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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

CHAPTER 23

Use the "Act as If" Principle

The best way to create a feeling, if you have it not, is to act on every occasion where that feeling is desirable as if you had it already, and you soon will have.

  -- ARISTOTLE

In 1905, William James of Harvard University, the father of American psychology, made a remarkable observation. He said that the best way to experience an emotion, if you don't actually feel it, is to pretend as if you already feel it until it becomes a reality. The repeated actions of enthusiasm soon generate the real feelings of enthusiasm. If you behave as though you are happy or excited, you will soon begin to feel happy or excited. Your outward behavior will create the corresponding inner feeling.

You Can Control Your Actions

Psychologists have found that it is difficult for people to switch their emotions off and on at will. Emotions are not under the direct control of the will.

Your actions, however, are largely under your control from moment to moment. By controlling your actions, you can behave as if you already had the emotions you desire to have, similar to the "outside-in" approach in Chapter 8. So your actions actually help to create those emotions.

Actions Trigger Feelings

The "act as if" principle says that if you act as if you already felt a particular way, your actions will soon trigger the feelings to go with them.

When you meet with another person, act as if that other person is absolutely fascinating. Treat the other person like a movie star or Nobel Prize winner. Listen with your full attention. Lean forward and hang on every word. Nod, smile, and acknowledge, giving a continuous series of verbal and vocal assurances. The effect will be electric.

Very often, by using attentive listening techniques, you will be able to bring out the other person's insights and observations, which may amaze you. In no time at all, you will actually find yourself deeply interested in the other person. You will find her to be fascinating, and her words to be intelligent and enjoyable.

Brian on Lessons from a Long Bus Trip

A long time ago, I was forced to take an eight-hour bus ride to get home because of an airline workers strike that had paralyzed all air transport. I found myself sitting next to a scruffy-looking character in jeans, with long hair, who was going to be my seatmate for the entire trip. What could I do?

I decided to try out this "act as if" principle I had just heard about. I turned to him and introduced myself, then asked him where he was from and what he did for a living. It turned out that he lived on a farm but that he had become fascinated with small planes. He had sent away for a kit and built himself a one-seater that he flew around the farm country. Eventually he competed in air shows. He went on to tell me about crashes and near-death experiences, and his recovery from broken legs and accidents.

The more I practiced attentive listening, asking questions and acknowledging his responses, the more fascinating things he told me. To this day, I remember how those eight hours flew by as he regaled me with stories about his life and upbringing.

Ron on Using the Power of Your Mind

I was having coffee with a friend of mine recently and he said, "You're into this sort of thing; maybe you can give me an explanation."

He went on. "A week or so ago, I woke up feeling lousy, so I decided not to go into the office. I just sat around in my bathrobe, didn't shave or shower, watched TV a little, and by midmorning I felt much worse."

I asked, "What did you do? Did you go to see your doctor?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "No, I'm not the doctor type. But, here's the point. The very next day, I got up feeling under the weather again but decided I had too much work to do to stay home. I had an appointment I had already postponed from the day before and other urgent things. Off I went, all suited up, and by midmorning I felt much better! Why was this?"

I said, "It was your attitude that made the difference. It's a perfect example of how attitude can affect us physically. Once, everyone thought the reason you felt better was purely mental, but now we know that it's also biochemical. By engaging in behaviors of being well -- showering, shaving, getting dressed and going off to work -- you actually change your body chemistry, which then causes you to feel better."

He digested the information for a moment. Then he said, "So it's a combination of the power of the mind and our internal pharmacy department that makes the difference."

Actions Affect Feelings

In the same way, when you become accustomed to practicing the charm techniques described in this resource, you not only appear to be listening more convincingly but you actually do listen more efficiently and remember more effectively. It's as though by getting your body (the "outside") to do the right things, you promote the right attitude (the "inside") and the right chemistry. By incorporating attentive listening techniques into your life, the payoff is not only that you appear to be an involved and caring listener, but that you can actually become an involved and caring listener, which will prove to be much more rewarding for you as well as for the other people in your life!

Your Tools for Charming Others

"Fake it until you make it." The next time you are talking to anyone, in business or socially, act as if that other person was absolutely fascinating. Hang on every word. Lean forward with great interest. Pretend for a moment that this person is going to give you a million dollars if he likes you. Act accordingly.

In no time at all, you will find yourself deeply interested in the other person, and by some magical chemistry, this individual will begin to share observations and insights that may surprise and delight you. Many lifelong friendships have started this way.

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