Last week I told you that authenticity was important. This week, I’m going to tell you why it’s good to lie. And no, this isn’t a contradiction in terms.
Stick with me here, this will all make sense in a second.
One of the things I regularly advocate, especially when you’re just starting to work on yourself, is “fake it ’til you make it.” The idea is simple: you develop your confidence by simply acting as though you’re already confident. But in practice, it can be more complicated. For many people, the idea of “fake it ’til you make it” feels like, well, a lie; like you’re trying to trick people. If you’re trying to be your most authentic self, then how are you supposed to square that with lying about your confidence?
Simple: it’s because you’re not lying to people. You’re lying to yourself.
Sort of. Fake it ’til you make it isn’t about tricking others. It’s not about presenting a false front to the world. It’s about changing how you see yourself… and the way you change as a reaction to that belief.
Your Body Is a Liar
Part of what makes “fake it ’til you make it” so difficult for many is the idea that we don’t have a reason to be confident and that confidence only comes from achievement.
Of course, this is demonstrably wrong; you only have to look at most middle-management – or hell, Twitter – to see that confidence and competence don’t go hand in hand.
But there’s a reason for this mistake.
Humans are traditionally very bad at understanding why we feel the way we feel. We assume that we understand the sources of our emotions all the time; we’re scared because something scary is happening, we feel positive because good things are happening, we’re aroused because someone we’re attracted to is in front of us.
The thing is, we’re wrong most of the time.
We like to think that our brains and our bodies are separate, that we’re capable of being passionless, relentlessly objective observers of the world around us and our own condition, but the truth is our minds and bodies are hopelessly intwined and our perceptions flawed and limited. Rather than being an objective observer, our brains are actually slaves to our bodies. Rather than perceiving events and triggering a corresponding reaction – scare > fear, attraction >arousal, etc. – we feel first and rationalize a reason for it later.
This is known as the misattribution of arousal, and this lag between perception and realization is part of how we can force ourselves to be confident even when we don’t necessarily feel it.
Because our brains respond to the physical sensations of our bodies, we can force ourselves to feel the way we want through simple changes of posture and behavior and facial expression. The act of pulling the corners of your mouth back and squeezing your cheeks up, for example, makes you happier. Similarly, stretching out and taking up space makes you feel more powerful, while if you fold in on yourself and fold your arms in front of you, you feel anxious and less confident.
By choosing to adopt confident body language – straightening your spine, squaring your shoulders, lifting your chin, or even adopting a power pose for two minutes – we actually increase the amount of testosterone production and lessen cortisol in the brain. By imitating confidence, you actually are forcing yourself to become more confident.
The Power of Symbolism in Confidence
Presentation is a key part of “fake it ’til you make it”. When I was learning how to get better with women, one of the first things I was told was to go out and buy “cool” clothes as soon as possible. Not to wait until I was “ready” for whatever values of “ready” you might want, but right away.
Why? Because the symbolic value of those clothes was going to make a significant difference in how I saw myself. Clothes are an outward expression of who we are and how we see ourselves and they have incredible symbolic importance to us. They’re a visual short-hand, telling us about the people wearing them at a glance, and we transfer those associations to the people wearing them.
Which includes us. Wearing the right clothes changes not just how you feel, but how you perform. This is known as “enclothed cognition” and studies have shown time and time again that the clothes we wear affect our self-perception and behavior.
In my case, trying to develop my social skills while dressed like a schlub who thought a Three Wolf Moon shirt was sexy would be a form of self-sabotage; I’d still feel like my old, uncool self. Dressing in more stylish, better fitting clothing forced me to realign my self-image and see myself as somebody new. Someone different. Someone cooler, smoother and more confident.
At first it felt weird. I didn’t feel cool, I felt like I was wearing a costume and a badly fitting one at that. But putting on that costume meant taking on the role and so I would act like I was that person, even while inside I was cringing.
The thing that shocked me was how well it worked. I may have felt like an idiot, but I was talking to people I never would have approached normally, saying things I would never have dared say before, because it wasn’t me, it was cool me.
But reconciling this took some time…
Fake It ‘Til You Make It vs. Faking It
The biggest misconception surrounding the idea of fake it ’til you make it is that you’re perpetuating a fraud of sorts. You’re putting up a fake persona, pretending to be more than you actually are. As a result, you feel like a fraud; you know deep down inside that it’s all an illusion, a house of cards so fragile that it will fall over if you just look at it hard enough. The only way to keep the illusion going is to continually baffle people with your bullshit so they never have a chance to see the real you…
This is how much of pick-up works, crafting a desirable persona and buffering it with canned routines, stock answers and “game”. It’s the dating equivalent of not just padding your resume but inventing an entire life you’ve never lived. You’re not being authentic, you’re using somebody else’s life and material to fool others into thinking you’re something you’re not.
That’s not “fake it ’til you make it”, that’s just lying. The point of fake it ’til you make it isn’t that you’re claiming authority or skill that you don’t have. Not only does this not work, it makes it impossible to actually improve or grow. What success you might have is ultimately meaningless because it’s not you and that takes its toll.
This isn’t feel-good “just be yourself” woo-woo bullshit, by the way. Almost everyone I’ve known – myself included – who’s been balls-deep in the PUA scene has a moment where they hit the wall; the stress and anxiety of trying to keep up this crafted persona gets to you over time. Some developed substance abuse issues as a form of self-medication or turned to religion. Others had break-downs or crippling bouts of depression.
But when you’re not lying to yourself, you’re able to avoid the mental incongruity and actually improve instead of cracking up. The key to how “fake it ’til you make it” works is to recognize it for what it really is.
Practicing To Be Your Best Self
Something that I’m always telling people is that social success is a skill and the only way to improve is through regular and deliberate practice. You don’t get better at shooting hoops by playing NBA 2k15, reading Michael Jordan’s autobiography or watching videos of Manu Ginobli and Lebron James playing; you get better by running drills, shooting baskets from all over the court and playing the game. You drill over and over again until the motions are committed to your muscle memory.
The fact that you’re practicing playing basketball doesn’t mean that you’re pretending to be basketball player, you’re learning how to be better at the sport. Displaying confidence you may not feel (yet) doesn’t mean that you’re claiming authority you don’t have, it means that you’re teaching yourself to be confident.
Wearing clothes I didn’t think I could wear felt uncomfortable at first because I didn’t think I had a “right” to wear them; they just weren’t who I was.
That’s the key word right there: “yet”. See, fake it ’til you make it doesn’t give you skill in and of itself; belief to the point of delusion isn’t ability or improvement. Similarly, trying to trick others only increases your self-doubt and leaves you dreading the moment when someone twigs to the fact that you don’t know what you’re doing.
But practice, on the other hand, means that you’re taking active steps towards your goal. That “role” I created for myself wasn’t a lie, it was who I was training myself to be. Just as a basketball player is training to be a better player, I was training to be a better me. My “pretend” confidence wasn’t fake or undeserved, it was something I was earning, practicing over and over again until it became natural – as natural as shooting a free-throw.
I was practicing being my best self, and my best self was someone who felt confident around women.
We Are What We Pretend To Be, So We Must Be Careful About What We Pretend To Be
That part about how our brains rationalize our behavior after the fact is important because while our bodies may be liars, our brains are bad at lying. As a species, we can’t deal with mental incongruity; the longer we do something, the more it becomes our active reality… even when we know it’s fake. Our brains simply rationalize our behavior and change the reasoning behind why we do things to fit our behavior. This is part of why actors fall in love with their on-screen love-interests – acting like you’re attracted to someone makes you more attracted to them.
It’s also why the “ironic” sexism and racism you find online tend to lead to actual sexist and racist beliefs and actions; mouthing racist or sexist phrases over and over again carves a corresponding groove in your brain. Before long, it quits being “for the lulz” and becomes part of who you are.
But knowing that action leads to belief means that you have the opportunity to shape and define yourself through action. Choosing to fake it ’til you make it is choosing to take control of who you are and to mold yourself into the best version of you.
It can be tricky at times; who we think we want to be and what we actually want aren’t always the same thing. As I’ve said before, who we are and who we want to be is a moving target. But learning to behave in the way I wanted to be wasn’t an act of dishonesty, it was an act of transformation.
“Fake it ’til you make it” isn’t about deception or delusion. It’s guided, positive conduct that molds and shapes you, teaching you to become the person you dream of being.