Fake It ‘Til You Make It: The Psychology of Positive Action

You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.” – William James

Certain human reactions are innate. We feel happy therefore we smile. We feel sad and frown. We become worried, we raise our brows. Our feelings cause reactions. Surprisingly, the reverse is also true. Our actions can cause feelings. Smiling causes happiness. Frowning causes sadness. Furrowed brows cause worry.

19th Century psychology pioneer William James was the first to hypothesize the correlation between action and emotion. His basic idea has far-reaching implications. Research has shown that more than just simple emotions are affected by actions. Our habits, our relationships, even our fundamental personality can be changed by adopting different actions.

If you are a shy person and you wish to be an extrovert, acting more outgoing can make you feel more outgoing. The old adage “Fake it ‘til you make it” is quite fitting. Pretend to be outgoing and you will feel outgoing; soon you won’t be pretending anymore, you’ll just be naturally outgoing.

One experiment testing this theory took a group of volunteers and split them into 2 groups. One group was told to adopt body language of a weak person: they were told to direct their eyes downward, put their hands in their lap, and keep their feet flat on the floor. The second group sat with their feet up on the table, hands interlocked behind their head, eyes directed upwards.

The dominant group had a significant raise in their confidence levels after only one minute of posturing. This was not only measured in their comments, but in quantifiable medical tests. Blood tests showed an increase in testosterone levels after the session. The subjects’ bodies were changed by their actions.

Taking the research further, experimenters wondered if positive action could be used to make people feel younger. A group of test subjects were placed in a location that only had objects that were available 20 years prior. They were told to act as if it were 20 years ago and not to mention anything that would have happened in the past 2 decades.

By the end of the experiment, participants showed improvement in dexterity, movement, blood pressure, hearing, and vision. It turns out that age is not only a state of mind, but a state of action.

You can be any version of yourself by acting as if you already are that person.

You can do anything by acting as if you already can.

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