Feature

The extraordinary power of faking it

As Kurt Vonnegut said, "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be"

You like confidence. In fact, most of us have such a bias toward confidence we prefer it over actual expertise.

Speaking first, speaking confidently, and speaking often make you sound like a leader, and the people who do that usually end up as the leader — even if they don't know what they're talking about:

Via The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us:

As you've probably anticipated, in the actual experiment, the group leaders proved to be no more competent than anyone else. They became leaders by force of personality rather than strength of ability. Before starting the group task, the participants completed a short questionnaire designed to measure how "dominant" they tended to be. Those people with the most dominant personalities tended to become the leaders. How did the dominant individuals become the group leaders even though they were no better at math? Did they bully the others into obeying, shouting down meek but intelligent group members? Did they campaign for the role, persuading others that they were the best at math, or at least the best at organizing their group? Not at all. The answer is almost absurdly simple: They spoke first. For 94 percent of the problems, the group's final answer was the first answer anyone suggested, and people with dominant personalities just tend to speak first and most forcefully. [The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us]

It's even more shallow than that: Doctors who wear the white coat are trusted more than doctors who don't.

But what's fascinating is an increasing amount of research is showing that acting a certain way can bring you closer to actually being what you aspire to. Faking it might help you make it.

How can faking it help you make it?

People prefer doctors who wear the white coat — but research also shows that wearing the white coat might make you a better doctor too.

Watching The Avengers might make you more heroic. And if you feel a connection to the Dark Knight, seeing Batman can make you physically stronger.

Sound crazy? Recent research in the area of embodied cognition confirms you can improve how you think and behave by changing how you sit, stand, and move.

Harvard professor Amy Cuddy explains her research on the subject in this TED talk:

To a degree, we may all be method actors — like it or not.

In fact, not faking it can be a problem. Not acting confident and friendly in social situations can create a downward spiral where you make others think you don't like them. Can you operate in society without faking?

But do you want to be a faker?

There is a danger when faking. You can be caught. And if you're not, successful faking can be a double-edged sword. Do you really wish to be who you are pretending to be?

As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote in The Scarlet Letter:

No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true. [The Scarlet Letter]

But, to counter, the main theme of Don Quixote was: If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.

How can you reconcile this? Can you fake it and be honest? Yes.

Think about the best possible version of yourself and move toward that.

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