Why ‘Acting-as-if’ Will Make You Twice As Successful

This is why so many fail ...

“Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.” 
― Dorothea Brande

Feeling frustrated with your results?

Can’t see yourself getting what you want no matter how much you stretch yourself? Keep reading. You’re not alone.



It’s the weekend. I’m awake, only just.

Trying to make sense of what’s reflected on the building opposite.

I see fragments, blurry in the morning light. Glimpses of edges. Snapshots of reflected light that don’t make sense.

Like a client who shares only what she wants me to see.

I need to probe further.

As I move, the view shifts. The city’s tower cranes, neon signs and church spires appear. It makes sense now. Form and function in place. A modern city at work.

This confusion reminds me how important it is to see the complete picture. Of myself and my life to make meaning of what’s going on in both. Of those I work with and their story fragments shading another view.

It’s with a shift in perspective that a glimpse of what’s hidden emerges. It helps open a greater truth and reveal the mask.

You Are Making a Difference

Assume a virtue, if you have it not. Shakespeare

The popular phrase in self-help books: ‘Act as if’ feels like something’s missing.

It’s sold as an antidote to those not feeling successful.

At work.

In love.

With money.

But now I’m wondering if it’s misleading, misinterpreted and misguided in its use. Less than helpful as the phrase implies so much more.

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, first used the phrase ‘act as if’ in 1884. The last part of James’ original sentence — and the most important part — is usually left out:

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

William James founded the philosophical school of pragmatism, which holds that the meaning of an idea is to be sought in its practical effects, that the function of thought is to guide action, and that truth is to be tested by the practical consequences of belief.

Acting-as-if needs a ‘shift in perspective’ for it to move from mantra to real meaning.

William James wrote that thought guides action. He said beliefs need testing to find the truth in an idea. Acting-as-if isn’t as effective if you don’t believe in yourself and you don’t think you can do what it takes.

Scientists know that strong self-efficacy (self-belief) goes hand-in-hand with higher levels of resilience.

This means that if you believe you’ll be successful, it’s likely you’ll also have a high level of control over your thoughts, feelings and actions.

The result? You apply more effort and persistence. You demonstrate more resilience to push through. And you achieve what you set out to.

Your Thoughts Are Your Power

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right. Henry Ford

Tiny moments (glimpses) seen on their own distort what’s real — the bigger picture remains elusive. Like when you hear one person’s view of an argument. You see a fragment described from one point-of-view. Their interpretation of what happened.

Acting as if’ asks you to connect those fragment views (your beliefs and thoughts) and see the whole of what’s possible. Many struggle to do this, and produce fractured results by focusing on actions without anchoring their beliefs and thoughts.

How does an environment influence your actions, thoughts and beliefs?

“Wherever you put the mind, you’re necessarily putting the body,” Dr Ellen Langer

Dr Ellen Langer, a Harvard professor, believed a person’s environment was a key factor in influencing ageing and the associated problems with this.

She tested her theory by taking eight 70-year-old men and placing them in a 1950’s style home. The men did everything for themselves, from carrying their bags to cooking and cleaning. Immersed with television programs, music, games and furniture from the 50’s, the men’s environment differed greatly from their usual nursing home.

Their coddled lives were flipped and the research results reflected this.

63% of the group improved in appearance, movement and attitude compared to 44% of the control group.

Langer’s work shows the importance of an environment on actions.

Her work also shows the power of your internal environment (your thoughts and beliefs).

Here’s A Reality Role Play

Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching. Thomas Jefferson

Alfred Adler (a follower of Sigmund Freud) was an early devotee of William James’ thinking and took it a step further. He developed a therapeutic technique known as ‘acting as if’ — today, we call it role play.

For a moment, I want you to suspend belief and imagine someone role playing your life. In a drama. Or on a movie screen. Or perhaps a colleague sharing his or her impression of you.

Imagine seeing yourself from this dissociated perspective. Watching what you do day-in, day-out, and more importantly … getting the results you are now.

What would you see? You ‘acting as if’… or you ‘wishing as if’?

Wishing-as-if is like having a fragmented view. One lens focused on ‘wanting’, another on ‘hoping’.

Wishing-as-if is like buying those jeans on sale (the ones that didn’t quite fit) because you hoped to lose weight. That was a year ago. They’re the ones still hanging in your cupboard waiting for the ‘thin-wish diet’ to start.

How To Apply The Domino Effect In Your Life

“They were catalysts, the fingers that tipped the first domino. They started things that grew into nothing things that were much greater than themselves.” ― Amy ZhangFalling into Place

Imagine if you can a long row of dominoes curling from one end of a large room to another.

If you tilt the first domino, it pushes against the next one until the long line collapses in a well-orchestrated sequence. The domino effect is fascinating to watch as one action dictates the next in rhythmic co-ordination.

It works because the space between the dominoes is defined. Too far apart and one won’t reach the other. Out of alignment and the momentum stops.

The domino-effect is an example of the power to influence.

Acting-as-if suggests you want to achieve a goal. Be more successful. Write the book. Find a publisher. Sell your art. Build a business. Buy a new home. Enjoy a healthier and more loving relationship.

Each step along the way, a domino needs to fall — to tap the next one’s ‘shoulder’ and complete the sequence.

It’s in balancing the tension between space and time that the ‘whole’ comes together. In other words, alignment, sequence and timing need careful orchestration.

If you take action in random bursts, or the action doesn’t align with your goal, the domino momentum fails.

Momentum happens when actions lean into the next one, creating the effect.

>> The problem is that in a too-busy life where work and family commitments ask much of you — how can you ‘act as if’?

>> How can you keep the dominoes in motion so your actions achieve the results you want?

Random Actions Stifle Sustainability

“A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.” Zeus, Hercules

We live in a world where fast results are most rewarded when achieved in short time-frames.

It’s the ‘zero-to-hero effect’. This thinking is easy to buy into, with you believing that: ‘If this person did it, so can I’.

Problem is these results aren’t easily replicated.

>> If your career path isn’t in perpetual ‘lift-off’ mode,

>> Your relationship not fulfilling enough,

>> Your sporting personal-bests not improving and

>> Your bank account not reaching a wealth tipping-point …

then you may be feeling ‘not-good-enough’ in our success-oriented world.


Because comparison to this ‘hero norm’ can stimy your sticking power.

Act-as-if can be misleading and setting you up for failure. It asks you to act without building your thoughts and beliefs that will support your actions.

The common act-as-if thinking goes like this:

You want something? Act as if you already have it. As if you’re experiencing it.

Easy to do?


How you think about yourself and your belief in yourself influences your actions.

Starting any new project is easy. Sustaining the drive for it to be successful takes a different mindset. That’s why so many people fail at achieving goals.

The body’s wired to exert the least amount of effort to gain the biggest return.

(So are most businesses.) And many relationships.

Something else needs to work in tandem with act-as-if for it work in the long-term.

How To Re-Wind The Clock

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking, the hours are going by. The past increases, the future recedes. Possibilities decreasing, regrets mounting.” 
― Haruki MurakamiDance Dance Dance

Ellen Langer recreated an environment and returned 70-year-old men to a an earlier time. The consequence: their physiology altered.

Langer asked them to believe they were 20 years younger. Their environment reflected this belief. Their conversations, music and television shows being watched influenced their thoughts (and vice-versa). Acting-as-if, believing-as-if and thinking-as-if created a wave of change by shifting perspective.

A true domino effect in motion.

Perspective Shifting

“What happens to us is not as important as the meaning we assign to it. Journaling helps sort this out.” Michael Hyatt

I’ve written before about the power of journaling to create change in your life. It’s a straight-forward action where you write in a way that helps you see yourself as you want to be. As the person who is achieving the goal. As the person who IS doing sustainable actions every day.

Journaling also offers time to think-as-if and believe-as-if.

It’s a place where thoughts, beliefs and actions (past and future) can meet in a supportive place.

The power here is in the trilogy. Beliefs and thoughts influence actions. Actions influence beliefs and thoughts.

When my son was nine, I coached his baseball team. Nobody else was willing to do it. I vowed never to do it again. But that’s a different story.

But above all, I learnt a phrase most children hear on sporting fields:

Keep your eye on the ball.

Basic? Yes.

Valuable? Definitely.

Because all this is about bringing a relentless focus to achieving what you want.

What you read, listen to, and watch influences your thoughts and beliefs. What you do reinforces your thoughts and beliefs.

Whether learning a new skill, going for a new job, saving for a home, improving your relationship or writing a book — it starts and ends with believing in yourself and your ability to do it.

Reflect on your thoughts and challenge the ones not supporting you.

And act as if what you do matters. It does.

I’ll leave the last words to Churchill:

“Act as if it were impossible to fail.”

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