• Deric Hollings

Acting As If

[DISCLAIMER]


Photo credit, fair use


Introduction


I recently listened to a Lex Fridman podcast episode featuring Ray Kurzweil who is said to be associated with the transhumanism movement. I originally became aware of Kurzweil through Joe Rogan’s podcast, as Kurzweil once purportedly claimed he could essentially “bring his dead father back to life through a computer avatar.”


Think of the 1940 Walt Disney Company (“Disney”) classic Pinocchio, during which Pinocchio rescues his father from the belly of a whale. Or, perhaps the 2022 Disney live-action remake, also entitled Pinocchio, during which Gepetto hasn’t dealt with the loss of his child, so he creates an inanimate version of his son.


In both Pinocchio tales, rescuing a loved one from the depths of oblivion plays a key role. Having sufficiently offended the sensibilities of those who detest podcasts, individuals listed herein, Disney, or the idea that I should, must, or ought not to value things you do not, I would like to share something that has little to do with how I’ve begun this blog entry.


Adlerian Concept


In the Fridman podcast episode, Kurzweil stated of his approach to creativity, “I think the key issue that I would tell younger people, umm, is to put yourself in the position that what you’re trying to create already exists. And then you’re explaining—” how it works (starting at minute 1:14:13).


Fridman clarifies, “You paint a world that you would like to exist, you think it exists, and reverse engineer that.” Kurzweil expands, “And then you actually imagine you’re giving a speech about how you created this. Well, you’d have to then work backwards as to how you created in order to make it work.”


I’d come across this Adlerian concept, associated with Alfred Adler, when studying for my first graduate degree. Per one source, this concept “encourages clients to begin acting as if they were already the person they would like to be — for example, a ‘confident individual.”


Not to be confused with “manifesting,” a technique with which one deludes oneself into pretending as though subjective desire will lead to objective reality through sheer imagination. Rather, the acting as if concept, when put into practice, allows a person to mentally reverse engineer a desired outcome.


You imagine what an improved version of yourself or a healthier behavior looks like and work backward to trace the steps of how you arrived at the desired goal. This technique can be particularly useful if you’re able to explain it to someone else to a degree by which the person understands what your vision is.


Not unlike the steel man technique of rhetoric, thinking through and then articulating your reasoning can establish a roadmap for the mind, so to speak. I appreciate this tool, even though I practice Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), not Adlerian therapy.


Per one source, REBT “borrows from other [psychotherapeutic] approaches and allows practitioners to use their imagination.” As such, I think it may be helpful to demonstrate how I would use this Adlerian concept in a session with fictional female character Charcuterie, who goes by Char.


Demonstration


Me: Char, we’ve worked through the ABC Model and identified a B-C connection. When you tell yourself the rigid and extreme belief, “I must be liked by others or else I’m worthless,” the consequence of your unhelpful prescription is fear.


We then processed this matter using disputation, which resulted in the healthy descriptive narrative—without low frustration tolerance—“While I would prefer to be liked by others, it’s ok if I’m not, because my worth isn’t dependent on what others think of me.”


Using unconditional self-acceptance (USA)—not rating yourself according to the measure of others—you mentioned that the result of the new effective belief was slight annoyance. Since your goal for this session was to move from fear to annoyance, it would appear as though this session was a success.


I don’t want to fall into the category of external validation, as this is the very issue we worked on today. I don’t know how helpful it would be for me to praise you when praise from others is what you may believe leads to annoyance.


Instead, I’d like to know what you think about what we’ve done here today. Thoughts?


Char: I’m really glad not to have fear about how others perceive me. Of course, it’ll take some practice for the lesson to set in.


Me: As we have a little more time left in session, I’d like to run something by you. I’m thinking of two options we could try. Still, since I try to refrain from binaries, maybe we could consider one of three options.


Option one; we could negotiate homework to strengthen the outcome of what you learned today.


Option two; we could see if maybe we could move you from annoyance to some other consequence—keeping in mind that consequence is simply a result of something and not necessarily a bad thing.


Option three; we could address another issue with which you may be me experiencing difficulty.


Char: Hmm, I think I’ll go with option two and then see if we can use option one for whatever we come up with. Think that would work?


Me: Let’s give it a try. Ok, while your effective belief moved you from fear to annoyance, I’m wondering what about not being liked by others means to you—like, what value it has to you. We know that you don’t necessarily have to be liked by others.


If you were well-liked, what significance would that hold for you?


Char: I know it probably sounds cheesy, but I value how I was raised with the golden rule. Treating others as I want to be treated is meaningful to me.


I know, through REBT it’s stated, “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.”


I’m going to make an effort not to musterbate anymore. Still, I want to be the type of person others would like, even if I don’t actually need them to like me. Does that make sense?


Me: I think I understand what you’re saying. Not necessarily being liked, though being likeable—one who has a quality of being easy to like, even if others don’t have to like you in order for you to have worth—is important to you.


Char: Exactly!


Me: Right on. Now, even though I’m an REBT therapist, I’d like to introduce a concept brought to understanding by my Adlerian colleagues from the other side of the proverbial therapeutic yard. It’s the acting as if technique. Are you familiar with it?


Char: No. What is it?


Me: I’ve heard it described as, “We open up to the positive possibilities of the future, instead of limiting the future by today’s feelings and circumstances.” You and I understand that it isn’t that others should, must, or ought to like you. “Don’t let’s be silly.”


We may also consider that you would like to present yourself in a manner that leaves open the option of being likable—no conditions attached. That being the case, we can explore how you may act if you were to be liked.


Though they are similar, there is a subtle difference between behaving and acting. Let’s say, for the sake of time, that behaving reflects how you are and acting represents how you’d like to be seen.


If we can agree to this distinction, how would you act as if you were a likeable person?


Char: Interesting. I’ll give a specific example. It doesn’t make any difference to me in what direction the toilet paper unravels from a roll. I just doesn’t matter.


However, to my girlfriend, it matters. It matters a lot. I laugh when she calls me a “monster” when putting on a new roll to where the toilet paper goes under instead of over.


Me: Monster? Where’s the lie? Go one.


Char: I know she jokes with me about it, and I think it may be more convenient to her if I just put the roll on for an over versus under direction. If I ever put it on “wrong,” she always repositions it to go over the roll.


So, to be more likable, I think being considerate about something that’s so insignificant to me, but really means something to her, is how I’d like to act. I could act as if what matters to others—if not really a big deal to me—is important enough to remember.


Me: That seems like a pretty straightforward example. Sometimes people change many of their behaviors to suit others, especially in romantic relationships. This has the potential for improved relations, manipulation and control, no change at all, or other results.


If putting the toilet paper roll on over versus under isn’t a big ask, and you’re willing to act as if that’s what you can do to be more likable, I wonder what outcome this may have on your consequence. How do you imagine feeling—emotions or body sensations—when acting as if you are more likeable through behavior motivated by a positive possibility of the future?


Char: It certainly isn’t annoyed! I imagine, and this may sound silly, joy. I truly find joy in doing little things for others. I mean, the big things matter, too. It’s just that the little things are often overlooked.


Me: Joy is quite a shift from having moved from fear and through annoyance. Are there any body sensations you can imagine when acting as if you were likeable while performing small deeds for your girlfriend?


Char: I get this warm sensation throughout my body whenever she’s holding me tight. It’s like being wrapped in the glow of the sun. Nothing compares to that feeling. That’s what’s coming up for me when imagining the joy.


Me: I think negotiating homework for this one will be kind of obvious. I do want to take a moment to encourage you. I see nothing inherently troubling with performing so-called acts of service in order please someone.


That said I encourage you to consider when doing so that USA has no conditions. If you tell yourself, “I must please my girlfriend, otherwise I have no worth,” or, “I should do all the things to please her in order to be likable,” you venture into conditional—and possibly unhealthy—territory.


What’s something—helpful or healthy—you could tell yourself if you decide to stop being a monster and put the toilet paper on the way programmers of the simulation intended?


Char: I could say to myself, “I am a fallible human being and I think I’m worthy of appreciation for many things even if I don’t put the toilet paper on in a manner that pleases my girlfriend. I’m choosing to do this as a considerate act, not for validation.”


Me: Well done!


Homework


At this point in session, I would negotiate homework with Char. Homework is a component of REBT to help enhance therapy outcomes. There’s only so much time in each session I can devote towards assisting clients, as the difficult work occurs outside of appointments.


Homework is not assigned. Rather, I negotiate homework with clients so that they have a buy-in to the process. Otherwise, if homework is prescribed in a should, must, or ought-type fashion, I demonstrate through my behavior that prescribing to the world is an effective strategy.


Suppose Char says that for homework, she want to perform three acts of kindness with her girlfriend, and we negotiate that validation-seeking and conditional outcomes aren’t part of the homework objective. With this task, Char will practice her new effective belief and we will discuss how things went at her next session.


Criticism


I suppose one could criticize my use of this technique when not having been properly trained in Adlerian theory. Due to “credntialism,” “expertism,” or other gatekeeping mechanisms, there may be people who think I should, must, or ought not to discuss matters unless I’m an expert in such topics.


I’m not an expert of anything. Likewise, I reject any premise by which a person discourages my use of critical thinking—often manifested in the drafting of my blog posts.


Another proposed critique of the acting as if concept relates to an idea that a “fake it till you make it” technique deprives one of authenticity, denies “lived experience,” and invites one to diminish what is often referred to as valuing “personal truth” (e.g., my truth).


What’s the inference here? Should, must, or ought a person not seek self-improvement? If behaving as you do by default isn’t leading to improved outcomes, goal attainment, increased functioning, or a better quality of life, must you be true to yourself by not acting as if there is another way?


Listening for implied prescriptions from others (e.g., you should be yourself) may not serve you well. I leave it up to the individual. If remaining as you are and rigidly demanding that others accept you—despite the fact that you have no control over them—is what you choose, good on ya!


For the rest of us who do not value behaving like petulant children, acting as if may be a useful strategy for improving our lives. Because I’m not here to inform others what they should, must, or ought to do, I seek to offer alternative methods to living one’s life. “Offer” is the key word.


Lastly, I suspect someone will inevitably resurrect the overused—largely social media-circulated—zombie of an argument that goes something like, “Deric, the acting as if technique only strengthens imposter syndrome [also referred to as imposter phenomenon], so why promote its use?”


I read that imaginary sentence with an internal voice that is heavily laced in vocal fry, high rising terminal, and speech disfluency—often manifested by punctuating a sentence with the word “right.” Something like, “Deeerriicc, the acccting as iiiif technique onllyyy strengthens imposterrrr syndroommmee, so why promote its use, right?”


Oh goodness, sweet baby disputation, please kick in! Activate unconditional other-acceptance! We have a 23-19 involving musterbation! Engage!


Similar to my response of faking it until you make it, what’s the alternative strategy—to remain as you are and demand that others around you change to suit your desires? I’m not promoting that.


Likewise, I’m not participating in victimhood narratives by advocating so-called imposter syndrome that validates one’s perceived ill repute. If you choose to do so, the consequences of your irrational belief are your own.


Conclusion


By acting as if your idealized self were true, behaving in a manner that supports your healthy goals, you may be able to achieve the desired effect of your efforts. Essentially, reverse engineering how to improve yourself, you could present an amended version of who you’d like to be.


Suppose you acted as if for a specified amount of time, yet the pretend behavior never becomes natural. Was acting as if a meaningful use of your time?


While I can’t tell you what is or isn’t meaningful for you, I invite you to consider where you are and where you would like to be. If acting as if helps you to achieve your goals, though the unnatural behavior requires effort and results in frustration, what underlying narrative might you be telling yourself?


“I must behave this way naturally,” “I mustn’t have to change how I behave in order to get what I want,” or, “The world must work in an easy way for me.” We have a 23-19 over here!


Photo credit, fair use


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how irrational beliefs impact your life in an unhelpful way, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!


Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



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