Of all the sound bites abounding in our culture, “fake it ’til you make it” has widespread appeal. And for those of you who did not have Yiddish-speaking elders, fekakta means something akin to “f***ed up”.
The “fake it” mantra is supposed to help people. Feeling blue? Pretend you feel better until you *really* feel OK. Not feeling confident? Imitate confidence until it becomes real. And in the Wikipedia entry on this phrase it is written:
The article How You Too Can Be an Optimist in Prevention points out, “In research at Wake Forest University, for example, scientists asked a group of 50 students to act like extroverts for 15 minutes in a group discussion, even if they didn’t feel like it. The more assertive and energetic the students acted, the happier they were”.
I’m curious if, in a less noisy culture that prizes contemplation over action, the scientists would have had similar results or if they would have even bothered to run this study at all. As a person with introverted tendencies, I’m wondering if the happiness these students felt was real, or a byproduct of believing that extroverted behavior was “better” and more “valuable” than a tendency to carefully listen and observe. Fitting into the celebrated cultural norm of “assertive” and “energetic”, and the social benefits that accrue to this norm, might be occasion for happiness, rather than the behaviors themselves. And I’m wondering how these students would have felt if asked to sustain these behaviors for 45 minutes, a whole day, an entire week or the rest of their lives. For some of us, “faking” extrovert behavior over long periods is a recipe for exhaustion and disconnect, a far cry from “making it”.
I’m reminded of another, far less widely circulated but much wiser saying by Zen Monk Cheri Huber:
One Process Does Not Lead to Another
In other words, “faking” does not lead to authenticity. In our fast-paced, appearance-oriented culture, we’re hammered with the message that acquiring things (money, a home, cars, clothing, gadgetry) and approval (promotions, popularity) will lead to happiness. We chase future rewards, often oblivious to what is right here, right now. But if you’re not happy while in the process of achieving, the achievement itself will not create happiness. You might “make it” (according to some standard), but at what cost? If what is driving the achievement is a process of dissatisfaction with what is, or a belief that who you are and what you have is “not enough”, that process of dissatisfaction can only lead to more of the same. If joy or love is propelling the achievement, that will lead to more joy and/or love. But dissatisfaction [with your wardrobe, lawn furniture, or spouse] does not lead to joy and love. Feeling “not enough” for a long time, and trying to compensate with externals, does not lead to an internal sense of adequacy. And “fake it ’til you make it” doesn’t quite work with love and joy: these feelings are difficult to convincingly fabricate, although they can be cultivated.
A few months ago a friend introduced me to Circling, a practice of connecting with others in the present moment. In this practice, a small group sits in a circle and focuses its attention on one person. Then, in a facilitated process, we share what it’s like to be with that person on a moment-to-moment basis. Rather than give advice, commiserate, try “fix” things, or have a therapy-like conversation, participants simply notice what arises in the presence of the person being circled. I’ve observed that the focal person might say one thing, but the others around them, who are in sensing mode, don’t necessarily believe those words as they are picking up on subtler signals, e.g. the twitch of an eye, a quivering lip, sagging posture. Without judgment, we might say, “I imagine something else is going on” and then check to see if our interpretation is true. If the person is willing to stay present and investigate, and not hide in a story, they can start to open to what is happening in that moment. What’s amazing is how quickly a person can drop into what is real, and how that authenticity is contagious, instantly cutting through layers of personality and defenses to arrive at a deeper experience for many. And the opposite is true: if the person being circled can’t or won’t become present, the others might share that they feel bored or disconnected. It’s fascinating to observe, in real time, that One Process Does Not Lead to Another.
Perhaps instead of encouraging people to fake it ’til they make it, we should urge each other to “feel and get real.” There is nothing fekakta about that.
Do not always agree. In about 15 months I hope to run my first Feldenkrais classes for the public and I think I owe it to those people who come to hide the nervousness I will feel, especially the first time. It is bound to get better, then what I feel will catch up with the impression I give. But you are surely right to observe that ‘stuff’ will never make you happy.
I dislike “fake it until you make it” as a blanket prescription; sometimes it’s not appropriate. In Feldenkrais, we have a choice about how we choose to show up. You might win over more people if you acknowledge the nervousness before proceeding.