Confucius teaches us that there are three ways to learn to be wise.
Firstly, we can reflect on what it is to be wise and we will find ourselves slowly becoming wise.
Secondly, we can learn to be wise by imitating someone who is already wise.
Thirdly, we can learn by experience. This is also commonly referred to as learning from our mistakes.
Today I want to focus on the second tactic, learning by imitation. My Tae-Kwon-Do teacher used to always tell us to “Fake it until you Make it” and I think it’s wonderful advice. This obviously implies that you actually want to make it and not spend your whole life being a fake, otherwise it’s a downright awful idea.
You see, the mind and body are interconnected in ways which we are only now beginning to understand. The way you think affects the way you act but the way you act also affects the way you think.
It’s easy to see how people can get trapped in a vicious circle, one where negative actions reinforce what they think of themselves. An example of this is an overweight person being upset about their weight and so overeating and thus getting fatter and more upset and so eating even more…ad nauseam.
Another, perhaps even more disturbing example is how the media has objectified women to such an extend, and given completely unrealistic (often computer manipulated) concept of what “beauty” is, that many good-looking young women today are upset by the way they look.
This circle of thoughts and actions also works the other way too. Start physically acting like the person you want to become, and you might find that you slowly start to think like that person. In my previous essay, Fix Your Broken Windows in Your Life, I discussed how even a simple change like waking up early every morning can have a profound effect.
In this essay I want to primarily focus on the how to expose ourselves to the positive side of the coin, but I think we should also cover how to break out of the vicious circle of negative thoughts and actions if we happen to find ourselves in one. My personal experience with this has been linked to my weight – I used to be grossly overweight by then tune of 35kg and I managed to get most of it off, but it wasn’t easy.
How to Fake it ’til you Make it.
Step 1: You need an aim.
In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.
~ Henry David Thoreau
Write down exactly what it is you want to do, what “success” in this field actually is and how you imagine a professional/successful person in this particular field behaves. Don’t restrict your definition of success to what has already been done. You can be different, that’s not a problem, but you will often find that your new definition of success incorporates sections of what has been done before by others. It’s rare that someone achieves something without having first stood on the shoulders of great people from the past.
So if your aim is to become a successful published author, then you might write something along these lines.
- I want to be an author of a crime novel.
- Success is being published, widely read and earn enough money to give up my day job.
- I imagine that a professional author has a daily writing schedule and sticks to it. They write down all their ideas and explore as many avenues as possible.
Step 2. Find Historical or Current Figures Who Have Managed To “Make It”.
Read their biographies, study them, talk to them if possible! You want to get as much real-world information about how successful people in your field become, and remain, successful. I’m not saying that you should copy them fully, but just reading about them and the way they do things can do wonders to spark your imagination.
Try and find common traits and patterns. A great book I can recommend for anyone is Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. It’s fascinating to see the wildly different ways which many of the greatest figures in the last several hundred years worked. The one thing I found in common with all of them is that they did just that – work. While there is no substitute for hard work, there is little point is just working hard, you need to also work smart.
A 1996 quote from Steve Jobs comes to mind :
Picasso had a saying — ‘good artists copy; great artists steal’
I’m not sure I agree fully with Mr. Jobs (or Picasso), but it’s food for thought.
Step 3. “Fake” One Aspect At a Time.
Don’t suddenly change everything you do so you are in line with the professionals. You will find yourself overwhelmed. Remember that there is no rush, life is not a race.It’s the quality of your work that counts, not how much you can crank out in a given time.
So, focus on the big things first. If we follow on from point one and two and discover that successful authors regularly write at least 1000 words a day then perhaps that is something to work towards. Start writing 500 words everyday and build up. Yes, the quality will probably be damn right awful, but I believe it was Hemingway who said something along the lines of “The first draft of anything is shit“.
So now you are starting to act like a writer and by writing everyday, you will find yourself slowly begin to think like one. Before you know it, you may surprise yourself at how easy those 1000 words come everyday and you may also notice that the quality of your writing improves. Keep it up long enough and, with a bit of luck, you might find that you become a successful writer.
Step 4. Remember not to be ridiculous.
Changing your accent or copying someone else’s way of dressing and haircut are not going to be major factors in your success. It’s simply ridiculous. For a change to work, it needs to be small and steady so you can avoid “falling off the wagon”. Check out my essay on how to Never Fail for more information.
Dressing differently or getting a different haircut might help you change your frame of mind, but don’t do it all in one go and don’t go to extremes. Just because Hemingway had a cool moustache does not mean you can pull it off.
If you want to start dressing more smartly, my advice is to avoid throwing out your entire wardrobe and replacing it all in one day. Everyone around you will wonder what the hell just happened. Just start off by getting a couple of new shirts and perhaps a nicer pair of shoes and then slowly phase the hoodies and ripped jeans out of existence.
Getting Out of a Negative Cycle
So what if we’ve made a lot of bad decisions in the past, and we find ourselves in a negative cycle. We act in a certain way which reinforces negative thoughts which in turns keeps us acting in a negative way.
How the hell can we get out of that? It appears to be a perfect trap. Do we give up? Many people do, and that’s fine if you can live with the knowledge of your wasted potential.
Unfortunately I cannot give you the magic phrase or nugget of advice that will turn everything around but I can give you some pointers based on my own personal experience and the experiences I’ve come to know about via books and discussions.
- It’s not going to be easy. Don’t ever let yourself be fooled by the simplicity of a given task and make assumptions about how difficult it is. Creating new habits and breaking old ones is not easy. Your mind will come up with all sorts of crazy reasons why you should go back to your old ways and your body will scream in protest as it is quite literally addicted to the way you do things right now.
- It’s going to take much longer than you think it is. It took me over two years to go from obese to “normal”. Like an idiot, I created an excel spreadsheet which showed me that in just 20 short weeks I would have burnt all the fat off my body. Well, real life doesn’t quite work like that. You slip up, you make mistakes, you sabotage yourself. The important thing is continuity.
- One slow step at a time. Don’t rush. Any serious, permanent change is slow and steady. Habits are not formed overnight and just being aware of good and bad habits already means that the boat is slowly changing course.
Remember that imitation is only one way of going about things. Preferably, if you can manage, you should be trying all three approaches simultaneously. Reflect on what you want to do and how you want to do it, imitate people who are already where you want to be and then learn from the hard knocks that life will give you along the way.
It’s that simple.