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January 17, 2013

Faking It: Making Our Actions Count

Woman with arms outstretched with text: How to Fake Confidence

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?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Carradee

*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.

:-p

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.

D.B. Smyth

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

Buffy Armstrong

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.

Melissa
Melissa

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.

Taurean Watkins

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 »

Davonne Burns
Davonne Burns

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.

Stefanie Nicholas

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

Taurean Watkins

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?

Serena
Serena

Hey Jami!

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.

Donna Hole
Donna Hole

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.

……….dhole

Kerry Gans

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!

Kerry

Chris Edgar

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.

E.B.Pike

Wow. I’m intrigued by this idea. Maybe I need to be “faking” it more!!

Delyn
Delyn

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 »

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