Here is a short definition of the technique “acting as if” by Roberto Assagioli, one of the many psychosynthesis techniques used in counselling.
“I have recommended the technique of “acting as if”; that is, of acting as if a psychological attitude existed in us, instead of the contrary one. Some are shocked at the use of this method because they consider it hypocritical; they say in effect: i “If I am angry and harbor resentment against someone, for whatever reason, good or bad, and if I treat him with kindness and smiles, I am not being authentic—true to myself.” But in reality it is not a question of hypocrisy.
This is due to the psychological multiplicity that exists in each of us. “Acting as if” would be hypocritical if we did so with the purpose of deceiving others for selfish ends, or if we deceived ourselves into believing that our lower motives do not exist. But if, when an impulse or motive of hostility and resentment against someone arises in us, we, our true, our genuine self, do not approve of it and refuse to identify with it, then our real will is to choose the better motive and to act benevolently in spite of the impulse that Urges us to treat the person badly.
We can choose the motive to which we give free course.” Roberto Assagioli, The Act of Will, p. 141
The “Acting As If” Technique
(From The Act of Will, p. 79-80, by Roberto Assagioli)
“This technique consists in acting as if one actually possessed the desired inner state. It is based on the fact that, while the will can exercise only a limited direct control over emotions and feelings, and often no controls at all, it can act much more directly and fully on physical attitudes and external actions. If, for example, we are sad or depressed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to become cheerful or serene through a direct act of will. On the other hand, it is within our power to smooth our forehead, lift our head, smile, and speak words of harmony, optimism, confidence, and joy. That is to say, we are able to behave “as if” we were cheerful and confident.
Doing so gives first of all a feeling of freedom, and confirms that we are not the slaves of our everchanging emotions, of our physiological and psychological conditions, which react to so many external causes— environmental circumstances, other people’s influence, or the difficulties or uncertainties in a given situation.
Thus we can, to a large extent, act, behave, and really be in practice as we would be if we possessed the qualities and enjoyed the positive mental states which we would like to have. But this is not all. More important, the use of this technique will actually change our emotional state. Little by little, and sometimes rapidly, the emotional state will follow, adapt itself to, and match the attitude and external behavior. Tommaso Campanella used to imitate the facial expressions and gestures of people when he wanted to know what they were feeling. This, he had found, was a way of arousing corresponding feelings in himself.
The operative law here is the second (see page 52): “Attitudes, movements, and actions tend to evoke corresponding images and ideas; these, in turn (according to the next law) evoke or intensify corresponding emotions and feelings.”
The psychophysiological mechanism of this phenomenon can be explained in this way: every external act requires that it be first imagined or visualized, even if unconsciously. But then during its performance the self-observation that accompanies it creates an image that, in its turn, produces a reinforcing effect, a positive feedback process. It could be said that the “as if” technique makes use of the same dynamic power of images as in suggestion, only in a reverse direction. In suggestion the images arouse the feelings and emotions and then the corresponding actions. Acting “as if,” instead, one proceeds from the external act, which has been determined by the direct action of the will, to the image of the act itself, and from the image to the corresponding emotional states.
One often employs this technique spontaneously. It is common knowledge that whistling helps to keep up one’s courage in a lonely place at night. Singing, or getting others to sing, is a well-known spur to action. Machiavelli and Buffon both used to don gala dress when about to write, having found that their styles reflected the attitude and mental state created by their costumes.
There are examples of the use of this technique being implemented by determined acts of will, with successful and sometimes surprising results. The French general Turenne provides a historical one. His custom of marching resolutely in front of his troops going into battle earned him a reputation for great courage. (They made war like that in those days.) Someone once complimented him on his courage and Turenne replied, “Of course I conduct myself like a brave man, but all the time I’m feeling afraid. Naturally, I don’t give in to the fear, but say to my body, ‘Tremble, old carcass, but walk!’ And my body walks.”
Turenne’s behavior demonstrated that the higher form of courage does not consist in having no feeling of fear, but in acting “as if” one had none.”« Back to Glossary Index