In Twelve-Step programs we hear the phrase “Act as If” many times. We are guided to “act as if” we have courage when we are scared, and we are told to “act as if” when we feel like an imposter in our work lives.
Acting as if has helped me many times. It’s a great tool to shift from negative to positive and it is a way to invite the changes we are making to shift from being intellectual concepts to be fully embodied parts of us.
Act as if is closely related to “Fake it till you make it” which I first heard in Alanon. In that program the “faking” I had to do was to act like I felt detachment when I was still clinging and craving. There are still many times when I tell myself to act like a writer and teacher when my confidence is missing in action.
These ideas are not new and they are not unique to Twelve-Step thinking. Like most AA wisdom the idea of acting or faking our way to growth and change has been around a long time.
Aristotle wrote, “We acquire virtues by first having put them into action.”
Many years later the philosopher William James expanded on the connection between how we act and how we feel wrote, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together. By regulating the action, which is under the direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
It’s worth noting that early AA’s devoured the writings by William James, especially his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience.” Bill Wilson was enraptured by these ideas of the early psychologists in the James circle.
Then, translating for a modern sensibility, Timothy Wilson at the Universality of Virginia said, “One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change precedes changes in attitude and feelings.”
Look at that again: “Behavior change precedes changes in attitude and feelings.” If you don’t like how you feel first change your behavior. It’s so simple but still hard to really get it. Don’t wait around to feel better; act as if.
Yeah, “act as if” is much easier said than done. But maybe make it an experiment. And here’s a bit of crazy contemporary proof: Research over many years has now shown that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, and it’s because they can’t make angry facial expressions.
One tiny caution: “Act as if” shouldn’t be used with your finances. Don’t spend money you don’t have and don’t charge-card yourself into debt. But even there you can act more generous than you feel by donating or tithing and the feeling of generosity will follow.
So I’m making these notes to myself this week: Act like I love to meditate, act like my body craves yoga and don’t wait to feel like writing: Just go do it and watch the feeling follow.