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Replace “fake it 'til you make it,” with “fire it 'til you wire it.”

In a recent conversation with a friend about facing difficult work situations, she used the ubiquitous saying "fake it 'til you make it."

Listen up y'all...

it’s time for this saying to be officially and permanently retired! 

When we lovingly advise each other or ourselves to “fake it 'til you make it” we are, inadvertently, reinforcing a negative internal dialog that undercuts our progress. Although intended to send the positive, uplifting message of “just take action until you gain confidence and competence,” this phrase includes a subtle, not-very-empowering message that needs examination.  I understand telling ourselves to “fake it” allows us to move forward when we may not yet believe in ourselves, but language is powerful, so let’s use language that describes what’s actually happening.

To better express the dynamic that occurs when we take an action, change our nonverbal pose, smile even if we don’t feel like it, etc. let’s use the replacement phrase “fire it 'til you wire it.”

This more accurately points to the neuroplasticity of the brain. The capacity to grow, learn and literally change our brains is available to us throughout our lifespan. When we undertake a new experience, new skill set or new state of mind, the neurons of our brains ”fire” together in new ways; if we continue to practice that skill, experience or mindset, then we develop new neural connections and “wire” new pathways that can be used again in the future. It can take time for the pathway to be strengthened until we feel like we’ve “made it,” but there’s nothing fake about it!

We’ve all heard of (maybe even experienced) impostor syndrome – that dreaded, sometimes pervasive feeling of being a fraud, of not really earning our accomplishments, of having gotten lucky somehow, of not really belonging where we are. Surprisingly prevalent in high achievers, feeling like an impostor means you haven’t yet internalized confidence that your skills, talents and contributions are real and that your achievements are a true reflection of your abilities.  You worry you’ll be discovered as a fake, and thinking of yourself as a fake is a disempowered state.

Imagine a situation that many have faced – you’ve been asked to make a high stakes presentation to a group of important stakeholders – you feel underprepared and nervous, you don’t know if you can do it – why were you selected? Surely you are not the person who should be giving this presentation… Nonetheless, you follow the advice to “fake it 'til you make it” and you stride into the room, hold your head high, project your voice, and you fake it – and you survive thinking "Wow, faking it works, no one knows that I really don’t know what I’m doing."

Wait, wait, wait (insert sound of screeching tires!) This is a WRONG message that reinforces the awful sense of being an impostor. What you just did was not fake – you DID IT!  You are not fake, that wasn’t a false experience – the only thing false was your belief that you couldn’t handle it or that you shouldn’t have been there! You were capable enough to “fake it” which means you were capable enough to DO IT and that is real!

The idea that you are faking it has almost nothing to do with your actual capacity and everything to do with an internal emotional experience based on negative self-talk, fear of being “discovered” or even shame about “deserving” success. Recognizing this internal landscape is important. Attending to your emotional response helps you understand why you feel fearful, anxious or otherwise like an impostor. Get in touch with your inner dialog (before or after the presentation – not during!) then you can learn to interrupt and change false beliefs. 

You are not alone in fearing that you are not enough, but telling yourself that you “faked it” only reinforces the foundational yet false belief that you aren’t capable- that your accomplishments are not a real reflection of your ability. You accomplished the task, yet the message you tell yourself is that it was “fake.”  NO, it wasn’t fake – it was you and you did it!

Practice compassion for yourself when you are fearful, yet remember to give yourself full credit for what you accomplish and keep “firing” that new skill, positive feeling or empowered mindset. The more you fire, the more will wire; you're working on changing a temporary state into an established trait.

Next time you fear being an impostor, tell yourself this instead: “fire it 'til you wire it” then courageously take action despite the fear. You're re-wiring your brain; keep practicing; keep noticing your success. And remember: you do belong, you are ready, you do have what it takes – there’s nothing fake about it, you simply have to “fire” those connections until you can “wire” the trait you are seeking.


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