You’ve probably heard of the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. It has been espoused by everyone from Amway to Alcoholics Anonymous to Zig Ziglar. While it may sound like a trite slogan, there’s actually a tremendous amount of value in exploring the notion, both in terms of how it may benefit you, or on the other hand, impair your progress.
It’s also probably important to note that there are two distinct interpretations of what this expression actually means. To a network marketer or gimmick-driven salesperson, it means pretending to be a lot more than you are until you “get there”; something that may never in fact happen, especially if you get involved with network marketing at the wrong level or a late stage in the product’s delivery. The other version of what this means is based more on maintaining a positive attitude until you achieve results that match the attitude you’ve taken, and that’s mostly what I’ll be talking about here. I’m going to share my experiences with how this simple principle has both helped me and hindered me, but first, let’s explore whether or not the idea has any basis in reality, or whether in fact it is just more motivational mumbo-jumbo…
Faking It On The Inside – The Science, And Some Common Wisdom
So. Can this “fake it ‘til you make it” idea actually have a measurable impact? Yes. Not only have there been studies that prove that simply pretending to feel a certain way will help you actually feel that way, but in an interesting twist, it turns out that the simple process of intentionally smiling can have physiological results that are like reverse-engineered happiness. It’s also a fairly well-established aspect of therapeutic or behavior modification strategies to consciously and intentionally change your thought patterns if you exhibit a lot of negative thinking. Therapists and personal coaches will call this “self-talk.” Most of us have an ongoing chatter in our minds that constantly judges, analyzes, and anticipates. If you’re fortunate, maybe you don’t do a lot of negative self-talk, but many of us do, and don’t even realize it.
You might want to explore this idea if you haven’t. You can do it pretty informally. Just take the time to listen to your own thoughts, and you may notice that they’re completely formed phrases, or you may find they’re less-defined muttering. For just a day, try to listen to what the little voice in your head is saying, and how it says it.
I noticed a long time ago that when I’m having a stressful day, there’s literally a little chattering voice in my head over-anticipating things; usually a little negatively. This is a process that can otherwise be useful to me – as part of my personalized “hope for the best, plan for the worst” approach – but can seriously undermine my intentions when it gets out of control. I learned a lot of great tools for identifying and dealing with these little demons in a book a personal coach (Dori Weinstein) recommended called Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way, by Rick Carson. It’s written in an insightful and amusing style, with simple pencil and paper tests to help you identify that inner chatter, and learn to work with it. It wasn’t dramatically life-changing for me or anything, but it offered me a way to approach a problem I knew I had, but wasn’t doing anything about, and in a rather amusing, playful way.
So the takeaway here? When you’re feeling less than enthusiastic, first try working with your negative self-talk. You can’t simply say “I’m going to be happy!” because the unconscious mind tends to rebel against conscious demands that ask it to be anything other than what it is already being. But you can practice a little intentional positivism, and you can listen to and work with negative mental habits. Most thought is fairly habitual, and evolving your mental habits in a more positive direction tends to have cumulative positive effects. And smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Even though it’s probably a myth that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile, you never know who might smile back, and where it will lead!
Faking It On The Outside – Creating An Impression
In a way, you’re “faking it” the first day you start creating your business. One day, you have a skill you haven’t marketed. The next day, you have a business card, a web site, or an office, and even though you may not have any customers yet, you say “I have a business that does such and such.” If that’s not faking it, I don’t know what is. But it’s essential “faking it”; it might in fact be more accurately described as “having a dream.”
This kind of faking it is more about maintaining an impression through your personal demeanor, packaging of services, or the methods that you use to keep you motivated. If you study the experiences of some of the world’s most successful people, many of them have an anecdote about the point where they almost gave up, maybe even moving in with their parents or friends at the age of thirty, but hanging on to an office or workplace when it seemed absolutely absurd to any rational person to continue.
I used a lot of the more reasonable elements of this “faking it” to build a moderately successful business within a year, creating “new media” content for small business. I then used it to survive a couple of early rough patches, which taught me that if you tough it out, and keep kidding yourself things will be okay, guess what? They will! My big mistake came not too much later though, when this became more like a method than a safety net, and I failed to get real at a point when I should have taken on a partner and employees to grow the business, and sputtered to a standstill about four years into things. I wish Seth Godin had written The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)a little sooner; I learned a lot of lessons he talks about in that book the hard way. The “eating Ramen, waiting tables” hard way.
Creating An Impression vs Bullshitting
I’m really not going to go into the kind of faking it that involves buying houses, cars, and clothes you can’t afford so that you can build a network marketing empire by fooling others into believing that it was your fantastic product and salesmanship that paid for everything. The pathetic desperation of that approach speaks for itself. But there’s nothing wrong – as I suggested above – with using a little creative audacity, a confident demeanor, and some clever marketing pieces to get things rolling.
On top of things like simply dressing the part or otherwise “packaging” my services, I’ve resorted to some seemingly dastardly tricks that are actually completely harmless. The first was having the audacity to set up a web site that said “Hey! We do web sites, and we know what we’re doing!” I was confident that I had done the footwork and wasn’t lying, but at the time it was a bit of a leap. Things went just fine though, and pretty quickly I was securing clients, clients who were happy enough with my services that about 50% of my revenue was by referral.
The first time I pitched a really big client though, I ran into a little problem. I lost the bid, and followed up with the former potential client, who was cool enough to share with me why I didn’t get the job when I asked them. Their reason? They explained that even though they liked my pitch and felt more confident about my abilities than the people they hired, they simply felt more confident because the “other guy” was two guys.
Well, that was pretty easy to fix. Not too long after that, I was pitching a job to a bank. I have a female friend who gives a really strong impression of being organized and professional, but also exudes a subtle, seemingly flirty charm without trying. Guess who I took to the pitch meetings as my “administrative associate”? Exploitative? Not at all. I got the job, and was able to flip my friend a couple hundred bucks for just taking some notes at a meeting.
The most extreme example I’ve heard of this “trick” was when two developers I knew were pitching to a team of obnoxious, arrogant MBA’s who were working on a well-funded startup. My friends brought THREE women to the first pitch meeting. They were all part-time models, and no-one said ANYTHING about what their roles were. The MBA’s were so self-absorbed with trying to impress the women they thought they’d be working with that they were basically committed at the very first meeting.
So What’s The Simple Takeaway With All Of This?
Yes. Fake it in positive ways if you need to. If you sit around waiting for venture capital and inspiration from the ether, you may never pursue your dream, which is probably more achievable than you know. Smile when you don’t feel like it. Pretty soon you will. If you need to dress things up to sell something, don’t lie, just imply. And most importantly, if you have to kid yourself a little to get through tough times, don’t make it such a habit that you accept tough times as a business model.