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Fake It Till You Make It

We’ve all heard the advice: fake it till you make it. The idea behind this adage is that pretending to think, feel, or act a certain way will cause you to actually think, feel, or act that way. 

It seems impossibly simple, in a “too-good-to-be-true” way. Could pretending, essentially, create a new reality?

The short answer: yes. But it’s important to know when and how to use a “fake it till you make it” strategy so that it is helpful instead of harmful.

Fake it till you make it: does it work?

When you use it right, “fake it till you make it” can be a useful tool. We’ll go over the right way to use it in a bit, but first, let’s discuss why it’s so effective.

It pushes you to “do it scared.”

A happy, creative life can be a scary life. You’re taking big chances, going after big dreams, and showing your vulnerable side as you step out of your comfort zone. It’s one of the reasons we talk about fear a lot on Design.org: because the fight against fear is a constant battle. 

When you “fake it till you make it,” you push yourself to go on in spite of the fear. You might “fake” courage in the name of getting the job done. 

Anything that pushes you to work through your fears is, in my book, a winning strategy.

There’s science behind it.

There have actually been studies done about how effective a “fake it till you make it” approach is. One of the most telling examples examines the “As If Principle,” which says that if you act “as if” you feel a certain way, you’ll start to actually feel that way. 

The study was done among two groups of speed daters. One group was told to treat their partner “as if” they were already romantically involved with them, even though they’d just met. The other group was told to act like they typically would on a first date (i.e. more reserved). At the end of the study, the “faking it” group felt more attached to their partners and expressed more interest in seeing them again.

In short, fake feelings can lead to actual feelings. You can, in fact, “fake it till you make it.”

It allows your brain to see a different way.

Our brains are trained to think and feel certain things that cause us to behave certain ways. Learned thoughts and feelings turn into learned behaviors. 

Once we’ve learned these things, it’s difficult to unlearn them. We get comfortable in our routines and patterns. It’s hard for us to imagine a different reality or a new way of thinking. The thoughts we’ve practiced for so long solidify in our minds, practically becoming truths. 

When you “fake it till you make it,” you’re showing your brain an alternative scenario—one that involves you thinking, feeling, and/or acting differently. You’re essentially giving yourself new evidence, proving to your brain that there might be a different way to look at things. 

The more you practice thinking in new ways, the more you’ll start to “unlearn” the harmful thoughts that have been holding you back so that you can move forward with thoughts that truly serve you. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen over time. 

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When to use “fake it till you make it” as a creative (and when not to)

So now that we have a better understanding of why “fake it till you make it” can be an effective strategy, let’s take a closer look at when you, as a creative, should put it into practice, and when you’d be better off trying something else.

When NOT to use it

First, I want to point out the times when “fake it till you make it” isn’t a good way to go. These include:

  • Faking knowledge. You can only “BS” your way through facts and figures for so long before it becomes clear that you don’t know what you’re talking about. You can walk into a test with all the confidence in the world, but that doesn’t mean you’ll actually know the answers to the questions.
  • Faking background information. There’s another word for this: lying. You can’t change your background (e.g. the schools you attended, the jobs you’ve had, etc.), and trying to “fake” it is likely to land you in hot water.
  • Faking to the extreme. There comes a point when it becomes clear that no amount of “faking it” is going to help you “make it.” If your fake mindset has gone on so long that you’re starting to feel inauthentic (to yourself or to others), then it might be time to find a different strategy.

When to use it

No, it doesn’t work all the time, but “fake it till you make it” is still a great strategy for certain scenarios. Use it when:

  • You want to practice feeling a certain way. “Fake it till you make it” works well for when you want to change a feeling you have often. For example, if you often feel self-conscious or self-critical, you can “fake” confidence until you actually feel more confident. This can be an extremely effective way to prove to yourself that you are capable of feeling and exhibiting confidence.
  • You want to overcome a fear. Like I mentioned above, “faking it” can help you push through fears very effectively. After all, what is courage if not pretending, even for a moment, that the fear doesn’t matter as much as you once thought? Feigning bravery helps you feel braver.
  • You want to develop a personality trait or habit. Want to be more optimistic, more diligent, or more ambitious? Start acting like an optimistic, diligent, or ambitious person. Want to be more creative? Start acting like a creative person. Adopt the habits a creative person would have. Live as though you are already that person. The longer you can do that, the more that attitude will grow and solidify in your mind and heart. 

How to fake it till you make it

What does “fake it till you make it” look like when applied to real life? How can you use it to make positive change as you work to “create happy?”

Some quick hacks

Here are some quick examples of how you can “fake it till you make it:”

  • Smile. Smiling, even false or forced smiling, can help lift your mood and lower stress.
  • Strike a pose. A “power pose” can help you feel more confident. Try any combination of the following: lift your chin, lift your chest, roll your shoulders back and down, put your hands on your hips, stand with feet hip-width apart. These cues signal everyone (including yourself) that you are confident and in control.
  • Dress up. Dress as the person you want to be, not as the person you think you are. If you want to be a confident businessperson, dress like one—even if you’re working from home.
  • Tune in. Music can change your mood in an instant. If you want to feel happier, turn on your favorite song. Better yet, create a happiness playlist that’s ready whenever you need it. 
  • Do the opposite. Feel like being a wallflower at a party? Do the opposite! Tempted to spend Saturday morning in bed? Do the opposite! Go against your instincts when you’re trying to become someone new. 

“Faking it” as a creative

What about applying “fake it till you make it” to the creative world? Try these:

  • Fake energy. Creative work can be exhausting. Give yourself a real boost of energy by acting as though you have energy. Move, dance, pace while you think, etc.
  • Fake interest. Some creative projects catch your interest more than others, and sometimes, you might lose interest in the middle of a project. Since this can seriously stunt your progress, pretend to be interested until you find an aspect of the project you can actually be interested in. Try asking: “What don’t I know about this?” or “What haven’t I tried?”
  • Fake good ideas. Creatives sometimes think the only ideas worth having are the “good” ones. But what if every idea you had, you treated like it was “good?” Write down all your ideas, good or bad, and let yourself explore each one as though it was the best idea you ever had. 
  • Fake optimism. It can be easy for creatives to grow pessimistic about their talent or their work. Create a mantra or affirmation that focuses on the positive aspects of your creative work, and that helps you feel encouraged and supported when the going gets tough. At first, repeating it to yourself might feel “fake,” but eventually, that attitude can start to feel more genuine.

“Fake it till you make it” doesn’t work in every situation, and you have to be careful to not lose your authentic self in the process. But if you do it right, you can use this strategy to retrain your brain, work through your fears, and start being the person you’ve always wanted to be. 

“Create Happy,” with Design.org.

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