“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
That’s one of my favorite quotes.
They say to “fake it ’til you make it,” and while that smacks a lot of people the wrong way, it’s honestly pretty good practical advice. Because that’s how you improve a lot of the time.
You’ll see someone or something that inspires you. That you’d like to be more like. But you’re not sure how to get there. Because for most things in life, there isn’t a handy-dandy how-to manual on how to do exactly that thing.
Even if a person you look up to has written a manual about how they’ve arrived at how they are, even if they do include step-by-step instructions, I’ve found that you always need to maintain a little skepticism about their reporting. Because becoming something and knowing exactly how you became something are two different things.
It’s actually one of the most uncomfortable facets of personal growth for me, as a person who has worked extensively in self-help. People will ask me questions about how I did this or that. And if pressed to give an on-the-spot answer, I can potentially say something that sounds good. My gut reaction/belief to the question. But on a short time frame, I can’t evaluate whether what I’m saying is actually true or not. If that’s how it went down.
It may sound strange, since it’s my life and my memories and experiences, that I don’t feel like I can speak authoritatively on them in a knee-jerk fashion. But I typically find that for complicated questions that I need to reflect. Think back on past times. Potentially re-read my journals (I keep detailed records of my experiences; I’ve been a lifelong diarist).
Because I know what I’ve become, roughly what happened. But the how typically takes some self-reflection and digging. Which takes time.
And it also typically takes at least a short essay to explain it with any nuance or context.
Rehearsing Rather than Faking or Pretending
Anyway, if I think back on all the times that I identified something about myself that I wanted to work on and then successfully went on to change that attitude or behavior, it was a matter of rehearsal. Rehearsing is similar to the concept of faking it or pretending — but with an emphasis on the repetition that it takes for a change to stick and a de-emphasis on lack of authenticity.
I do think personal development shifts are a lot like method acting. The kind of acting where in order to convincingly portray a character, you not only step on stage and speak their lines, you also spend a lot of time ruminating on what it must be like in order to be them. Maybe you never break character outside of rehearsal. You live as that character in your off-time.
So when I’m trying to make a big change in my life, working towards something I’ve identified as better for me, I’ll find myself silently asking myself, “How would the person I want to be handle this?”
Rather than automatically jumping to doing whatever thing I may have done in the past. I interrupt myself. Take a second to consider how I have an opportunity in this moment to rehearse to be someone else, something else. A version of me that’s happier, healthier.
Whatever that looks like in the moment. At times, this has been how I’ve managed to lose weight when that was my goal. At other times, this is how I became a more positive person, one who was less likely to harshly criticize someone else simply because their ability threatened my ego (something I noticed I was doing a lot in my early 20s).
It was how I pared down my possessions when I was tired of clutter. How I learned to be a better housekeeper.
I would remind myself that it was time to rehearse. Over and over again. At the smallest moments.
Until one day, it wasn’t rehearsal anymore. It was just the way I was now.
What Are You Rehearsing to Be?
It also goes the other way. It’s important not to rehearse for roles you don’t want to stick to you. It’s very easy to think it’s no big deal, doing something nasty or something that you’re ashamed of. Especially if no one sees it and there aren’t any immediate consequences.
It can feel like a throwaway moment. A bit of private catharsis.
But those moments do add up. They are their own kind of rehearsal. And if you’re not careful, you can also find one day that it’s not rehearsal. That you’ve become someone you don’t want to be. That you’ve stepped into a role that you never would have accepted wholesale. One you’ve managed to drip-drip-drip your way into.
So I’ve also found it helpful from time to time to stop and ask myself — what are you rehearsing to be?
Am I on a path that is consistent with my values? Or have I taken a wrong turn?
And if so, what is the best way back?
This is nothing that anyone else can answer for me. And nothing anyone else can answer for you.