Act as if: embracing a mindset and behavior that drive change

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Karen Natzel, BridgeTower Media Newswires

In my 20s, as I entered the Portland job market with neither experience nor connections, I latched onto the mantra “fake it ‘til you make it.” When asked if I could do a task, I enthusiastically replied, “Yes, I can do that!” Then I scrambled to figure out how. I found it exhilarating. I welcomed the challenge.

While I still appreciate a worthy challenge, I don’t feel compelled to fake it. If one stays in the “fake it ‘til you make it” mindset for too long there is a risk of suffering from the imposter syndrome. Also missed is the opportunity to leverage the hard-earned wisdom of life’s experiences! We rob ourselves of the confidence, trust, satisfaction and joy that comes with mastery. However, if we practice the mindset and behavior of “acting as if,” we are affirming the direction we want to go, rather than waiting or wishing for it to be different than it is.

We all have capacity to be change agents. It’s imperative for leaders to embody this responsibility to guide others through what can feel like tumultuous shifts. Creation of space for change starts by role modeling it. One could argue that change starts with a vision and a game plan. While dreaming, strategizing and planning are all valuable for setting direction, it is in the act of doing that one creates forward momentum. A desire for something to be different, without the correlating behavior to support it, is a recipe for disappointment.

We make room for change by putting it into motion. When we “act as if,” we are standing for the value of the desired change. Sometimes we do not see the results we want because we stop short of consistently behaving in ways that would manifest such results. The 14th century Sufi poet Hafez urges us to “act great whether we feel good or not.” I am not suggesting you be disingenuous, or pretend things are “fine” when they are not. Instead, live the change you want to see – in yourself, team dynamics, and in the organizations you serve.

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The power of belief systems

Our belief systems are the lenses through which we see the world. They are often so entwined in our identities that it can feel threatening to challenge them. However, if we have a belief that is out of alignment with the results we want, that belief is unintentionally sabotaging us.

For example, if you don’t believe things will change, your efforts to drive change will likely be half-hearted. If you believe change is hard, you are unduly burdening your capacity to effect it. If you hold a negative belief about your colleague’s motivations, you drive a wedge in the relationship, thus undermining trust. If, however, you believe that change is possible, that your organization can collectively tackle tough challenges, and that relationships can deepen based on mutual respect and trust, then your culture has potential to evolve for the better. We often look for instances that validate our beliefs. What do you want to be right about?

When we “act as if,” we take up space. It is a living embodiment of one’s commitments and desires. It’s about aligning wishes to reality. If you want to practice follow-through, see the task to its completion. If you want to be more empathetic, practice suspending judgment and being present in a conversation with the sole intent to listen. If you want to be more organized, plan your day, declutter your desk, and use your systems. If you want more accountability in your organization, tackle something that is yours to accomplish and truly own it. If you want to reduce employee burnout, stop sending emails after hours or on the weekends.

In a recent blog, financial planner Carl Richards writes of “the contagious magic of micro-actions.” He declares that in your pursuit of “big audacious goals, you don’t need big, audacious actions.” Rather, one can take manageable micro-actions that spread.

Richards shares that when he travels, his desire for working out dwindles. Rather than committing to an intensive workout, he simply puts on his gym clothes. In doing the “next thing” he walks to the hotel’s fitness center. Once he’s there, he rides the stationary bike. After his workout, he’s inspired to eat a healthy breakfast. From there, his workday proves to be more productive. Each micro-action builds upon another and expands into other areas of life. Richards is “acting as if” he is a health-minded, fitness-motivated person, and in that zone, he is becoming just that.

Meanwhile, habit guru James Clear challenges his readers with a question: “Are you willing to be uncomfortable for five minutes?” He reminds us that exercising is easier once you have started the workout, that conversations are easier once you’ve initiated them, and that a task is easier after five minutes of focus. Rolf Gates (“Meditations from the Mat”) wisely instructs us that “we can count on the new and the unfamiliar to be awkward.” The invitation is to embrace the awkward, and try on a new attitude or behavior that will bring you closer to what you say you want.

“Acting as if” can help you dismantle the obstacles on your path. It is easy to see why something won’t work or become burdened by barriers. Making things happen requires energy in motion, and that requires identifying our resistance so we may begin to cultivate habits and a reality that is more aligned with our vision.

Where will you start “acting as if” to drive the change you want to see? What beliefs will you hold to support you on the journey? Bring your enthusiastic commitment to the mindsets and behaviors that work for you, not against. In the words of 13th century Persian poet Rumi, “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

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Karen Natzel is a business therapist who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations. Contact her at 503-806-4361 or karen@natzel.net.