Motivation Monday – Fake It ‘Til You Make It

“Fake it ‘til you make it.” – Every under-qualified retail boss everywhere.

In 2009, psychologists in Wales performed a study on a small sample of females, some whom had been administered botox injections that made frowning physically impossible (can I sign my wife up…just kidding honey :)). Half of the participants had the injections while half did not. Amazingly, the participants who received the injection reported less anxiety and more happiness compared to the sample who did not receive the injections. Essentially, the physical inability to frown had an emotional affect on these women. In 2008, researchers found that patients exhibiting negative expressions actually experienced more pain. Patients with neutral or positive expressions experienced less pain. Once again, the physical act influenced the internal emotional response.

This is stunning research (and several other studies available also look at this phenomenon) and easily applicable to our everyday lives. Feeling anxious or tired before work? Paste a smile on your face and let the action influence the emotion. Did you have an awful day at work anyway? Force the physical happiness on the way home and walk in to your family with some of the stress relieved. Emotion and feelings may be the driving forces for action and behavior, but it turns out that relationship runs both ways. I can grin like an idiot (the only way I know how to grin) and drain some of the edge off my stress.  When I’m running low on emotional grit, I can always force some physical joy and see an improvement.

If you have ever worked in retail or customer service, you might recognize the fake it ‘til you make it mantra leading the article; not only have I had this advice parroted to me 15,000 times by past bosses, but I regrettably must admit that I have relayed the message as well. Keep your personal life out of your work life. Leave your problems at home. Fake it ‘til you make it. If you have time to lean, you have time to clean. Okay, maybe not that last line, but you get the idea. In a customer-centric environment, it is well understood that behavior influences future behavior; that is, if you can succeed in faking happiness, you will emerge in better spirits throughout the day (and probably provide better customer service along the way).

The best part of this concept and advice is that I believe it is amplified in front of kids. My daughter is only two years old and I can already see her studying my face constantly for reactions to my outside world. Unfortunately, she studies me most intensely when she senses anger or frustration. If I’m happy, of course, she’ll instinctively ignore me but put me in heavy traffic, an argument with the wife, or a stressful blog-writing session (not really a thing), she glues her eyes to my expression, most likely preparing to mimic. I fail regularly in this regard, but my goal is to smile when frustrated and laugh when angry while trying to influence my daughter positively. I’m not trying to protect her from those emotions but I do want to convey a calm and rational response to stress–until she leaves the room, then I am free to go berserk.

So the question is really how far can we take this motivational advice? If I force myself to physically not smell my daughter’s diaper, will it then not be dirty? If I celebrate winning the lottery before I purchase a ticket, will I be guaranteed a winner? I’ll give it a try and report back, but in the meantime enjoy your week and attack it with…a smile.

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