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  • Writer's pictureMental Gear Closet

Does "fake it til you make it" actually work?

Updated: Feb 28


We’ve all heard, “Fake it til you make it”.  But how does this actually work?  Isn’t faking something just pretending, and therefore incongruent and unsustainable?  While some may dislike this phrase I believe it can be an effective strategy.  Here are 3 reasons why.


Opposite to Emotion Action (OEA)

This is a skill which comes from the Emotional Regulation module of DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, developed around the late 1970’s.  It essentially states that certain emotions tend to cause certain actions, or reactions.  But if that action is unhelpful or even harmful, then we should consider doing the opposite action instead.


In life this may look like … When you feel sad (emotion) and the urge to isolate or shut down (action), instead, challenge your body to reach out and connect with others (opposite action).


In sport this may look like … If feeling nervous (emotion) makes you play hesitantly (action), instead, hold yourself confidently and challenge your body to play more aggressively then you feel (opposite action).


In short ... Notice what actions you take when certain emotions arise, and do the opposite.


Both OEA and “faking it” are essentially choosing to do the inverse of your body’s automatic defense + protect response.  While in the moment it will feel like pretending, over time this opposite action actually creates the feeling you’re acting out (ex: confidence).



What we do, we start to believe

A seasoned mentor from Children’s Hospital once told me: “Even if my patient doesn’t yet believe it, it’s helpful for them to say their change statements out loud because over time, their brain will start to believe what they’ve heard themselves say over and over.”


Some people call this manifesting or speaking it into existence.  Either way, when we choose to “act as if” - for example, we feel confident or believe we’re capable - it starts to create a suspicion that “maybe I really can do this!”



Psychoneuromuscular Theory

Have you ever had deja vu?  A feeling that “I’ve been here before or done this already?”  This is similar to psychoneuromuscular theory.


In short, when we imagine doing a task or acting in a certain way, our brain sends a signal to the parts of our body that are responsible for actually making that happen.  If you were hooked up to an EMG machine that detects even slight muscle contractions, you’d see that just by imagining flexing your bicep, the bicep muscle would actually fire and contact.


Therefore, what you imagine and do/say is creating a tangible neuromuscular pathway in your body which then strengthens your ability to quickly do that same behavior in the future.  (Isn’t science cool?!)



Do you need help putting this into practice?  Don’t hesitate to reach out!

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