Sometimes when you want to behave differently, you don’t feel like it when the time comes. And sometimes when you want to feel differently, you don’t really know how to get there from where you are. Maybe you want to feel confident talking with strangers or feel cheerful at work, but you don’t know how to feel confident or cheerful. Well, there is a way.
The principle is simple: Assume the posture you would have if you felt the way you want to feel, breathe the way you would breathe, talk the way you would talk, think the things you would think, act the way you would act — do the things you would do if you felt the way you want to feel.
Are you depressed and want to feel happy? Move your body like you move it when you’re happy. If you can’t remember what it’s like to be happy, move your body the same way you’ve seen others move when they looked happy. Put the same expression on your face. Imagine or remember the way you talk to yourself and the kind of perspective you might have about your situation when you’re happy, and then say those things to yourself and take that perspective.
In other words, act as though you were happy.
If you are angry and want to be calm, act as though you were calm. Do you feel weak and want to be strong? Act as though you were strong.
What you’re doing is changing everything that can be changed, and this changes your feelings, which can’t be changed directly.
Remember Pavlov’s dogs? Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed the dogs, and the dogs associated the sound of the bell with the taste of food. So when the bell rang, the dogs salivated, even when there was no food.
For your whole life you’ve been relating certain body postures, facial expressions, breathing patterns, etc., to certain feelings like happiness or calmness or strength. The postures and facial expressions and feelings belong together. So when you act as though you’re relaxed, you begin to feel relaxed. When you act as though you feel good, you begin to feel good. And after awhile, you aren’t acting. It’s like siphoning gas — you suck on the hose at first, and then it comes out by itself. “Acting as though” also changes reality, which tends to reinforce the feelings. For example, people who feel depressed typically aren’t very friendly. If they acted like a person who felt good, they would act friendlier, which would cause people to act friendly in return, which would make the person feel less depressed. It creates an upward spiral. Change how you act and what you do and your feelings will change. You will get a better response from the world, which will reinforce your good feelings.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Slotralogy, Antivirus For Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.