 80% of girls won’t like you and never will, because of one or many of a multitude of reasons.

This doesn’t mean you can’t make changes to your approach when you come into contact with different types of girls; for example, I recommend you take a different approach to a K-select versus an r-select – maybe escalating at a different pace – or that you should be more banterous with some girls and more comfort driven with others, but that this is all housed under a core style which you base yourself around.

Take football teams: you’d expect a Guardiola team to play a certain way, and they have variations around his football philosophy to use against different teams, plus a bunch of great players to bring in and out, but they don’t ever try to play like a Mourinho managed team.

I’m a proponent of finding your niche and compiling a mental dossier of the girls who are primed to be into you because of factors such as race/ethnicity, style, background, facial expression, movement style, etc, rather than trying to become the enzyme that can digest this particular girl.

I think the dangers of pursuing this over-optimisation are perfectly shown by this article as Pancake shows how trying to become that “enzyme” led him to have a breakdown. It was simply too much stress (and I would say impossible to do because not having a core personality means having no personality, and people find that kind of ghost in the shell / uncanny valley human being intensely scary because they don’t know what they will do).

If you follow Pancake then you’ll know he’s a proponent of massive action and data collection. If you ask me, his sessions used to stray massively into spamming (I think he said his approach record for a session was over 50 sets) and so these sentences at the beginning of the article stood out like a sore thumb:

“… with the exception of a few streaks of progress in mid-September, I fell flat on my face. In October, I barely went out, recording less than 20 approaches, and dropped most contact with my wings and with the community.”

“… in short, I had compounding physical and mental health breakdowns.”

“These stressors pushed me into a[n] episode of mild psychosis which lasted nearly the entire month of October.”

This isn’t someone simply taking a week off of Daygame to recharge. This is a full-on mental breakdown. Though do note here that he was promoting at the same time, which was a double dose of stress which I guess most people won’t be going through.

This led him to a realisation and I felt validated when I read the next part about how taking time away from Game and promoting had cleared his head and he could look back on his actions with perspective:

“It removed all the anxiety and pressure I had unknowingly been putting on myself with regards to Game. I realized for the first time that I was in too deep.”

This is going to sound condescending and arrogant, so I apologise, but I had been thinking this the whole time: this guy is missing the key ingredient: soul. No amount of self-improvement, stats collecting and analysis and approaching will work if you don’t have the warmth and soul that pick-up needs to succeed. If you look at girls as a lever that only needs the correct Game crank to be applied then you stop seeing them as people and only stepping stones in your journey to “mastery,” and the girls can sense this in you. I was reading along and thinking “this is really good… he’s seen the light” (and again I apologise for being condescending).

But then as I read on, I saw that some things would change and some would not. To begin with, rather than taking a slightly more easygoing approach to Game – note, not an entirely laidback devil-may-care approach, just a slightly more easygoing one – Pancake decides that he’s going to stop trying to be “some sort of icon or Messiah” for the community and instead focus entirely on himself. I thought that he was coming to a realisation that he’d overworked himself, but attributed it to the wrong place. Helping grow a community is totally up to the person, but by “constantly look[ing] over my list of sticking points and put[ting] myself into situations where I can improve them by recording interactions and dates and getting feedback from wings” it sounds like he’s simply going to trade one kind of intensity for another

On the plus side, he does say he’s going to stop quantifying Game and stop collecting stats entirely, but this is going from one extreme to another. He’s a stats guy, and so keeping some would come naturally to him, I guess. I would recommend recording only four metrics: approaches, contacts, dates (including i-dates) and lays. What more do you really need?

The next section goes into how he put undue pressure on himself by saying that he had to become advanced in one year. He admits that this was actually impossible. This strikes on two points: the first is that it takes time to become good, and becoming good isn’t merely a function of sets and analysis, but also time. I’m no brain surgeon but I’d bet that it takes a considerable amount of time to rewire your circuitry where you become an advanced Daygamer no matter how many sets you do.

The second point – one which isn’t said in the post – is that most people simply cannot become advanced Daygamers. It’s not just impossible in a year but impossible full stop. Some people are missing the special something or are neurodivergent in some way which stops them from reaching that level. Heck, most people can’t even become beginner Daygamers because of how they handle rejection.

It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a student of mine:

Student: [talking about him starting to lift weights] “how many years do you think it will take for me to get jacked?”

Me: “Sorry to say this but you’ll never be jacked.”

Student: “But I’m working really hard with my trainer four times a week.”

Me: “It just isn’t going to happen. Based on your face and your body composition you’d look different and have a different life if you had the test required.”

Yes I know it’s free test but you understand my point. And I don’t say these things to put people down or discourage them from trying; it’s to give them realistic expectations so they have something to work towards and not something which will only disappoint them. When did we get to the point where there’s no point in trying something unless you’ll eventually become the best at it? What’s wrong with simply being better than you were yesterday?

As much as there is a genetic ceiling for how much muscle you can build, there’s also a “genetic ceiling” for how good you can get at Daygame. Nonetheless, you can always get better than you are now if you never tried before. “It’s better to be half jacked, or a quarter jacked, than not at all.” It shouldn’t be anyone’s aim to be an advanced Daygamer/jacked, instead you just aim to make small incremental improvements until you find your ceiling

Next I want to highlight this paragraph:

“New mentality: I will do my best to carve the time out to cold approach, but I will NEVER again judge myself for finding a balance and prioritizing needed rest. I will NEVER again curse myself for “missing good days” or “missing the sets”. I understand that those girls will always be there, whether I’m approaching or not. I will have DRIVE, but not urgency.”

This is a good approach to have, but the “NEVER’s” stood out to me as red flags. It reminds me of something Alan Watts said about the fact that you can’t force yourself to be spontaneous. You can’t declare “from now on I will live in the moment” because the moment it becomes a planned activity it ceases to be spontaneous. So now rather than judging himself for not going out, he’ll judge himself simply by a new set of standards, and be harsh on himself if he ever feels that he should be working harder. Instead you just have to get on with it, and accept that you’re always making a choice between forms of action, since inaction is still an action.

The thing is, some self-judgement is good. We all have a rough idea of how many sets we should be doing each week. For beginners and lower intermediates that should be 25-30 in a big city (15 in a small one). For intermediates that slopes down towards 15 (10 in a small city) and for advanced guys there’s no guidance; they just go out when they feel like it.

When it comes to workrate I recommend having in your mind the rough number of sets/sessions a week that you should be doing and then making sure you don’t fall below that number consistently. If you sense that you are then keep an approach log for a few weeks before letting it slip back into a more natural tracking method: the “am I roughly working hard enough?” litmus test.

There is some more discussion of things he’s going to force himself not to do before getting to what I think was the biggest breakthrough of this episode:

“I need to just filter for girls that are my type.”

If I’m walking around London and I see a girl of exceptional hotness – a proper 8 aka a New York 10 – then I feel duty bound to do the set because you don’t see that kind of girl so often, but I don’t go in expecting much if she’s not part of that mental dossier I have of the girls who are usually into me. I’ll still shoot my shot, but I won’t be worried about the outcome, and I won’t go home to scheme about how to get her, or girls like her, next time. I know that the rising tide that lifts all ships is slow and steady self-improvement while keeping my warmth and soul i.e. not spamming self-improvement.

The last section is about Pancake reducing or even quitting his promoting activities, which I completely understand. I know I couldn’t function as I would like to without a proper sleep schedule. Not to mention all the other non-sexual activity that goes along with the task.

And that’s it. I hope I conveyed a few of the thoughts I had while reading Pancake’s post. I understand that most of you won’t get to such an intense level that leads to a breakdown like this, but you can see the extremes here, plus I hope that this post helps you to find some balance in your own efforts.

Yours unfaithfully,

Thomas Crown

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4 thoughts on “The Dangers Of Over-Optimisation And Burnout

  1. Intense game focus…without any balance will sink any ship…
    …soldiers often get PTSD from intense combat activity and then rest or get discharged if too damaged..
    Agreed its always good to improve your life…with small steps you ascend a mountain…achieve great heights ..tho reaching top is not suited for everyone !

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  2. Whenever I see the writings/tweets of Pancake mouse they give me the sense that he’s a beginner who is heavy on the books as a weasel to avoid the street. However, if his approach statistics are to be believed, its surprising that the amount of daygame hes done has not dampened his belief that he can achieve ideal “game.” It seemed to me, from both my personal experience and the memoirs of Krauser and Bodi, that doing ones approaches instills the empathy and eventual clarity of soul one needs to have good game. I suppose there’s more to it that Pancake has missed.

    Ive noticed this lack of soul often in american PUAs. They seem to conceptualize pickup in hardcore rollo tomassi terms, terms that are too scientific almost, too materialistic, like the words they exchanged with girls were like moneys transferring accounts. [If I just make a deposit of this much humor and status her panties will drop by 10:07 pm on the second date.] I too imagined game to much in these terms when I started. I thought I would learn to deal with women much like a master engine mechanic. However, the time on the street eventually gave me new insight as to what makes game so difficult; that 95% of girls I have no shot with due to their period, boyfriend, other important things going on, other unimportant things going on, that they’re biologically programmed to be difficult to get into bed. developing this understanding and empathy for the big decisions girls make (like not texting me back) and small ones (the small flicker of dicomfort in her eyes at being abruptly stopped by a stranger) is what made my daygame good. I am surprised Pancake hasn’t developed this same understanding through time spent on the street. Seems like he should start paying close attention to the girls rather than himself.

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  3. I’m curious of this:
    “It just isn’t going to happen. Based on your face and your body composition you’d look different and have a different life if you had the test required.”
    What was his face, body composition and life like that made you conclude that?

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