Borehamwood therapist Howard Cooper offers his top tips on how to mentally prepare for Cupid’s big day.

“Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us. It’s when Cupid strikes and we all celebrate love and romance.

“But the truth of the matter is that many of us find the occasion quite stressful and struggle on February 14 – and indeed all year round – to pluck up the courage to ask someone out on a date.

“As a teenager, I felt pretty nervous about inviting girls out. I’m happily married now, but I know that some people see all the heart-shaped balloons, red roses and chocolates just amount to extra pressure to partner up, and this can lead to anxiety.

“We worry about whether we’ll have to spend this “special day of love” on our own. ‘I’m too shy to ask someone out’, ‘What if they say ‘No’?’, ‘They always turn me down’, or ‘I’m not attractive enough’ – these are all frequent thoughts that can make us anxious. Some of us fear rejection, lack confidence, or set ourselves unrealistic expectations.

“As a therapist, I help lots of people with social anxiety. So, here’s my Valentine’s Day gift to you, wrapped in a shiny red ribbon – my six top tips on how to play to win in the love game.”

1) Realise rejection isn’t about you. Most people are afraid to ask someone out because they worry they might be rejected. But it’s not the rejection itself that concerns them. It’s more: “What will being rejected say about me?”. If you think being rejected means you aren’t attractive, or are a worthless individual, there’s more to lose. Much more than for someone who doesn’t link their self-value with the outcome of a proposal. A girl once rejected me because I shared the same name as her brother. It made her think of her sibling. My rejection had nothing to do with me. Separating “being rejected” from “who you are” makes it easier to ask someone out.

2) Remember, your past isn’t the future. If you’ve asked someone out before and they were rude rebuffing you, you could still feel traumatised. When you next think about asking someone out, you may freak out and start ‘re-living these past rejections’. You tell yourself: “I don’t think I can do it”. But, you aren’t ‘thinking’ at all. You are simply constructing images in your mind of the time when you failed and projecting them into your future. Remember, your past is not the future. Set yourself free from this thought and you may find extra courage to go for it.

3) Don’t fear rejection, embrace it. I once worked with someone who was so terrified of failing that he wouldn’t ask anyone out in case he ‘failed’ to secure a date. I set him a task: become successful – at getting yourself rejected. The only way he’d succeed in my task, I told him, was to ask out five people and get himself rejected all five times. So, he tried that and guess what? He succeeded – well actually, he ended up on five dates. Focus on whether you asked some out or not, rather than on how they responded. Change your focus to what constitutes success and it can increase your chances in love.

4) Learn to love uncertainty. Sometimes people think, “Well I would ask them out if I knew they were going to say ‘Yes’.” They need a guarantee of success in advance. This need for certainty can hold you back. Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty is key if you want to excel in the Valentine’s Day game of love. If you told a gym: “Give me muscles and fitness first, then I’ll sign up”, they wouldn’t agree. You have to sign up without the guarantee and take action before you see results. The same is true with asking someone out on a date. If you want to succeed, take action first without seeking a guarantee of success.

5) Create a mental blueprint of success. I often work with people who struggle to lose weight and who can spend time mentally rehearsing how difficult they are going to find it to stay away from chocolate. Then, of course, they cave in and eat some. Why? Well, they spent the whole day picturing ‘caving in’, which essentially was a good way of ‘programming in’ the exact behaviour they sought to avoid. Remember a time you felt really confident, then mentally rehearse asking someone out, while keeping this confidence inside, to create a mental blueprint of success.

6) Make not taking action more painful. When I was in my teens, I was very nervous about asking girls out. I was so nervous I didn’t ask anyone out. Every Valentine’s Day, I would feel upset and alone. Why was I anxious? I felt that the pain of potential rejection would be too much to handle. However, something important then struck me: if I never asked anyone out, I faced a future alone, by myself, with no partner or family. This imagined long-term pain proved much greater than any short-term potential rejection. So, I took immediate action. Instead of looking at the potential short-term pain, consider the bigger picture of what’s really at stake.