Maybe you shouldn’t “fake it til you make it”

A little over two years ago, I started making a lot of changes in my life.

Actually, I made changes to myself. The life changes followed naturally.

Making changes can be difficult though, and I often went looking for inspiration to keep going. I researched ways to stay motivated. Anxiety, depression, impostor syndrome, being an introvert, insecurity; every one of these things affects my ability to believe in myself. The internet has loads of advice, very little of that advice has made as much of an impact on me as Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk “Your body language shapes who you are.”

Cuddy starts out taking a body language inventory, “maybe you’re hunching, crossing your legs, maybe wrapping your ankles. Sometimes we hold onto our arms like this. Sometimes we spread out.”

This was the first time I was aware of my habit of doing just that, making myself smaller.

What do we do when we feel powerless? We close up. We wrap ourselves up. We make ourselves small. We don’t want to bump into the person next to us.” Cuddy describes this as an instinct, something that extends to the animal world. 

As I listened, I realized I had felt powerless for a very long time. My favorite seat in any room was in the back corner, where I wouldn’t be noticed. I stayed out of the way and did everything I could to not be an inconvenience to anyone. I remember being a child and my mother, my grandparents, nearly everyone telling me to sit up straight, that poor posture is bad for my back. I would try, but it felt so unnatural. I didn’t hunch over or slouch because I was lazy or sloppy, I felt I didn’t deserve the space that I was taking up. 

Cuddy describes the fascinating science behind nonverbal cues, hormones, and power dynamics, including various experiments proving the following theories.

Powerful people tend to be, not surprisingly, more assertive and more confident, more optimistic. They actually feel they’re going to win even at games of chance. They also tend to be able to think more abstractly. So there are a lot of differences. They take more risks. There are a lot of differences between powerful and powerless people. Physiologically, there also are differences on two key hormones: testosterone, which is the dominance hormone, and cortisol, which is the stress hormone.

This was a turning point for me. If I wanted to succeed, if I wanted to reach these goals that seem so far off, I had to figure out how to stop feeling so powerless.

“For two minutes, I want you to stand like this, and it’s going to make you feel more powerful,” Cuddy claims.

This all seemed too simple though. Striking power-poses in the mirror? Channeling my inner Superman, cape fluttering in the wind behind me, that alone couldn’t undo a lifetime of feeling defenseless…could it?

So when I tell people about this, that our bodies change our minds and our minds can change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes, they say to me, “It feels fake.” Right? So I said, fake it till you make it. It’s not me. I don’t want to get there and then still feel like a fraud. I don’t want to feel like an impostor. I don’t want to get there only to feel like I’m not supposed to be here.

You know that feeling when you realize there are people out there just like you? This was one of those moments for me. I cried as I listened, feeling like maybe, for once, I was in charge of my life, my choices, and my body. When I heard this for the first time, I was already a few months into my life overhaul. I was eating great, working out regularly and losing weight incredibly fast. It was all too easy, I was just getting lucky right? People still ask me how I lost the weight, I always shrug and answer with “I don’t know.” Because I feel like a fraud, an impostor.

I’ve started a custom mug business, this blog, and soon, I’ll be an Origami Owl consultant. I’ve gone back to work nearly full-time, I still workout out (sort of) regularly, and I cook healthy and delicious meals. And yet, every day I want to quit every one of these things. I question my abilities, I wonder why anyone would choose me, my products, my words. I am powerless, weak, inadequate and unworthy.

But because of this video, I’ve made it a habit to take up the space I’ve earned in this world. Physically, shoulders squared, chin up. But also, I put my words out there because someone needs them, and I have the power to help them. I sell my products because I want to share my coffee mug love with like-minded people. I deserve to follow my dreams, even if they inconvenience others.

I want to close with my favorite quote from Cuddy. It’s something I’ve forgotten recently, a lot of the powerlessness has been creeping back in, so I’m including this as much for myself as for my readers.

“Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize it.”

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