Fake it till you… Become it?
– sounds a little trite and 20th century, doesn’t it?
Yet that encouraging little axiom has its roots in the work of the nineteenth century American psychologist and philosopher William James. And further back – muchfurther back – the phrase is a simplification of Aristotle’s observation ‘act as if’ – that acting virtuous will make one virtuous.
William James was a hugely influential psychologist and philosopher, and the wellspring of those self-help and motivational texts that have flooded the shelves over the last few decades. He questioned the rather obvious generalisation that being happy makes you smile by suggesting the idea that a person could alter their life by altering their attitude. ‘Could the young but realise how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits,’ he wrote, ‘they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state.’
“Change your posture and demeanour in order to change your behaviour.”
James’s theories had a huge impact on two areas in particular, emotion and habit. He suggested that bodily changes occur directly from one’s perception of an event. In other words, change your posture and demeanour in order to change your behaviour – hence the saying, ‘fake it till you become it’.
This kind of positive feedback, often used as a technique for confidence building, effective communication and even combating depression, means going through the daily routine as though it is enjoyable, even though it seems unbearable. Even though at first it feels forced, the idea is that eventually it becomes both easier and real once you break through the conditioned way of being……and also building resilience in the process.
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”
This advice has now been developed by scientists, athletes, entrepreneurs and leaders of all persuasions to the point where it is used for improvement in a wide range of fields. “You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent” said Paulo Coelho. Basically, the purpose is to avoid getting stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy relating to the fear of not being confident. For example, a business owner might think ‘We can’t put in a tender for that job – we’re not big enough’, whereas if she wrote a tender that covers the analytical aspects of the brief yet brimming with confidence and optimism, she just might pull it off and take the company to a new level. Experience tells me not only is this a possibility but an essential part of the pitch.
“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and at some point you will.”
– Venus Williams
Who hasn’t tried something similar in a job application? What about the newly appointed supervisor who worries that his fellow workers will simply see him as one of them and take no notice of anything he says. There’s a case for ‘fake it till you become it’ if ever there was one. The same can be said for the newly appointed member of the board, or the first woman appointee to a senior managerial position within the company. The same about public speaking, all it takes is for a deep breath, some positive yet grounded thinking, and you’re on your way. As champion tennis player Venus Williams said, “Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do, and at some point you will.”
Another way of looking at it is to ask yourself what will happen if you don’t give it a shot? You’re going to be no further ahead. You might look like a wooss. And that’s not what you want, is it? Otherwise, you would never have got on your particular train of thought.
Surely an excellent reason for faking it till you become it! Life is too short not to give it your best shot. Remember, it’s all about confidence and no matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up even if it feels unnatural. Your thoughts and actions over time create the person you are to become.
Are there any situations you can think of where ‘fake it till you become it’ would be useful? Perhaps this?
I’d love to know how faking till you becomeit has worked for you. Be honest we all have done it.
Jon Michail and his team at Image Group International partners with their clients to achieve breakthrough results with new, disruptive ways to grow and monetise their personal and business brands. A veteran coach with a Who’s Who clientele, Jon is the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars and workshops in over four continents and is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.