There is a saying, “Fake it till you make it,” (or "Fake it 'til you make it") that I have heard often in life. It might be advice in a book about success or justification from someone acting abnormally.
I have struggled with this saying because of the fact that it can be incredibly helpful to “fake it till you make it.” But at times this simply becomes an excuse for acting against your own values and beliefs.
Several times in my life I joined a new group. It might be a work group, social group, networking group etc. One specific example that I recall is when I joined a public speaking group called Toastmasters.
Toastmasters helps people overcome public speaking fears and helps speakers polish their communication and leadership skills. The value of Toastmasters is incredible and has laid the foundation for public speaking for many people, including successful business people and even presidents.
But joining a Toastmasters club can be incredibly intimidating. There are a whole new set of norms and behaviors that often make people uncomfortable. I remember during my first few meetings feeling very out of place. So I just faked it until it started to feel more natural.
But other times I felt that like that strategy is poor. I remember being a young child hanging out with some classmates that were taking part in illegal behavior. Instead of standing firm on my feelings that it felt wrong, I joined in. I faked it until it didn’t seem so bad to behave that way.
Faking it until you make it basically helps take an unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation and desensitizing you to it. It helps when something feels out of place and awkward and has us keep at it until it feels more natural.
So the strategy isn’t what is good or bad it is what we are applying it to. If we use this as a reason to do something unethical then it can easily be judged as bad. But if we act insincere because we know that our jealousy of a successful coworker is wrong, we can use this approach to do what is right until our emotions and thoughts catch up to what we feel we should feel.
So the strategy of faking it until it starts to feel natural can be used to develop new, positive habits. It follows the systems and habits approach to improvement because it takes small changes and does them over and over until they become ingrained ways of thinking and behaving.
In Brain Briefs, by Art Markman, PhD and Bob Duke, PhD, the authors talk about this in more detail. It describes curving our narcissistic tendencies by faking it until it starts to feel natural.
They say, “Consider, though, that you can choose to behave in ways that thwart the little narcissistic demons that pop up from time to time. Rather than thinking of ways that your obviously undeserving colleague was unjustly rewarded, you can make a conscious effort to congratulate him on his good fortune. You might think that this kind of behavior – offering congratulations based on conscious deliberation rather than a felt need – is insincere on your part because it doesn’t reflect what you really feel. But acting in ways that reflect the feelings you would prefer to have is precisely how we evolve a more productive and positive mode of thinking.”
They go on to say, “Most people who try taking action like we’ve just described find it remarkable how changing their habits of behavior begins to change their habits of thought. Rather than behaving like a jealous jerk, because that’s what your feelings tell you to do, acting like a generous and gracious colleague actually ‘tells’ your feelings to change.”
So if we want change our thoughts we can use this systems and habits technique to do it. We start by acting based on our preferred thoughts and behaviors and over time it becomes habit and starts to change our actual thoughts and behaviors. This is how we use fake it until we make it to help us improve.