“Fake it ’til you make it.” We grew up with this idiom in the back of our minds. It’s what people yelled at us in gym when we didn’t want to run the extra lap. It’s what people told us when we had to spend time somewhere we didn’t want. It’s what we were told when our spirits crashed and we didn’t think we could push through. It’s supposed to be a helpful phrase, but I always felt skeptical whenever it was said. How can there be anything genuine about ‘faking it’? What good is making it? How does this bring about actual lasting change?
In a way, the phrase aimed at breaking down negative attitudes only contributes to them. Make it through, and then you can go home. There’s nothing lasting about it. Just put on a smile and get through it.
But how does that apply to our lives when we’re studying, working, or we’re just trying to get through the day? Faking it ’til you make it doesn’t build good study skills. It doesn’t improve your office relations. It doesn’t give you the optimism to get through the day, and the next day, and the next. It just… gets you by.
Which is when I realized that maybe we’ve been saying it wrong all along. Maybe just changing one simple word can change your whole outlook.
It changed mine.
In preparing for sorority recruitment this year, our adviser had us watch a TED Talk by Amy Cuddy, who spoke some very inspirational insight into how changing our attitudes can make such a difference (and specifically how your body language shapes who you are).
“So I want to say to you – don’t fake it ’til you make it. Fake it ’til you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”
I was at a point in my life when my negative thoughts overpowered my positive ones. I was not an optimist. I saw the worst in every situation rather than the best. Life was like my own private pity party. If something went wrong, I deserved it. Woe is me. Nothing ever goes right. And it was hard to acknowledge that this had become my personality, because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I had become a negative person. That just wasn’t who I saw myself as, and it definitely wasn’t who I wanted to be.
But I pretty quickly realized that my attitude was pushing people away. I had glorified traits about myself that made me think people wanted to help fix, when really it was just bringing them down too. Who wants to be around Debbie Downer? It’s a burden to ask people to shoulder, and sooner or later they’re not going to want to carry it anymore.
So Cuddy’s words hit me hard because I knew that my negativity was affecting my life, but I didn’t know how to change it.
Fake it ’til you become it.
And I thought, just maybe I could pretend I was someone with a positive attitude. As someone who loves acting, I thought of it as just another role. Although I may not feel like it at first, I’m going to wake up and act like I have a lot of energy. I’m going to do everything I need to do with a smile. I’m going to fill my head with positive thoughts and indulge in the things that I love and invest in my relationships.
And I’m going to do it over and over and over again.
Because I’m not just faking it until I make it. What am I making it to? The end of the day? The sun rises again tomorrow,and if you aren’t prepared, you’re going to have to drag yourself through it all again. The attitude adjustment can’t just be something that you think of as being temporary. It’s a long term goal. You have to acknowledge that you’re going to keep doing these practices.
And then one day, you wake up and realize that they’re real.
After time spent actively filling myself with positive thoughts, I realized that I wasn’t actively doing it anymore. It was becoming habit. I wasn’t negative, but instead I was a lot more energetic. I was more fun to be around, and the people in my life could see that again – well enough that they approached me to tell me that whatever I had done, I looked a lot better. And I feel a lot better. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but I’m on my way. It’s a process. You won’t change overnight. But all it took was a simple attitude check, and the determination to become the person I wanted to be.
Though ‘fake it’ still carries an un-genuine intonation, the focus of this is not being untrue to yourself. It’s more about finding the strength inside yourself to be the person you want to be even on the days you don’t feel like it. It’s overcoming the thoughts that say you can’t do it and telling yourself that you can until you believe it.
And Cuddy herself tells an even more inspiring story of her own realization that all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other with the right mindset to become the person you want to be.
Something as small as changing brought change to my attitude. Which changed my relationships. Which changed my life.