Fake it till you make it psychology and sociology

Fake it till you make it

Fake it till you make it sounds like an instruction to trick or deceive. But it actually provides useful direction for people who find themselves in a new or difficult position and unsure about how to proceed. The phrase suggests that by imitating confidence, competence, and an optimistic mindset, a person can realize those qualities in their real life.

I first came across the concept way, way back in my early years of tertiary study. Hearing about it at the start of a Social Science Degree at the WA Institute of Technology,* I laughed at the idea.

Fake it till you make it – sociology

Twenty six years old, the mother of three young children, with a recently completed a university entrance exam, I hoped to begin a Bachelor of Arts degree. That didn’t happen. I couldn’t go to classes. WAIT only provided study opportunities externally in a limited number of areas. Sociology became my first study unit. Such a happy accident, as it turned out.

Within a week or two of starting, I read sociologist Peter Berger’s Invitation to Sociology and learned how social roles are constructed. A person new to a job, say a new graduate, may have knowledge about their chosen field. But they do not know how to actually do the job until they learn the social aspects of the role.

Others expect them to know how to fit in. But they must pick up and run with the authority attached to the position. They’re lucky if they know how to fake it till they make it. Otherwise, they flounder unhappily for months, perhaps years.

In practice

This idea of pretending to understand a role begins when we are children. As we play, we pretend to be grown up. We put ourselves in the shoes of those we admire. Mothers and fathers. Doctors and nurses. Cops and robbers. Cowboys and Indians. Dress-ups. Shops. (You can guess my age from my choice of games I played.)

As a newly graduated nurse, I put on a new uniform. No longer bound to wear an apron or cap, I wore a belt and veil on my first day as a registered nurse. Strange new clothes. Strange new life. Student nurses expected I had more knowledge than I actually possessed. Doctors and medical students treated me almost as a colleague.

In a different league to my previous lowly station, I felt uncomfortable. I had to pretend. To fake it until the role became comfortable. The role of imposter was not unique, but probably universal in new situations. Every new position I’ve undertaken needed an element of pretence until I ‘fitted in’ adequately.

Fake it till you make it, psychology

Years later, working towards qualifications in counselling, this concept occurred again in psychology. I learned that role theory is the core theoretical and practical element in psychodrama, a therapeutic method I enjoyed using.

In psychodrama, internalised roles are constructs; in other words, they are fictions. A search for the ‘real’ person is futile. Any role involves the way we think, act and behave in a given situation.

According to William James,

Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.

In the 1920s, Alfred Adler developed a therapeutic technique that he called “acting as if”. Adler’s method, still used today, is often described as “role play”. The strategy can be used to enable and enhance behaviour.

Thus, all roles are fluid and can be changed when we manipulate the elements involved. We can decide to fake it until we make it in any situation. That’s liberating!

Why I’m thinking about this now

I read an online article by my friend, Sherene Strahan, about setting new goals for 2021. She wanted to reach out into a new field and expressed her nervousness about entering a space where she had not previously been. An expert in the field immediately contacted the writer and offered assistance. My comment included the words, Fake it till you make it.

This year it seems I’m being drawn to new roles and projects, some of which I would not have chosen. Others excite and interest me. My response, one that comes naturally to me, is to say, ‘Yes,’ then work out how I’ll do it.

Previous posts on this topic

It seems this is a bit of theme of mine. Here are two other blogs about pretending to be something other.

‘Serenity, a state of calm peacefulness and pose,’ https://maureenhelen.com/serenity-state-calm-peacefulness-poise/

‘Eighty years old and now what?’

https://maureenhelen.com/eighty-years-old-and-now-what/

*WAIT became Curtin University soon after I graduated.

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12 Comments

  1. A fabulous post, Maureen. I can think of the many many years I’ve faked it, sometimes making it, other times falling far short!
    A timely post. A brave post. Blessings.

    1. Thank you, Susan Dunn. Yes, I think we all fake it a lot of the time. All I did in the post was to name what that action is. I suspect that most of the time you would have made it!

  2. So honest and wise, and true! I remember faking it as a young doctor, often sneaking into another room (as a junior GP) to look things up. As I got older and more experienced, I happily looked up information in front of the patient – they never seemed to mind as long as I sorted them out!
    It’s exciting to hear you’re trying more new things this year… let us know about these projects if and when you’re ready xx

  3. Always most interesting Maureen. It’s exactly what we need to do and your Blog has resonated with me totally. It was interesting too as it was such an in-depth post and I really liked the academic side of the post. Many thanks you always manage to share many sides of life and leave us with positive and pro-active thoughts. For that I am sincerely grateful to you. Bless your cotton socks lass ! 🙂

  4. You have always been a great model to me. Maybe the resolution for quiet courage in 2021 in whatever circumstances we face will continue to set a good example for those who follow us. X

    1. Thank you for your affirmation of our friendship, Laura. And I like to think we will continue to model courage in this year that has begun so sadly.

  5. So good to read such an in-depth exploration of this common phrase. It’s assumed that ‘faking it’ is superficial and wrong.
    But it’s only by ‘being’ something, if initially in a superficial way, that we become something else.
    It takes courage (faking it) to have the successes required to be confident (making it).
    I love how you have given really solid reasons to let go of our assumptions and give this practise the consideration it deserves

    1. Thanks for your comment, Sherene. I’m glad you liked my rationale for using this phrase to make life just a bit easier to deal with. What I love about it is that it’s grounded in social science.

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