I used to do a lot of weekend seminars in NYC where I did a series of workshops and participants could choose which ones they wanted to go to. It included workshops on affirmations, grief, goal-setting, relationship inventory, etc etc. The “Act As If” workshops were always popular.
I haven’t written on it in a while, but I’m working on a GPYB workbook and want to include some Act As If exercises because I don’t really touch on it in the book. So if you have issues with this, let me know in comments so I can tweak that part of the workbook to help those who want to work at this.
Acting “As If”
Many times, we have gone years and years without processing our thoughts and our feelings, without observing them, without really being in touch with them. We have started to act them out. Many times our behavior has been inappropriate. Many times, we have not acted when we were supposed to act, or we’ve acted when we’re not supposed to act. What we’ve done in the past has been engaging in inappropriate, and sometimes that inappropriate behavior is what we don’t do, what we haven’t done, what we’ve held ourselves back from doing. Other times it’s acting out our hurt feelings.
If we look at our relationships, if we look at our jobs, if we look at the people around us and the way that we have been behaving with them, if we really look at it and we observe we can see the ways in which we have behaved our feelings, we have behaved the hurt, we’ve behaved the anger, we’ve behaved the feelings of betrayal. Sometimes we behave it and we act it out in ways that hurt ourselves. Other times our actions hurt other people. But no matter what, our actions have been hurtful to ourselves or to someone else.
We may have overplayed being the victim or the nice guy or the understanding one because we want to be loved. We may have overplayed our anger because we haven’t dealt with unresolved issues left over from other people. We may have just acted like a lunatic in a way that says, “Guess how I’m feeling because I can’t express it in words!” We may have been passive-aggressive because we didn’t like confrontation. These are all ways that we have acted out our feelings because we couldn’t express how we felt or we were trying to get a certain reaction from someone else.
If you’re working on acting the way you want to feel, and you’re thinking about thinking the way you want to think, and you’re processing those hurt feelings in other ways, with your affirmations, with your journaling, with your boundary setting, all the different things that you’re doing, those things will have effects on your behavior.
But instead of waiting around for your behavior to change as a result of the work you’re doing on your thinking and your feeling, you can start to act as if that feeling has already taken place. The two things can come together. When we work from the outside in and the inside out, we meet in the middle much sooner.
It starts with observation. You have to start observing what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and how you’re doing it. You’re not only going to have to continue your review of your past behavior, but to become truly observant so that it’s useful in future relationships, you have to stop and look at what you’re going to do, and sometimes you’re going to have to stop yourself from acting until you affirmatively thing, “What am I about to do?” That has to become part of your life. In order to change how you’re behaving, the first thing you have to do is learn how to stop and think before you do something. You can practice with talking, texting, writing, communicating at work and at home. Learn to think before you do or say anything. My therapist used to tell me to learn to count to 10 before I responded to my ex over childcare issues. I did it in a lot of situations. I learned to respond and not to react.
When I talk about boundaries, I’ve told the story on here of being out to lunch with all the people I worked with (about 10 people) and everyone was drinking. One of the guys on our team could be a bit of a bully and pressure people about things. I ordered a Diet Coke when everyone else ordered an alcoholic beverage. The guy turned to me during a quiet moment in the conversation and said, “So why don’t you drink?” Everyone turned and looked at me, waiting for an answer. It was a pointed and personal question that I didn’t feel the need to answer but I knew him and if I skirted the issue, he would have been insistent on getting an answer.
I put down my fork, chewed a minute while counting to 10. I looked at him and said, “What is it about my not drinking that bothers you?” He went back to another conversation without answering. Although I normally tell this story as a boundary example, it’s also testament to the fact that I stopped reacting to things and started to respond. To get upset or angry or whatever would have been fodder for the gristmill. To stammer or stumble would have resulted in his keeping it up (that was the type of person he was). It’s hard to avoid such a pointed question, especially when there is an audience. But a wrong response would have had the place buzzing about it later and I did not want that. Learning to stop and think before talking or acting really helped me.
It’s learning when to do nothing or say nothing or take your time responding in order to formulate a response. But it’s also affirmatively acting like a person of confidence and success.
A common denominator among all successful people is that they act like a winner before they actually win. That said, how do you start to act like a winner? Again, observation, preparation, and cultivation. Go to your journal and think about what successful people look like, and what they act like.
Now when we talk about success, it could be success in anything that you want it to be. It could be success overall, success at work, success in love, success in friendship, success out in the world, whatever you want personally want to think about changing your behavior.
If you want to be a performer, one of the stumbling blocks for many people is the audition. It’s scary especially if it’s a huge cattle call where there are hundreds or perhaps thousands of people all vying for the same part. However, one of the people in that room is going to win the part. Why not you?
If you look at the crowd and feel defeated before you even have a clue if any of these people have talent, you will never succeed. You must believe that you are a winner, even if this is an amazing talent pool. In order to succeed, you must do your best at every task, and that means at a minimum, showing up and walking through the fear. Because even if you don’t win this time, your confidence will take you further next time because you know you’ve already done this.
Don’t let big odds or a large number of people put you off when you’re trying to succeed at something. If you want to walk into a party and you don’t really know anybody and you’re a little scared, walk in as if you own the place. Nobody in that room is going to know that you don’t. Think about people who have defied the odds. Think about the singers, people like Elvis Presley who was told he had no talent, people like Albert Einstein who was told he wasn’t too smart.
Think about the American Idol kids and how many of them stood in line over days and days to get a chance to even audition and they wound up in the Top 10 and have recording contracts. Why would any of them really think that they could take it all? They probably didn’t, but they showed up and they walked through the fear. Each year as the American Idol auditions went on, getting to the next audition took more and more effort, and the odds were increasingly stacked against the final winner; however, someone has to win. Why not you? If you don’t throw your hat in the ring, it can’t be you.
If the American Idol analogy doesn’t work for you, think about people in your own life who are successful, people in your field, people in your block, people who live in your town. It’s not just performing. It’s anything that you want to do. You can be the one that wins. You can be the one who comes out on top. You are the one who gets the letter in the mail, the good news, the change in a lifetime. But you can’t do it if you don’t believe that it can happen for you. You need to think it, but you need to act it as well. Think about the people in your company, on your job, in your school, in your town who are winners.
Think about the odds they faced to get where they were. Remember the teacher who once told Albert Einstein he was stupid. Remember the producer who told Elvis Presley he had no talent. Many famous people were told they didn’t have the right stuff. The difference between them and people who are not famous is that the famous people did not listen. They kept walking and talking as if they did have the right stuff, and sooner or later, someone came along and believe in them.
Remember, winners are people who ignore the astronomical odds of getting to first place. Winners are people who feel the fear and do it anyway.
So the first thing we’re going to do is look at our own behavior, and we’re going to figure out the ways we want it to change. The second thing is we’re going to do is observe the people around us, observe the people who have what we want, and we are going to be convinced that we can do what they do. That is where preparation comes in.
The first thing to do is ignore the odds against you and any other negatives that come into play. We need to think positively, and only positively. Focusing it on the negative will just defeat you. Do not focus on the negative. Focus on the positive.
Second, think about what winners look like when they walk into a room. They look confident. They smile. They want to let you know they deserve to be there. You have to know that even if winners come out and smile and look confident, they may be terrified. Think about other people who have to get over being afraid and somehow convince people that they know what they’re doing.
It’s not just singers and actors. It’s teachers. It’s managers. It’s coaches. It’s the new employee who wants to get somewhere in life. It’s a lot of people. Sports figures who make it to the professional leagues were once little kids who wondered if they could make a living at their sport. Derek Jeter wanted to be the shortstop for the New York Yankees when he was in the 4th grade and he never thought of being anything else. Many talented kids just don’t persevere because they don’t believe they can make it in the endless supply of athletes who want to be professionals. I’ve heard people say they gave up acting or sports because it’s so hard to make it. It’s hard to get published, but some of us tackle it and actually make it. But if you don’t try, you can’t make it.
Those who don’t try are guaranteed they will never make it. Those who try, have a chance. Even if you are fearful, do it anyway. Walk into a room brimming with confidence even if you are terrified inside. People don’t know you’re terrified. Act as if you’re not.
Follow up. If you call about a job you interviewed for or a part you auditioned for, call back with confidence. Be light and cheery…just checking in. When I was a store manager and was hiring help I often had 20 applications for one position and everyone looked good. I often gave it to the person who called me to see if a decision had been made. It breaks a tie.
Next, look the part. It’s not just confidence you want to project, but your actual physical appearance. Think about what you want to achieve in life. Is it a promotion? Do you need to look like that supervisor? Is that the next step in your career? Do you need to pay more attention to your clothing, your hair, your grooming, your accessories? Is it time to dump the tattered, old briefcase? You want to look like a person that others are attracted to. What kind of clothing, hairstyle, grooming will facilitate that? Think about it. Be it. Do it.
It is time to look the part of whatever you want to be. Do you need to exercise and eat right in order to feel good about yourself? Then do it. Do you need to get enough sleep at night? Then do it. You know what you need to do in order to feel better walking down the street. For some people, it’s buying new clothes. For some people, it’s getting a new hair style. For some people, it’s getting a professional makeup job. For some people, it’s wearing the right watch. Whatever it is, you need to do it.
Observe winners and winning styles in your journal and then prepare to be a winner in your style. Think about what about your style is a winner and what is a loser, and get rid of it. Ask other people for construction feedback, people you can trust. Don’t go to the empty well for water. This is something we say in How to Get Past Your Past all the time. Don’t go to people who are going to be naturally critical of you.
Think about people who will give you honest and positive feedback and ask them, “What should I change to change my image? What could use a little improvement?” and go to trusted people. Then you think about what winners do, winners in your eye, people who exude the winning appearance to you.
You might write, “Winners sit up straight. Winners look people in the eye. Winners have a firm handshake. Winners feel the fear, but do it anyway. Winners look clean. Winners look healthy. Winners look well rested,” and a host of other things. Think about it. Make it your own. For whatever it is that you want to show the world you are, whatever you want to be, think about it and learn how to project that image.
Cultivation. We cultivate our winning formulas all the time. We learn how to do this on a daily basis through affirmations, journaling, keeping ourselves conscious about what we are trying to change in our life. Now when it comes to our behavior, we have to cultivate the winning formula. We have to think about what we’re doing that needs to stop and what we need to begin doing.
We have to think about what winners look like to us so that we can achieve what we want to achieve. Then we need to take our winner’s look and turn it into affirmations. Think about how to word your affirmations. If you said that winners are people who sit up straight and look people in eye, write that as an affirmation. “I sit up straight and look people in the eye.”
If winners are people who walk confidently into any room, write, “I walk confidently into any room.” If you feel that winners are people who speak and act with confidence, write, “I speak and act with confidence,” or, “Because I am a winner, I act with confidence.” Continually affirm your confidence several times a day.
Consciously change the way you walk, talk, act, and look, shoulders straight up. Think about your posture. Think about the way you walk. Think about the way you present yourself in any given situation. Are you slumping? Are you slouching? Are you not looking people in the eye? Those are not things that winners do. People with self-confidence, people with self-esteem sit up straight, and look people in the eye.
You need to walk with confidence, talk with confidence, act with confidence, and look confident even if you’re trembling inside. Practice it. Look in the mirror. Try to be very conscious about putting your shoulders back, about putting your head up, about walking into places, changing your stride, walking with purpose. Even if you’re not going anywhere in particular, just practice walking with purpose.
This will help when you go back to the world of dating. You want to present as confident and secure and see how others will respond to you. You will attract other confident people and scare off those who are threatened by your confidence (and you WANT to scare them off!).
When your confidence starts to falter or you feel on shaky ground, journal about it. Write about past issues and incidences. Are those old negative messages coming in saying, “This isn’t you. You’re not a winner. Get back where you belong”? We talk about, “Get back where you belong” all the time. It’s something we tell ourselves. This isn’t you. It’s a way for your subconscious to keep you where you are, and where you are is a place that you don’t want to be. Change can be scary and uncomfortable and our inner messages say, “Get back where you belong!”
So when you start to feel shaky, think about why. Are you self-sabotaging? Are you telling yourself this isn’t you, you’re not really a confident person, you’re not really a winner? ‘Cause we’ve got to get rid of those messages. We’ve got to get rid of the, “back where you belong,” messages. We have to stop and say, “No. I am confident.” We have to work against the tide, the tide that doesn’t want us to change.
When you are not modeling winner behavior, look at it differently. Don’t ask, “Why do I always do that?” such as slumping or slouching, not looking people in the eye, being shy when you walk into a room. Ask yourself, “How do I do that? When do I do that? Where do I do that? What exactly is going on when I do that? What am I doing that I want to change?”
Keep track of what is going on prior to negative or self-defeating behavior. When you find yourself slumping or feeling less-than-confident, what’s going on? When you backslide on your new healthy behaviors, what is going on? What negative thoughts are starting to seep in there? What are triggers for you? Have you had a visit home, a visit with an old critical friend? Word of your ex or your berating family dancing around in your head? What exactly is triggering this backsliding?
Make this observation part of your journaling, but don’t get stuck in it. Note it, think about it, and move on. Instead of sitting there pondering your slumping shoulders, make a note to think about it, and then sit up straight. You have to change your whole way of carrying yourself. Do it, and you will be it.
Maybe later on you realize that certain situations trigger you back into your shell and you start to realize where it all comes from. Maybe you have to write a letter. Maybe you have to write a letter that you don’t send, and you just have to spend some time processing through where this comes from. It could have happened 20 years ago, or just last week. Think about it, and write about it. It doesn’t have to be the full-blown inventory but just a letter to someone who was unduly critical and whose voice still lives in your head and brings you down.
Remember, after you write about the anger and hurt, you always end it affirmatively. You write, “I let your ideas about me go with love. I am taking care of me today. I am happy. I am healthy. I am confident. I am winner. Thank you for all the good you have done me. I let go of everything else.”
When these negative messages start to seep in, it is absolutely imperative that you stop, figure out where they’re coming from, and let it go with love. After you completely that work, go back to observation, preparation, and cultivation of looking and acting like a winner. Don’t forget to go back to the behavioral and the cognitive after you take care of the emotional. Act like a winner. Affirm that you are a winner. Free yourself from your past, and be a winner.