Fake It Till You Make It

It must date back fifteen years, my memory of R. advising me to, ‘fake it till you make it,’ and I thought to myself, “I don’t like the sound of that advice.” My sense was that anything to do with ‘faking it’, was, de facto, a bad thing. I have come to change my mind, however. I’ve come round to the idea that in order to break old, negative cycles, to refresh and reboot out of date tales of woe you’ve told yourself over the years, you might well need to fake it until the new narrative takes hold. What I’m not talking about here is creating a fantasy and denying reality. No – this is about correcting redundant notions that might have been planted in you as a child, grown deep roots as an adolescent, become the Japanese Knotweed of your adulthood. Fervently held beliefs that there are things you cannot do, paths that are impossible for you to take, opportunities that are not open to you, default ways of being that you just can’t help – after all, you were born that way. The negative narrative might be so deeply ingrained that you need to fake your new story until you become it.

We might say to someone who has told us the same sob story over and over again, “would you ever change the record!” Certainly, there is a time to sob, and sob, and sob some more, but the tissues will run out. We might reach a point where we are sick of our own story – fed up of feeling like a victim, done with being dealt a bad lot, worn out with wailing to anyone who’ll listen. And when we get to that point, well, that’s a breakthrough; that’s the point where we can begin to fake it till we make it. If you’re lucky, you mightn’t even need to fake it, you might just drop it. It’s just the same as practising scales on the violin. I’m never going to be Nigel Kennedy but the more I play and try to emulate him, the closer (and it isn’t very close) I move to that point. ‘Start being the person you wish others would be’, goes the wise old saying. And the scientific advice as to how? Step outside of oneself, watch, and change the thought. Science now shows that when we do this, we are actually changing our brain – opening new circuits that make us into a different person. By over-writing the old worn out thought saga, flipping our thoughts over and over again, we are actually making a physical change in our brain.

You might say it’s like denial, but it is not. It is the opposite of denial, as when you are in a pit of negativity you are in denial about any positives in your life. It doesn’t mean you ignore things that you can’t bear to face up to in the vain hope that they’ll miraculously disappear. Take toothache, for example, a real and present problem that can’t be thought away with positivity. The worst advice for a throbbing molar is to ‘fake it till you make it’. If something in your life needs attending to, all the faking in the world, all the declarations of, “sure everything’s grand” will, just like unaddressed toothache, keep you awake at night and be your undoing. So be realistic about the ups and downs of life and apply the fake it till you make it philosophy judiciously to those pieces you are ‘stuck’ on, and where you’re old beliefs are beginning to crack a little. If you just can’t be positive or optimistic, grateful or happy, just pretend now and then and see where it gets you.

Then there is something called ‘imposter syndrome’ – thinking that you’re crap at something, that you have over-reached yourself in your job, you’re undeserving of the life that has been afforded you, and that you are going to be discovered and exposed for the person you are not. This is a case where you feel you are faking it but not making it. Here’s a classic example: have you ever been in a meditation class and spent the whole time when you are supposed to be meditation thinking that everyone else in the group is better than you, that they are doing it property? When the chances are that everyone else in the class has a mind like a dancing monkey, thoughts running like wild horses, maybe they are even more out of control than you are? So if you are faking it and not making it, go easy on yourself!

When you feel out of your mind with worry or despair or a feeling of ‘not this again’ comes over you, get to watching your mind, and tell it to think a different way, even for a moment. The calmer, more soothing state might feel fake to begin with, but it soon won’t.

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