In the classic motivational best-seller, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “The ‘as if’ principle works. Act as if you were not afraid and you will become courageous, act as if you could and you will find that you can.” From TED Talk speakers to writers for Psychology Today, many have explored this basic idea. One way to simply explain the concept is by smiling to make yourself happy (versus believing you need to be happy before you smile). Sociologist Robert K. Merton coined the phenomenon as the “self-fulfilling prophecy” in 1948. It’s true in everything from our confidence on the job to the quality of our relationships.
Social Psychological and Personality Science discovered that even the old adage of “dressing for success” is true and can lead to increased confidence and creativity on the job, while a Columbia University study found that “rejection expectations” can cause couples to behave in ways that invariably result in a split.
There is even a technique called the “Adlerian therapy” that is designed to help people overcome their self-defeating views. The idea is for adults to remind themselves what it was like when they played make-believe as children. Why? Because acting “as if” you’re already the person you want to become isn’t just a fairytale, Dr. Adlerian argued. “As people begin to act differently and to feel differently, they become different,” he wrote.
Having a dream and believing in yourself is a great first step. Remember, however, the magic is created when you combine actions aligned with the attainment of your goal along with the feeling of the achievement of the goal. Yes, if you act as if the dream is already a part of your life, and truly feel that it is, you are actually increasing your odds of it happening.
As Nelson Mandela said, “Vision without action is just a dream.” The vision is necessary to have something to model. What is your vision? Stated simply, when you decide to “act as if,” you must ask yourself, “As if what?” Think about your goals and dreams, then consider what kind of person would have already achieved them, and just started acting as if you were already that person.
With that in mind, imagine yourself five years from now. Where do you live? What kind of clothes are you wearing? What kind of car do you drive? What is your fitness level? What kind of social life do you have? What is your job? Who are your friends? Write it down.
Now, “act as if” that is already true. Embody it. For example, what would that person do or say in this or that situation? Really—try it, if for no other reason than it’s fun! By doing this with consistency, even in just the smallest ways, change can occur. You might be surprised what happens!