The Psychological Benefits of 'Fake it Until you Make It'

The Psychological Benefits of  'Fake it Until you Make It' Image

The adage 'fake until you make it' is often something one thinks about when you have to get through a holiday dinner with the critical and grumpy extended family or meet someone new and try to look confident. It brings to mind a public speaker with a tremor in their voice and perspiration running down their back.

Many would argue, justifiably so, that 'faking it' at any point does not allow a genuine experience. It prevents real improvement and can lead to feeling as if accolades were not earned.

What if 'fake it until you make it' didn't refer to a phony attempt at getting through a challenging event but instead meant a systematic progression to become your successful and happy future self?

When people state they want happiness in life, they want to experience a feeling. After food and safety needs are met, most other human wants go back to a feeling. We want money to feel secure; we want a successful career to feel competent; we want the vacation to feel the absence of stress and the surprise of new things. We want relationships to feel love, health, and safety for those we love so we don't feel grief. Feelings are the origin of our desires.

If this is so, the 'fake it until you make it' mantra can assist in generating the feelings we seek. If a romantic partner is what you desire, determine what it would feel like to have this partner. Write out the details of the joy you would experience in a relationship. Meditate on the experience. Once you have spent some time with the feelings of having this longed-for relationship, see if you can generate those feelings in your day-to-day life. For some, this imaginative journey will be easy; for others, it will take some time.

This advice is often a component of the law of attraction theory, a theory more spiritual and unproven than the science of psychology would prefer. So can 'fake it until you make it' be helpful in a practical and scientifically proven way?

The answer is yes. First, you will need to define what 'make it' means to you. What are you trying to achieve or see emerge in your life? Maybe it is success in the workplace; maybe it is building more wealth; perhaps it is experiencing more leisure time. It would be useful to write out what your end game is. What are the necessary components to 'making it' in your life?

Then imagine or even spend some time observing successful people in these areas if you have the opportunity. Then take the time to write down a list of behaviors you believe are involved in maintaining these desired outcomes. For example, what behaviors does a healthy person engage in? A wealthy person? A confident one. What about the person who has the career or relationship you would like?

Once those behaviors are identified, you use them to structure your 'fake until you make it efforts.' Meaning, as you move through your day, you will cognitively play the part of the healthy, successful, wealthy, and happy individual. Roleplay has been demonstrated to have consequences on both attitudes and future behaviors. For example, in one study, participants wearing a lab coat did better on attention-related tasks than those not wearing a lab coat. Those told the lab coat was a painter's coat did worse at an attention task than those who were told the coat was a doctor's coat (Adam & Galinsky, 2012).

As you play your role, ask yourself as you make decisions about your own time and behaviors, what behavior would a healthy person choose? What behavior would a person wise with money do? What would the environment look like for those individuals? How would they be using their free time? How would the future successful version of you engage with others?

When you play the role of the future, you, the one who has accomplished your goals and achieved your desires - your actions will follow. Those actions long-term will have positive consequences for your life objectives. At the same time you are playing the role, or 'faking it to you make it,' you will reap the benefits of the positive emotions you generate.

Positive emotions result in positive decision-making and better health. So go ahead, 'fake it till you've made it to the future you imagine.'

Adam, H. & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed Cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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