Can you change for the better without changing what you think?
Many people have read my blog for a long time, tried some of the things I’ve suggested and seen improvements in their lives.
But some are surprised it doesn’t affect their lives more. Why doesn’t learning how your mind works dramatically change your behavior?
The answer might be because we have the whole thing backwards.
What if your mind doesn’t change your behavior; what if your behavior changes your mind?
Do you do what you think or do you think what you do?
You can sum up Don Quixote in a sentence:
If you want to be a knight, act like a knight.
In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:
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.
In 1884 Harvard philosopher William James said:
If you want a quality, act as if you already have it.
And scientific research, increasingly is agreeing.
The Science behind living “As If”
In his new book The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life, Richard Wiseman sums up much of this research and shows how your actions might determine your feelings.
Researchers told people to smile. What happened? They felt happier.
More than 26,000 people responded. All of the participants were randomly assigned to one of a handful of groups and asked to carry out various exercises designed to make them happier… When it came to increasing happiness, those altering their facial expressions came out on top of the class— powerful evidence that the As If principle can generate emotions outside the laboratory and that such feelings are long-lasting and powerful.
Why does having people say “cheese” make for a better photo? The “ee” sound forces their faces into a smile.
Inspired by photographers who make people smile by getting them to say the word cheese, researchers at the University of Michigan had participants repeatedly make an ee sound (as in easy) to force their faces into a smile or an ee sound (as in yule) to produce an expression nearer to disgust.
What happens when you botox people into a happier expression? It relieves depression.
How about when you go the-full-Hollywood and botox them so they can barely move their face? They lose the ability to feel entire emotions.
The message from the patients with spinal injuries and the women injecting Botox is clear: inhibiting people’s behavior and facial expressions prevents them from feeling certain emotions. On the downside, such individuals are less likely to experience positive emotions such as happiness and joy. However, on the upside, they are also less likely to feel negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety.
What’s funny is, your brain needs to interpret what your body is experiencing — and your brain doesn’t always get it right.
This is called “misattribution of emotions” and it may explain the “rebound effect” after a break up.
When a relationship ends, people often feel especially anxious. If they meet a new potential partner soon after a previous relationship has finished, they may misinterpret their anxiety as a sign of passion. Evidence for this effect comes from a study in which researchers arranged for a group of men to take a personality test and receive either positive feedback (to make them feel good) or negative feedback (to make them feel anxious). The men were then asked to wait in a cafeteria; while they waited, an attractive woman approached them. The men who had just received the negative feedback found the woman especially attractive, as Schachter predicted.
It might also explain Stockholm Syndrome in hostage situations.
When people are unfortunate enough to be taken hostage, they often develop a strange sense of affection toward their captors. The effect is surprisingly common, with the FBI’s Hostage Barricade Database System suggesting that just under a third of hostages show some evidence of the syndrome. Interestingly, the effect usually emerges only when the captors have shown some degree of kindness to the hostages and so may well be the result of hostages’ misattributing the anxiety caused by being denied their freedom as a sign of liking. The same idea may also help to explain why some individuals are attracted to partners who treat them badly.
Moving like you’re powerful not only makes you feel more powerful — it actually makes you more resistant to pain:
Remarkably, those in the powerful posture were able to tolerate much tighter tourniquets than those curled up in a ball. Behaving as if they were powerful and strong helped push away an unwanted emotion and showed that the age-old expression, “Keep your chin up,” may be literally true.
Enough theory: how can you use this to change for the better? What works?
Ten Things To Try
Wiseman kindly lays out the most effective techniques.
Motivation: Pull me— push you
Pushing an object away from you (and so behaving as if you don’t like it) makes you dislike the object, whereas pulling it toward you (behaving as if you like it) makes you feel far more positive about it. Next time that you are confronted with some sugary snacks or chocolate cookies, simply push the plate away from you and feel the temptation fade.
Dieting: Using your nondominant hand
When you eat with your nondominant hand, you are acting as if you are carrying out an unusual behavior. Because of that, you place more attention on your action, do not simply consume food without thinking about it, and so eat less.
Willpower: Tensing up
Tensing your muscles boosts your willpower. Next time you feel the need to avoid a cigarette or piece of cake, make a fist, contract your bicep, press your thumb and first finger together, or grip a pen in your hand.
Persistence: Sit up straight and cross your arms
In several experiments researchers have presented volunteers with tricky problems and measured how long they persevered. Those who sit up straight and fold their arms persist for nearly twice as long as others. Make sure your computer monitor is slightly above your eye line, and when the going gets tough, cross your arms.
Confidence: Power posing
To increase your self-esteem and confidence, adopt a power pose. If you are sitting down, lean back, look up, and interlock your hands behind your head. If you are standing up, place your feet flat on the floor, push your shoulders back and your chest forward, and hold your hands in front of you.
Procrastination: Make a start
To overcome procrastination, act as if you are interested in what it is that you have to do. Spend just a few minutes carrying out the first part of whatever it is you are avoiding, and suddenly you will feel a strong need to complete the task.
Creativity: Move outside the box
If you want to come up with new ideas, act in a novel way. Spend some time walking around, but ensure that your path is curvy and unpredictable. If that doesn’t get your creative juices flowing, try acting as if you are artistic by drawing, painting, or sculpting.
Persuasion: Getting the nod
Researchers have found that when people nod their heads up and down while they listen to a discussion (causing them to nod as if they agreed with the arguments), they are more likely to agree with the points being made. When you want to encourage others to agree with you, subtly nod your head as you chat with them. They will reciprocate the movement and find themselves strangely attracted to your way of thinking.
Negotiation: Warm tea and soft chairs
When people think that they are connected to others, they feel physically warm. And it is also true that when you warm someone up with a nice mug of tea or coffee, they become far friendlier. Similarly, hard furniture is associated with hard behavior. In one study, researchers had participants sit on either soft or hard chairs and then negotiate over the price of a used car. Those in the hard chairs offered less and were more inflexible.
Guilt: Wash away your sins
If you are feeling a tad guilty about something, try washing your hands or taking a shower. In several experiments, people who carried out an immoral act and then cleaned their hands with an antiseptic wipe felt significantly less guilty than others.
Give these a shot. Email me and let me know how they worked for you.
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