The As If Principle

Summary Written by Joel D Canfield
"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

The Big Idea

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

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.)

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Insight #2

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.

Read the book

Get The As If Principle on Amazon.

Dr Richard Wiseman

Prof Richard Wiseman is based at the University of Hertfordshire, where he holds Britain’s only Chair in the Public Understanding of Psychology. He has gained an international reputation for research into unusual areas of psychology, including luck, deception, and the science of self-help. His three books, The Luck Factor, Quirkology and 59 Seconds, have all topped the best-seller lists and have been translated into over thirty languages. He has presented keynote addresses at The Royal Society, Microsoft, Caltech, and Google. Over 2 million people have taken part in his mass participation experiments, and his YouTube channel has received over 11 million views. He is one of the most frequently quoted psychologists in the British media, and was recently listed in the Independent on Sunday’s top 100 people who make Britain a better place to live.

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