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How to Act “As If”

Updated on March 3, 2020
Susan Caplan McCarthy profile image

As a professional organizer, Susan also helps clients develop the habits and mindsets that allow them to be purposeful and productive.

Go Beyond Your Current Situation

It can be difficult to change. You know what you want to have or how you want to be but figuring out how to get there is a challenge. You may have read the advice or been told to “act as if” but you find that advice a challenge because you can’t quite imagine doing the things you’d need to do to become a better you.

Sure, you want to lose weight, quit smoking, drink less, spend less, start a business, exercise more, find a loving partner, write a novel, or whatever your goal is, but your current habits keep tripping you up.

You want to stop drinking soda, but you’re in the habit of wandering to the vending machine three times a day and simply trying to pretend that you’re someone who doesn’t drink soda isn’t enough to support your resolve.

Each of the following suggestions helps change your perspective. Instead of imagining how you should act, you create a supportive scenario, so you don’t feel so much like you’re pretending as that you’re following the advice of someone you trust.


Offer Advice to a Friend

Imagine that you have a friend in the same predicament that you’re in. Your friend comes to you and asks for advice about finding a job or sticking with their diet or dealing with a challenging person.

Close your eyes and visualize the scene. Or, talk out loud, taking turns between speaking from their point of view and your own. If you prefer to write, you could even write the dialogue to the scene.

Have your friend detail their dilemma. Now, talk to them. Offer your most heartfelt advice. Remember, you care about your friend and you’ll offer only positive advice. While you might beat yourself up for your own behavior, you’d never disparage a friend.

When you’re done, read over the advice you’ve offered. Are you ready to take your own advice?


Get Advice from an Old Friend

Imagine that you are yourself only a year or five (or ten or twenty) years older. From this perspective, look back on a situation that is currently troubling you or adding stress to your life. As your older self, write a letter to today-you.

In the letter, complement today-you on how you handled your current situation. Include some specific details about the actions you took to get to a better, more positive space in your life. Avoid veering off into generalities or describing the life of future-you.

Future-you is using their perspective to tell you how you resolved the issue before you.

Reread the letter and consider how you know what you need to do to be successful.


Follow a Role Model

Do you know someone who has gone through a similar situation to what you are facing? Maybe your cousin lost 40 pounds, or your coworker stopped smoking, or your father turned a hobby into a money-making side gig. You could go to this person and ask for their advice or support.

Or, when faced with that cigarette, or drink, or piece of cake, or television show enticing you away from working on your own business idea, ask yourself, “What would _______ do?”

What would your cousin say to that piece of cake? Even if you don’t know exactly what they would say or how they would really handle the situation, imagine you know how they would respond.

Chances are, if you’ve wanted to change a bad habit or develop a good one, you’ve read something about the proper actions to take to ensure success. As you imagine what your role model would do, you are basing their imagined actions on both their personality as well as the information floating through your mind.


Act Like Your Celebrity Role Model

Similar to Role Model, only this time you pick someone you’ve never met – a reality show star, a movie actor or actress, a sport’s hero … even a historical or fictional person.

You know what you’ve read about them. If they are a living person, you may have seen interviews with them. You know how they present themselves to the world and maybe how they’ve dealt with a situation like the one you’re facing in your current life.

When you are facing a decision, ask yourself, “What would Kate Middleton/Ben Franklin/Dwayne Johnson/Oprah do?” and act in the way you imagine they would.

You could also imagine (or write or talk) a dialogue between you and your celebrity role model. What advice are they giving you?


Imagine the Person You’re Becoming

You have a goal. You want to become a fit person. You want to become a writer. You want to become a photographer.

When you need to make a decision, ask yourself, “What would a fit person do?” “What would a writer do?” Would a photographer spend a Saturday in a bar drinking with friends or would they explore a new place and take a hundred photos?

To become someone who has different habits and hobbies and actions than you currently possess, continue to place your options in context of the type of person you want to become.


Do What You Know

In each of the above scenarios, you are the one giving yourself the advice. However, by imagining that it’s coming from someone you trust and admire … or, even that you’re offering the advice to someone you care about, you get to look at your situation from another angle.

You can “fake it till you make it” because your future self is telling you how you successfully worked through your current situation. You can “act as if” because you believe the advice has worked for a friend, family member, celebrity, or historical or fictional character you admire.

You take your own advice while feeling supported in your decisions.


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