I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “fake it til you make it” at one point or another in your life.
Essentially, it’s an old adage about how to achieve success in the workplace by pretending like you know what you are doing. Your outlook, attitude, body language, and tone are all key aspects of being able to “fake” your expertise. Physiologically speaking, the more you portray yourself to others as competent, confident, and calm, the more your brain and body will believe that you are too. It serves to not just convince others of your competence, but yourself as well!
In one of my favorite movies, “Catch Me If You Can,” Leonardo DiCaprio portrays the real-life story of Frank Abagnale. As a teenager, Abagnale pretended to be an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer. He learned how to print his own copies of payroll checks and deposited them at banks around the United States. When he began at Pan American Airways as a pilot, he forged his employee ID.
So what can we learn from Frank Abagnale? Should you forge documents or outright lie to get ahead in your job? Absolutely not…that’s most definitely fraud! We can learn from Abagnale’s aura of confidence and self-assurance. If you “act as if” the employee you want to be, you will ultimately become that person.
5 Ways to Fake It Til You Make It
Here are my top suggestions for how to fake it until you make it, and be more confident than you are now.
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#1 Confidence is Key
If you feel confident, you are confident.
One way to feel good and self-assured is to dress for the job you want. I had a little trick that I used when I first encountered an extremely challenging kindergarten class. I had a gift from a student from the previous year: an apple pin with my name on it, with the words #1 teacher. For whatever reason, just having this little good luck charm made me feel infinitely better and boosted my confidence! You can achieve the same feeling from putting forth a little extra effort into your appearance for the day.
Another way to build your confidence is to identify your strengths and use them to your advantage.
In order to feel like you are going to succeed, you have to know how you are valuable and what you bring to the table. My boyfriend is a very quick learner and fantastic at talking to people. He knows it and he shows it (seriously oozes confidence). Three years ago, he started working at an outpatient medical facility as a medical assistant. He very rapidly was given more responsibilities and eventually a promotion to another position as a physician liaison. His position now basically requires him to talk for a living to other doctors, building relationships with them, convincing them to refer their patients to his facility, and explain how they do their procedures. The higher-ups at his work recognized his strengths as well, and found a job that suited him perfectly!
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You should also say yes to new challenges and be willing to take risks as you are “faking it.”
I would venture to guess that most new employees experience the feeling of not knowing all of the specific skills and knowledge related to their fields. One part of confidence is being able to accept tasks slightly beyond your comfort level, with the belief that you can use all of your strengths, knowledge, and skills to complete the tasks. Risk taking is also vitally important to your confidence. You have to not be afraid to fail, but instead, see mistakes and failures as an opportunity for growth and learning. This concept is called growth mindset and was first coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
#2 Keep an Optimistic Outlook
First, think about how you approach new situations in your workplace. Do you view situations as problems or challenges? When you view a situation as a problem it is negative, and hints that you need fix something that has gone wrong. When you reframe your thinking to view problems as challenges instead, you’re looking at the situation as a new or different opportunity. Reframing can be an extremely powerful tool in helping you to achieve confidence in your skills.
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The concepts of reframing and “fake it til you make it” are both related to the field of psychology called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The premise behind CBT is that our thoughts and feelings are extremely powerful in shaping our actions. The goal of this therapy is to teach patients that even though we may not have control over the world around us, we do have the power to control our reactions and how we interpret these events. Take the following scenario into consideration, and decide which new employee would be more successful.
- The first employee is feeling overwhelmed at her workload and thinks that she will never learn how to do her position correctly. She’s utterly obsessed with the mistakes that she’s making and fearful of making more.
- Another new employee also feels overwhelmed but accepts that it won’t be like this forever. She understands that she is a new employee, and therefore has a lot of new knowledge and skills to learn. Likewise, she sees that some tasks are more challenging than others, but with the right feedback and improvement, she will be able to figure them out.
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Hopefully, you were able to discern that the second employee is likely to be more successful. Why is that? Her thoughts and feelings are influencing her behavior to be more growth-oriented and focused on improvement. Remember that when you are “faking it to make it,” you are sometimes pretending to know more than you really do. If you are like the first employee and something goes wrong, you become fixated on the shame and guilt of making mistakes. You may not have the mindset to go back and fix your mistakes, which would make them all the more glaringly obvious to your employer. If you are like the second employee and you make a mistake, you use all of your skills and knowledge so that these mistakes are not repeated over and over again. It can keep up the illusion that you know precisely what you are doing, and at the same time, you are building your knowledge and skills needed to be successful in your job field.
#3 Let Your Body Language Convey Calm and Confidence
In the Ted Talk, “Fake It Til You Become It,” Amy Cuddy discusses how improving your posture and body language can affect your confidence. There are powerful poses, such as keeping your body open, reclining back, pushing your shoulders back, and putting your hands on your hips. If you adopt some of these poses, it can improve your confidence, but also if you are already feeling confident, it can be shown through your body language. Most people may not be able to tell whether you are adopting these poses to feel more confident, or if you are naturally confident!
There are also powerless poses, such as arms crossed, keeping your body closed, holding your hands together, touching your neck/chest, and shrinking into yourself. These convey stress, anxiety, and a lack of confidence, which is the opposite of what we want to do.
Another commonly cited gesture for boosting confidence is smiling. In several studies, research subjects held pencils or chopsticks between their teeth to simulate a smile. When the subjects were smiling, it reduced feelings of stress during a challenging activity by lowering their cortisol levels and reducing their heart rates. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s a fake or genuine smile, just make sure to smile with your eyes as well (You know when you get the little eye crinkles…that type of smile!).
The powerful poses also do something similar in your body; people who use more powerful poses have higher levels of testosterone in their bodies and less cortisol (a hormone that is released in response to stress). On the other hand, people who exhibit more powerless poses have higher levels of cortisol and lower levels of testosterone.
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Imagine a leader that is stress reactive to whatever goes wrong throughout the work day… it doesn’t make for a very conducive or productive work environment! It benefits not only you but those around you to adopt the power poses, so that you can be calm and collected when making important decisions and working on challenging tasks. If you are a leader or trying to work your way up, you want to be a cool-headed individual that others can rely on.
Here are some suggestions for strategies that you can try to help yourself calm down in the midst of stressful situations at work.
- Prioritize your to-do list. Does it really all need to get done now?
- Practice slow breathing. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. It should begin to slow your heart rate and decrease feelings of stress.
- Take a 5-10 minute break and go for a walk. Sunshine and exercise will help your mind to clear and focus on the task at hand. Sometimes you need to take a step away from stressful situations.
- Listen to instrumental or classical music. I listen to it as I write. It helps me to focus better on my writing, but it also helps my body to unwind and relax.
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As Amy Cuddy says in her TED Talk, “Our bodies change our minds…and our minds change our behavior… and our behavior changes our outcomes.” It’s so true! It may feel fake at first, but eventually, your body language and behavior will become second nature to you. To see “Fake It Til You Become It” watch below.
#4 Emulate Good Leaders
When beginning any new job or profession, you can look to the current leaders to see which leadership qualities are valued within your company. If you are looking to move up, you will also want to emulate these same characteristics. Some of the most successful workers are people who are social chameleons and have the ability to adapt to a variety of different situations based on who surrounds them. This may change depending on your career field, but I think we can agree that good leaders may possess certain features. Be aware of your words and actions, and how they may portray or misrepresent these qualities.
- Courage: Brave leaders are willing to take risks and continue towards their goals, despite setbacks or failures. It’s so easy to quit when things get too hard, but good leaders persist in the face of challenges. This also ties in with the notion of grit, or using perseverance and passion to achieve your goals. To read more about this character trait, read Grit: Perseverance With A Long-Term Mindset.
- Character: We have character traits at my school that we teach to students. Among those are respect, responsibility, resilience, and reflection. As a leader, or someone who wants to move up within a company, you should be someone respectful with a strong sense of responsibility. This will make other employees look up to you, and want to do their best for you and the company.
- Investment: Be willing to trust in your fellow employees. Good leaders understand and utilize the strengths of the team that surrounds them. Everyone has something important to bring to the table, and it benefits your staff to acknowledge and value their unique gifts.
#5 Continue Growing Necessary Skills and Gaining Experience
Let’s return to our story about Frank Abagnale. The reason that Abagnale did not continue being a pilot or physician is that he was eventually found out as an impostor. The ruse worked for a little, but eventually, he was no longer able to mask his inexperience. That should not be the case if you are faking it til you make it. As you are portraying your confidence in a new workplace or situation, you should continue to be growing and learning in order to succeed. Essentially, you can stop faking it and finally make it!
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How to Be Confident In Yourself
The most important part of “faking it til you make it” is believing that you can do it.
First and foremost, you have to believe that you are capable in performing your job, before you actually learn the ins and outs of the profession. In addition to that, you can’t make your employer believe in you, if you don’t believe in yourself.
Most of the points discussed in this post related in some way to being or feeling confident. As Henry Ford stated so well, “Whether you believe you can or can’t…you’re right.”
How do you fake it until you make it?
More About Guest Contributor
My name is Melissa Hollinger, and I am the mastermind behind Polka Dot Blonde. Although I am a kindergarten teacher by day, I have always had an obsession with fashion.
Polka Dot Blonde is a blog designed to help every woman pair new, modern trends with more classic pieces. Another goal of my blog is to help women to discover their own style personality and find clothes that can highlight it. I also love discussing positive psychology. I want my readers to feel happy and look good!
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