When we think of personal development, we think in terms of taking new things on: taking on new skills, taking on new behaviours, as well as new attitudes and beliefs. This can be scary and take us well out of our comfort zone.
This is because, when we start to take on these new attributes, we’re rarely competent … at first. We get to (re)learn about the competency ladder.
- Unconsciously incompetent – we did know that we didn’t know!
- Conscious incompetent – we now know what we don’t know!
- Consciously competent – we focus and become better at our new skills
- Unconsciously competent – we do it without even thinking about it!
Acting as if …
In his commencement speech at the University of the Arts 2012, Neil Gaiman finishes off a great speech by suggesting people be wise. “But”, he says, “If you don’t know how to be wise, think of someone who is wise and just pretend to be like them.”
“Acting as if” leads to acting, or behaving and thinking, like the character trait you want to be competent in.
According to the site, Ranker, Daniel Day Lewis is known for staying in character off camera. Reportedly, he would send text messages as “Commander in Chief” and talk on the phone as Abraham Lincoln when he was filming Lincoln.
He was acting as if he was Lincoln!
What skill or behaviour are you looking to develop?
An actor will take the time to research their character. Particularly if it is based on true events, they will go to great lengths to find out about their character, as stated by Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger of Tom Hanks.
And yet, here is how Hanks describes the situation:
When we are looking to lead people, or influence others, what traits do we need to take on in order to be successful in the role or the situation? Think about someone you know who has the attributes you are seeking. Have a conversation with them, taking note of how they approach a situation. Then reflect on how you might adopt that skill.
Imagine for a moment, you get triggered very easily by certain situations or certain people. Perhaps a leader in your organisation is unethical but keeps getting accolades and acknowledgments. Each time you interact with them you find yourself thinking about their flaws and it can distract you from the task at hand.
Speak to someone you know and trust. Ask them how they deal with difficult personalities. (I suggest NOT mentioning your trigger person). Hear your colleague out and imagine yourself managing the situation the same way. What skills and attributes would you need to take on? Write them down.
Now “act as if” you had those skills. Can you do this for a few seconds? A few minutes? A whole meeting?
This is different from “faking it till you make it”. Faking it calls out the fact you are faking it. Therefore, it could mean you’re being duplicitous with yourself. And there is no need to be.
An analogy in two parts
- When we learn to drive a car on the road, we’re learning at the same time as doing. You’re not faking it.
- Sitting in a lounge chair, making car noises with hands on an imaginary steering wheel is faking it!
It’s the same when dealing with new and challenging situations. You’re actually “driving the car” no matter how nervously or how you feel inwardly or how many mistakes you make … you’re driving! 🙌
Truth be told, the person you went to for guidance, at one time, “acted as if” as well. Maybe they still are! 😧
We do this every day! We act as if every day of our lives. We do it subconsciously to fit in, deal with a difficult client, even drive to a brand new location because just getting there can be stressful.
Now the skill is to do it consciously, on purpose, with an expected result. If you don’t get it exactly right first time, you go again. You can’t be version 2.0 of yourself within being a Version 1.0! Not even Apple, Microsoft and Google can do that.
Develop your character they you want it to be! To benefit you and those you work with.
To help with this I have created a simple template you can use and re-use for skills and attributes you’re looking to develop this way. It is free and you can get it here.