Fake It ‘Til You Make It

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

You may have noticed our new hashtag #ChangingBehavioursShiftingMindsets and might have asked yourself, what does this mean?  Surely, to change how we behave we need to see things differently first?

Mindsets are beliefs, and changing our beliefs is quite the tall order.  Of course, if you do the hard work and manage to change your mindset first, then your behaviour will also change.

But here’s the thing: we can also ‘persuade’ our minds to think differently simply by changing what we do, i.e. by changing how we behave.

Think of the ‘Fake it ’til you make it’ slogan adopted by many women around a decade ago.  The idea was that, if you lacked the confidence to speak up in a meeting or walk into a room like you’re running it and you did it anyway, you would soon get used to behaving this way and your confidence would increase as a result, because you started believing that you could do it.  And there is psychological evidence that this is in fact how our mind works.

There are many different ways to think about this, but the fact remains:  we can in fact shift the way we think or feel about things by intentionally changing our behaviour first.

Here’s an example of when we do this more naturally, without thinking about how it works:  Remember the time when you didn’t think you could speak in public, or run, or sing, or dance the salsa?  Then you gave yourself a chance to learn by doing it, step by step.  Slowly, you started improving, started doing it more naturally (more habitually) and, little by little, you started thinking of yourself as a good public speaker, a runner, a person who sings or dances the salsa (or all of the above). So by doing something that seemed totally unnatural at first, you slowly shifted the outlook on your abilities about it.

If this works in other areas of our lives, can we also change the way we think about certain groups of people by changing how we treat them?

In my experience, we certainly can.  In fact, I have done it myself!  One example is when, a long time ago, I worked with a colleague who (for some unarticulated reason) I didn’t rate!  The colleague noticed my attitude and pulled me up on it by saying to me, ‘I sometimes feel like you don’t think I can do this well.’  And they were right,  I did think that.  From then on, I intentionally gave them stretch opportunities and didn’t jump in to ‘rescue’ them when I thought I would do a better job.  What happened surprised me and taught me all at once:  the person proved to me that they had a lot to contribute, that they were clever and creative, and that I had no rational reason whatsoever to doubt their abilities. In other words, my perception of their inability was based on an unconscious bias of mine.

I have checked my behaviour in other similar subsequent situations, pulled back and allowed people to step forward and succeed on their own merit. Every time, I was pleasantly surprised by what the other person was able to do.  Since then, my mindset has shifted dramatically; I recognise that my way is not the only way, and that there is richness and reward in letting others do things their way, even when I might initially think they are not yet ‘ready’ or ‘experienced’ or ‘capable’ enough.

If you would like to try shifting your behaviours so you can enjoy the benefit of an updated mindset, here are a few suggestions to try:

  • When you catch yourself thinking, ‘This person has nothing to contribute to this conversation’ because they haven’t said much at the meeting, change your behaviour.  Try asking them, ‘What are your thoughts on this topic?’ and giving them space to think and respond.
  • When you’re mentoring a young person and thinking they can learn a lot from you, ask yourself what you can learn from them.  Ask them, ‘How are things going for you?’,  ‘What are you learning/enjoying/excelling at?’, ‘What opportunities or challenges have you noticed or taken up?’ or ‘What would you differently if you were the boss?’
  • When you’re thinking, ‘My boss knows nothing about this area of expertise, how on earth are they going to lead the team?’, treat them as if they were an expert (perhaps as a people leader rather than a subject matter), and lend a hand as and when necessary to update them or supply any necessary insights.

Of course, to change our behaviour we must first become aware of the current beliefs and mindset that are leading us astray and precluding us from doing things differently.  Becoming aware of our beliefs and assumptions might require some help from a good friend, a colleague, or from your trusted EDI coach and partner, Voice At The Table. And then you can start changing your behaviour in order to shift your own mindset.

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