The suggestion to fake it until you make it is one that has been used for many situations over the years. Many people have strong reactions to the suggestion, either they hate the idea because it seems disingenuous and an admission of inadequacy, or they love it because it helped them get over a barrier of doubt and allowed them to persevere. In many ways, whether you love it or hate it, your opinion of “fake it ‘til you make it” is usually influenced by what the suggestion symbolizes to you.
If you think acting in a way that is incongruent with your feelings is dishonest, then faking it seems like a lie to others and an acknowledgement that you cannot hack it. Obviously, not a feel-good reason to use the technique. However, if you think of “faking it” in a positive or even a neutral way, it can be an effective technique.
So here’s my case for using the “fake it” technique. Most of the time, we think of our actions as being driven by our feelings. First we feel confident, and then we act confidently. Or we feel love, and then we act lovingly toward someone else. It just feels genuine to feel something and then express it through behavior. The truth of the matter is that there is a two way street between our feelings and our actions. We can change our feelings by the actions we take. Studies show that making yourself smile (simply using the muscles in your face involved in smiling) influences how you feel. The emotion centers of our brains receive and transmit messages to and from the movement centers of our brains. A simple experiment to try is to identify someone who you have no particular positive feelings toward. This could be a stranger or someone you know. Then do something caring toward them and pay attention to how your feelings toward them change.
When using the “fake it” technique in professional settings, this is typically used for situations when you do not feel completely confident. Acting confidently can not only make you feel a little more confident, it can also influence how others respond to you. Now, I should make a clear distinction at this point. Faking confidence is not the same as lying about your abilities or misrepresenting yourself. In the same way, faking a smile in order to make yourself feel happier is very different than faking a smile to hide your sadness from others. Faking confidence is giving yourself the chance to do what you can actually do, despite the feelings of doubt wanting to hold you back. Faking confidence is like jumping onto the dance floor and dancing like no one is watching. It’s not telling everyone in the room that you are the best dancer in the club.
Shawn Healy, PhD