'Fake it till you become it' doesn't really work, or does it?

The expression ‘fake it till you make it’ has been around for a while. It actually originates from a book titled Con Man or Saint published in 1969 as Andrew Arthur Dawson recounts. I first came in contact with a variation of this phrase, ‘fake it till you become it’, which was used by psychologist Amy Cuddy when I was doing research for my coaching program for increasing self-confidence.

The idea behind any of these expressions is basically ‘to pretend as if’. As an idiomatic expression, the explanations I found in can serve as a starting point:

  • portray yourself like the person you always wanted to become

  • bringing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to achieve your targets

  • to adopt a behavior which will lead you towards a better future

  • challenging yourself to perform a task which you are not good at

  • motivating ourselves to act in a different manner to meet our desired goals

This all looks quite inspirational, but the first thing we need to consider is: what is it that we are faking? Competence or confidence? Let’s clarify the meaning of both.

Competence is the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. Other words we could use are capability, ability, for example.

Confidence is the quality of being certain of your abilities. The Latin root is ‘fidere’, which means ‘to trust’ and ‘con’ a prefix that means ‘with’: with + trust. So this is more a feeling, a conviction, trust in yourself, people, plans or the future.

From the third perspective, competence is something that other people can see in terms of skills, results, I’d even dare say, it’s objective: you can either design a building using ArchiCAD or visualize data using Python, or you can't. I certainly cannot. It really doesn’t matter how many times I repeat the phrase as a self-affirmation, that will not help me even with using Excel, which I can use a little.

Confidence is perceived, is the impression a person gives you through a combination of presence, behavior, body language, communication style, tone of voice, etc. Therefore, it’s subjective, related to how each person reads you. Though there is a general unwritten rule of how confident people are.


What makes a confident person

I love how Pat Evrard summarizes the 10 signs of truly confident people:

  1. They display composure (emotional control)

  2. They are not easily offended (self-worth)

  3. They speak with authority (know what they are good at or are experts in and what not)

  4. They celebrate others (self-worth)

  5. They are decisive (controlled risk-taking)

  6. They focus on their strengths (positive attitude)

  7. They take initiative (take action)

  8. They maintain an open body posture

  9. They are loving and humble (acceptance)

  10. They never stop learning (knowledge)

Now let’s get back to the phrase ‘fake it till you become it’...

Why I think it doesn't work for confidence

True, authentic self-confidence is based on having a clear understanding of who you are, what your values are, what you are good at, what you’re not good at, knowing what your purpose in life is, being able to deal with strong emotions, creating boundaries, having clear goals plus a plan to achieve them and a big dose of self-acceptance.

This means that you accept your strengths, focus on them and are ok with your weaknesses. It’s being able to look at yourself in the mirror and like what you see, and know that you deserve success, respect and love. It’s being able to say: ‘I’m ok.’ And genuinely believe it.

In order to achieve this type of true self-confidence, that requires inner work. Some people are blessed to grow up in a family where they are appreciated and loved regardless of their achievements or mistakes: unconditional love and support. This is what children need for developing a healthy self-esteem, confidence and resilience. If you weren’t that lucky, don’t worry, it is very possible to become confident in spite of that.

But this foundation of self-worth is not enough, because confidence is also about action. Confidence is about taking risks and taking action even without the certainty that things will turn out well. It’s about doing things with fear. It’s about demystifying the meaning of making mistakes, because in making mistakes, that’s when you learn the most.

So actually, there is some use to the phrase ‘make it till you become it’...

Why I have it in my program anyway

When it comes to body language and using it to your advantage, then we can ‘fake’ confidence to a certain extent. In her research, Amy Cuddy found out that there are what she called ‘power poses’. Watch her TED-talk to learn more about this.

These strong poses work in two ways: first, with a tall posture and open body language you give other people the impression of confidence; second, she found out that if you stay in that power pose for two minutes, the brain will start secreting dopamine and serotonin, which are neurotransmitters that do give you that inner sense of confidence that you can achieve anything.

Since confidence is also about taking those opportunities when they arise, using the ‘body language’ trick can help you take a step into situations that you would otherwise avoid.

That’s the reason for including this in my program, but it comes as part of a toolkit of techniques that you can use depending on the situation. Using any kind of tool without having done the foundational work on your identity and value as a human being, is like taking diet pills while eating junk food every day and hoping you’ll lose weight: long-term it’s not a good solution.

Here is how you can practice doing one of the high power poses: the Wonder Woman pose. Check out below my video for the tutorial.



Origins of expression ‘fake it till you make it’

Amy Cuddy’s TED-talk

Idiomatic meaning of ‘fake it till you make it’