Does "Fake It 'Til You Make It" Work For Improving Your Social Skills And Confidence?

One of the most common suggestions you'll hear for improving confidence and people skills is to "Fake it 'til you make it." That is, if you're not X, act as if you are. Don't "fake" anything in the sense of being phony or insincere. Try to genuinely emulate the trait you hope to have. Over time your "faked" behavior will lead to successes that will cause you to truly become X. The classic business example is the rookie salesman who wears a fancy suit and a nice watch, as if he's already a top earner. His aura of success impresses his potential customers, and before long he really is pulling in big commissions.

Some people wonder if the "Fake it 'til you make it" approach actually works. The answer is: It depends. The term is vague and different people apply it in their own ways, and some of them are more likely to pan out than others. This article will cover applications of the phrase related to becoming better at socializing. It will leave whether the advice works for other uses, like getting your dream job, to someone else.

Things at least some people can "fake 'til they make"

Becoming more comfortable in the social situations that make you uneasy

For example, if you're scared to talk to strangers at parties, you can fake that you're someone who's comfortable approaching people. It will feel awkward at first, but eventually it'll come naturally to you. The thing is using "Fake it 'til you make it" in this context is just a glorified way of saying, "If something makes you nervous, do it until you're used to it." That's a core tool for overcoming anxiety. Of course that can work.

A 'but' is that your nervousness has to be fairly mild to be able to fake not having it. If someone's only a little hesitant about starting conversations at parties, telling them to "Fake it 'til you make it" may be the small push they need to start stretching their comfort zone. I think a lot of the "Faking it 'til I made it worked for me" endorsements come from this type of person, who was only a bit inhibited to begin with.

However, if someone's social anxiety is more severe, they'll be too keyed up to pretend they're relaxed. Or if they can, it will be very nerve racking and mentally draining, and they won't be able to keep it up for long. They need to use a mix of other approaches first to address their anxiety.

Outwardly confident body language and behaviors

By "confident body language" I mean standard stuff like holding your shoulders back, standing up straight, making good eye contact, having a firm handshake, and not being afraid to take up some space. "Confident behaviors" is more vague, but I more or less mean you're not afraid to express yourself or take social risks. For example, being able to share an opinion, speak up in a group to tell a story, or ask someone if they'd like to hang out another time. Feeling wary about talking to someone but approaching them anyway, like in the point above, is another confident behavior.

Faking this kind of outward confidence can work if you already have a good sense of what genuine confidence looks like. People will tend to respond positively to your self-assured outer presentation, which will slowly build your inner confidence. Being able to ask yourself, "What would Confident Me do right now?" can also be a useful way to make decisions. ("I just got to the party. Shy Me would retreat to a couch and play on her phone. Confident Me would go find some friendly looking people to chat to. Alright, I'll do that.")

This approach can backfire for people who are less-socially experienced, and have a mistaken exaggerated, cartoony idea of what being confident means. They'll think they're faking confidence, but they're actually coming across as obnoxious, arrogant braggarts. Again, if you're really, really shy, you'll find it too scary to act confident. You might also stress yourself out if you interpet "I should appear confident on the surface" with "The world will end if I reveal even a hint of anxiety or insecurity." This is another application of "Fake it 'til you make it" where people who are only a bit behind tend to benefit, but those with larger deficits may not get much out of it.

Creating a short-term boost to your mood or social energy

You're at a bar with some friends and you're feeling tired, grumpy, and not all that social. You force yourself to act outwardly energetic, cheerful, and talkative, and before long you're in a more happy, outgoing mood. When this approach works I think it's mainly because your faked behavior gets you out of your head and into some genuinely enjoyable interactions. You feel like you're going through the motions as you turn to the person next to you, smile, and ask about their day. But then they tell you a funny story about their job, and you actually start laughing and having a good time.

This type of Faking It 'Til You Make It definitely works at times, but it's not reliable. Sometimes you're just going to be in a sour or untalkative mood, and there's nothing you can do about it. No one has the ability to totally control their emotions. Still, if you're out with your friends and not in the best headspace, it's at least worth seeing if you can push yourself out of your rut. Just don't be too hard on yourself if it doesn't always work.

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Getting the hang of particular social skills

You're not great at making light, casual small talk with people you don't know. You can't literally fake a skill you don't have. You can "fake it" in the sense that you dive in, act as if you're someone who knows what they're doing, and learn as you go. When there's someone you want to chat to at a party, you go speak to them. At first your small talk won't be that polished, but with experience it will get better. Like with a previous point, "Fake it 'til you make it" works in this sense, but it's just a dressed up way of giving a basic suggestion. In this case "Practice" or "Give yourself mental permission to learn out in the world, and don't feel you have to be perfect right off the bat". Once more, you need to already be relatively confident to have the courage to "fake" a skill you're not good at yet.

Implementing useful social habits

You're new in town and want to make friends. You know to do that you need to regularly get out of your apartment and go to events where you might meet people. You agree with the theory on paper, but often feel lazy or pessimistic about doing it. After all, you went to that one book club and it felt like a waste of time because everyone was way older than you. You can fake being someone who has faith in the advice and is willing to try applying it consistently, even if it doesn't pay off every single time. You make yourself go to at least one new event a week, and about a month later you meet a group of people you hit it off with. Once more, this is just the common sense idea of "Give a suggestion time to work", but if you want to call it "Faking it 'til you make it", go ahead.

Social traits you can't fake yourself into

A way different level of sociability

If you naturally like to spend a lot of time alone, and need some downtime to recharge after being around people, you can't fake your way into becoming a social butterfly who wants to be around their friends 24/7. You might be able to become somewhat less of a homebody, but most people report they can't jump all the way to the other end of the scale. You can force yourself to act much more social for a while, and you may even temporarily fool yourself into thinking your core preferences have changed, but sooner or later you'll realize you're acting against your nature, and that it's making you unhappy. There's nothing wrong with being less-social. If you're that way try to create a social life that works for you, not transform into someone else.

A way different social style

This is similar to the last point. Some people have a very outgoing, gregarious, center of attention social style. Others are more low key. If you're on the restrained side you can certainly become a bit more outgoing if you want, but it's probably not realistic to expect to turn into an ultra-chatty party animal. Some people make themselves act like that for a while, but it eventually hits them it's unfulfilling, and harmful to their self-esteem to try to be something they're not.

Liking hobbies or types of people that truly don't interest you deep down

Sometimes we develop new interests if we give things a chance. For example, you may not feel very enthusiastic about cooking, but if you make yourself prepare a few recipes you may discover you like it. However, there are some things we just can't get into or care about, and nothing will change that. I've heard people say they went through a phase where they tried to force themselves to enjoy a particular hobby or hanging around a certain crowd, but they eventually had to admit it just wasn't for them. For example, they may have unsuccessfully tried to turn into someone who loves getting drunk and going to Top 40 clubs every weekend. Sometimes they fake it so well that they end up with a lifestyle and group of friends they can't relate to, and then have to messily extract themselves from it all.

A constantly positive emotional state or outlook

I've seen people claim that by Faking it 'Til They Make It they're at a point where they're always feeling happy and optimistic. I don't buy it. That's not how emotions work. Humans simply aren't wired to be blissed out all the time. It's one thing to nudge yourself toward a better mood every now and then, but being endlessly happy isn't realistic or sustainable.

Also, it's not necessary to fake having friends in order make them

A misguided piece of advice I've seen a few times is, "If you don't have any friends then no one will want to hang out with you. You need to fake having a social life so other people will see you as someone they could spend time with." The suggestion is based on the false premise that having no friends is a scarlet letter. I explain why that's not true in this article.