Does Fake it until you Make it work? How acting a role makes you assimilate

‘Fake-it-til-you-make-it’ has always seemed a bit of a nothing phrase - and in all honesty I’ve always thought it was, well, rubbish. Until recently. Having started a new job in a high-pressured environment, the idea of faking it until you make it has truly become the day-to-day mantra, and it definitely does work!

The scientists agree. One study found that plastering on a fake smile really did improve people’s moods. Believe it or not, the position of our facial muscles influences our moods, and so forcing yourself to smile can genuinely brighten your mood. Another article found that faking positive emotions can lead to ‘an upward spiral of motivation’, which then filters out into other areas of your life.

This approach seems to go hand in hand with the law-of-attraction-theory, which is the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into someone’s life. Really, this goes back to the simple saying: think positively (which is always a good strategy). Fake-it-until-you-make-it is a similarly easy regime to apply: tell yourself you can do it (unless it’s completely impossible) and you most likely will achieve what you set out to do.

Whilst faking a smile or an emotion is one thing, another way to use the-fake-it-until-you-make-it approach is in your day-to-day life. As I said earlier, for me, this technique has been a lifesaver when starting my first job out of university.

Many actors also use this approach. The following article notes that, in particular, “acting is associated with the strongest deactivation in regions in the front and midline of the brain that are involved in thinking about the self”. By losing one’s sense of self, actors become able to fully immerse themselves in their new roles. ‘Method acting’ particularly elevates this kind of technique. Method acting is the process that some actors go through whereby they spend weeks, months and sometimes (amazingly) years getting into their characters. This has been proven to lead to emotive, persuasive acting and some actors swear by it and really become their characters. Can a James Bond truly ever have another role?

However, like anything, method-acting (if you’re not an actor) and faking-it-until-you-make-it do come with a few warnings. Whilst it is all very well to use the approach to tackle your day and the tasks ahead, there is some research that says that too much pretending can lead to adverse consequences in the long run.

Some authors claim that faking it only really works when there is something you know or believe deep down you can do, but perhaps fear or nerves are holding you back. This, of course, makes sense. It is no use pretending you can for example speak fluent French, and then getting into a job interview, and being perplexed when the interviewer begins speaking at you in a foreign tongue. This would be an example when faking it obviously won’t help you.

So, whilst I am a big advocate of the fake-it-til-you-make-it approach, the advice would be to only apply it to one task or goal at a time, and make sure it really is something you can achieve. Give it a go- you might surprise yourself; we slip into roles much faster than we think.

Interesting Articles & references: