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Every day, you likely hear a new piece of advice.

One suggestion you may hear is to “fake it until you make it,” especially if you’re starting something new, like a job. But is it really good advice?

This article will outline everything you want to know about faking it till you make it.

What Is Fake It Till You Make It?

Fake it till you make it is an expression in which a person imitates the confidence or skills they need to succeed in what they are doing in the hopes that they will eventually feel real. Proponents of this idea say you can fake confidence and hope that, eventually, it will inspire real confidence.

If you’ve never heard of the phrase, imagine this scenario—it’s day one of your new job, and you may feel intimidated by the tasks ahead. Do you feel like you know what you’re doing?

You might employ the “fake it till you make it” strategy to feel more confident. In the best-case scenario, you’ll learn enough using this strategy to get the desired results and develop the tools necessary to succeed. For some people, this approach works. But in other situations, you’ll want to be wary.

When Does Fake It Till You Make It Work?

Despite the limitations, there’s a reason why people toss around the phrase—it can work in some situations. The best time to use this strategy may be when you’re trying to change your behavior to improve yourself.

Experts call this the “acting as if” prescription in psychotherapy, which allows you to gain the confidence to be who you desire.

The “fake it till you make it” strategy is more about changing your behavior than fundamentally changing who you are.

For example, say you want to become more productive at work. You may aim to increase your output by 10% during the next quarter. How will you reach that point? You could draw inspiration from your more productive co-workers and mimic their behavior until you reach your goals—even if you don’t consider yourself productive now. While “faking it,” you’ll learn new strategies for becoming a better, more productive employee in the future.

In your personal life, you could desire to be friendlier and warmer to the people around you. Changing this behavior may seem unnatural initially, but you’ll build better relationships with your co-workers, family, and friends in the long run.

When Does Fake It Till You Make It Not Work?

Unfortunately, faking it till you make it doesn’t always bring sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. It can work in particular situations, but there are some instances where it can be less successful. Faking it till you make it does not work when dealing with hard skills, assisting somebody, and manufacturing who you are. It can also lead to feelings of inauthenticity.

For example, it is incredibly hard to fake technical skills and competence. In the workplace, these are elements that are extremely difficult to fake. Imagine a bank’s hiring manager interviewing a prospective employee for a position that requires at least five years of experience with particular software. During the first few days or weeks, it will become apparent if they are or are not as experienced as they claimed.

Another situation where you may struggle with faking it till you make it is helping or receiving assistance from someone. For example, it isn’t easy to teach somebody else if you don’t understand what you’re teaching. This part ties in with the competency factor mentioned above.

The third circumstance where you shouldn’t use this strategy is faking who you are or claiming something others can eventually prove as false. 

Anna Sorokin ran into this situation. Though she’s an outlier, her story still fits in this section. Sorokin faked her identity and tricked wealthy people in New York City, banks, and hotels. She got people to give her money based on her identity and false financial documents to claim millions in wealth. Her fraud totaled almost $300,000 between 2013 and 2017.

Sorokin’s story was the subject of a Netflix series called Inventing Anna because she faked her identity as a German heiress with the last name “Delvey.” Your life story is unlikely to match Sorokin’s, but you can only take the “fake it until you make it” strategy so far. There’s a difference between learning new behaviors and lying about your identity or skills. One can build you into a better worker or friend, but the latter can get you into trouble.

Her faking it till she made it got her into a lot of trouble.

What About Imposter Syndrome?

One of the downfalls of “fake it till you make it” is it can snowball into imposter syndrome. This feeling arrives when you think your success didn’t come from your abilities. You may feel like everyone around you does their job better than you, and your bosses will think you’re a fraud once they find out.

Often, imposter syndrome is all in your head, and you’re not giving yourself enough credit.

Unfortunately, faking it till you make it can add to that imposter syndrome feeling. Faking your confidence or abilities to do something can be more damaging than productive. You may end up feeling more fraudulent than you were in the beginning. It can lead to avoiding people and your problems, too. Imposter syndrome can also accelerate if you believe your true self isn’t good enough to take on the task without faking it.

Watch Vanessa Van Edwards’s interview with an expert on Impostor Syndrome:

“Fake it until you make it” is more than just a saying—researchers have conducted studies on this topic. It’s a hot discussion point for psychologists and sociologists who have written about the “fake it until you make it” strategy. So, it’s worth diving into what they have to say.

One study found imposter syndrome is more common than you think. This research analyzed the characteristics of Italian neurosurgeons and trainees and tried to see how confident they were in their abilities and accomplishments. The researchers received feedback from 103 respondents and 82% scored in the moderate to intense feelings of imposter syndrome. The subjects felt like they had to fake it until they made it despite their accomplishments.

The study found the “fake it till you make it” strategy and imposter syndrome can lead to burnout and a general decline in the neurosurgeon’s well-being. These feelings can affect their job because they can negatively affect their productivity and patient care.

Another study about faking it till you make it sought to find how verbal and nonverbal language affects students in middle school. These students were on track for a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The study observed a Latina student named Cindy and found imposter syndrome was a recurring theme with her.

In this analysis, the researchers found Cindy tried to use “fake it till you make it” to disguise her cognitive dissonance. Cindy persevered through the course by using her native Spanish as a guide.

The researchers say Cindy’s journey shows the difference between productive and regular struggles. The latter isn’t as conducive. Productive struggles help students form better habits like critical thinking and perseverance. It shows students that struggling is OK as long as they learn in the process. Regular struggles can leave students discouraged and in the dark.

In the regular struggles, Cindy would hide and avoid confrontation from her facilitator because she felt that was the safe reaction. She would rather keep quiet than admit her dissonance. However, in productive struggles, Cindy received empathy and nurturing as her instructors encouraged her to improve. The choice of language here made all the difference for Cindy, and it can do the same for you.

What Are Alternatives to Fake It Till You Make It?

Sometimes, faking it till you make it just doesn’t cut it. The phrase feels negative, especially considering how it feeds the imposter syndrome you may already struggle with. The word “fake” is the operative one in the expression. You aren’t a fake, so you could replace “fake it till you make it” with these three friendlier phrases.

1. Be the Change You Want to See

You may have seen people attribute this quote to Gandhi. There’s no record of him saying this phrase, but it holds up well as a more positive outlook than “fake it until you make it.” If you want change to happen, you have to make it happen—faking anything isn’t required here. You have to start doing the necessary things to make concrete changes because the world isn’t going to do it for you.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Remind yourself that practice makes perfect. In many situations, failure is OK and even expected. Shortcomings are where many people learn the most. The fear of failure is prevalent in society, but doing everything perfectly on the first try can be quite a challenge. You’ll have to read fiction books to find someone who did everything right on the first attempt.

3. Face Your Challenges Head-on

Face it until you ace it. Exchanging a couple of letters puts a positive spin on the idea and gives you a more practical approach.

You have challenges in front of you every day. Anxiety can make them seem daunting, but you’ll figure everything out one step at a time. Sometimes, the thought of your challenges can be scarier than the actual situation.

For example, your challenge may be meeting out-of-town investors you’ve never seen before. More than likely, you’re more scared of the unknown rather than the investors.

How to Cultivate Authentic Confidence without Faking It 

You can use the term “fake it till you make it” if you’d like. If you reach your goal, the name can be whatever you want it to be. But how do you get there? What steps can you take to improve your confidence without coming across as disingenuous? These seven strategies can elevate you without feeling inauthentic.

1. Enter the Room Confidently

There are a few ways you can confidently enter a room without overdoing it. Confidence is one of the first things people see. When you walk into a room, you can try the following:

  • Greeting: The first way to show confidence is to greet those in the room. Whether at a meeting or dinner party, saying hello to the host and guest shows you’re ready for the moment.
  • Eye contact: Maintaining eye contact is a critical part of confidence. Doing so shows the other person you have their full attention and are intently listening to what they have to say.
  • Mirroring: Mirroring may be a lesser-known strategy, but it can work for bonding with a stranger. For instance, you could copy their speaking volume, the way they sit, or their hand gestures when they speak. 
  • Handshakes: It may seem simple, but a handshake can go a long way. Give a firm handshake when someone offers because it’s a sign of confidence.
  • Standing straight: Whether sitting or standing, posture is crucial for your confidence. Slouching may make you appear tired or disinterested, but standing up straight shows you’re poised and ready to take on what’s ahead of you. 

On the other hand, there are nervous cues you may want to avoid. When you hear the phrase “confidence is key,” it’s more than a cliché. You’ll want to refrain from these quirks:

  • Pockets: When you’re in unfamiliar territory, you may feel tempted to put your hands in your pockets. Some don’t realize it, but this action may signal to others in the room that you’re nervous or uncomfortable.
  • Filler words: Giving a presentation or speech can be a barometer of your confidence. To show your poise, try to cut out filler words, such as “um” or “like.” You may naturally say them, but they signal to an audience that you’re unprepared.
  • Fidgeting: Do you ever start shaking your leg randomly or use a fidget spinner? You may do either out of instinct, but fidgeting can be a sign of nervousness or boredom.
  • Nail biting: This nervous tell may be something you do out of habit, but picking or biting your nails can show others that you’re feeling uncomfortable. Refrain from doing this in a public setting.
  • Crossing arms: If you see someone with their arms crossed, it doesn’t always mean they’re hostile or uncomfortable. However, you never know who will get the wrong impression. Recognizing this habit can make you appear more confident. 

2. Think About Your Accomplishments

Another way to build confidence is to think about how you got to this point and recall your accomplishments. In life, there’s hardly an achievement too small. The neuroscientists faced imposter syndrome despite earning degrees in a challenging field when the average person would struggle mightily doing the same studies. 

In times of doubt, it’s best to remember who you are and the great things you’ve accomplished to get there. One way to keep track of your achievements is to write them down in a journal. Or, you could get creative and make art out of your accomplishments with a jar or artwork for your wall. Imagine a picture frame or a collage dedicated to your triumphs. 

3. Remember You’re Not Alone

Again, it’s helpful to recall the neurosurgeon example. Out of 103 neurosurgeons/trainees, over 80% felt inadequate in their abilities.

One of the scariest feelings you can have is the first day of something—like work. You enter the office, and there are already established friendships and dynamics. You’re essentially a new character on the ninth season of a sitcom.

In this instance, it’s essential to remember you aren’t the only one who’s had this experience. Everyone has a first day in a new career. It may seem odd at first, and it can be overwhelming. However, time brings comfort, and familiarity will breed confidence within yourself.

4. Ask for Mentorship

It’s worth restating you’re not alone with your imposter syndrome and the temptation to fake it till you make it. Another way to stop these intrusive thoughts is to speak with co-workers in your department or a manager. They’ve been in your shoes before and know what it’s like to have these feelings. Ask them how they overcame their fears—their insight could be valuable. 

Mentorship matters a lot in the workplace and can help companies with worker retention and morale. About 91% of employees with mentors say they’re satisfied with their jobs. The same study found a higher percentage of employees with mentors (89%) say their colleagues value them than those without mentors (75%).

5. Set Reasonable Expectations

Once you start your new adventure, it’s critical, to be honest with yourself and realistic about your expectations. That’s why it’s crucial to split your objectives into bits and pieces so you can have multiple bites at the apple.

An excellent strategy to employ in most professions is the concept of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. These targets aim to get you better at something pertinent to your situation incrementally. Employing SMART goals can help impress yourself and your supervisors because you’ll have tangible evidence of progress.

For example, say you work in a sales department. Your numbers are fine, but you want to take it to the next level. A SMART goal could be to increase your sales by 10% in the next quarter. This target follows the five rules of SMART goals and will help you achieve your goals one at a time.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Once you set your SMART goals, you should track them as you go and celebrate your accomplishments. Again, no achievement is too small. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a prize or something special for achieving your goals. The achievement could be as easy as going to bed 30 minutes earlier at night or as challenging as becoming a neurosurgeon. 

The road to success is not linear, so be kind to yourself and celebrate milestones. You could have dinner at your favorite restaurant, organize a game night with friends, or schedule that much-needed massage appointment you’ve been thinking about. 

7. Be OK With Failure

Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword sometimes. Being meticulous and wanting a high degree of accuracy is a feature, not a bug. However, it can lead to those dreaded feelings of inadequacy. Accepting your failure is one way to stave off the perfectionism that brings negativity.

A terrific example of accepting failure comes from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love. In a TED Talk, Gilbert says she knew anything she wrote after her hit novel would disappoint the crowd but helped herself through the failure by reminding herself she loves writing. Therefore, the results of her book—good or bad—are inconsequential. Failure shouldn’t discourage you from doing something you want to do.

Where Did “Fake It Till You Make It” Come From?

People have been using the “faking it until they make it” strategy for generations. One of the first to describe it was a sociologist named Robert K. Merton. Many people consider Merton—a Philadelphia native who died in 2003—as the father of modern sociology. Merton said that a prediction about a situation’s outcome could invoke new behavior that makes the prediction come true.

In other words, setting a goal can change your behavior, so you achieve the goal. 

Where Can You See “Fake it ‘till You Make It” in Pop Culture?

An early reference to this term in the English language is the song “Fakin’ It” by Simon and Garfunkel. The duo released this single in 1968 and added it to their “Bookends” album the same year. The song’s lyrics read, “The girl does what she wants to do / She knows what she wants to do / And I know I’m fakin’ it / I’m not really makin’ it.” He’s aware of his insecurities despite efforts to overcome them by faking his confidence.

American cinema is where the “fake it until you make it” theme often appears. The comedy film Trading Places from 1983 is an excellent example. In the movie, Eddie Murphy plays a con artist who switches places with a commodities broker portrayed by Dan Aykroyd. Murphy’s character doesn’t know anything about the industry. Still, he fakes it until he makes it to get rich.

Another famous comedy where you can see this idea is Mrs. Doubtfire from 1993. In the film, Robin Williams loses custody of his children after a divorce. He wants to see his kids again, so he fakes his identity as a woman and becomes a British housekeeper named Mrs. Doubtfire. Williams manages to fool his wife and children with his disguise. When he dresses as a woman, Williams learns more about them and how to be a better parent.

Researcher Amy Cuddy also popularized this phrase in her TED Talk. She argued that you could use confident body language to inspire confident feelings.

What Are the Limitations of ‘Fake It Til You Make It?

Unfortunately, faking it until you make it isn’t as easy as it seems in the movies. You can’t expect to write a plot in which you completely change your mindset and life in just a couple of hours. 

So, why do people use this strategy? What limitations often make it more difficult? It seems as though “fake it until you make it” is prominent among people who want to achieve a goal but don’t want others to see their weaknesses.

There are limiting factors to faking it till you make it—a primary one is a social anxiety, which is among the most common mental health disorders in the United States. Social anxiety can be complicated because it instills fear of being humiliated. Interactions become much more complex, and you may feel inhibited when talking to people.

For example, think about a person a month into their job at a large marketing firm. They’re starting to get the hang of their workflow, but they aren’t familiar with everyone else at the company. The time has come to give a big presentation, but the nerves are starting to take over. Social anxiety can significantly inhibit their ability to provide a solid performance. Faking it till you make it can work here, but factors like social anxiety make it much more challenging.

Want to overcome social anxiety? We’ve got your back. Social anxiety can appear when speaking to a large group, talking to strangers, or being the center of attention. Here’s how to combat it—How to Overcome Your Social Anxiety: 6 Tips You Can Use Now.

Fake It Till You Make It Takeaways

To recap, faking it till you make it is a way to act like you are something until you become it. Is it a good strategy? It can be for some people. For others, it can feed into imposter syndrome. Try to reframe your outlook into a more positive spin on the challenges ahead. You can also follow these seven tips to build your confidence:

  1. Enter the room confidently. You don’t have to act like you’re on Project Runway, but subtle methods can improve your confidence and impress others.
  2. Think about your accomplishments. There’s a reason you’re in the position you’ve reached. You’ve accomplished a lot, and you should be proud of it.
  3. Remember, you’re not alone. Everyone goes through the first day at a new school or workplace. You’ll feel awkward, but everyone there has endured the same thing.
  4. Ask for mentorship. If the first-week scaries feel overwhelming, ask a co-worker or supervisor for advice on overcoming the fears. They can give you practical advice for navigating the job.
  5. Set reasonable expectations. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You should be patient with yourself and set SMART goals to improve yourself by 1% every day.
  6. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your successes along the journey. There’s no such thing as an achievement too small.
  7. Be OK with failure. Expecting perfection the entire way is unrealistic and can bring negativity when it happens. You can look at your mistakes as opportunities to grow.

Building your confidence is the key to overcoming imposter syndrome. Learn more about how to inspire others with your poise and tenacity with this article on body language for introverts and shy people.

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