Fake it ‘til you make it?
by Michele Majul-Ibarra
For those of you who know me or have heard of me, music has always been a huge part of my life. Growing up as a teen, the thought of performing in front of a large crowd made my stomach churn. My anxiety would build for hours leading up to the moment I stepped on the stage. You could see the microphone quiver in my hand. I have seen the same fear in the workplace as well, where people just cannot handle speaking in front of their boss or their team.
What do most successful individuals possess that allow them to be so powerful and effective? What about rock stars? What gives them the confidence to perform in front of millions of people? In a workplace setting, what gives team leaders the ability to deal with difficult issues and the drive to achieve innovative business results? What do these people do and what do they have that gives them such strong belief in themselves, allowing them to succeed and tackle whatever comes their way? Are these characteristics unique to them or something that we can also possess?
The “placebo effect” is something that many of us have heard of before. In 1945, while a Harvard-educated American surgeon, Henry Beecher, was serving in World War II, he ran out of morphine on duty. Near the end of the war, morphine was in short supply in the military field hospitals. A time came when Beecher had to operate on a badly wounded soldier. It worried him that without a painkiller, the soldier might go into a fatal shock. One of the nurses quickly filled a syringe with saline and gave the soldier a shot as though she was injecting him with morphine. As result, the soldier calmed down right away and reacted as though he had actually received the drug, even though all he had was a little bit of salt water. Beecher then was able to proceed with the operation, cutting into the soldier’s flesh and stitching him back together, all without anaesthesia. The soldier felt little pain and did not go into shock. From then on, whenever the field hospital ran out of morphine, Beecher repeated the same process. The experience convinced him of the power of placebos, so when he returned to the United States after the war, he began to study the phenomenon.
The placebo effect is also something that can work to trick ourselves into feeling more confident and fearless. This is because, the more we “fake” confidence, the more we are able to get through situations such as speaking in public, doing a business presentation or singing in a competition. When we receive positive feedback for doing things that are outside of our comfort zone, it can also result in us having more confidence.
Another related theory is called the self-fulfilling prophecy. The term dates back to Ancient Greece and was coined by sociologist Robert K. Murton. Essentially, it is a prediction about the outcome of a situation invoking a new behaviour that leads to the prediction coming to true. For instance, if I believed that I was going to do poorly in a job interview, that belief might lead me to change the approach I use to prepare for the interview and I would probably fail as a result. While I may have had a good chance to be successful, my belief that I would fail would impact my performance, resulting in failure as I had predicted from the beginning. Psychological research shows that the self-fulfilling prophecy works for both negative and positive predictions as it indicate the beliefs we hold could have an impact on what happens next.
So, the old phrase, “fake it “’til you make it” is good advice after all. As Merrian-Webster defines “confidence,” it is a feeling or belief that someone or something is good or has the ability to succeed at something. Confidence plays an important role in achieving success in our professional life and staying motivated. Fortunately, confidence is something that can be practiced and developed. Every time we have to experience a nerve-racking situation, we progressively build our confidence and one day, we won’t have to fake it all anymore!
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller
This article is intended for information purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice.
Michele Majul-Ibarra is an HR Professional. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Human Resource Management. She also holds the C.I.M. professional designation (Certified in Management). E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.