I recently read this article written by Thomas Edwards, in which he discusses how the “fake it ’til you make it” phrase is pretty much garbage. While I understand some of the sentiments, I think it would be good to talk about where this phrase comes from, and why it works to improve your confidence.
The Edwards starts as follows:
“Wikipedia says the purpose of faking it until you make is “to avoid getting caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy related to one’s fear of not being confident.” On the other hand, Harvard Professor and best-selling author of Presence, Amy Cuddy defines it as, “Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”
There are lots of problems with both versions. Being fake is disingenuous, and getting caught implies you were lying. Crippling fear, lacking confidence, and becoming what you fake, all are things you wouldn’t want your employees, investors, your spouse or anyone else to associate with you.”
This is correct that it is better to be genuine and imperfect than fake and mask your humanity. However, the purpose of this phrase, and what Dr. Cuddy is getting at, is that our lack of confidence and fear of failure actually work against our genuine self. It can be shown pretty easily as well. Think of the last time someone asked you a question where the honest answer made you squirm. Did you tell the truth and deal with the repercussions, or did you blunt the truth in order to avoid an argument or embarrassment?
Where does this come from?
The fear of failure, our lack of confidence in ourselves is what causes us to be fake in our professional and personal lives. I would actually argue that this phrase, or what it is trying to achieve, is an attempt to be more authentic. What do I mean by this?
The phrase, “fake it ’til you make it,” is a hyped-up version of the empirically-based therapeutic technique called “Act As-If.”
Act As-If is a technique used in multiple forms of therapy in which a goal has been identified – such as exercising more, or speaking up at work – and there is a disconnect for the client between desire and achievement. The technique is simple, yet powerful. Let’s take the example above of speaking up at work and look at how it works.
Client (Ct): Whenever we are in a meeting and the boss asks for ideas, I freeze.
Executive Coach (EC): What causes you to freeze? Do you have ideas to offer?
Ct: Oh yeah, I have a few ideas. Actually, I have one that I think could really work out.
EC: What do you think gets in your way?
Ct: I just don’t have the confidence. I’m always worried someone is going to shoot it down or find some reason it’s a stupid idea. I wish I was someone who could just…talk.
EC: Okay, this week I want you to act as if you were someone who could just talk.
Ct: I don’t even know where I would begin. How can I act as if, if I don’t know where to start?
EC: Do you know anyone who is good at speaking their mind?
Ct: Well…Christa is really good at saying what’s on his mind. Each time she says something in our meetings, I think to myself how much I would want to be able to do that.
EC: Then act as if you were Christa. In your next meeting, when your boss asks for suggestions, act as if you were Christa and say what’s on your mind.
And that’s it. That the technique. You might say, “Now wait! The coach asked their client to act like someone else! Isn’t that them being fake?!”
Not at all. The technique of Act As-If acknowledges that the tools being used by the individual aren’t effectively helping them meet their needs. The coach simply used a tangible example, given by the client, to make the action more easily conceptualized. We may think we don’t know how to do something, but we may know someone who does. Just because we use their example to better meet our needs does not make us any less genuine.
It’s about becoming equipped for success
Act As-If gives us the chance to connect who we want to be with who we are now. We are always improving and growing as individuals and professionals. If we wish to be better public speakers, then we emulate great speakers to grow in our skill. We aren’t fake for taking tips from more skilled professionals.
Act As-If isn’t just useful for improving upon our abilities, but also for changing habits completely. Take, for example, the common desire to live a healthy, fit life. If we were to Act As-If, we would live as though we were already living a healthy, fit life. This challenges us to question, what do fit people do? how do they eat? how do they take care of themselves? Once we have those answers we simply put those habits into practice.
Fit people exercise once a day? then act as if you are a fit person and exercise daily. healthy people eat more greens? Then act as if you are healthy and eat more greens.
There is nothing fake about this. If an individual who Acted As-If was disingenuous, then anyone attempting to improve their lives would be also.
Personally, I would say that this technique can be invaluable in a professional setting. For those who are coming up on an experience where they need to muster a massive amount of courage, then acting as if they were someone with that courage can unwittingly give them the strength they need to get the job done. After all, they didn’t become someone else and use that person’s courage. That courage was inside of them the whole time.
It would seem to me that the Thomas Edwards has taken an effective tool and associated it with the behavior of manipulative chameleons who shift themselves in order to become more attractive to those around them. Acting As-If achieves just the opposite. Where we feel our behavior does not match our genuine selves, and we continually get in our own way, we Act As-If we have already achieved what we seek.
I agree with Edwards that disingenuous individuals do themselves, and those around them, a disservice by attempting to change themselves for others. However, I would tell those people to Act As-If who they truly are is enough. Because THAT is a genuine truth.