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The Science Behind “Fake it ’til You Make it”

Whether you are giving a speech in class, leading a project in your club, or starting a new job, undoubtedly someone has given you the advice to “fake it ‘til you make it.” The basis of this theory is that if you pretend long enough to be something (confident, powerful, smart, etc..), eventually you become it. But, does pretending really work?


Since the beginning of self-help and professional development, social scientists, psychologists and behaviorists have been investigating the concept of “faking it.” Yet, there is still controversy surrounding its practical applications. Some believe it is not enough to just strike a “power pose” or pretend to know what is going on in a business meeting; they believe hard work is the only route to success and power. This means that spending time reading and learning instead of acting like you know what is going on, or behaving naturally instead of putting in extra effort to just look confident.


On the other side, some believe that “faking it,” or pretending to have certain desirable qualities, can lead someone to acquire these traits and, therefore, lead to power and success. By looking more confident in meetings, people will more likely respect you and even approach you with opportunities when they might not have otherwise. The basis of this perspective is that by “faking it” you will eventually become more comfortable acting this way and become the person you are pretending to be.


I think true success and power comes from a combination of these perspectives. “Faking it,” in my opinion, is a temporary strategy for growth. Everyone has ups and downs in their personal and professional life, and you shouldn’t miss out on opportunities because you are feeling “off” that week. In that case, pretending to be someone else is not necessarily a bad thing. No one is perfect; we are all in a constant state of growth in our lives. By pretending to have traits we wish we had, we are leaving our comfort zone and allowing ourselves to grow into a better version of our genuine selves.


As I said, “faking it” is not a permanent fix. While we are trying on new qualities and traits, it is our responsibility to actually prepare to be the person we want to be. For example, if you are pretending to be confident and outgoing in attempt to receive a promotion into a management position, you should also be attending leadership workshops, reading professional development books, or building relationships with your coworkers in order to better fill that confident and outgoing role.


“Fake it ‘til you make it” may not be a fool-proof solution to all of your goals in life, but it certainly is a place to start. Pretending to be the person you want to be provides you with a better sense of where your strengths and weaknesses are – and you might find that you are a lot closer than you think.


Allie Helein

Wisconsin '21

Sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Dietetics and Psychology