Fake Your State

Feigning Feeling?

One of the best techniques to temporarily control your emotions is simply to fake them. Feigning courage when you’re scared can make you feel more confident. Faking enthusiasm when you’re down can give you the extra push you need to keep going. Acting happy can get you out of a brief emotional slump.

Why would you want to fake your state? The emotional state you have at any particular time will have a tremendous impact on your effectiveness. Your speech will sound more convincing and effective if you’re speaking with confidence rather than trembling with nervousness. State control is essential for communication because people want to be around people who feel good. Even personal activities like exercise, work and reading benefit from the right emotional background. The way you feel determines how effectively you act.

The idea of faking your state can seem a little like cheating. Aren’t your emotions there for a reason? But few people recognize how malleable their moment-to-moment feelings are. If you’re caught up in a lousy thinking pattern and someone gives you a small compliment, what happens? You’re entire world changes. As soon as your focus shifts from a small negative to a small positive you start feeling good.

In the long-run our emotional well-being is relatively smooth. But in the short-run emotions often fluctuate heavily. Depending on what you focus on you could feel the range of depression, anger, joy and pride all in the same day. Faking your state can’t change your life but it can change how you are responding right now.

How to Fake It

The fastest way to fake your emotional state is to change how your holding your body. Being a social animal, human beings constantly project their emotional state onto their body. When someone is depressed, you can see it. When someone is enthusiastic, isn’t it immediately obvious as well.

If you decide you need to feel confident, start by holding your body like a confident person would. Talk with the same inflection. Hold your posture up straight and smile. Pretend you are an actor playing a character that reeks of confidence.

In the first minute or two, adopting a body language that differs from your internal state might be a little tricky. You will need to practice acting this way so you can sustain the change until you start feeling the associated emotion. Usually after only a few minutes, you will start to feel a lot closer to what you are projecting. After particularly emotional scenes, many actors often feel the emotions of their characters as a lasting imprint. You can do the same.

Adopting body language is a good start, but in particularly intense emotional states it often isn’t enough. Your thinking patterns are so overwhelming that a simply posture change won’t change their flow. When this happens you need to take the next step of faking it. Think like a character with the emotion you want would think.

This is more difficult than body language, but with practice it is doable. If you’re feeling nervous, holding your body in a confident posture and affirming to yourself that you will be successful can do the trick. Changing your thinking patterns is definitely a more advanced skill, but this mental discipline can be invaluable when you find yourself in a deeply entrenched state.

State Change Isn’t About Feeling Good

It’s about doing good. A common mistake people make is that they want to change their emotional state to feel better. Remember that emotions are nothing more than chemicals and signals you are giving yourself. Your brain wouldn’t be giving them to you if it didn’t think you needed them.

The emotional part of your brain wasn’t designed to make you feel happy – it was designed to help you survive. Although most emotions are no longer matters of survival for the human species, your brain is still adapted to give you the emotions it believes will be the most effective.

Your goal with state control is to shift your emotional state into the most effective state. Trying to simply shift out of uncomfortable emotions because you don’t like them is likely to backfire. But shifting into emotional states you truly believe will be more effective can.

What makes an effective state differs depending on the situation. In social settings, an effective state can often be enthusiasm, fun or playfulness. Other situations might require courage, motivation or willpower. Trying to calm yourself down before a speech often doesn’t work because your brain wants you to focus. Picking an emotion like enthusiasm or being alert is more likely to hold.

You Can’t Fake it Long-Term

Faking emotional states allows you to temporarily change your emotions. Long-term emotional change requires you to actually change the situation or your perception of it. If you can’t motivate yourself to work on a project day after day, the problem might be that the project simply doesn’t inspire you.

Emotional faking is like temporarily inserting a dam to change the flow of a river. It can give you an abrupt shift in the flow, but it won’t alter the current. You’re better off changing the terrain that creates your emotional flow if you want to completely change the direction. But sometimes what you need is a dam. When you’re terrified of that presentation or procrastinating your work, faking it can give you the extra push you need.

Your success is determined from how you feel, how you think and how you act. These three things form a looping circle. Changing how you feel will alter how you think and act and ultimately, your results. Don’t let minor frustrations or disappointments break your positive spiral. Don’t fake it until you make it, but at least fake it until you feel it.

  • Ruth

    This technique has helped me often. When friends pushed me into becoming a public speaker, I was terrified. I decided to pretend to be confident. I changed my posture, and worked on deliberately slowing my speech. When I am nervous, I tend to talk much faster. I, also, focused on the outcome that I desired, which was to inspire others to view learning as a lifelong activity.

    As I spoke, I discovered the tremendous passion I felt for this subject. By the end of my speech, I realized that after about 15 minutes of pretending, I had become so involved in my message that I actually felt confident and strong.

    I hadn’t thought of using this technique to overcome procrastination though. Good idea. I’m going to give it a try. Thanks!

  • Brian Lee

    Great post Scott. I like your suggestion of taking your emotions into your own hands. Too many people let their emotions control them.

  • meandering

    Interesting topic, Scott. I find the word “faking” a bit off-putting, but I appreciate what you’re driving at. As you said, it can be tricky to go against what you’re actually feeling. I guess many people have tried to get a party off the ground, when they were feeling depressed. I guess not many succeeded in doing that.

    I would say that it takes a special technique to change the body language and a daily ritual could be used for that. Methods that focus on body movement and posture such as yoga or the Alexander technique come to mind. You become more aware of how you are holding your body day-in, day-out and, on top of that, you are sending the right signals to your body by exercising. As a daily practice this is bound to get you positive results. Mens sana in corpore sano, as they said in Latin.

  • Phil Newton

    One of the most important books I ever read was Steven Covey’s “7 Habits”, which started with the advice “Be Proactive”. Accepting that you are entirely responsible for your emotional state can be difficult at first, but it gives so much power in the end.

    This article is a great reminder that we have more control than we sometimes acknowledge. My favourite exercise for this is to watch my body movements. Sitting up straight, and taking a deep breath can usually kick me up a notch or two if I’m not feeling so productive. To counter, slouching and frowning generally puts me in a bad mood almost straight away.

  • Serendipity

    July 8, 2011

    Scott, I really like the way you are able to distill information that you have learned that resonates with you and use your constructing skills to pass on incredible wisdom; and then share with others. Your way of thinking is spot on. Are you an Aries? Keep up the good work. You are making a huge contribution to society (at least for those who have been exposed to your work.) Thank you.