Act As If

 

One of the few maxims that has profoundly changed my life is to “act as if.” What this means is to act as if you are already capable of, or the type of person who, does certain things. For example, a professional writer gets up and writes at the same time every day. I get up and write at the same time every day.

Before exploring this in more detail and explaining why it works I’d like to give another example. When I wanted to get of my crippling fear of failure in my mid twenties I felt helpless. Everything I began would get discarded before I had to risk public exposure. I remember one particularly terrifying experience — entering into a business plan competition. My group had what we believed was a great project. This meant we would have to get up in front of a large audience (twice if we did well) and give a presentation. Then answer questions.

Public speaking was not my thing. Upon entering graduate school I’d given two or three speeches and felt terrified each time. During the first semester I had a class where everyone would practice giving speeches or interviews. To make things more challenging the teacher filmed us. Then we watched the film while the whole critiqued it! The class was uncomfortable for everyone. I was no exception.

To prepare for the business plan competition I decided to throw myself into any activity that would allow me to practice. I volunteered to be the presenter for any group projects in my other classes. I signed up for the venture capital competition to practice speaking in front of strangers every week. I practiced in front of the mirror. I practiced in front of roommates.

Why did I do this?

I decided I needed to act as if public speaking was my favorite thing to do. It was that simple. Public speaking had to become my ice cream!

How did I accomplish this shift? I said out loud, “Public speaking is my favorite activity in the world!” Afterwards, I signed up for anything, I mean anything that someone who loved public speaking would sign up for. I pretended that public speaking was my jam. I noticed that I began to enjoy it a lot more. It happened fast!

This was a huge lesson for me. My team ended up having to present twice and taking 3rd place in the competition. And yes, it was still terrifying. I was nervous and uncomfortable. I didn’t choke though. I didn’t fall apart.

How can you begin adopting an act as if mindset for yourself? Let’s go over why this works. It isn’t complicated when you dig in. Essentially, your brain is wired to mirror behavior. Watch any child around their parents and you’ll get a quick sense of this. When you start to act as if you’re a certain type of person you immediately begin rewiring your brain to be that type of person. It happens fast because we are built to adapt to new situations. It’s amazing.

Here’s how you begin:

1. Tell yourself that you are the type of person you want to be — say it out loud!

2. Write down what that person does.

3. Do it.

It’s that simple! Give it a try for yourself and let me know how it goes. I’ve used this process to change my behaviors dramatically over the last 8 years. I’ve faced some deep-seeded fears, and helped friends to do the same with this technique. It can work for anyone who commits.

 

Open Your Eyes After Large Changes

Throughout our lives we have to make major changes. It can be a time as simple as a move to a new city, or as complex as the loss of a close family member. During these times something incredible happens. Whether we want it to or not, we dramatically simplify our lives.
 
I recently moved to a rural part of New Jersey for a little while. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, but at least a couple of months. Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Instead, I’ve hardly had a free minute. When we end up in a new situation the tendency is to focus on the core important things in our lives.
 
For me this has been food, a gym, Starbucks with internet, and the program I am attending here. Nothing else has mattered. At home, I would’ve been planning with friends, or checking out a store, or walking by the river, or..
 
We add increasing complexity to our lives over time. Larger changes force us back to a basic routine. We have no choice in the matter! Over time, we re-complicate our lives again with people, events, and to dos. This can be an intentional or unintentional choice.
 
My challenge to myself (and you, dear reader), is to only add back layers that truly add lasting value. I haven’t been able to buy anything on Amazon for a few weeks, and I haven’t suffered in the least. I haven’t been able to cook in awhile, and that’s been okay. I have seen lots of family, read a lot, and exercised once or twice a day. I’ve made new priorities based on the most essential parts of my day.
 
My goal is to look back in a month and again in three months, and see my life and time filled with meaningful activities. It’s startling how easy it is to become “busy”. Unfortunately, “busy” doesn’t mean happy. The more things I’ve acquired, the more people I’ve met, the more commitments I’ve made to objects and humans, the less happy I become over time. I wake up stressed. I go to bed stressed. Most people I know operate on this level. Sure, it comes in waves with work or family commitments.
 
Room in our lives is a good thing for two main reasons:
1. It forces us to focus on the 2 or 3 things that are most important within a day
2. It cuts out excuses for not doing these 2 or 3 things
 
These are significant for a couple of reasons. The largest is that we often have 5 or 6 different options for any give period of time. Just getting off work – should you exercise, grocery shop, grab a drink with a friend, go see the football game with coworkers..? How do you know what to do? When do you fit in reading a book or working on that side project?
 
Our constant prioritization of our lives throughout each day is both challenging and draining. Humans aren’t neurologically programmed to make this many internal decisions every single day. We are horrible at it.
 
This is where stress, sleep deprivation, eating for comfort, and even libido issues tend to come from. It’s all connected. I’m not saying to quit your job and move to a cabin in the woods. Instead, take stock of all your priorities like you would after a major life change.
 
Choose how you spend your time. Be the driver of your life, rather than having the choices you made in the past drive your days.

Pushing Through

There’s an interesting conundrum that humans face: whether to persevere through a situation or quit. On the surface, we are told to always persevere. To stick with things. To finish, no matter how hard. This creates good habits. This leads to lasting happiness and great rewards.
I agree with this mentality, kind of. As with most things in life you can add an “it depends” clause. I’ve watched friends push through at a job month after month waiting for the payout, only to have it never happen. I’ve watched loved ones throw energy into a relationship, only to have it fade with time. My most glaring example came from the first time I trained for a marathon.
 
I was living in Chicago ten years ago. I followed all the prescribed methods for success in running your first race. I stuck to a schedule. I went to a speciality running store for fitted shoes. I had friends to cheer me on. I quit drinking, ate right, and slept a lot. By the time the race day arrived I was horribly injured. When my ankle and then my knee started hurting people told me to run through the pain. Some said train less, others run more.
 
I did serious damage to my leg by pushing through. It turned out two things were wrong with my training and both provide lessons to learn from.
 
When I went to the speciality running store they misdiagnosed that I pronated. I was prescribed shoes that would fix this issue. Unfortunately, I don’t pronate. These shoes created a lot of extra pressure on my ankles which led to pain over time. And as long as I continued to run in them they would continue to put that pressure on. When you’re going to be spending hours and days in an activity its always worth getting a second opinion!
 
The second lesson came to me years after the race. After hurting myself snowboarding I went to rehab. At the end of my rehab I told the trainer I wanted to run again. I had tried to run a few more times with minimal success – my longest race had been a painful half marathon. She recommended a running specialist who worked near Boulder, CO. I met the specialist and she proceeded to video tape me running on her iPad. Three minutes later, I took off my shoes and sat down with her in her office. “Well,” she said, “close your eyes and just listen.”
 
I closed my eyes and listened. The sound I made with every step was like a thunderclap. She could tell I was landing too heavy. She explained this would always lead to injury over time regardless of shoes or training regimen. We worked together for a couple of months and since then I’ve been able to run injury free for the last 4 years.
 
The takeaway here is that some times you need to adjust your approach. Maybe your goal is a reasonable one, but your methods for achieving it need work. Finding an expert or a trusted advisor to give you honest feedback is better than pounding out miles. There’s no perfect process for anyone, and hard work is important. Rather than brute forcing through difficult times, I encourage you to re-examine your tools and process.