“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
~ William James
When clients come into my office, it’s usually because they want to feel better. The want to be less sad, less anxious, more self-confident, less angry. When clients say this, I often ask them what does a happy, relaxed, self-assured content person look like. How does a person who is happy walk? How does a relaxed person react to others and what specific, observable behaviours would this person display? It may take a moment but usually, my clients are able to describe the behaviours of the type of person they wish to be. Their comments are pretty concrete: These people make eye contact, they initiate conversations, they smile, they are animated and appear relaxed.
Many of us assume that change is hard, that it’s out of our reach or that to be worth anything, change should be drastic and instantaneous. Most of us want change to be a one-time shot. We want to “fix it” once and be done, but very little in life actually works this way.
Experience teaches us that it is often easier to change concrete actions or to introduce new ones, than it is to change patterns of thinking.
From this, the cognitive behavioural technique of “acting as if” was born. The act as if technique involves defining a therapeutic goal and then acting as if that goal were already achieved. Act as if you are happy, act as if you are confident or act as if you are calm and relaxed.
Acting as if works in a number of different ways. Instead of dwelling on the negative, which typically makes us feel worse, by acting as if things were how you would like them, it allows you to focus on the positive and takes your focus off what is missing. It takes your focus off yourself and puts it more on doing rather than feeling. For example, instead of relying on the concept that in order to smile, you must feel happy, why not try the behaviour of smiling which may lead to the feeling of happiness.
You can develop new habits by acting as if you are the way you want to be. If you want to be responsible and caring, act as if you are. If you want to be more self-confident, you can act as if you are. This may seem unnatural at first. But continuing to behave in this way will develop a new ‘script’ and patterns. You can put these into practice every day and develop healthier ways to satisfy your needs.
What Can I Do?
- Describe the specific goal you want to achieve.
- Describe what you must actually do to ‘act as if’ you really want to achieve the goal. Describe these steps in great detail.
Try completing the following sentences:
- The specific goal I want to achieve is
- The specific things I must to act as if I really want to achieve this goal are
By listing all the observable behaviours of someone who is confident, for example, like good eye contact, walking with your head up, smiling at others, you can put these behaviors into play. You can change your behaviour until your behaviour changes your emotions and you actually do begin to feel more self-confident and happy.
In order to grow, people needed to translate their goals and aims into actions. If you can take a step towards doing this by acting as if you are the person you want to become, you can create new habits and hopefully, reap new rewards.