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What if the way we act, our chosen behaviors, could change the way we think and feel?

William James, considered the “Father of American psychology” states, “If you want a quality, act as if you already have it.” 

 James is suggesting that we can take deliberate action to attain a desired state of being.  For instance—whistling is not merely a sign of confidence and ease; whistling can foster confidence and ease.  We can act our way to change.  It turns out the oft cited advice of “Fake it until you make it!” holds credence.

Western society has gradually accepted a holistic mindset, recognizing the power of the mind/body connection, after centuries of adhering to the concept of dualism.  Dualism proports that the mind and body are totally separate.  Thankfully we now know that this thinking is false…our mind and body are one, together creating our whole.   How our bodies respond may vary…what doesn’t vary is that our bodies do respond to our thoughts and emotions.

 The immediacy of a physical response, the seamlessness of it, leaves little doubt of this fact.  Joy can bring forth an instant smile or happy tears, feeling anxious can cause flushing, sweating and shakiness, feeling fearful can cause dry mouth, a pounding in our chest from a racing heartrate and hyper-alertness as we go into our “fight or flight” response.  These physical responses are undeniable, observable and measurable.

A bit harder to quantify is how our actions impact our mind.  Thankfully research shows there is a correlation.  Social psychologist Daryl Bem’s Self-Perception Theory hypothesizes that in the same way we draw conclusions by observing others behaviors, so too do we draw conclusions by observing our own behavior.

For example: we’re walking along and notice a young man stop to help an elderly woman struggling to cross the street.  We conclude, based on seeing the young man’s behavior, that he is kind.  We observe ourselves in this same way, drawing conclusions based on our actions.

Putting this theory into practice—if we want to feel happier, smiling is a great place to start.  When we see someone smile, we smile back.  Why? Because smiling is evolutionarily contagious, and we have a subconscious innate drive to smile when we see one. This occurs even among strangers when there is no intention of connection.  Charles Darwin knew this when he developed the Facial Feedback Response Theory, which suggests that the act of smiling actually makes us feel better (rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good).  To read more about smiling read The Untapped Power of Smiling here:  http://bit.ly/smilingiscontagious

We “see” ourselves smile and before you know it, we do feel better.

As we continue to face fear and anxiety over what is proving to be an extended change in our daily lives due to the unrelenting pandemic, we may find ourselves struggling to foster a sense of wellbeing.  With more than six months under our belts I think it’s safe to say we know there’s a long road ahead so figuring out what is helpful to us is certainly worth exploring.

And, since we can’t see each other smiling behind the masks, we’re tasked with finding alternative ways to give ourselves a boost.

Getting up, making our beds, showering and dressing as though we were going out in the world helps us feel grounded and ready for the day, rather than feeling listless by staying in our pajamas all day.  Simple behaviors matter.  It takes discipline to act normal when we’re living in our ‘new’ normal AND it’s worth the effort to do so.

“Fake it until you make it” is not inauthentic and silly, it works!

You don’t feel like going for a walk, but you do, and chances are pretty good you feel better because of it.  You don’t feel social, but you call a friend to see how they’re doing, and your spirit is uplifted from the conversation and connection.  You’re not feeling particularly generous in spirit, but you find a simple way to do something kind for someone and your mood improves…and you find yourself wanting to do more.  You don’t feel motivated to do the chores facing you, but you begin by doing one thing and before you know it you’ve ticked off several items on the “To Do” list and feel a sense of accomplishment.  You have acted your way to feeling better.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s research shows the connection between the way we hold ourselves, our physical postures, and how we feel…she calls this “postural feedback”.  Her research shows a clear relationship between taking a “power pose” and feeling more confident, more powerful.  Critics attacked the research questioning whether the results could be duplicated, but Cuddy defended her findings and garnered support for her results, read more here:  http://bit.ly/cuddysposes

There are physical correlates for our emotions…Placing our hands on our hearts invokes feelings of love, hands in prayer brings forth gratitude, taking a power pose with our arms above our head in a “V” shape makes us feel more powerful, and the list goes on.  Our bodies affect our mind and our emotions. 

We are whole beings.  We are reminded once again that action is necessary for change.  We can’t think our way to a better place, but we can take steps to get there.