The best millennial advice I have ever received was “fake it till you make it”. Unfortunately, it took me many years to fully appreciate the weight of these seemingly underrated words.
A common phrase used in literally every aspect of life and career, this phrase has however been linked with naughtiness, deception, fraud, lies, misrepresentation and so much more; not without reason though.
Fake it till you make it is an aphorism which suggests that by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mind-set, a person can realize those qualities in their real life and achieve the results they seek in any area they may wish to see change.
The Law of Attraction movement is the belief that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into someone’s life. A central concept of the movement is to ‘act as if you already have it.’ This in itself is fine and is not too different from the notion of visualizing your future successes and achievements in an attempt to manifest the behaviours necessary to get you there.
Reasons for faking it
Many of us would like to improve some element of our character or personality that we feel might be holding us back. Perhaps be more confident, disciplined or ambitious. If we can clearly identify what that is, we can start by changing our behaviour with the goal of having it become more natural over time.
One of the more common issues that many people struggle with, is a lack of confidence. For example, as you grow, whether in business or advance your career, you more likely to have to deliver a presentation to a room full of people, to pitch an idea, a product or to raise money.
Even though you might know your material backwards, if you’re not naturally confident in a situation like that you may end up feeling nauseous for hours in advance. There is only one way to get through it – push yourself to do it anyway.
Swallow your fear, stand up and deliver your message. In truth, unless you completely fall apart no one will even know how nervous you were at the time because you acted as if you felt otherwise.
The same is true for those who are not natural extroverts. The idea of meeting and talking to new people is abhorrent and frankly they’d be more at ease on a dentist’s chair.
But hovering at the side of a room hoping no one will notice you is not going to improve your odds of success. Instead, force yourself to act as if you’re not aghast at the thoughts of forced conversations, put on a smile and say hello to someone. Eventually you’ll realise that a lot of people feel the same way you do about such situations.
This one is sadly the most common reason for faking it. It may stem from confidence and esteem issues, jealousy or a desire to compete with those you think are doing better than you are.
We human beings are wired to naturally be competitive in all we do and possess and this tends to wield its claws in the most hideous way, one of those being that insatiable desire to be better than the next person.
Herd mentality unfortunately is the result of peer pressure and these days, this is no longer just an in-person kind of pressure but the most prevalent source of this is social media.
The need to blend in, look better, have more, be bigger, be better and all of that is magnified a thousand times by the perception one has when they go through their feeds and idolise certain people and lifestyles.
Coming back home, this concept is largely associated with deception and misrepresentation. What baffled me however was not the sheer audacity, rather, it was the finality of the acceptance that came with this chosen path.
It is not much of a worrisome situation because it is assumed everyone does it. Initially, this was only limited to women that were considered materialistic. Women who presented themselves as having hit the jackpot, only dated a certain class of men and frequented certain restaurants and hangout spots.
My research opened me to a whole new scene of ‘fakers’ right in my backyard. Men and women alike call it branding. The chain of reaction that results from the said branding is exactly the reaction you would expect when you brand a product.
The public wants a sample of this product. The want to live it and be it. They have no qualms going for a cheaper quality if only it meant their social media life would be more ‘popping’.
Sarah* a popular social media personality in Tanzania, took the opportunity to explain to me what faking it is all about. “As a woman, the only way you are able to attract the lifestyle you want these day is to create the perception that you already have it. That is the only way you will attract the right partner, job and even future” she says.
She is not shy either to admit the lengths she goes to create the perceptions of life she wants to attract. “When I want to show that I am having a great vacation, I would pay for an expensive hotel and have a photo shoot session with different looks and angles that I space out in my posting frequency”.
The same applies for social gatherings and job applications. “The key is to know why you are creating that perception and then tweak it for your targeted audience who you need to have feeding off the palm of your hand” Sarah says.
She does warn however about the importance of maintaining this perception which means knowing your lies well and creating back stories for your back stories until it all makes sense.
Abdul* is another local socialite and insta celebrity around town who considers himself a brand. “This image takes time and work to build. I started building myself into what I am today some six or seven years ago, with nothing to my name and now I have a life to be proud of”
“When I realised that our society could care less for what we truly have, I embraced that and decided to give the society what they think they want.”
Just like Sarah, Abdul also acknowledges how difficult and exhausting it is to maintain this adding that “You have to guard this image like your life depends on it because it does; one misstep and all you have worked so hard to create goes down the drain. With time, it becomes much like riding a bicycle, you master it but one small, unseen rock could throw you off balance and cost you a leg or an arm”
Faking it for the right reasons can change you for the better, but getting it wrong can create all kinds of problems with trust and transparency. So, how do you know when it’s safe to do so? Faking behaviours, yes. Faking competencies, no.
The right way to faking it
“As a man thinketh, so is he”, a biblical quote, is essentially where this notorious phrase was derived from; or rather, this was the idea behind it. You are what you believe you are. Our lives begin and are shaped by the way we perceive ourselves so in every aspect of our lives, to a certain degree too, we fake it first before we make it.
Why? Because that helps us to visualise it all before it becomes a reality so we are able to analyse it from many angles and process all possible win and risk scenarios. It is simply conditioning of the mind.
Faking it until you make it only works when you correctly identify something within yourself that’s holding you back—like recognising when you’re socially awkward, for instance, and could make more headway professionally by forcing yourself to initiate conversation at workplace functions.
Behaving like the person you want to be is about actually changing the ways you think and feel. If, on the other hand, your focus is to prove yourself to others on a superficial level with clothing or status symbols, research shows that this tends to backfire, since when we use surface rather than below-the surface indicators of self-worth, we just end up dwelling more on our failings.
Perhaps counterintuitively, faking it the right way isn’t actually about being fake. It’s about changing your behavior and trusting that your feelings will follow suite. The only prerequisite here is being interested in changing yourself rather than simply trying to change how others see you.
Now that you’ve got the gist of it, here are a few tried and true strategies for successful faking:
Smile: This isn’t about some creepy guy on the street telling you to smile when you’d really rather not. Confident people tend to come across as positive and friendly. Smile, even when you don’t really feel like it. The physical act of smiling releases brain chemicals that will make you feel better, and might even quell some of your nervousness. Practice makes perfect, they say.
Don’t underestimate yourself: Many of us have lots of experience in our chosen field, or tons of wonderful qualities to offer a love interest, or endless insight to offer a group or organization we’re part of—yet we feel we don’t have enough to offer, or we feel like imposters.
Regardless of what scenario you face, write a list of all your credentials, qualifications, or relevant qualities—be they personal, professional, or otherwise. Don’t stop to think or categorize them. Just write them all down, and then post the list somewhere you’re sure to see it regularly.
Stand up straight: Body language has a lot to do with how others perceive confidence. Try this: Stand up straight, throw back your shoulders, and lift your head. You can even put your hands on your hips. Feel a little like Superman or Wonder Woman? There’s a reason we associate that pose with superheroes. It oozes confidence and physically amps up your confidence.
Maintain eye contact: We’ve all been in an interview or other interaction where holding eye contact felt awkward or unnatural. If you ever feel that way, don’t necessarily look away, which can make you look shifty or nervous. Instead, try watching the person’s mouth, or even their nose or chin. This can help project the appearance that you’re still paying attention and engaged, without the awkwardness of direct eye contact. Of course, remember to look away when the conversation naturally breaks — you don’t want to look like you’re staring the person down!
Choose optimism: The glass isn’t half full or half empty, it’s both, depending on your point of view. You can choose to dwell on the negative or focus on the positive. When you want to come across as more confident than you feel, be sure to focus on the positive before and during the interaction. You can even couch the possibility of failure to yourself in a positive light: “Even if I mess this up, it will have been an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much.”
Get physical: When we’re feeling nervous, different parts of our bodies can tense up, and that tension can be felt by others. When you’re feeling nervous, stand up and try to identify where the feeling is in your body. Once you’ve found it, take a few deep breaths and try to send the breath to that area of your body. Then try speaking from that part of your body. You’ll likely see and feel an immediate difference.
Project: If you have a tendency to pull back or mumble when you’re nervous, practice projecting your voice. Speak just a little louder than you normally would to compensate, and come across more confident. Don’t try to talk too much or direct the conversation. Pay attention and ask questions, and let the other person do most of the talking.
Upgrade your manners: Many people mistakenly believe that confidence is about drawing attention to themselves. When you’re feeling nervous, try complimenting the other person. Even something as simple as, “I like your shoes,” or “that’s a nice tie,” can go a long way to easing the conversation.
Likewise, pay attention if you have a propensity for making rude or mean jokes when you’re nervous. Lots of people try to cover for their nervousness with humor, but making fun of others doesn’t make you look confident; it makes you a bully.
Dress the part: When you look good, you feel good, so put on your best suit for an important presentation, wear your most expensive shoes or tie to an interview, or put on a pair of brightly colored socks or bold jewelry when you want to feel more confident.
Make sure you also feel confident about all aspects of your appearance from your hair, to the shine on your shoes, to the way your breath smells. Don’t let the little things throw you off.