- Mental Health
Emotional Benefits of Acting "As-If"
Behavior - Mind Connection
One of the biggest discoveries I have made in my long life certainly was the one about our behavior affecting our emotions - just like the more familiar opposite is true. I instantly put it to a test and I was overjoyed.
As I realized, it was not only that we expressed our emotions with eighty-plus facial muscles, our posture, depth and rhythm of our breathing, with a tone of our voice and what we are saying - but we could also do it intentionally in the reverse order to achieve a desired emotion, attitude, and consequently a whole mindset.
You can try it right now if you wish. Make a big smile and hold it, while standing straight with your chin up, spreading you feet for an added balance, and then opening your arms wide as if you wanted to embrace the world.
In that position take some slow and deep breaths resembling those of a sleeping person minus snoring, followed by some silent belly laughter - you know the one when you just do those spasmodic, short belly shakes without making a sound louder than breathing.
Now, doesn't that make you feel on top of the world, like a triumphant in some unknown game with the world? If it doesn't, it's a clear indicator how much you may need to practice it. Especially if you are feeling silly and "phony" while doing it.
Indeed, the way we act is only a short step from the way we may feel. Now, it doesn't mean that we could not feel great while having a poker-face and sitting limp in an easy chair doing nothing. The idea is that some facial expressions, postures, and the way we breathe are so suggestive to our nervous system how to feel that we can make a use of it.
You know how hard it is to feel happy while you are frowning and tensing up your body, or while making a grimace of anger or sadness. Faking a feeling goes a long way, as it re-trains our nervous system to produce more of such feelings.
By getting inspired to practice it more, we have agreed to put aside a whole philosophy about "spontaneous, sincere, natural" emoting - as we treat our psycho-physical functioning as programmable. You see, in order for something to become "spontaneous", it first had to be practiced for a while to reach that stage of automatic response to life.
Someone may argue that we need all of our emotions to be complete human beings - and I would agree. The point of practicing production of positive emotions is not to keep them at all times, but to make the nervous system lean towards that kind of emoting, which I call a "better emotional climate".
So we are talking about intensity, duration, and probability of a certain emotional response. Compare it to an actual climate, and we have something like pleasant temperatures with a lot of sunshine, with some short lasting showers without violent thunderstorms.
You got what I am talking about? No such practice can deprive us from feeling sad, but that doesn't have to escalate into a depression. And we can still be displeased with someone's behavior, or while having a flat tire while on our way to an important interview - but that doesn't have to be a fully blown rage.
Life becomes incomparably more beautiful when we retrain ourselves to respond to it more with our minds than with a "knee-jerk" reaction. We become more pro-active than re-active, while giving our logicalness a chance to have a say in our interactions, rather than flooding it by emotionality and letting emotions run our show.
When Happier Means "Phony"
As we start practicing this sequence of acting "as-if", it's quite likely that many, if not the most of folks are bound to feel like the proverbial "three-dollar-bill". It's natural to have a resistance to change, otherwise we would be at mercy of every whim "to be more like this or like that", changing personalities like shirts.
This feeling of "phoniness" will persist for a while until we manage to simply accept it as something beneficial to us, and therefore "natural". It may also help to give this "natural" a little thought by bringing in some metaphoric examples.
When I was a chain smoker many years ago, to me it became natural to light up first thing in the morning with my coffee. Then it was equally natural to me to grab every opportunity on the job or elsewhere to smoke, and I could easily say that that was a part of my nature.
Quitting smoking felt unnatural, and every fiber in my nervous system was rejecting it as an act of "phoniness". You see where I am going with this? Practicing "as-if" routine simply has to feel unnatural at first. It's all really a matter of re-qualifying the nervous system, not a moral issue of being a "phony" person.
With some folks there is always that concern "what will others say?" Well, that's easy to compare to some other situations. Like, nobody is really fussing over this question when they decide to lose some 30 pounds, or pump iron and look athletic. So why fuss about turning a happier person?
The Pleasure Principle
Let's face it, folks - whatever we do in life we do it for an emotional reward. Those moralists, as well as those martyrs and other folks of highly altruistic mentality may have a hard time accepting it, but we wouldn't even help a blind person across the road if that didn't make us feel good.
There is a masochistic and hypochondriac variety as well - those who only feel good when they feel bad. In terms of neuroscience, those neuropeptides produced by lousy feelings got attached to the pleasure receptors in the brain (and some gut) cells, so they associate pain with pleasure. Ever heard of "rough sex"? Well, the same mechanism is at work.
While we are at sex, the nature, or a god if that suits you better, made procreation pleasurable and not "boring" or "painful", all with the purpose that people "want" to have off-springs and the specie is continued.
The whole life is really about emotions. There is a solid evidence that emotions are behind our overall state of wellbeing. It has been said that our heart produces some hundred times stronger electromagnetic field than our brain. Indeed, emotionality has a pivotal role in the way we think, act, look, and age.
So, all this is telling us why it makes a lot of sense to reprogram our emotionality into a model in which positivity outweighs our much more trigger-happy negativities. For that's an easily observable fact - if we just let ourselves emote without an intentional intervention, we are bound to spend more time feeling lousy than happy.
Choose a more Pleasurable Phoniness
There is also this question of what is actually more phony - this acting "as-if" or our emotional status quo? When we look properly at the issue, our present, played-in emotionality was also a result of acting "as-if", only in a negative direction.
For, how many times it dawned on you that you are much better person than your emotions are displaying it? Didn't you ask yourself: "How am I deserving to feel so bad, what bad have I done?" Those are the moments of truth, with those discrepancies between who you are and how you are feeling - which may tell you how your emotionality has been "trained" into a phoniness.
So, maybe all this may give an extra motivation to you to regroup with your assessment about what is actually more phony, and simply choose between them which of these two models of "phoniness" will feel better in the long run.
Make the Change Happen!
It was one of those ancient army leaders who said this to his friend in the middle of a fierce battle: "One day it will be nice to remember this."
Then someone else said it the other way: "One day we are going to laugh over all this". Why wait for that "one day"? Why not put a big smile on our face and start making it all happen right now? Just go spiteful about everything that pops up as a resistance in your mind. The more you do it, the sooner it will give in and let you be as you consciously chose it for yourself - before it becomes your second nature.
Like anything else that we practice, it's bound to become automatic in us. Imagine the joy of noticing how without any "positive thinking" or otherwise, you are spontaneously responding to life with a positive attitude, while reaping all health benefits as a side effect of it.
So, please, don't keep reserving that "as-if" smile only for those occasions when someone with a camera tells you : "Say Cheeese!"