To Bring Out Your Best, Try Acting "As If"

Who among us can’t name something we know we really need to do that we’re not comfortable doing? Or perhaps, don’t especially want to do?

In life, maybe it’s exercising. Or public speaking. Maybe it’s learning a new skill or taking a new risk.

In work, maybe it’s networking, interviewing, or even just talking to someone sitting next to us on the train, that gets us thinking: “How come other people can do this so easily, and why can’t I?” The truth is, we can, if we're willing to play outside our comfort zone a bit.

There’s a technique I love that’s seems so deceptively simple, it’s easy to blow off with a big “Yeah, right.” But it’s been used successfully by countless therapists, coaches, performers, introverts, extraverts, and professionals of all types. Maybe you’ve heard of it. But have you actually tried it?

Acting “As If”

Originally developed by psychologist Alfred Adler, this approach encourages us to act as if we are already the person we want to be, and suggests that as we practice new behaviors (and yes, it does require some practice), we’ll come to experience ourselves differently and achieve our goals more easily.

A friend of mine calls it “putting her (superhero) cape on.”

If you’re a creative person with any smattering of imagination (or just willing to play along and pretend) this may even be fun for you. Think of it as an experiment.

Experiment #1: Networking

So many people have such negative associations with the idea of networking! But really, it happens on a 1:1 level, just talking to one person at a time. Can you have a conversation with one person? I bet you can. What if the stakes were small, so you could screw up and there’d be no major consequences? Could you try it while waiting in line at the movies?

The key is to ask yourself these kinds of questions.

Asking The Right Questions

  • How would I act differently if I felt completely confident starting a conversation with someone I don’t know?
  • What might I say?
  • Would the volume or tone of my voice change? Would I hesitate less, say “um” less?
  • How would my facial expression be different? Would I be smiling?
  • What would it look like to watch a replay of my interaction with this person, and how would I describe myself in the third person, i.e., “she looks relaxed,” or “she looks very nervous?”
  • How would it feel to be able to initiate/sustain a conversation with someone I don’t know, and enjoy the experience? How much easier would it be to then try it again?

And the most important question:

  • Am I willing to try this, and see what happens?

Experiment #2: Negotiating 

“What kind of salary are you looking for?”

More and more, jobseekers tell us this is one of the first questions they’re asked when interviewing, and they often have trouble rerouting the conversation. They start feeling vulnerable, powerless, forgetting about the abundant skills, strengths, and value they offer a company. Instead, they start feeling pressured to accommodate rather than risk losing an opportunity to be considered, and inadvertently lowball themselves.

Though we usually suggest skillfully postponing this discussion until later in the game, often it’s unavoidable. That’s when I suggest calling in the Special Forces. The ones in your mind. The ones you can count on to carry you over the finish line.

Choose a Good Role Model

·   Do you happen to know someone who’s masterful at the thing you want to do better?

·   If not, is there an admirable public figure who inspires you?

·   How might he or she handle talking about salary? Can you mentally “call in” one of these Special Forces, channeling their confidence to help you in your time of need?

WWLD?

I have a friend, Lisa, who is an expert negotiator. Early on in our professional lives, she would tell me stories about her interviews and meetings with employers; how she would answer their questions about money very calmly and confidently while asking for fees that were crazy high.

She always did it in a calm voice, as if it was perfectly reasonable, and with a clear message of how much value she was bringing to their company, and how they would benefit from her involvement. Lisa always, ALWAYS got what she asked for. It was amazing.

Observe. Study. Integrate. Practice. Repeat. 

I started watching Lisa carefully when she would act out these conversations…how she maintained a confident posture, how she tilted her head slightly and strategically when she wanted to stress a point, her soft tone of voice that drew you in; how she stopped and put a period at the end of her sentences instead of rambling on. All of this worked together to say very clearly yet calmly, I deserve this because of how much value I provide, and others agree and benefit from it.

 Internalizing these observations, I experimented, practicing new behaviors and asking myself, “What would Lisa do (WWLD)?”

Acting as if I was someone who could successfully and smoothly negotiate (like Lisa) has been very helpful over time. In an ongoing effort to strengthen the behavior through practice, my confidence has grown in many situations (and if it's wobbly, I call in my Special Forces).

Anyone can try this!

Acting as if works.  As we encourage some of our clients to stretch into new, unfamiliar-but-necessary behavior as part of their job search, we applaud their courage and can see them benefit from trying a new approach, even for an hour. So thank you, Lisa, for the gift that keeps on giving.

Is there a situation you might face this week, large or small, where you might be willing to experiment with a new behavior that would benefit you?

Maybe acting as if you are already the person who can do it naturally can help make it so.