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The Science of “Fake It Until You Make It”

Dr. Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard, and she performed one of the craziest experiments I’ve ever come across.

The year was 1979, and she and her team set up an old monastery to make it look like it was 1959. They set up black and white movies, threw some Buddy Holiday & Elvis Presley on in the backround, and decorated the place with Sports Illustrated covers from the era. Marilyn Monroe even made and appearance (kidding, kidding about Marilyn.. relax).

Then brought in 16 men in their eighties with their loose skin and…

Never mind…

She didn’t offer to help them off the bus or carry their luggage. She didn’t have those little go-carts available that they were use to riding around on in the grocery store. She even offered them a joint! (kidding, again I kid about the joint.. relax).

Anyways, she took these 16 men, placed them in this new and improved monastery, and instructed them to act as if it was indeed 1959. They were told to walk, talk, and engage with one another as if they were young whippersnappers.

The results after just one week were astounding/astonishing/incredible/other-big-time-words-for-unbelievable.

The men had greater joint flexibility, diminished arthritis, and improvements in height, weight, and posture. They were moving around a little faster, they had better memory, decreased blood pressure, and increased eyesight and hearing. Some even tossed their canes and other walking devices #tbt

The most amazing part was that Dr. Langer and her team took before and after photos and asked random people (that were not involved with the study) which picture looked like the younger version of each man. The result? Every single one of the men looked younger in the AFTER picture!

Incredible.

We think that our emotions lead to our actions. We believe we will do creative work once we get inspired, make investments once we are rich, or workout when we have the energy to.

Richard Wiseman, author of The As If Principle, says:

“The self-help industry is mired in ideas about positive thinking that are at best ineffective and at worst destructive. If you want to be more confident or successful, the best thing to do is act the part… By acting as if you are a certain type of person, you become that person – what I call the “As If” principle.”

Basically, like our friends from the monastery above, we need to act the part to become the part. Don’t wait for the emotion to take action. Take action to create emotion. Exercise to feel energized. Invest your money to become rich. Smile when you want to clock somebody to feel happier.

5 Actions You Can Take Today: 

Dr. Wiseman lists a ton of crazy experiments in his book, but here are a few that you can implement in your life today. 

Willpower: Flex Your Bicep

Research shows that motivated people tense their muscles right before they are about to make moves. A study from Singapore by Iris Hung had people flex their biceps to improve their willower.. and that nonsense worked! It actually worked!! So next time you are craving that 3pm coffee, contemplating going to the gym, or reach out for that fried snickers try flexing your biceps for a quick willpower boost.

Happiness: Smile

Yep, when it’s the last thing you feel like doing, it’s the time you most need to do it. Give a big, forced, uncomfortable 2-minute smile and watch your mood improve.

Procrastination: Start With 5 Minutes

This is a tool I stole from one of Brian Johnson’s notes, and I want to give credit to the author, but I just can’t remember who it was. Basically, take the task you have no interest in doing, and jump in for 5 minutes. Yep, that’s it: 5 minutes. Usually the deal with procrastination is that the hardest part is starting a task. So when you begin with only 5 minutes, you find yourself an hour later still cleaning your room, or still writing that paper.

Healthy Eating: Use Your Opposite Hand

In high school, I use to eat with my left hand because I read that Chris Paul’s grandfather use to make him do that to work on his left-handed dribble. It was an incredibly frustrating process, and my resolution was to end dinner early. Turns out that eating with your non-dominate hand can make you more mindful, and cause you to eat less than you otherwise would. 

Guilt: Bathe

This one is my favorite. Every time I crush one of those incredible bacon cheeseburgers with avocado and a fried egg on top, or binge drink on the weekends, a good shower or hand washing just evaporates my guilt.

Seriously though, experiments have shown how washing your hands can really make you feel “cleaner;” both physically and morally. 

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How can you transform your actions into emotions? Write out the type of person that you would like to be, and then intentionally act as if you were already that person. According to Wiseman, if you do this for two weeks, you’ll actually start to identify with this “new you.” Yes, fake-it-til-you-make-it is a real thing. Flex your bicep, eat with your left, and bathe every once in awhile to turn your actions into emotions, and your emotions into the person you want to be. 

 

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