Acting “As If”
Do you want to be more decisive? A better listener? Do you wish you were more articulate, more organized, more collaborative? Or perhaps you’d like to be less deferential, or less hesitant? These are a few of the common desires I hear from folks when talking about their personal and professional development. What makes developing in these areas a little harder than say, becoming a faster keyboarder or a better excel chart maker is that these involve the combination of several skills AND the path to “better” is not as clear cut. Improvement requires a combination of heightened self awareness, some ability, some learned technique, some situational practice and some sort of feedback. Not easy stuff.
But, I have begun to believe that sometimes we over-complicate our own development, to the point of hamstringing ourselves. I surmise that one of the ways we do this is by identifying too strongly with our current ways and not enough with our desired ways. Of course we all have traits, temperaments, preferences, styles, etc. that together make up our unique personality or identity – which is usually pretty stable throughout our lives. I don’t believe we can just ‘want’ to be a completely different person and *poof* it becomes so – but I do see how powerful a self fulfilling prophecy can be; especially when it constrains us from developing in areas that are important to us. How then, do we loosen the hold of our current picture of ourselves – to make room for a different view.
In looking for ways to help myself and others, I am drawing on my roots in theatre. From early childhood through to University years, I took many drama and acting classes and performed regularly in plays and skits. One of the acting techniques commonly taught to students is the Stanislavsky method or system; where the goal is to help actors be as real as possible, on stage. To believe in the circumstances of the play, Stanislavsky created the magic IF; “What if this was really happening to me?” Rather than pretend and play a part, the actor was encouraged to believe and carry on AS IF this was truly how he/she felt; to use his/her own thoughts, emotions and physical actions to guide performance.
In the realm of skill development, this magic IF can take the form of being or doing the desired skill or behaviour AS IF it were already a part of your repertoire. Rather than treating it as a future state that may happen down the road – try it on now. Think, do, feel, act AS IF you are already the way you desire to be. If you want to become more decisive i.e. decide on alternatives faster, for example; act AS IF you are already adept at decision-making and carry through. See yourself in that light. Watch what happens.
I have started using the magic IF on myself. One of my developmental goals is to become a better salesperson. Clearly this goal requires building a few skills (finding potential clients, introducing myself and our services well, asking good questions to determine fit and then offering something they can/want to buy, for starters) through practice and feedback. What held me back initially is that I did not see myself as someone who did those things. I didn’t identify with it and therefore believed it was beyond me; a fuzzy picture of something off in the distance.
Using my old acting lessons though, I began acting AS IF I was a salesperson. I began making calls, talking to more and more people about what we do, looking for the right kind of opportunities, etc. Sometimes with a colleague, sometimes on my own, I am writing proposals and pitching ideas. I am happy to report I am progressing. I have made mistakes and blunders along the way and certainly have lots to learn. But that’s part of the process. What’s critical is that I see myself differently, which has lead to action, movement and progress in an area that I wanted to develop in.
Want to be more patient? Begin seeing yourself as a patient person. Identify with it. Do what patient people do. Wish you were more assertive? Believe and act AS IF you are assertive. Rather than just hope or wish it, see it as part of who you already are and act it out.
Now, my suggestion to act AS IF is only part of the development process. There are many other aspects to learning or improving a skill, behaviour or capability in the form of study, practice, setbacks, challenges, redo’s, etc. There is no replacement for focused and continued effort. Further, I am not promoting being fake or insincere in pursuit of your own agenda. By all means be open with others as to what you are doing – most times they’ll want to help!
When desired ways of being and doing seem too foreign, farfetched or far-off for you, try the magic IF and see where it takes you. You might just un-complicate your own development and surprise yourself!