The As If Principle

"Common sense suggests that the chain of causation is: You feel happy — You smile. You feel afraid — You run away. The As If theory suggests that the opposite is also true: You smile — You feel happy. You run away — You feel afraid."

- The As If Principle, page 11

Modern self-improvement texts universally direct us to change how we think in order to change how we behave.

Dr. Richard Wiseman, Britain’s only professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, shows in The As If Principle that instead, we can focus on actions which will change how we think and feel. We get the same results, only faster and, according to Wiseman’s studies, more consistently and reliably.

Acting as if we already have a quality will produce it.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Acting As If You Feel (Or Don't Feel) Something Will Make It True

"If you want a quality, act as if you already have it."
- William James, quoted in The As If Principle, page vi

Ever heard of a laugh club? People get together and laugh. Not at something or someone. They just laugh.

And it makes them happy.

We know that when we’re happy we smile. But can smiling make us happy?

It turns out, it does.

And behaving as if we’re not in pain reduces the amount of pain we feel.

The connection between our actions and emotions is usually thought to be one-way: emotions cause actions, including facial expressions.

Extensive research has revealed that this connection goes both ways. Behaving as if we feel (or don’t feel) an emotion will cause that genuine emotion.

This is not psychological trickery, faking it ’til you make it. Acting as if we feel an emotion produces physiological changes.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Your Brain Can Change Your Body

"Ekman's findings showed that behaving as if you are experiencing an emotion does more than influence how you feel; it also has a direct and powerful effect on your body."
- The As If Principle, page 18

When we’re happy, we smile. When we’re angry, our brow constricts and our mouth shape changes.

At the same time, changes take place in our body. Pulse, respiration, temperature, perspiration, all change subtly.

When we act as if we feel a certain emotion, the very same physiological changes occur. A real change is taking place; it’s not all in our head.

Taking simple actions can change how we feel, including creating persistence and willpower.

Some examples you can try for yourself:

  • Overcoming procrastination — Act as if you’re going to do the task by making a start. Get the supplies you need together. Even if you had no intention of doing the task right now, you’ll feel a strong motivation to continue.
  • Persistence in the face of a challenge — Sit up straight. Cross your arms. In research, those who adopted this pose stuck with a challenging problem twice as long.
  • Willpower — Tensing your muscles boosts willpower. When you’re feeling tempted, make a fist (and, if you like, shout loudly “You’ll never take me alive!” though not if you’re in a library or police station.)

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Influencing Others: Start With Their Actions Instead of Their Thinking

"On each occasion, behaving as if believed a certain argument achieves what a hundred rational reasons couldn't, quickly changing their attitudes in favor of the position they were asked to support."
- The As If Principle, page 160

When we’re responsible for guiding others, in work or in life, we’re constantly looking for buy in, for that moment when they believe in what they’re doing, and no longer need external motivation. We try every possible form of persuasion.

It’s far more effective to simply get them to take action. Even a small action can lead to new thinking.

Want employees to sign up for a new program? Spend less time trying to convince them. Instead, ask them to pick up the forms, whether they’re considering signing up or not.

Behaving as if they’re the kind of person who’ll sign up for the program vastly increases the likelihood they will.

Want your child to keep their room cleaner? Select one area (their dresser, or the space in front of their bed) or item (socks, books, blue toys) and ask them to manage that.

Behaving as if they’re neat makes it far more likely they’ll become neat.


Wiseman knows these concepts are highly counter-intuitive. They’re the opposite of what most of us believe. He includes techniques and experiments throughout the book to allow you to prove to yourself that if you want a quality, act as if you already have it.

How could you use the ‘as if’ principle to address your greatest business or personal challenge?

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Joel D Canfield

ABOUT Joel D Canfield

I'm a creative who works mostly with words, sometimes accompanied by music. I write because I have to, and I have very little patience with money and its attendant issues...
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