Change your habits, change your self

Consider the following quote, which is commonly attributed to M.K. Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

If there’s anyone who had insight about the importance of thoughts and actions in turning our dreams into reality, it would be Gandhi. The man made non-violent action a habit of his, and his legacy became his radical use of non-violent action to achieve political change.

The above quote acknowledges that thoughts are fundamental in leading us to whatever end goals we have. Without believing that we could achieve anything, we’d be paralyzed. Even rolling out of bed in the morning takes a certain amount of belief––some days require more belief than others, to be sure.

But right now, I’d like to suggest that a way to kick-start the process of shaping your destiny is to take actions that convince yourself that you are already whatever you want to become.

In essence, I’m endorsing the “fake it til you make it” method of achieving change.

By donning a dinosaur suit and acting like a terrifying and ever-powerful T-Rex, you will become exactly that. Image credit: hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com

According to this interesting article on Brain Pickings, “reverse-engineering psychology” is a fancy way of describing the “fake it til you make it” mantra. It’s a process we can use to change our habits and, eventually, the very essence of who we are.

The article summarizes psychology research and personal anecdotes from the likes of Ben Franklin that suggest something remarkable: our actions inform our beliefs. Of course, believing that you can become a certain way is the first step towards doing it. But the actual process of coming to believe that we are whatever we think we are results from the rationalization that we go through when observing the actions that we take.

Let’s make this idea more concrete by way of an example.

You go to a party where you know there will be tons of interesting people you haven’t met. You’re notorious for being the “quiet one” basically everywhere you go, but you’re dying to change this. So this time, following the “fake it til you make” it mantra, you decide to do something a bit different.

The first step is to hold firmly in your mind whatever you’d like to be: for tonight, you want to be an amicable person who has no problem interacting with others. The second step––which is arguably more crucial because it will make you realize that you already hold the potential to be the aforementioned person––is to act accordingly.

So, perhaps primed by a glass of liquid courage or two (but no more than that––you don’t want your technique to be sloppy), you discard all self-doubt and simply begin colliding with other people. If you act like you are thirsty for good conversation, good conversation is what you’ll get. You move about the room, hopping from one individual or group to another, and by the end of the night you realize that there’s not one person in that room you haven’t introduced yourself to.

After leaving the party, your brain begins to rationalize what just happened. As you ride the train home, your mind replays scenes from the party over and over again. Your brain has to find an explanation for what just happened––that’s what brains do––and it eventually concludes that you’re not so shy after all. In fact, you can be the life of the party. You were the life of the party.

But perhaps you’re convinced that this was just a fluke. The only way to fully convince yourself, then, that you are actually as confident as you acted at the party is to repeat the experience over and over again––in essence, make it a habit of yours. Now that you have this party experience under your belt, it will be much easier to repeat it next time and perform even better.

By continuing to be the life of the party wherever you go, even if you’re just faking confidence at first, it will get easier with time to perform accordingly, and your brain will eventually become convinced that you are the life of the party.

Let’s take a look at a more sober example.

You have a presentation coming up. You’re nervous about it even though you’ve rehearsed it a ton and you clearly know the material inside and out. Before you get up there, stop, breathe, and empty your mind.

When it’s your time to present, turn on your charisma switch. But, wait, how do you do this if you’re convinced that you don’t have a switch? It’s quite simple. You emit confidence through one of the most powerful tools of persuasion that everyone has at their disposal: body language.

You want to basically emulate everything that charismatic people do. Stand up straight. Let your hands rest at your sides rather than clutching them in front of your crotch or your stomach. Gesture freely. Speak loudly and clearly. Make eye contact with your  audience.

If you do this successfully, the audience won’t know the difference, and neither will your own brain after a few minutes. You’ll eventually begin to genuinely feel the confidence that you were only faking at first. You’ll become, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy simply by imitating the qualities you’d like to possess.

If you wear this button and act like a doctor, people will likely treat you like one. Warning: This is not a good idea. Becoming a doctor requires a series of actions that do not involve wearing this button.

If you want to be a writer, write. If you want to be an artist, make art. If you want to be a crappy customer service representative, dole out crappy customer service like your life depends on it. If you want to keep getting the same things you’ve always gotten, keep doing the same things you’ve always done.

You already contain the person that you want to be (and all of the people that you don’t want to be) inside of you. It’s just a matter of acting accordingly in order to bring out the qualities, and therefore the people, that you’d like to bring out.

If you change your actions, you will change your habits. If you change your habits, you will change the way you think about yourself. In turn, you will change your life.

Trust me. I’m a doctor.

 

Amanda Fox-Rouch (Hunter College)

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