Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Acting As If: A Plan for Change or Self-Delusion

Several years ago I was watching Oprah and one of her guests (I can't remember which one for sure, so I won't give a name) said that if you want your life to be a certain way you should behave as if your life already was that way. I was intrigued by the idea, but a little part of me thought it sounded more than a tad unrealistic. At the time, I'd never heard of the idea. Of course, now it's part of the common vernacular.

So, I started thinking about it. I could see how acting as if could lead one to take action to change one's life. For example, if one wanted a promotion, one might start dressing for the job, taking initiative to learn the requirements for the job, practice the skills necessary for the job, and take initiative to show one has the skills and knowledge to do the job. Perhaps that would even attract the attention of the person with the power to give the promotion. Maybe one would even get the promotion.

But, me having a writer's mind, also had to take things the other direction. Writers are experts at the what if game. You can't change other people's behavior and attitude though there are times you can change someone else's mood. So let's assume one had a boss who was verbally abusive and insecure. One could come in dressed for the job one wants, take initiative, practice the skills for the desired job, display one's knowledge and skill set. Perhaps attract the attention of the boss... However, an abusive and insecure boss is going to see someone overdressed, trying to overstep boundaries, and usurp authority. The acting as if behavior is going to backfire. No promotion and perhaps a firing.

The idea of acting as if could even be dangerous. Take a person in a physically abusive relationship who decides to act as if the abuser isn't abusive. They approach the abuser as if the abuser is a nice, rational, reasonable person. Abusers don't respond well to that kind of attitude. It tends to inflame the situation. Now the person ignoring reality while acting as if ends up injured or worse, dead. Some situations really don't respond well to acting as if.

We cannot control other people's behavior. We can act as if, but acting as if is essentially pretending. If problems exist, acting as if they're resolved only allows them to be ignored perhaps creating a sense of resolution that will never be met. Acting as if someone is meeting our needs when they're not only sets us up to be unhappy without the other person even knowing. Acting as if we have financial stability when we don't only leads us to debt we can't handle. Acting as if things are what we want them to be may lead us in that diretion, but it is just as likely to set us up to create a reality that doesn't exist.

I practiced the idea of acting as if for quite a while in many aspects of my life.

Acting as if can even be helpful in projecting an image of success. When I chaired Murder in the Grove, I didn't tolerate the committee voicing concerns over the conference's finances or attendance in public. In public, I insisted we adopt a positive attitude because people like to jump on something that is successful and that is projecting positive energy. We discussed our doubts in private, and some members didn't understand my insistence that we keep our concerns within the committee. I knew that if people thought there was a chance the conference wouldn't happen, they would wait to register. If they waited to register, it put our conference more at risk. So I insisted the public line be one that didn't lie but didn't give specifics. You keep people interested by sharing the excitement of the event not by sharing your worries about the event. So, in a way, one could say I encouraged my committee to act as if; however, even in moments when things looked iffy, I never doubted we would make it work. My committee's commitment to the conference gave me faith in our ability to put forth a product people would enjoy and would look forward to attending again. In the years I chaired the conference, we had our share of issues, but we always managed to pull off a successful event.

However, when I applied acting as if to other parts of my life, it lead me to be willfully blind to anything that didn't fit my idea of the life I desired. I didn't hear things I should have heard because they didn't support the life I desired. I didn't understand things that should've been clear because they didn't fit with the life I desired. I didn't see things right in front of my face because they didn't create the life I desired. I convinced myself that acting as if was creating what I wanted when it reality it was masking what needed attention. Acting as if has the potential to have the people involved inhabiting different realities that cannot intersect without imploding.

Acting as if can lead to some really fun fantasies. It is also a great way to brainstorm ideas for achieving one's goals, but living one's life based on acting as if is simply self deception. Self deception might be fun and interesting, but it doesn't help us find true happiness.

My books of poetry contain poems that address the idea of acting as if. To mention a few, Willful Blindness and You Believed are in Reflections in Silhouette: Poems, and As If is in Love in Silhouette.

I think perhaps instead of acting as if, it might make more sense to accept reality, make a plan based on what we want to achieve, and then excecute that plan. A portion of that plan may involve adopting a postive attitude, learning to feel more confident, or displaying skills formerly kept hidden. In some instances, this may even feel like acting as if, such as exhibiting more confidence than one feels or reminding one's self of one's abilities when exercising them, especially if those skills have atrophied from lack of use.

When we pretend to have confidence, skills, or attitudes that we don't, we come across as inauthentic, even to ourselves. When we aren't genuine, we lose the respect of those around us as well as ourselves. So let's not fake it until we make it. Let's figure out a way to actually make it. Then we'll never have to act as if in any situation be it a professional endeavour or a personal relationship.

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