Act As If

William James, a pioneer of psychology, said ‘Act as if what you do matters. It does’. He also said ‘If you want a quality, act as if you already have it’.

I call that the Act As If principle. There is a third way to apply this principle. When you don’t know what to do or say in a situation, think of someone you know who would know exactly what to do or say. What would they do or say? Mentally step into their shoes and Act As If you’re them. This at least starts you moving in the right direction. It might even produce the precise result you’re after. You then have this new behaviour as part of your repertoire and your self-image grows to include being someone who knows what to do or say in that type of situation.

Some of you may know that I’m a Star Trek fan tragic. The late Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr Spock, that super-cool, super-logical fellow with the pointy ears, said that playing Spock had a huge effect on him and his thought processes. Playing Spock, he learned so much about rational, logical thought that it re-shaped his life.

By Acting As If he were logical and rational, he became logical and rational. Acting As If you are the character or the person with the characteristics you want to adopt gives you energy and inspiration and builds the behaviour and memory patters that last you your entire life when you do it often enough. Acting becomes reality with repetition. We become what we do.

I’m not saying don’t be authentic. I’m saying keep improving your authentic self and Acting As If is one way to do that.


Psssst! Did you hear …?

Do you know that people attribute what you say about others as your own characteristics? Yup. It’s official. In a series of studies reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, we become associated with the very traits we attribute to others. Moreover, those associations persist over time, even when there is no logical basis for them.

The implications are clear: to build effective working relationships, be careful what you say about others. Make your comments positive, not critical.

Building your personal brand

What do people think of when your name is mentioned? A smart, strategic thinker? A problem solver? An expert in your field? Do the words ‘trustworthy’ and ‘reliable’ immediately come to mind when people think of you? Or maybe calm, even-tempered, fair-minded or quick-witted describe you?

The unique combination of your expertise, strengths and skills and the adjectives that describe you — what you stand for, what you’re enthusiastic about, your personal values — that’s your personal brand. It describes what you’re ‘about’ and your style — how you do what you do, your ‘modus operandi‘. (Chapter 6 — page 140 of the text — helps you identify your main values.)

A strong and professional personal brand protects your job and helps build your career when it’s backed up by solid performance.  It isn’t built just during working hours, either. Social media can help build (or destroy) your personal brand, so participate in it judiciously. You want your name ‘out there’ but not over-exposed and everything about you ‘out there’ needs to align with your personal brand. Everything.

Your personal ‘moments of truth’, the impression you leave with people no matter how fleeting your encounter, build your personal brand, too, as does smart networking and a good personal mission statement, one or two sentences that describe what you do in an interesting way and makes people say ’Oh really? Tell me more!’.

So what’s your personal brand? How do you want people to think of you? Write this down — these are your goals and the descriptors you need to live up to day in and day out, at work and in your personal life. These descriptors should describe you at your best, not be a version of someone you admire. When they describe you at your best, you can act authentically and people know that what they see is what they get, not an imitation of someone else or a false front they can’t trust.

Once you’re clear on your personal brand, think about what  you can do to enhance it, how you can keep it up to date and how you can show you’re adding to your knowledge, expertise and skills and that you’re growing as a person and as a leader.

Discussion questions

What is your personal brand? What can you do to enhance it?