Acting “as if…”

My grandfather, a profound influence on my life, though I’m only now beginning to realise it fully, used to tell me when I had to do something that scared me – read a poem in front of my school class for instance – “All you need to do is act as if you were enjoying yourself and you won’t be scared any more”. And I’d read the poem out loud as a rehearsal, which wasn’t so bad, and then read it to him again, this time pretending I was enjoying it, and it actually worked. I felt better about it and he said it sounded better and when I stood up in class that felt better too.

This isn’t a new concept, but is one we often forget to apply in everyday life. One of the earliest references to the idea I can find comes from William James, the nineteenth century philosopher and psychologist, who said “We need only in cold blood ACT as if the thing in question were real, and keep acting as if it were real, and it will infallibly end by growing into such a connection with our life that it will become real.”

As you make the transition into senior management, walking the walk and talking the talk – consistently – is vitally important, so that those who depend on you to lead them can have confidence in you. Whilst you may not always feel a hundred percent confident, acting “as if” you were, can go a long way in helping you to convey the right impression.

And the next time you’re sitting slumped at your desk in a dismal mood ponder not only on that thought, but this further quotation from William James:

“Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech.  On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers.  There is no more valuable precept in moral education than this, as all who have experience know: if we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward motions of those contrary dispositions we prefer to cultivate.

“The reward of persistency will infallibly come, in the fading out of the sullenness or depression, and the advent of real cheerfulness and kindliness in their stead.  Smooth the brow, brighten the eye, contract the dorsal rather than the ventral aspect of the frame, and speak in a major key, pass the genial compliment, and your heart must be frigid indeed if it does not gradually thaw!”

(William James, ‘What is an emotion?’, Mind, 9, 1884: 198)


You can read more about William James here:

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