In a previous post Next Up: Feelings, we used this diagram to illustrate how thoughts and feelings influence behavior, and how behavior also influences thoughts and feelings.
What do we mean by behavior, as it relates to emotions and thinking? Behavior can be a direct expression of an emotion, like crying when we are hurt or distressed, or screaming if we’re terrified. Behavior can be a reaction to something, like ducking to avoid a tree limb, or jumping back when we see a snake. Behavior can also result from a conscious choice to do something, like perform a task. Behavior as a choice could also be taking a walk, calling someone on the phone, exercising, or practicing deep breathing. While thoughts and feelings influence behavior, if we change our behavior, this can also change our thoughts and feelings. We can create new experiences for ourselves and reinforce some positive neural pathways.
We can affect our mood to some degree by simply putting on a smile. This is due to “facial-feedback” – our facial muscles influence our emotions like our emotions cause us to smile. It works both ways!
In 8 “Fake It ‘Til You Make It” Strategies Backed by Science, Amanda Mccorquodale says that “Researchers have found that ‘acting’ a certain way allows your brain to ‘rehearse’ a new way of thinking and can set off a desired chain of events in the future.” Included in her eight strategies are things like smiling and striking a powerful pose.
In The scientific truth behind “Fake it till you make it”, Aditya Shukla relates research and offers practical suggestions, including a technique developed by Richard E. Watts, REFLECTING AS IF. As related by Shukla, Watts suggests “taking a step backward before faking your ideal self and reflecting on how one would behave. This would allow us to gain new perspectives and alter behaviors in a streamlined fashion to reach our ideal selves. So ‘faking it’ here is actually going backward to assess alternatives and then moving forward to reach your desired self to ‘make it.’ This is especially powerful when there are mental health concerns that fuel the need to make it.” Here are the steps for RAI:
- Step back from your situation
- Reflect on how you are
- Choose an alternate version of how you want to be
- Act as if you are what you have chosen to be
Shukla also states that “Another general principle … is that we can fire up neurons just by thinking about something … Mental imagery and the actual reality of perceiving something share common neural circuits … It works with emotions and mindsets too. … imagination is a way to create a new “narrative” for yourself. If self-critical emotions are holding you back, you can fake it by simply imagining your desired mental state. … The goal isn’t to act against your emotions, it is to convert your emotions into a desirable mindset and then act by leveraging the changed mindset.”
We can also choose to put ourselves in an environment or perform activities that influence our thoughts or emotions—such as getting outdoors, visualizing something pleasant, observing beauty, or making a “gratitude list”. Even the choice of taking action boosts our confidence and improves our mood.
- Smiling can trick your brain into happiness — and boost your health
- Fake It Till You Make It: 5 Cheats from Neuroscience
- When Faking Positivity Reduces Stress and When It Backfires
- When to Fake It Till You Make It (and When You Shouldn’t)
- Biophilia: Sensory Contact With Nature Can Improve Your Overall Well-being & Mental Health
- Wikipedia – Synaptic plasticity