Using Self-Affirmation to “Fake It Till You Make It”

“Oh, that’s just what I’m like”

Have you ever heard you or a coworker say the following?

  • “Oh, geez. I’m such an idiot.”
  • “Don’t mind me, I’m just a pessimist.”
  • “Hah, I guess my perfectionism is showing today.”
  • “I could never present at a meeting, I’m too antisocial.”

Beware of thoughts like this. I’ve heard it said that “we become the stories that we say about ourselves.” So try this:

Tell yourself a good story, or at least the myth of what you want to become. And then believe it.

The Power Of Myth

You have the ability to change your neural pathways (or what Buddhists call your “habit energy”) through self-affirmation or “the process of reflecting upon important personal values or strengths.” Psychologist such as Professor Peter Harris of the University Of Sussex frequently write on the power of self-affirmation:

“Self-affirmation appears to promote several key processes relevant to health behavior change, including more open-minded appraisal of otherwise threatening information, higher levels of mental construal, and reductions in the likelihood of self-control failure.” (1)

The Danger Of A Negative Myth

Unfortunately, the opposite is true and that believing you are something negative can cause you to grow even further into those negative qualities.

For instance, I used to tell myself that I was someone who is always late. I had thought that about myself from age 0-28. With the help of mentors, I began telling myself the opposite. I now tell myself that “I am a professional and accountable person.”

I didn’t believe myself at first. But I desperately wanted to change. I have learned from the past that making sweeping changes are difficult, and that it is important to have realistic expectations (you hear me perfectionists?).

How To Turn It Around

So I started small. At first, I tried getting to meetings one minute earlier than I would have. Then 3 minutes. Then 5 minutes before the meeting even started.

Once I discovered the joy of being early and the innate calmness of having a few minutes to breath before a meeting, the process of waking up early became easier. (P.s. Also, my team was happier that I was coming to meetings prepared. As a lead developer, you have to do your prep work!)

So now, when I hear myself saying “oh, I’m not a morning person” I cut myself off. “I am someone who respects time.”

Be the myth. Fake it till you make it. Eventually you won’t be faking it.


P.s. Sometimes I slip up, and I’m late again. But I don’t judge myself too harshly, because every moment is an opportunity for reinvention. The “me” of one second ago made that mistake, the “me” of right now can choose to behave wisely. Be in the present moment, and earn that forgiveness by being better. You can’t change the past, but you can’t change this current moment.


Addendum: Discovery processes like this yield interesting findings about your own mental processes. I realized that the previous me didn’t like being early to meetings because I didn’t like to be alone with my thoughts. Coming face-to-face with that realization, I had to remind myself what I’ve always known: being alone with your thoughts is one of the most valuable things you can do. In fact, a quiet mind might even be productive.

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