So you want to be cool, huh? Lucky for you, those who are decidedly “uncool” can still learn to be cool. And with a little practice, you can actually become cool. But let’s define what we mean by this term first.
What is Cool?
You have an idea of what cool is in your head. Perhaps it’s some guy in a leather jacket hopping off his motorcycle, pulling his helmet off and shaking his luscious hair.
Or maybe it’s a woman drinking a coffee at a cafe, sitting outdoors. She’s smoking a cigarette and reading a philosopher you’ve never heard of.
Cool is both subjective and not. Even if you don’t think you’re cool, you can spot coolness from a distance. If you think you’re cool, you can identify another cool person even if they don’t look or act like you.
There’s something underneath coolness that philosophers have been trying to place for decades. Here’s the best they’ve come up with.
The Philosophy of Coolness
“Cool” has its origins in the Ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism, which is the belief that the only thing you can control in life is your attitude and your perception of things. You cannot control the weather, so there’s no point in getting mad when clouds rain on your party.
You can’t control another person’s emotions, try as you might, so there’s no use getting angry at someone’s anger. The only thing you can control is yourself, so self-composure is the key to a happy life.
Thus, cool became synonymous with self-discipline. It’s hard not to react and to avoid taking everything that happens in your life personally. But that is the mindset that the Greek instilled on Western culture as a way to maintain aloof and composed when life throws hardballs at you.
And yet, on the flip side of that composure is autonomy and power as well.
Let’s say, for instance, that two kids on the playground are teasing each other. One boy says one remark, another boy says another comment. The first boy is getting heated, returning insults with more passion and anger. The second boy calmly returns the insults all calm and collected.
It doesn’t matter the intellectual strength of the insults either party hurled. What mattered was the emotional states the people who said those remarks said them in. In such a case, the second boy looked cooler because he controlled his emotions while the first boy could not.
The emotional power one holds compounds with social and political power as well. Someone with wealth has more social points than someone who doesn’t.
But it’s not only obtaining such wealth and power but how it was caught as well. Those who look the coolest are those who go against linear structures. An accountant who accrued her wealth traditionally is a lot less cool than a CEO who took risks and successfully started her company.
When you go against paradigms and remain composed doing it, that’s when you’re the coolest. Nonconformity goes a long way, but you still have to adhere to the social boundaries between acceptable and not acceptable. And also, the symbolic status of what you do must be evaluated to be cool as well.
It’s cool to start up a punk garage band in high school if your student body is mostly preppy, for example, but training hamsters to square dance would be less so. Yes, you’re a nonconformist, but training tigers to square dance would be a lot cooler.
To be cool is to tightrope against conformity and being too eccentric. It’s the perfect mix of nonchalant nonconformity while balancing symbols of status. Coolness is understanding the world without being too attached to it. To be cool, you must live by your principles and refuse to be a part of the crowd.
And, finally, coolness is personal. The type of person a marine biologist finds cool is not the same person a journalist finds cool. Lin-Manuel Miranda is cool in theatre circles, but a pharmacist probably wouldn’t care for him. Coolness depends on interests, age, and value system.
In short, it’s hard to define coolness, but you still have an idea of what you find cool. You can’t be everyone’s definition of cool.
Therefore, you should identify what you deem cool and try to emulate it. Here’s how.
Things That Help You Find What’s Cool
Jealousy, while terrible and uncomfortable to feel in the moment, is a beautiful emotion, as it lets you look into your subconscious.
If you’re jealous of the person who has expensive clothes and a fancy phone, you’re jealous of wealth and status. You want to have that much excess wealth that allows you to signal
What is at the Core of Cool?
If cool were a recipe, here’s how to make it:
- One part self-composure
- One part power (whether social, political, or financial)
- One part nonchalance
- One part nonconformity
- Two parts personal definition of what you find cool
But the last ingredient — the most important one by far — is the one that gives you permission to obtain all the above ingredients. Without this last element, you’ll never be cool. You’ll always be a sheep looking at the crowd for guidance instead of the lion creating its own pride.
- Three parts self-confidence
Without bulletproof self-confidence is both the water holding all the ingredients together and the heat that creates the cohesive unit. Without confidence, you’ll be left with a bowl of dry, heterogenous ingredients that are nice on their own but still not enough together.
You need self-confidence, but it’s hard to attain. Humans can always tell who’s faking confidence and who actually has it. You can feign nonchalance and self-composure. You can identify what you see as cool, but you’ll betray your lack of self-confidence when you look into the crowd for other people’s validation instead of forging on in your determination.
You need self-confidence. It’s the keystone ingredient to this whole enterprise — the thing that will, without a doubt, transform your life for the better. Self-confidence will improve your career, professional relationships, romantic endeavors, and platonic relationships. It will manifest in your coolness.
We could tell you what clothes to buy and what phrases to say that make you seem cool. But appearing cool and being cool are two separate things.
To be cool to your core rather than your exterior, follow these tips to build up your confidence.
What Helps You Build Confidence?
You cannot pass go until you’ve built up bulletproof self-confidence. As we’ve said before, you’ll merely be faking it more than you’re making it.
Instead of wasting your time with posturing as the cool person you want to be, here’s how to build the crucial confidence to let you become the person you’ve dreamed of becoming.
Build Different Forms of Wealth
All the good stuff you’ve done in your life, collect them in a list. Your accomplishments. Your grades, if you’re still a student. Your work portfolio. What have you done that you’re proud of?
Take some time to describe this list of achievements. Get as creative as you want. It can be the dry an expected, like your GPA in school, the internships you’ve landed, awards you’ve received.
Or it can be more out-of-the-box. You’ve never been late to work. You always look people in the eye when they talk to you. You helped your friend out of an abusive relationship.
Horde the memories of your achievement in someplace you can access them easily, such as a Word file on your computer or a physical sheet of paper. Return to this list often. You could hit financial hardships and have to shell out thousands of dollars for whatever reason, but when you look at this list, at least you’ll know your wealth isn’t wholly connected to finances.
Build your unique definition of wealth. You have a wealth of positive experiences in which you’ve benefited someone’s life. Of studiousness and punctuality. Of making a difference. When this list grows to reach the end of the page or two, you can look back at your achievements and feel proud of the person who made them.
Be a Genuinely Good Person
You should populate the above lists with entries in which you’ve been a genuinely kind person. Not posturing as a nice person to get something out of it, but because it was the right thing to do. Good because that’s how you want to see yourself when you look back on the person you were.
Good, of course, is subjective. What may seem right to one person might seem ludicrous to another depending on culture, politics, age, upbringing, and a variety of other circumstances. Therefore, the best thing to do is to define your own values of goodness and go from there.
To get you started, here are some of the most common traits of good people:
No matter how small the lie is, good people won’t tell it. Even if they’re in a pinch and lying would benefit them, a good person would use lying as the ultimate last resort to get out of a social situation unscathed, such as if someone’s given them a creepy vibe or may mean them harm.
The reason? Lying is lazy. Lying allows you to get away with bad habits or behaviors without the pressure to actually change them for the better.
For example, let’s say Jenny lied to the friend she’s meeting up with about why she was late. Jenny said it was because there was a lot of traffic, but the real reason was that she was too busy watching cat GIFs and lost track of time.
The friend would accept the first reason but not the second, so Jenny feels no pressure to keep track of time or everyone else’s. But had Jenny told her friend that she didn’t respect her friend’s time because she was too absorbed in cat GIFs, the embarrassment of that reason would cause Jenny to change her ways.
That’s the real harm of dishonesty. Lying allows you to continue doing dishonest behaviors. It permits you to hide what you don’t want people to see or think about you.
But if you live with radical honesty, you force yourself to eradicate disrespectful or downright harmful behavior. You and everyone around you benefit from it.
If your partner isn’t feeling well today, you can empathize with their sickness and do loving things, such as cooking soup or spending the night with them in bed, to help them feel better.
But if you’re unable to empathize with someone, you could make demands of someone that will only drain them further. When you’re sick, the last thing you want is for someone to interrogate you on why you didn’t do the dishes or get dinner. An unempathetic partner would only make you feel bad for something you didn’t have the energy to do.
It doesn’t stop there — a lack of empathy can make others sick of you too. Take, for instance, a boss who doesn’t care how overworked you are. She’s going to assign more projects, and you better finish them, even if you’ve expressed burnout and tough times at home.
Empathy brings people down around you. It gives you tunnel vision for the things that only concern you. If you lived in the middle of nowhere without anyone or anything, then that would suit you fine.
But because you live in a complex society of humans and non-humans, empathy facilitates interactions so that everyone feels understood and respected.
Empathy’s core is to treat someone how you want to be treated, to be understood and listened to how you would like to be treated. To see someone in 20/20 full color, not monochrome, as you would like to be seen.
When you treat other people and things as an extension of yourself, not animated decor there to serve or benefit you, you find your life improves.
Empathy is why you listen to someone with full attention rather than waiting for a turn in the conversation. Empathy makes treating someone kinder 100x simpler.
And yes, empathy is the number one reason why people are effortlessly, unselfishly good, and why they’re generous with their time, money, and energy. Fostering understanding is another keystone habit to facilitate your goodness, which promotes confidence, which encourages coolness. It’s all an ecosystem helping each other out.
Stop Talking Down to Yourself
Stop talking to yourself like you’re trash and like you don’t deserve to be spoken to with respect. We can treat others kindly but fail to uphold ourselves to the same standard. If you degrade yourself and swirl yourself with negativity when you mess up, cut it out. You don’t deserve that, and confident people know they don’t either.
Have Patience With Your Growth
Becoming cool is a process. It’s waiting for a season to change in your mind — but you are the one moving the earth. It takes constant energy to change the season from winter to spring, spring to summer before you can let go of the earth, but keep at it. Impatience won’t make time go by faster, and it won’t make you grow sooner.
How to Get Charisma
Now that you have confidence (alright, we got a little impatient), you have to work on your charm. Coolness arises from the alchemy, where confidence and charisma are the main ingredients.
Admit Things That Cast You in a Disfavorable Light
Yes, it sounds counterintuitive. But this isn’t the green light to admit when you accidentally peed your pants in elementary school.
Or is it? Imagine if someone else told you that story — one that deeply embarrassed the speaker and hurt them to remember it. It’s a minor story, but it takes guts to admit.
The deeper, more painful an admission is, the more courage it takes to admit it. Many listeners in the audience will hear that story and be reminded of how they wouldn’t have the guts to do the same.
Therefore, when a situation allows it, admit things that hurt you, what you feel resistance to telling. If it’s a lie you’ve been silently, slowly sowing, all the better. Coming clean and adhering to your honest nature, even if it’s been a bit delayed, tells others that you’re the type of person to admit the truth and be vulnerable. That’s cool.
Go Against the Grain
If you want to dye your hair neon purple, do it. If you want to wear clothes from the thrift store because it aligns with your economic and environmental values, rather than the fast-fashion garments your peers are wearing, go for it.
If your personality, desires, or thoughts go against the grain (but still don’t harm anyone), live that truth openly. If it’s your style to be goth in a school full of sporty folks, go right ahead.
It’s easy to conform to how people tell you to think, look, and behave. But looking at those norms and shaking your head, and going on your path to authenticity requires self-esteem and confidence. Your thick black eyeliner and purple hair are a testament to that.
Don’t wait for someone else’s permission. Don’t look to others for advice. Only you know what you want and what you want to do, so follow your own advice — even if it means going against social norms. Those who don’t have as much confidence as you will be jealous of your coolness.
Have a Good Value System Then Live By Them
You know what you think is good and bad. You know you feel terrible when you speak badly of someone when you cheat and lie and steal. Even if no one else knows about your transgression, you do. And that knowledge makes you lose respect in yourself.
Thus, having and living by a value system allows you to stay strong when others try to influence you to do harmful or disrespectful things, or only things you don’t think is in your best interest.
It gets easier to do with age, what with peer-pressure itself going out of fashion the older you get. But if you’re young, say in high school or college, and you can say “I’m not going to party because my education is important to me, and I’m determined to succeed,” you’ll hear a hush fall upon your peers.
You might seem like a no-fun person at the moment, but looking back, they’ll wish they had the discipline and ambition to uphold their values the way you do.
It’s not only the value system that’s admirable but the self-discipline and tolerance to a temptation that’s impressive as well. Those who can force themselves to do what’s right always become the most successful — and coolest — person later on in life.
Be First in Social Situations
The bystander effect is real. When we’re in a group, we tend to find ourselves waiting for someone else to do something. To break the tension or make a joke or to start the conversation, so you don’t have to.
It’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do, especially if you’re introverted and not too keen on small talk. But to instantly gain charisma points, be the first to cut through awkward silence with something substantial to say. Ask a question about something you genuinely don’t know, such as the time. Or compliment someone’s appearance or studiousness.
Whatever it is, people appreciate someone who can override their discomfort for the sake of the group. And if you speak with positive intention or humor, people will like you all the more.
Here’s How to Be Cool
We’ve given you a lot of tips, so we’ve created a hypothetical human case study to help you visualize how someone becomes cool:
Joseph was in his mid-twenties when he realized that he had lived his entire life for someone else. The job he had wasn’t what he loved. Joseph didn’t feel comfortable in the clothes he wore. He didn’t even like half the food he ate, but he was too scared to break out of the mold and challenge people’s beliefs about him, until one day he had an epiphany.
Other people weren’t holding him back. People were going to think things about him, no matter what. He can’t stop the thoughts from happening — he can only change how he feels about those thoughts and how deeply he lets those thoughts affect him.
Joseph also realized he had a low-tolerance to social discomfort. He wants to remain unseen and unheard, but this timidity held him back. And he was tired of feeling self-restraint.
So Joseph got his act together. He first realized that his mindset hindered him, so he sought to change it. Secretly, he let himself explore a hobby he had been repressing in fear that he would start liking it too much — drawing comics.
His talent with drawing comics grew deeper, and he found he had a skill for it. As his love grew, so did his bemusement for having wasted so much time thinking about what other people thought about him. The more Joseph drew, the prouder he was of himself to become a great comics artist.
He was confident of his abilities, and after years of finding his passion, he’s a nerdy comics artist, yes, but he doesn’t care what people think about him now. He only cares what his fans think, but even their opinion is overshadowed by Joseph’s view of himself.
His graphic novel is going to be adapted into a movie. How cool is that? His demeanor and professional success changed happened all because of his mindset shift to serve himself, not others.
Being Cool Isn’t a Checklist
It’s a lifestyle. It’s the culmination of you deciding to forge your path without concern for what other people think about you. It’s choosing to do what you feel is best and going for it in the most recklessly honest and authentic way possible.
Once again, cool looks different to different people. It can be the leather jackets, cigarette smoking, and motorcycles stereotypical of 80s movies and TV shows. Or it could be starting a company in high school (or any age, for that matter) when you’re not sure what you’re doing.
You might be fumbling along and feel like you’re making lots of mistakes, but others will look at you with respect if you strive to accomplish what you want. Lots of people talk about their dreams, but those who actually break a sweat chasing them earn lots more cool points.
Don’t look to others for advice — other people will lead you astray and waste your time. Only you can validate yourself. Only you can decide when you’re on the path to accomplishing coolness in whatever area you want.
Stop wasting time and stop caring about what others think about you. Get started on your dreams today (with or without a leather jacket).