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Date coaching in VR.
Coaching, Soft Skills

Dating Coach Leverages VR to Improve Relationships from the Start

Dating is hard. It was hard before the pandemic, but especially now as many singles are resuming in-person dating, it’s tough to ignore the social skills which atrophied over quarantine. While social encounters like first dates were always awkward, social anxiety is particularly (and predictably) acute post-pandemic, illustrating how many people could benefit from practicing social skills in safe, controlled, simulative environments. The pandemic saddled us with a “new collective experience of social anxiety,” prompting many to seek help reintroducing themselves into the dating pool.

That’s where someone like Grace Lee comes in. Grace is a dating coach who specializes in online dating: she helps curate your online profile, diagnose first date successes and mishaps, deepen your ability to connect on dates, and ultimately equip you to present a fully realized version of yourself to others. Her line of work falls into the category of soft skills training, forming the foundation of her partnership with Foretell Reality. Foretell Reality specializes in creating tools in Virtual Reality (VR) for soft skills development, corporate training, executive coaching, group and individual therapy, peer support, and other social situations where participants benefit from participating and practicing in VR.

But while soft skills like communication and empathy are increasingly valuable, both professionally and personally, they are very difficult to develop. Testing grounds like mock interviews and other role-play scenarios can be awkward at best and intimidating at worst. Trial-by-fire education, meanwhile, can lead to a slew of bad experiences and missed opportunities with little sense of progress being made. The convenience, accessibility, and anonymity VR offers address many of these issues, but even Foretell Reality General Manager Dror Goldberg acknowledges that “no matter how awesome the VR experience is, it eventually comes down to the specific curriculum and the specific instructor” helming the ship. Foretell, meet Grace; Grace, meet Foretell.

Recently, I interviewed Grace and Dror to learn more about the new partnership between Foretell Reality and Grace’s company, A Good First Date. We talked about the advantages VR offers for date coaching and soft skills development, the importance of virtual embodiment, and how the pandemic changed the worlds of dating and VR. From the outset, Grace made it clear that they were not working toward dating in VR. Grace firmly maintains that “through all of these changes,” both technological and epidemiological, “people who are looking for a real relationship want to meet in the real world.” VR is instead a revolutionary tool, improving elements of date coaching like conversing in a safe space, first date scenarios in romantic settings, live feedback between coach and trainee, and reflection by playing back a recording of the scene. 

Given the importance of physical attraction in dating, it may seem counterintuitive that anonymized avatars are a key advantage of VR. But remember that this isn’t VR dating, it’s VR date coaching: you’re training for a date in-person by simulating dates in VR. “The use of avatars is of critical importance because of the anonymity it provides,” Grace explains. Avatars “take away the anxiety people have about their appearance,” allowing you to instead “show up as a neat representation of yourself and act more like yourself” for the simulated dates. Dror agrees that avatars “eliminate the obstacles to behaving naturally,” in VR scenarios, stripping date simulations down to the trainable elements: the dynamic of conversation and the art of getting to know someone.

Virtual avatars are a boon to soft skills training in general, as they allow users to feel more comfortable practicing social skills and sharing personal experiences in group settings. Embodied in a new persona, users can feel safer and behave more naturally without feeling exposed or judged. Avatars, as Dror puts it, present “a way to liberate yourself when you want to share emotions, when you don’t want to be stigmatized, when you don’t want to be judged,” a crucial advantage for date coaching in VR compared to coaching in-person. Dating is particularly personal and intimate, and the more comfortable individuals feel when practicing their first dates, the more effective date coaching will be.

The medium of VR also benefits instructors, as it transforms how instructors occupy space during simulations and equips them with quantifiable data for in-the-moment feedback. The ability to record and playback sessions beat-by-beat is highly valuable for instructors. How many times did you interrupt during a conversation? How many closed-ended questions were posed? Instructors in traditional settings may pick up on these trends in broad strokes, but with video feedback, “date coaching can become a measurable, iterative process.”

Watching replays of past date coaching sessions could be uncomfortable for users, but avatars provide a degree of separation which allows users to objectively self-reflect. Grace explains that with avatars, “people will be able to observe themselves, but in a way that doesn’t feel as embarrassing as it might if it was an actual video from real life.” VR also smoothens the trainer-trainee dynamic: normally, an instructor hovering over you while you try to ignore their presence leads to mixed results at best. In VR, however, the instructor can remain entirely invisible while observing the first date interaction between two participants. Instructors can choose to what extent they’re engaged in the simulation: they can remain entirely unheard and unseen, they can participate as an explicit third party, or they can provide live feedback to individual participants without the other knowing. 

Toward the end of our interview, I asked Grace and Dror the same question pertaining to their respective fields: how has the pandemic changed dating and VR? Both responded with answers framed by the same theme: openness. Grace described how during the pandemic, “a lot of people started to question the way they were dating,” with social isolation in particular prompting people to “really look more seriously at pursuing a meaningful relationship.” As the pandemic precluded hookup culture and quarantine drastically constricted social circles, people became more open to the idea of forging a deep connection with a partner. A successful and genuine first date becomes even more important in a world where real-life social interaction is limited.

Dror’s answer echoed similar sentiments. Connectivity was what people missed most during quarantine, and many are now recognizing the need to develop technologies which bring people together digitally. Dror identifies how the pandemic “prepared the hearts and minds” of consumers to adopt VR technology. With restrictions lifting and many reentering the dating pool with a fresh mindset, now is the ideal time to learn how to bring substance and meaning to a relationship from the very first date. Substantial first dates can now be practiced and perfected in VR, equipping users with the experience and confidence to go from a good first date to a great new relationship. 

VR Meditation
Mindfulness, Therapy and Support, VR-Related

VR for Overcoming the Challenges of Meditating

We all know that meditation is good for you. With roots in spiritual and secular traditions stretching back thousands of years, meditation is a time-tested way to reduce stress and enhance mental and physical well-being. Tradition has been backed by testing in recent years, as the health benefits of meditation have been substantiated by the scientific community. Studies have shown that meditation’s ability to regulate emotional intensity mitigates both emotional distress and physical pain, and can even remedy physical ailments like high blood pressure. For these reasons and more, meditation has tripled in popularity over the past decade, with no signs of slowing down. 

There is an inherent paradox with meditation, however. The common reasons to meditate–overthinking, stress, anxiety–also present a real challenge to meditating in the first place. Meditation aims to achieve a clear mind, but when effective meditation hinges on clearing the mind to begin with, it’s hard to know where to start. With our attention span collectively narrowing and a bevy of distractions constantly available to us, not to mention a global pandemic weighing on us all, meditation is at once more necessary and more difficult than ever. 

Meditation in Virtual Reality (VR) addresses these obstacles on the road to mindfulness, even offering several advantages to traditional meditation. Let’s start with distractions: the all-encompassing nature of a VR headset, enveloping our senses in 360 degrees of sight and sound, eliminates some of the self-discipline required by traditional meditation. No longer do you need to practice monastic self-restraint inches away from your phone or computer, as a VR headset is just as engaging and entertaining as your devices, but ultimately works toward a productive end. The visual and auditory sensations of VR immerse participants in their meditation, allowing them to focus solely on mindfulness to an extent that’s challenging even for experienced meditators. Paired with auxiliary activities like breathing exercises, VR makes meditation more accessible for newcomers than ever before.

Guided group meditation has traditionally helped newer practitioners get into the groove of meditation, as the group setting offers several advantages to going it alone. Group accountability, relatability, and consistency are key advantages to practicing mindfulness as a group. It’s difficult, however, to effectively conduct group meditation over Zoom or even in-person, and VR not only makes group meditation possible but actually augments several advantages of group meditation. Anonymized avatars provide a level of comfort for those with social anxiety, allowing them to participate in group meditation without presenting additional stress. Even in group settings, users can individualize their meditation session to fit their personal preferences, benefitting from the social aspect of group meditation without compromising their own meditation experience. 

Beyond accommodating personal preferences, customizability allows for regular meditation despite daily variations in mood and mindset. Say you want to meditate, but you’re feeling particularly fidgety or restless today. Instead of sitting still atop a vista, you can opt for a more active meditation session interacting with butterflies in a field or sea life on the ocean floor. If you’re feeling particularly anxious and want to meditate in a familiar, comforting environment, you can spend your time in the Dunder Mifflin office or Rick and Morty’s garage. Moreover, VR integration with biofeedback allows users to better understand how meditation affects them and modify their sessions accordingly. The range of environments and activities available, as well as on-the-fly adjustments made according to biofeedback results, can tailor meditation sessions for a given day, ensuring that you never miss out on the benefits of mindfulness.

The control that customizable VR meditation offers can itself be a source of comfort. Especially during the pandemic, when many felt a lack of agency in their daily lives, the ability to design your own space for rest and relaxation can do wonders for one’s mental health. The variety of environments, many of them real-life travel destinations, addresses the stir craziness many felt from stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Not to mention, the socialization potential for group meditation in VR allows users to feel connected and present with one another when physically shared spaces may not always be an option. 

Foretell Reality is a social VR platform for mental health and wellbeing that supports both group and individual mindfulness practice among other activities including group therapy and peer support. To learn more or schedule a demo, please visit our website..

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