Faking It: Making Our Actions Count
We’ve probably all heard the phrase: Fake it until you make it. The idea is that we’re supposed to act the way we want others to see us, and we’ll be treated the way we want.
The concept can be applied to our personal life as well as our professional life. If we act like an extrovert, smiling and talkative, people will see us as friendlier. If we act like we know what we’re talking about, full of confidence and certainty, others will assume we’re an expert.
The concept applies in subtle ways too. Job seekers often receive the advice: “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” That’s simply another way of acting how we want others to see us.
Can We Fake the Ability to Fake It?
Faking it isn’t always easy though. We can feel like an impostor. We can stress about being found out, accused of not being good enough, not belonging.
This fear holds some writers back from embracing the title of “writer,” much less “author.” They’ll instead throw around words like “aspiring writer.”
But as I’ve blogged about before, many times the effort of faking it pushes us forward. To improve our ability to fake it, we learn new things and grow and change. Over time, we’ll often discover we’re not faking it anymore.
What would be even better, though, was if faking it wasn’t as hard, right? What if we could do something simple to make that effort to fake it easier? What if we could psych ourselves up for faking it in just two minutes?
A Shortcut to Faking It with Style
That’s why I found a TED talk about body language and confidence fascinating. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains that just as our thoughts and feeling affect body language, the reverse is also true.
Faking it isn’t just about “fooling” others into seeing us a certain way. Faking it is also about reprogramming our brain so we see ourselves that way too.
When we think of nonverbals, we think of how we judge others. … We tend to forget, though, the other audience that’s influenced by our nonverbals: ourselves. — Amy Cuddy
She says all it takes is holding a confident pose (even when no one else is around to see it) for two minutes. I can hear you all now. *smile*
Uh-huh. Sure, that’s all it takes.
It’s easy to be dismissive of the idea. But she’s a real scientist, not just a pop-psychology book talking about envisioning what we want to make it happen. She did the research to test if that new supposed-confidence is all in our head.
The verdict: Our body language doesn’t just make us feel more confident, but her research confirmed that our body chemistry actually changes based on our body language. Think about that for a minute.
Holding our body in a “power pose” for two minutes changes the amount of hormones in our bloodstream, raising testosterone and lowering cortisol. Testosterone is the hormone of dominance and confidence. Cortisol is the stress hormone. This is real change, not just a difference in perception.
Our bodies change our minds, and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes. — Amy Cuddy
So what can we, as writers, do with that real confidence?
- We can prepare for writing conferences and pitch appointments.
- We can hold a power pose while we’re writing about dominant characters. (And similarly, we can hold a weak pose while writing about less powerful characters.)
- We can psych ourselves up before opening beta reader comments, emails from agents or editors, or reading reviews. Even if we don’t like what the contents say, we might take the news less hard if we approach the feedback less stressed.
- We can reduce the cringing when we hit “send.”
- We can face book signings, book tours, and presentations.
- We can prepare for phone or in-person requests for research assistance.
The TED talk is about 20 minutes long, but I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s a powerful look at how our actions influence our minds, bodies, behavior—and ultimately, our chances for reaching our goals.
We all feel like impostors sometimes. Like we don’t belong. But if two minutes of posing in the privacy of our room or the bathroom can make the effort of faking it easier, it just might be worth it to stand like Wonder Woman or Superman. *smile*
TED Talk: Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
Do you find it difficult to “fake it”? What do you think of the idea that our body language affects our minds and body chemistry in measurable ways? Have you ever used a technique like this? How did it work for you? Can you think of other ways we can use this boost of confidence?Pin It
*blinks* Okay, I guess I’d better lose some of that confident body language, because my testosterone’s already too high (due to an underlying health condition).
What? That wasn’t the message you wanted me to pull from the post? Oops.
More seriously, body language is incredibly useful, if you pay attention to it. I frankly appear 16—it’s a good day when my appearance hits 22, and I’m older than that—but I can pass as young enough to get a kid’s menu or as old enough to have a college degree, much of it from how I carry myself.
Er…um…uh… No. But hey, whatever works for you. 😉
Wow, that’s interesting about the age range you appear, but as you said, the way we carry ourselves makes a huge difference on the impression we make. I love studying body language now, and understanding it is incredibly useful to us as writers too. That’s a big component of The Emotion Thesaurus book that I keep open while I’m drafting–it has a whole page of body language cues to go with each emotion. Thanks for the comment!
It’s a lot of fun to appear 12 when I’m out with teenage friends (who then all look older than me). I get a kick out of folks’ expressions when I’m the one who pulls out the car keys and wallet. 😀
Something to bear in mind, too, is that different people will have different and sometimes outright conflicting body language cues for the selfsame emotion.
When my brother’s about to lose his temper, he tends to get rough on his surroundings, and his volume increases.
When I’m about to lose my temper, I laugh. There’s a specific tone to it, but the laugh itself has always confused my brother, because he thinks it means he’s successfully defused the situation. (Nope.)
Note: That “appear” before “12” should really be “seem”, since most of the youth comes from body language. I’m too much of an hourglass to appear 12 without also making use of other cues.
Great point! One example I can speak to of that problem is laughing at really tragic news (which I’ve been known to do). It’s not meant as a heartless thing at all, but it’s often taken that way.
It’s more like the emotions are so strong and they have to come out right now, and laughing is the fastest response to strong emotion. I’ve gotten better at suppressing that–because no one knows how to take that reaction–but it stunts my ability to react naturally to bad news. I now have to stop and think before I react, so no matter how I end up reacting, it’s not as natural or honest.
Interesting! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Awesome points, Jami! When you said “power pose” I immediately picture myself in blue tights, hands on hips, with my cape flapping behind me. *That couldn’t POSSIBLY be what she means, right?* But then you said superman and I giggled. That’s exactly what you meant. 😉
Even though I may be missing my cape and a wind machine, I’m still going to practice my pose. Just this morning I sent the first half of my book to some crit partners. I felt the need to shrink into myself as I prepared to click send. Then I thought of your article, sat up a little taller, and clicked send with purpose (rather than my usual quick click that results in a did-I-click-too-fast? moment followed by a real send).
Anyway, I appreciated your article. Thanks! ~DB
LOL! Exactly. As she points out, it’s not about doing this pose in front of others (they might look at us weird), but about doing it for ourselves–so we’re telling ourselves what kind of person we are. (And apparently, we subconsciously listen to ourselves much more than I thought we would. 🙂 ) Good luck with your critiques and thanks for the comment!
I think in most industries/businesses you really do have to act like you have it together in order to make it. I work in a predominately male business – finance. I learned years ago that perception was everything. If you were perceived to have no idea what you were doing or that people could walk all over you, they wouldn’t take your seriously and/or would walk all over you. I had the problem of my name. No one, or almost no one, takes a chick named Buffy seriously. Either they assume you are an idiot or you slay vampires. Neither garners much respect in the business world. I had to learn to sound like I knew what I was talking about whether I did or not. I had to develop the I’m-so-not-impressed look and the no-nonsense tone of voice while secretly being terrified. And eventually, I wasn’t terrified anymore.
LOL! Very true about your name. Some might be able to pull off a “don’t mess with me or I might slay you” attitude, but that would be tricky.
That said, I think I’ve seen your so-not-impressed look–and you pull that off well. 😀 Thanks for the comment!
Talk about synchronistic I had that TED talk pulled up to watch when you posted your blog!
The ability to change your viewpoint in such a quick and easy way it a great tool to help handle high stress situations. Thanks for the info.
Oh how funny! I also loved how she pointed out that faking it can make us feel like “oh, that’s just not me.” That reminds me of the Michael Hauge workshop I went to, where he challenged us to do the one thing we didn’t think we could do because “it’s just not me.”
I think I have a deeper understanding for what he was trying to get at with his challenge. Too often, things that don’t “feel like us” aren’t necessarily things that go against a moral code or anything, but are just things that make us feel uncomfortable, like we don’t belong. And maybe these techniques can help lessen that feeling.
Interesting stuff. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
I’m not sure if I agree with “Faking it till one makes it.” At least how it’s described here. Whenever I try to do anything like this I just end up coming off like a pompous jerk to others and ME, and don’t like that feeling. How far can you take this exercise without lying to others or yourself? It’s one thing to project confidence, but another to make someone think you’ve done more than you really have , at least in my opinion. Do I need to work on self-confidence? Yes, I sure do! But pretending I’m already my ideal writer self can for me do more harm than good. Besides, faking (or pretending…) I have the money and resources to self-publish (No matter how much I may want to) is likely setting me up for debt I’ll have a not-so-good time repaying for months… I know I’m exasperating a bit, but for me, there are limits to this exercise, and having been played in real life a lot, that may be why I don’t like this tactic, as least for what it does to me personally. I try to not be so reactive since that can scream “Newbie” but as Jami knows from my comments here, and how I project myself on my own blog, I’m just an emotional person, and regardless of “Fake it till you make it” I can’t fake my feelings, so I settle for sitting on them when they’re not appropriate for the situation.… — Read More »
Hi Taurean, I understand what you mean.Pretending we know more than we do in order to come across as more powerful can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen advice from some writing blogs that I know for a fact to be straight-up wrong. Did they also think that they knew that information to be 100% correct, or were they stating their opinions definitively to give others a stronger impression of them? I don’t know. The way I read this study was more about how to give ourselves confidence in small ways so we’re more willing to take risks (and we’re talking about the “hitting the send button” type risks and not “mortgaging a house to pay for publishing a book” type risks 🙂 ). When we need to do something we’re scared to do, sometimes a boost of confidence can help mitigate that fear. I’m an introvert in real life, and I have a “curled up in a ball” panic attack before every writing conference. I can fake my way through being an extrovert, do pitch appointments, and even present at workshops. But before I go, I’m an emotional mess. That sucks, quite honestly. If a little thing like a Wonder Woman pose can make it so I don’t have a panic attack at the mere thought of having to fake my way through all that extroverted stuff, I’ll take it. 🙂 So that’s the kind of “faking it” that I think can benefit us: when we need to do… — Read More »
Thanks for replying, Jami, I was worried I sounded mean or rude. I can come off extremely abrasive, and I think that comes from having been far more shy as a kid, and since my 20s I’ve made speaking my mind a stern habit. Granted, it’s easier in cyberspace because my high-pitched voice, stuttering, and slurred speech doesn’t get in the way communicating as it does verbally for me. The only downside, is my gender being mistaken as female instead of male, something I hope to address by using a real picture of me as my avatar, I just haven’t had a chance to take a recent photo of me that looks professional for obvious reasons. I guess having been subjected to the worse extremes of “Fake it till you make it” in real life, colored how I viewed the practice in general, and now I can watch the video knowing that. Sometimes I watch videos blogs linked to only to wish later I hadn’t, not to say anything bad about you, BTW. I have to psych myself up when I read craft books that have a VERY catty (if not witchy) tone to instruction. While I can understand your feelings of anxiety about conferences, and I doubt I’d be any different, especially the ones about the things we need to do besides write books, but (And I mean no flippant sarcasm here) be thankful you can at least go to some of these events. Do you know how vexing… — Read More »
Absolutely! I am grateful for the opportunity to attend conferences–even if they cause panic attacks. 🙂 If it wasn’t for the support of my family, I wouldn’t be able to go either, as I’m not in my day job for the pay. LOL!
I think that “lack of money” vs. “lack of will” would be an interesting conversation to have, but I wouldn’t trust myself to do justice to the topic. I understand very well the differences (and I can easily see a “there but for the grace of God, go I” scenario placing me in that category), but I still doubt my ability to explore the topic on a level that wouldn’t ignore many of the complications creating the problem. I was born into a shockingly poor family, so I’ve been there, but my personal experiences aren’t enough to ensure I’m not unintentionally being dismissive of other circumstances and other experiences. That’s probably way more than you needed/wanted to know, but I wanted you to understand why I haven’t delved into that topic. It’s not for a lack of understanding the importance of the difference. 🙂
As for the Drill Sargent approach… Yeah, that often doesn’t work on me either. 🙂 I’m too rebellious. I’m more of a pom-pon waver. LOL! Thanks for the comment!
I too am painfully introverted. Always have been. I was literally invisible as a child and a teen. I still can make myself ‘disappear’ and it all has to do with body language. If you don’t want people to notice you, refuse to make eye contact and keep all limbs as close to your person as possible, making yourself as small as possible.
I have learned since that faking confidence really does help and I’ve even managed to give 90 minute presentations in front of decent sized crowds. Faking confidence does not mean faking knowledge. I know what I’m talking about intimately. I just have to convince myself that I *can* talk authoritatively about it.
Everything she brought out in her talk is true and I’ve even urged other people to do the same. Fake the behavior/emotion until it’s real. For me its being happy. I fake it so that I can feel it. Sounds weird I know.
Anyway, thank you so much for this insightful and informative post.
Exactly! That’s what we’re talking about here. After I got word last year about presenting at RWA National, I did a post about feeling legitimate, and how even though I knew the material backward and forward, I still had that initial “wait, why would they pick me” reaction. Sometimes we need a reminder that we can do this. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Jami, I just want to say thank you for your blog 🙂 You always have such helpful posts! I want to be confident enough to say ‘I am a writer’ <3
Aww, thank you! And yes, you should say “I am a writer.” I certainly think of you that way–just for showing up here and expressing interest in learning more. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Well, I watched the video, and no, I don’t regret it. It was still hard to watch the end, because
It’s not like I haven’t tried to brace myself before entering in situations beyond my comfort zone, but just like with writing, my standards are high, and when they’re not met, I only have myself to blame.
Maybe my problem is that I have mixed feelings about being assertive and authoritative, because I’ve seen and regrettably done the harm it can do when used poorly to myself and dealt to me by others.
Does that make sense? What can you do then?
I understand. It’s sometimes a tough line to walk between assertive and aggressive, but that line doesn’t always have to do with you. Sometimes it has to do with what others are comfortable with.
A dear friend of mind once told me that she didn’t like me when we first met because compared to the women of her country, I was aggressively assertive. I was upset for a bit at that, and then I realized her observation wasn’t about me, but about her expectations due to her background. (And she now tries to be more like me. LOL!)
But a similar thing can happen if we suddenly change our behavior with family or friends in a “it’s time to start standing up for myself” way. They will react badly to that, just because we’re messing with their expectations. That doesn’t mean we’re wrong for standing up for ourselves. Yet it also doesn’t mean they did anything wrong by being surprised.
As for those mixed feelings, personally, I try to be assertive enough to stand up for myself, but always respect others and their wants and goals too. That doesn’t mean it’s always easy or that I’m always successful though. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Well, cultural issues aside, it’s still hard, some people just know how to do this more straightforwardly than others, that’s part of what I was getting at, Jami.
My negative experiences really weren’t about anything cultural. At least, not on my end, or what I’d been told by those on the other side.
Yes, I know the people on the other side play a part, but since I can’t control that, I only focused on my perspective. I still know what you mean though.
Also, when I say I’d been dealt disrespect and unmeaningly dished it out in my early attempts to be assertive, it’s not like this was something I did one or three times and never tried again.
This has been YEARS of effort and time on my part, and in my family especially, little has changed, and it’s just hard to live with it and around it because I’m unable to move out as many others I imagine have.
No doubt, you’re in a tough situation. It’s healthy that you’re focusing on your end, what you can control (and you’re right, you can’t control what others think or feel–that’s often where I get stuck). I wish you luck in dealing with your situation and your family. Thanks for the comment!
I found this post especially interesting because I’m a psychology major and I can confirm all of what you said. 😀 In fact, it was just a few days ago that our prof told us about Amy Cuddy’s study where doing a dominant pose for 2 minutes will increase your testosterone levels and thus help you handle stress better.
Also, the concept about “faking things” to influence your emotions is quite prevalent in psychology–or even many self help/ inspirational books. Famous books on faking things to make yourself stronger include “The Power of Positive Thinking” and “The Secret”.
In fact, William James said something like “act the way you want to feel”. You see, WJ suffered from depression (and antidepressants didn’t exist then), so he forced himself to smile everyday, and indeed it improved his mood. There were psych studies where forcing people to smile really does make them happier: specifically, making people grin by having them grip a pencil between their teeth whilst watching a funny cartoon made them enjoy it more. There are even more interesting studies confirming the power of “faking actions/thoughts/beliefs” too, but I forgot.
Oh how interesting that your professor was talking about this! I’ll be honest–much of what I’ve heard about “The Secret” or some of those positive-thinking, super-expensive seminars strikes me as pop psychology and not necessarily grounded in science. So the fact that Amy had hard science behind this was what really drew my interest.
Brain stuff fascinates me (I think I’ve mentioned to you that I almost minored in psychology). And as I was watching this, I kept thinking about the efficiency of evolution that would make these emotional/physical/hormonal pathways bi-directional and hard-coded. A leads to B, but B also leads to A in a predictable way. Very interesting. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
This was fascinating Jami. I enjoyed it, and saved it to read later. I do believe people can “fake it” until they believe the messages their mind/body are sending to each other. Thanks for sharing these insights.
I learned that lesson first hand when I forced myself to make friends in high school after being terribly bullied in junior high. Soon, I wasn’t having to “force” myself nearly as much. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Jami – I think we all fake it until we make it at some point in our lives. We’ve all done it on that first day of the new job, when you have no clue what you’re doing but nod a lot to make it look like you do!
I took a class called Act Like A Writer, and we discussed this same topic (http://thegoosesquill.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/the-confidence-game/). I realized that standing up for my work was much like standing up for my daughter–they both need me as an advocate.
Also in that class, we had to pitch–my boogieman. But I came to an epiphany after we did it–that I look more confident than I feel when I pitch (http://thegoosesquill.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/epiphany/).
It was a wonderful class, and I still am nervous in a lot of situations, but I have a better outlook on it now!
So true about the first day syndrome–whether that’s at a new school, new job, etc. Thanks for sharing those links too! Yes, we absolutely have to stand up for our work. No one else will have the passion or interest in doing so.
That’s so cool about your epiphany! I bet that would apply to many things–that we can pull it off much better than we think we can. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
I certainly agree with being out own best advocate for our writing.
But it’s not the same as parenting a child since at least you have a tangible person to point to.
I do think it’s hard for some, myself including, to rise above a legitimately bad experience or three, though.
My first attempts at self-publishing never got very far, and yet I keep learning more to be open for a opportunity I can actually afford, but it’s slow and hard in a way I don’t find cathartic, but I’m still being open about learning, that has to count for something right?
Absolutely, that counts for something! I know you get frustrated at the lack of options–that’s human nature. But I also still see you asking the questions, wanting to improve, wanting to find the answer. You haven’t given up, despite all the difficulties and setbacks. That alone says a lot about you. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Thanks for this. I also find it useful, when I’m feeling afraid, just to admit to whoever I’m with that I’m feeling afraid. I find that practice very liberating. Maybe that means taking the risk that they’ll think I’m weak or disgusting or whatever and reject me, but if I take that risk, ironically, I’m acting with confidence.
Great point! Yes, sometimes the riskiest path–the one requiring the most confidence–is that one that reveals our weakness.
Personally, speaking as a romance author who’s expected to write strong alpha males, I think the most “alpha” males are the ones secure enough to accept and/or reveal their vulnerability. Those who act like they aren’t scared of anything are just acting–which means they’re too scared to show they’re scared. 🙂
Accordingly, I don’t write the typical alpha-male heroes. Mine definitely have their weaknesses. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Wow. I’m intrigued by this idea. Maybe I need to be “faking” it more!!
LOL! Yes, it does sound interesting–just to try out, doesn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Jami, thanks for the fascinating post. I have a Non-Verbal Thesaurus and I also keep it open when I am writing. *smile Personally, I have learned the lesson from experience about prepping so I am able to project confidence. Because of my personal appearance I have to combat the initial first impression already, so if I don’t also project a confident demeanor I am discounted before I start. At 4’10, petite frame and curvy most people judge me a certain way. Working in a field of predominately males (military and civilian electronics) my statue and figure predisposed my coworkers to see me as young, weak, and probably a little ditsy (most likely because I was blonde). Most are surprised when they get to know me. Before I gave a briefing to a group including the Air Force Base four star general, I practiced standing. I knew that I couldn’t stand behind the podium because that would just accentuate my size and I didn’t want any of my body language to suggest uncertainty. No one could tell I would rather face a room full of three-year-olds than give that briefing. 😉 I do occasionally use peoples misconceptions against them. I once let a service station attendant change out the fuses on my windshield wipers in the pouring rain because he thought I was too dumb to know what a fuse looked like or where the fuse panel was located. I did tip him, but I was dry and he was soaked… — Read More »
Wow! What great examples! Thank you so much for sharing. And yes, LOL! to that service station attendant. No matter how you look at it, you won. 🙂
Like you, I play around with assumptions and stereotypes a lot. My most recent WIP had the most “bad boy” looking of my heroes, but he’s easily the least alpha male of them all. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
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