I had an interesting experience recently that has kept me thinking. In a video by the author of Sandman (which you can seen in this post), Neil Gaiman recounts advice he once gave to a student that asked how to do something that they felt was difficult and reiterates in his speech. He told the student that she should pretend to be someone that could do it; not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone that could. What a novel and interesting concept!
So many of our actions are dependent on our beliefs of what is or is not possible. What we can or cannot do. We tend to develop our own internal representations of the world and our place in it. This same concept applies to our representation of others in the world, who they are and what’s possible for them. If you think about it, you can likely tie it back to even earlier times in life. Maybe it was the cool kid in high school that seemingly got all the girls while you sat on the sidelines or the high school varsity cheerleader who always made prom queen and dated the football team captain.
It’s often very difficult to alter your own representation of the world, how you experience it and what you believe; it takes much work. But… what if you were able to project your representation of someone else onto yourself!? Act as if they act, do as they do, behave as they would behave.
The idea intrigued me…
Over the weekend, I decided to toy with the concept. So often in life we’re constrained by our own self-limiting factors, there has to be a way to over-come them. So, I decided to start simple; water.
The problem is trivial, and the annoyance is miniscule compared to others’ issues with water. For many it’s a deathly fear of drowning, but for me it’s much less severe. Most people who know me know that I’m a baby when it comes to cold water. I’ll often sit pool-side for hours, contemplating my entrance. First approaching the water, with hesitation and anxiety, gently testing the temperature; while most will jump in without a second thought, I over-analyze and build up the moment in my head, procrastinating. Generally succumbing to peer pressure or my own embarrassment of such pathetic behavior. Sounds stupid, right!? I laugh at myself as I write this, but it’s representative of so many other issues in life; confronting issues with others, approaching strangers, approaching women, making tough decisions, etc.
Every time I face the same experience; delay, hesitation, anxiety, and disempowerment until I take the final plunge, at which point I’m fine. Despite the triviality of this example, I feel that it’s a great example of other issues we face in life; controlled by a behavior we don’t desire.
The point is that I wanted to change this experience so that it became a non-issue; so, I decided to take the advice and pretend I was someone who loved the water, hot or cold; someone unaffected by the conditions.
So, I thought to myself, who better to emulate than an US Navy SEAL? These are men of the water, trained in water conditions of all types, they can swim for miles and tread water for hours, 65 degree water is the least of their concerns. Once projecting that image onto myself, my concerns seemed rather pathetic.
Rather than anticipate the coolness of the water as it slowly crept up my skin, sending shivers up my spine, I envisioned a Navy SEAL marching into the water, preparing for a mission. Next thing I knew, I was neck deep in the water.
The point of this exercise is not to play make-believe and be a super-hero for a day but rather it allowed me to change my frame relatively easily; it changed my relationship with water. If you can do that, you’ll soon integrate it and change your behavior entirely.
After reflecting on this further, I realized this concept isn’t so uncommon, it’s just not usually thought about in the same fashion. Just as middle-schoolers and high-schools see actors on TV smoking, they want to do the same, look cool like they do in the movies; mimicking people’s behaviors is not uncommon.
In a way, I’ve done this in the past, but didn’t realize it. In one way or another, we all follow in others’ footsteps and emulate their behavior, from 3 year olds repeating everything their parents say to spending 12 years of our lives following the teachings of millions before us to following the advice of the mentors and coaches in our lives.
It’s when you realize that you have control over your behaviors that it becomes powerful: What could you do if you acted as someone else to do something you believe you cannot do?!