Fake It Till You Make It: 5 Cheats from Neuroscience
The catchy phrase Fake It Till You Make It is “an English aphorism which suggests that by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset, a person can realize those qualities in their real life.”1
Like most cliches or slogans, there’s more than a grain of truth in this one. Luminaries, as diverse as William James and Alfred Adler — not to mention New Thought philosophers like Rhonda Byrne — have expressed their own variations of this oft-quoted expression.
When it comes to exploring this principle, I prefer the tricks and perspectives learned from rigorous studies in neuroscience to flesh out the truth. No one is an advocate of hypocrisy, fake news, or blatant self-deception. But in some cases, a few psychological “white lies” (to oneself or others) can accomplish a miraculous change in mood or behavior. In other words, enlightened deception can lead to higher truths and realistic goals.
Listed below are a few of the cheats that are considered ethical and useful for scoring high in self-improvement. Keep in mind that these short-cuts are designed to trick our brains to produce real-life changes, often on a temporary basis. For the most part, they are not meant to hoodwink others2 or to mislead our contemporaries.3
Force a smile: As the saying goes, “Smile if you don’t want to sing flat.” There’s a kind of circular wiring in the brain. Because of embodied cognition, the physical state of one’s body can impact one’s emotions.4 Faking a smile can relax vocal cords and affect hormones.5 The loosening of face and uplifting of cheekbones triggers a happier mood and encourages friendliness. It’s all about the mind-body connection.
Fake your posture: Feeling sad or tired? Want to clear your brain? Don’t slouch or slump. Slouching impairs mental cognition. Raise your spine. Hold your head up high, open wide your shoulders. Straighten up — but don’t stiffen. Keep breathing calmly. You’ll feel a boost in energy and self-confidence.
Shout wheeeeee and throw up your hands: Feeling anxious? Harassed by deadlines or similar obligations? Try caressing yourself. Give yourself a big hug. Make it last 30 seconds. Then throw up your arms and shout WHEEEEEEE! Let’s face it: you can’t feel tense when you’re shouting Wheeeeeee.
Pretend you know the answer: If you think you know the answer, your self-belief strengthens your tendency to be right. This difficult-to-emulate trick could easily lead to mistakes, if caused by overconfidence — but studies show that the technique often works.6 The success of Placebos in faking a solution that works in medicine may be based on similar interactions taking place in the brain.
Act as if: Want to be more sociable? Want to be more self-confident? Stop hesitating! Quit dwelling on future plans to engage. Just do it. Spring into action. Circulate at a conference. Hand out a business card. Dance to a band. Treat others first. Show kindness.
It helps to practice these actions in order to improve their results. When it comes to permanent behavioral change, this advice especially applies to taking actions designed to make you a better person. For example, the more you act in a positive, friendly way, the more it becomes natural. The more you pamper yourself with hugs and smiles, the more habitual your strategies become.
Pretending, forcing, or modeling behavior sends a signal from the unconscious to the higher stratosphere. Tricking the body in appropriate ways has been shown to alter the brain’s mood, personality, and judgment.
Regarding the cheats on this list, don’t overdo things. Act out of a genuine wish to improve — not simply to impress others. In other words, don’t put on an act to hide the real you. Keep your intentions pure. You must be motivated from within!
- Fake it till you make it. (2019, May 27). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_it_till_you_make_it
- Morin, A. (2016, Jun 27). When to Fake It Till You Make It (and When You Shouldn’t). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201606/when-fake-it-till-you-make-it-and-when-you-shouldnt
- Moore, S. (2018, Nov 3). How To ‘Fake It Till You Make It’ (and why it’s absolute bullshit). Retrieved from https://medium.com/swlh/how-to-fake-it-till-you-make-it-and-why-it-s-absolute-bullshit-b0da81f8f05f
- Wilson, R.A. & Foglia, L. (2015). .Embodied Cognition. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/embodied-cognition/
- McCorquodale, A. (2016, Feb 2). 8 ‘Fake It ‘Til You Make It’ Strategies Backed by Science. Retrieved from https://mentalfloss.com/article/74310/8-fake-it-til-you-make-it-strategies-backed-science
- Atasoy, O. (2013). Your Thoughts Can Release Abilities Beyond Normal Limits. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/your-thoughts-can-release-abilities-beyond-normal-limits/
DiPrete, J. (2019). Fake It Till You Make It: 5 Cheats from Neuroscience. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/fake-it-till-you-make-it-5-cheats-from-neuroscience/