Several months ago, I heard this little tidbit on a podcast about the “As If” principle. The As If Principle started with philosopher William James and his theory on actions vs. feelings.
James believed that instead of our actions resulting in feelings, our feelings resulted in actions. This lead him to his conclusion: if you want quality, act as if you have quality.
Apply to all that matters, right? This really got me thinking (as most things do), and I’m not the only one. Psychologist Richard Wiseman took his thoughts to the next level and wrote a book on the subject, showing others how we can apply this principle to our daily lives in ways that actually work.
The book, “The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life“, talks about applying this principle to your life in even the small ways, such as:
- Smile to become measurably happier
- Wash your hands to drive away guilt
- Clench your fist to increase your willpower
- Eat with your nondominant hand to lose weight
- Nod while speaking to become more persuasive
- Act like a newlywed to rekindle your marriage
I’m skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard versions of this principle before, and in some instances, I do think it works. I think a big part of life is your mindset, and I know times when I’ve been frustrated at work I can just think of other things or tell myself that it’s okay, and it reduces my immediate stress level.
But it didn’t really solve any long-term problems. Eat with your nondominant hand to lose weight? Never heard that one, but I really suck at using my left hand for anything, so I would probably drop every single thing I tried to eat and would actually starve.
An article in “The Guardian” explores this idea – that thinking changes the situation – further, with examples from previous studies:
In one study led by Lien Pham at the University of California, students were asked to spend a few moments each day visualising themselves getting a high grade in an upcoming exam. Even though the daydreaming exercise only lasted a few minutes, it caused the students to study less and obtain lower marks. In another experiment led by Gabriele Oettingen from New York University, graduates were asked to note down how often they fantasised about getting their dream job after leaving college. The students who reported that they frequently fantasised about such success received fewer job offers and ended up with significantly smaller salaries.
On the other hand, there were many studies conducted surrounding feelings of confidence, strength, sadness, and happiness, where groups were asked to force smiles or frowns, or sit with great posture vs. slouching. Groups often tested feeling the same way they’d forced themselves to look.
I’m definitely not discounting this theory. Several years ago, I completed a “30 Day Breakup Guide”, and one of the days required me to wear something pink. Even though it seemed like a really simple task, I realized I never wore much pink, and wearing the one pink shirt in my closet helped me feel more feminine and bold that day. Ever since, if there’s a day I’m feeling particularly low and just want to wear black or my sweats, I’ll force myself to wear something cute in hopes it will life my spirits.
So, what do you all think about the As If Principle? Is it something you’ve already implemented? What methods work for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!