THE BLOG

How to design yourself

04/02/2014 10:45 GMT | Updated 05/04/2014 10:59 BST

Dating is a little bit like fighting a war or running a business: initially, a power struggle; eventually, defeat or victory. But the difference between battles or take-overs is that, if dating goes well, everyone is happy.

Still, you need weapons in a battle or a take-over and you need them too when searching for a mate.

One of the most powerful weapons is charm. Albert Camus said it gets you to "yes" without actually asking a question. (This is surely how the expression "charm the pants off" passed into currency).

What is charm? Tricky, but two things are certain: first, overt power is rarely charming. Consider the contrast between a Morris Minor and a Porsche. You may admire the powerful Porsche, but you adore the charming Morris. Second, no-one has ever wanted to be less charming. Except, maybe, Alex Ferguson and Michael O'Leary.

A hint of vulnerability and understatement are almost always charming. Practice them. And remember that charm and "truth" are not always connected. The novelist Anita Brookner said "any man so charming must be a liar".

Besides manner, there is appearance. You need to work on visible image as well as intangible charm: the persona you invent for yourself is your most valuable asset and your style advertises it. All successful people have designed themselves, re-arranging the biological truth so people like them. In this way you can create a competitive advantage for your personal brand. Brands are the mixture of associations and expectations that successful products have: work on them.

Start with first impressions. Not least because they are unavoidable. You can't put your head in a sack and pretend that impressions don't count. That sack will make a poor impression. To care about appearances is not mere vanity or preening: looking good is a survival characteristic. It's also good manners. Consider Gordon Brown: scuffed shoes, a grumpy gait and dirty hair. They said to everyone he met: "I don't think you are important".

Your clothes are your heraldry in the battle for attention. There are choices to be made: flatter your audience, seduce your audience, or confront the audience with shock-horror. But don't ignore what you wear. For example, Lucian Freud's greatest work of art was himself. The reputation of this epic seducer was based on a bohemianism to which his clothes very artfully gave expression. Never mind his paintings, if Freud had dressed like Des O'Connor and lunched at Subway he would never have achieved such success or esteem.

Confidence is essential. People often ask how to become confident. The answer is as simple to understand as it is difficult to practice: tell yourself you are the most intelligent and attractive person in the room. Tell yourself persuasively enough and it will come true. Too much confidence can be obnoxious, but being disliked is often a powerful stimulus to high performance. As the poet Jean Lorrain knew, a bad reputation never did anyone any harm. Whereas a lack of reputation rarely does anyone much good. (No-one was put off Marilyn Monroe because she was, in her own devastating personal critique, "selfish, impatient and a little insecure").

It's not just personal appearances; you can create a personality for yourself with ink and paper. Rather more than an e-mail or text, handwriting reveals the soul in a fascinating way. So the craft of writing has a special significance in seduction. While people groan with tedium at an immaculately lifeless PowerPoint presentation and unsolicited glossy print goes straight in the bin, a handwritten message is freighted with a very seductive cargo. Handwriting letters, postcards, Post-Its, beermats or even messages in the snow are viral marketing at its most primitive and most powerful. A handwritten envelope on the doormat is, even - perhaps especially - in 2014, heart-stoppingly exciting thing.

Then there is the spoken word. You cannot bore someone into buying a product. What do you need? Confidence is, again, a part of the answer. Plus interesting and abstruse references. If you don't actually have the latter, make it up. If you have the nerve to say "There's a charming little panel by Valdes Leal in the monastery at Elciego," it can have an impressive effect. There isn't, but who will refute you?

Or try wine snobbery at dinner. You can get away with something completely meaningless. I remember with pleasure a Bordeaux tasting where an unsmiling celebrant said with great authority "I think I am getting a little Brazilian woman". Everyone was impressed and nodded politely. Rubbish can work.

The essential truth is: you are what you pretend to be. So, pretend to be a winner. Act as if you are in charge....and you soon will be. Decide what you want to be. And be it. With style and conviction. Then you have won, irrespective of what that date thinks.

HOW TO DESIGN YOURSELF in 10 TIPS:

1. You are a brand with values and a market: don't ignore them.

2. Practice charm.

3. Work on a personal style.

4. Remember: every encounter is a sport.

5. Remember: you get only one chance to make a first impression.

6. Be confident, but not over-bearing.

7. Handwritten messages are cheap, but very powerful, advertisements for yourself.

8. Say something interesting or don't say anything at all.

9. You are what you pretend to be.

10. You can lie to tell the truth.

For more advice go to the new Guardian Soulmates blog, or to find your perfect match check out Guardian Soulmates.