Fake it ’til you make it is one of those ‘like and hate’ expressions. I particularly don’t like the negative connotation of the word fake. I don’t like fake people! But just like many other sayings, this one hides a useful truth behind the unfortunate wording.
To make a point, I’ll jump right into some neuroscience-voodoo, but without the fancy terminology.
Out of the many entities living inside us, we’ll focus on two that live on opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is what I call the ‘autopilot’ and that’s the one in charge of body functions… mainly. It’s the one that likes working in the background without making too much noise about it. It’s the one that needs to coordinate every muscle, listen to sensory feedback and make adjustments every time some action that needs to happen. You couldn’t wipe your ass without this one.
What I find interesting in this fancy neuroscience lecture is the automatic feedback-correction-loop. Once some action is started, there is this forth and back, echo like signaling, where the autopilot listens to sensory input, corrects the action if needed, listens again, adjusts, listens… Just balance on one leg for a minute to see it in action.
It’s not easy to synchronize thousands of muscles AND body functions at the same time. Lucky for us the autopilot does a fairly good job, and we don’t shit ourselves while tieing our shoelaces. Most of the time.
Another big thing on this robot’s to-do list, is reaction. To listen and quickly react on stuff coming from our sensors. It needs to take action way before all other lazy ass inner entities even notice what’s going on.
Considering all the surrounding chaos, it’s a restless responsibility for the poor robot. That’s why evolution had to trade smartness for efficiency in this case and evolve a separate system for the thinking part. That’s why only Dalai Lama-level gurus get to consciously control their heart-rate. Normal folks wouldn’t survive a day without the dumber, unconscious autopilot.
The second entity invited on today’s show is… drum roll… the conscious one. The I, I, me, me, me that supposedly is in charge of the whole spectacle called life. It can also trigger actions but doesn’t have a clue about how those get executed by the autopilot. It’s the “I don’t care, just do it” kind of asshole boss.
If this smarty-pants decides to go for a run, the autopilot needs to do the hard work and coordinate the one-two, one-two of your gluteal muscles – a. k. a. your buttocks.
It can listen to or ignore the sensory input (at least until you step on that Lego) and it can get the poor robot in serious trouble by making really poor decisions. This conscious MOFO can even outsmart the other one and is first-hand responsible for the ‘fake’ in our story. We’ll use that!
This two don’t always get along, but there are situations where they work seamlessly together – almost like one. Jokes are a good example. The understanding off and reaction to a funny situation requires a hell of a team work. Even a smile isn’t easy to pull off. It is part conscious work, part reaction, and remember that feedback-loop we addressed earlier? It’s fully in action for that smile to happen, synchronizing hundreds of tiny muscles, getting feedback, correcting, getting feedback… so you don’t end up grinning like an idiot. Well, this doesn’t always work flawlessly, but you know what I mean.
Now that you understand the relationship between this two a bit better, lets get to the useful stuff.
Because your inner robot can’t initiate on its own and just reacts to input – why I call it autopilot – it can also be tricked fairly easy by the other one. So if YOU – the conscious – decide to smile without any sensory input, for no reason what so ever, the autopilot will execute the movement without ‘knowing’ if the hilarious situation is real or not, hence the ‘fake’ in our saying. YOU, the puppet-master, will decide how big of a smile you want to show on your face and the autopilot will try to make it happen by comparing signals from your face nerves to the kind of smile that YOU imagined. Compare, adjust, compare, adjust… you could use a mirror to help your robot get it right AND to avoid some rally funny faces.
But wait, there is more! When you laugh and even when you smile, the autopilot reduces the production of stress hormones and amps up endorphins that can relieve physical pain and boost the antibody-producing cells. It also releases dopamine, which creates a sense of euphoria. This plays a significant role in our motivation to continue the behavior and sometimes starts a hard to control loop. The ‘ROFLMAO’ describes this process elegantly.
Because your autopilot can’t help itself, it will release a microdose of all those happy juices, even if YOU consciously fake the smile or laughter.
You basically get high on your own supply by tricking the autopilot to produce the dope for you. That’s not to say, you’re ‘stoned like a gravel road’ or ‘higher than giraffe pussy’ just by putting up a stupid smile. Far from it. That wouldn’t be so practical either, especially if you don’t like those long-sleeve restraining jackets. Yet, the chemistry is there – in small amounts, just like a microdose. And this adds up.
As a result, you’d end up smiling a lot more, as well as feel better overall. People would notice that and would more often smile back to you, which again would add up to your wellness, release more dopamine and also reinforce the loop.
See how easy it is to transform grumpiness into pleasant appearance? To generate joy and well-being? Smile.
And here’s a bonus you can use if you’re smart – and I bet you are! In the beginning – until you get the snowball big enough to roll on its own – you can train in some triggers. Like a discrete sound programmed on your phone or smartwatch every hour. Or every time you see something, like when you see your kid or your other half. Anything that will remind you to move those mouth corners toward your ears would work just fine.
Now, if you really want to go hardcore, you could even ‘tie’ this grinning therapy to some action. Maybe something you try to improve. Maybe even actions you don’t enjoy as much. Take work-outs, for example. And before you know it, there is a smiling hulk walking among us.
See how you could improve your life and that of the people around you?
Now go out there and fake it ’til you make it!