Act "As If"

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is designed to help people change thoughts and behaviors to positively impact people's lives. Usually a combination of cognitive interventions are paired with a set of behaviors to engage in, and this positively affects mood, decision making, etc. Sometimes however, there is not much need to examine thoughts in order to make significant changes. For some people or some situations, merely engaging in a prescribed behavior is enough to provide significant change. "Acting As If" is a  behavioral skill that can work quite well on its own. 

Very often we engage in "self-sabotage," acting ineffectively despite knowing better ways of handling difficult situations. There are many reasons for this, and one of the most influential is our dysfunctional, automatic thoughts. Thoughts like "I won't succeed no matter how hard I try" or "I can't do this" can get in the way of our actual abilities to do something well. 

There are numerous cognitive interventions for reacting to these thoughts more effectively, and they are often effective in turning our thoughts around. "Acting As If" however, is a behavioral approach. What is nice about this technique, is that we can use it even if we are 100% sold on our dysfunctional automatic thoughts. Here's how it works:

Step 1: Identify the automatic thought or dysfunctional belief that is getting in your way. For instance, in giving a presentation to a large audience, you might have the thought "I don't know what I'm talking about." This then increases our anxiety, decreases our ability to give a good presentation, and might even hinder us from preparing adequately. Because if I know I will fail no matter what, why put a lot of effort into it? 

Step 2: Identify all of the things you would do if you believed the exact opposite of that thought. From making eye contact, to smiling, to preparing well, to eliciting questions from the audience, list what you would see from someone who, using the example above, believed they knew exactly what he/she was talking about. 

Step 3: Rehearse those behaviors.  You can role-play with a friend, your dog, or even the mirror. The point is to be familiar enough with the behaviors that you can use them without thinking about them too much.

Step 4: Rehearse some more. 

Step 5: Engage in the behaviors you rehearsed. Each time a dysfunctional thought comes to mind, smile at it, and continue as planned. 

By following this protocol, you may, at the very least, come across more confidently. However, most people find that using this regularly, they start to disbelieve the self-defeating thoughts. Having several experiences of success is a great way to undue the assumption that you will always fail.  And after a while, there's no "acting" necessary.


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