We can act, behave, and thus really “be in practice” as we would like to be “as if” we possessed the qualities and had the positive states of mind that would naturally prompt us to act in the right way.
By Roberto Assagioli, November 29, 1963, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence, Doc. #23041.Original Title: Tecnica Dell’agire “Come Se”. Translated with notes by Jan Kuniholm.
The Technique of Acting “As If” consists in acting as if one possessed the state of mind that is desired. This technique is based on the fact that the will, while it has limited dominion over emotions and feelings (indeed often none!), can instead act directly on bodily attitudes and external acts. Thus, for example, if we are sad or depressed, it is difficult to become happy and serene by a direct act of will, by direct effort. But it is within our power to level our foreheads, raise our heads, bring our lips into smile, and utter words of harmony, optimism, confidence and joy.
That is, we can behave “as if” we were happy and confident. Doing this gives us great internal freedom, gives us a sense and proof that we are not slaves to our changing emotions, our “moods,” which may depend on many external or internal causes: for example, weather conditions, suggestions from the environment, the influence of certain people, the difficulty or uncertainty of a given situation. We can act, behave, and thus really “be in practice” as we would like to be — “as if” we possessed the qualities and had the positive states of mind that would naturally prompt us to act in the right way.
This is a great deal, and indicates the importance and value of this technique. But there is more: by using this technique, not only do we act as we desire to act, but the emotional state also changes. Gradually, and sometimes rapidly, the emotional state also follows, adjusts and matches the internal attitude and external behavior. This is based on an important psychological law: “Physical attitudes and external acts arouse the corresponding ideas, images and states of mind.” This law is is the basis of the behavior of many people who use it unconsciously to achieve desired effects. Many have found, for example, that whistling helps one gain courage when passing through a lonely place at night; others raise their voices and assume a swaggering outer attitude because they have found that this helps them overcome their shyness and become assertive. The method of singing or having people sing to prepare for action is well known and used: it was and is also used extensively in the military. Remember to “sing it out.” 
More conscious and systematic applications were later made in the religious field. St. Ignatius advised those who felt spiritually dry not to stop prayers and other religious practices because of this; rather to intensify them, as a means of awakening the corresponding feeling. Pascal went further: he advised unbelievers to do the external acts and practices of faith, convinced that in this way faith itself could be awakened. Machiavelli and Buffon dressed in gala clothes when they wanted to write, because this gave them an internal tone that was reflected in the style of their writings. One can specify the psycho-physiological mechanism of this law as follows: “Every external act requires that it be first imagined, or visualized, even unconsciously.” But then, in performing it, in seeing and observing oneself acting in a given way, this external image in turn acts suggestively on the unconscious, rebounding as it were. One could say that in the “as if” technique, one uses the same dynamic power of images that occurs in suggestion, only in the reverse direction. In suggestion, one goes from the evoked image directly to the feeling or emotion, and then to the corresponding action. Whereas here, in contrast, one goes from the external act — determined by a direct act of will — to the image of the act itself, and thus from the image to the corresponding state of mind.
WAY OF PROCEEDING
Acting “as if” in itself is simple, and requires no further description. What needs to be noted, however, is the way of practicing it, in order for it to be effective and produce the desired effect. First of all, we need a strong enough and persistent enough will not to take into account — and, if necessary, to go against — emotions such as fear, anger, worry, etc. It is also a great help to precede the use of this technique by the use of the Ideal Model method; that is, to visualize oneself as one wants to become — that is, “seeing oneself” in imagination with the behavior we wish to implement in practice. In the event that one has to overcome fairly strong contrary tendencies, as in the case of fear, for example, one can train oneself to play the part that we will then play externally, just in the same way that an actor practices alone, or in rehearsals with others, to play the part that he or she will then have to play in public. Another help given by external imagery is to stand in front of a mirror and pose the body — and especially the face and the appearance — in a way that corresponds to the action one wants to perform.
A particularly interesting application that has been found to be effective is to modify one’s handwriting, that is, to train oneself to a handwriting that corresponds to the psychological qualities we want to develop in ourselves. Without going into the details of graphology here, there are certain characteristics of handwriting that obviously correspond to certain moods. The handwriting of a strong-willed person is quite different from that of a fearful person. In any serious book on graphology, one can find indications of this. One can call this “writing as if one had” the desired quality.
However, there are reservations to be made, and limitations in using this method. Indeed, when the opposing mood or emotion is very intense this method may fail, or it may do violence to that mood, which produces a repression in the unconscious, as well as inconveniences and disorders that result from that repression. It is useful to dwell on this point, one that psychoanalysis has insisted upon, even exaggerated. Indeed, the discovery of such disorders has provided an excuse for giving free rein to one’s emotions. But this produces individual and social inconveniences that are no less and often worse — especially socially — than the forced excessive inhibition imposed by traditional morality. Moreover, eliminating all inhibition and self-control is not practically possible in social life. There are always situations that impose some measure of self-control, but as in many other cases, the theoretical and logical antithesis between venting and inhibition is not an alternative from which to choose.
There are ways to resolve this antinomy; that is, to appropriately combine the one psychological process with the other. Here are a few very precise and practical examples, which concern a situation in which it is easy to find oneself: that of the impression of fear, or even phobia, when faced with performing a given action or earlier. Typical examples: the fear of showing up for an exam, a contest, speaking, playing or acting in public. In these cases, striving to do so despite fear often does not lead to good results.
The student who strives to go to the exam in a state of panic often finds himself before the examiner in a state of amnesia: he forgets or fails to consistently express what he had studied and knows very well. So how does one go about it? It is a matter in this case — as in many others — of not relying on one psychosynthetic technique alone, but to combine several of them with each other, appropriately chosen, so that the desired result can be achieved.
In the case of the examination, one can and should discharge as much fear or “fearitis” as possible in advance, and there is an effective way to do this. It is to vividly imagine the examination scene, and doing so in the following way: not by trying to self-suggest in the sense of not being afraid, of immediately imagining oneself to be calm and self-possessed. But instead, it is a matter of giving free rein, free expression, even bodily expression, to the fear that arises spontaneously, and doing so even intensely, if we can visualize the scene well. It can be said that the more intensely one feels the fear, the more successful the exercise is. It is then a matter of repeating such an exercise several times (once or twice a day) until one finds that little by little the fear decreases spontaneously, without any effort to do so. Until — after a series of exercises — one comes to be able to visualize the examination scene without any sense of fear arising anymore.
This happens in two ways. The first is by a real, I would say almost mechanical, discharge of the accumulated or aroused voltage of fear: the fear is expressed, and therefore, discharged. The other mechanism is that of gradual training. By gradually training oneself to do something that previously made an impression, that impression gradually diminishes until it disappears. This has an important and wide application in education. Parents should never force children to do something they are afraid of, but train them slowly and gradually to do it. For example: at the beach, to go into the water, or — for a small child — to walk, and so on. It is necessary for the child to become accustomed to it, to familiarize himself little by little with what he was afraid of, and then you are able without repression to persuade him to do what you want him to do. This, I repeat, can be done both when the emotion — as in the case cited, fear — is very intense; and when there is a way and time for such training.
But in cases of necessity, in unforeseen and sudden situations in which there is no time to do so, one can “make” the body to act “as if” one did not feel the negative emotion. A historical example provides demonstration: General Turenne was considered very brave because in battle he marched decisively ahead of the troops in going on the attack. (Back then, that was how war was done: now it is done in a . . . somewhat different way!). Well, once when someone complimented Turenne on his bravery, he replied, “Yes, evidently, I act brave, but in doing so I feel great fear! Of course I disregard this and say to my body ‘tremble, old carcass, but walk,’ and the body walks.” This shows that the true and highest courage is not in having no sense of fear, but in “acting as if” one does not have it.
Another means is that of transmutation and sublimation. Drives and emotions can be not only discharged but also transmuted and elevated. One begins by inhibiting their external expression, but instead of repressing them in the unconscious by rigid condemnation, one directs and uses their force in a different and constructive way. See the description of the corresponding Technique. Here we will only say that many religious people, especially in the past, have found great help in offering their weaknesses and imperfections to God, and in doing so they felt liberated from them, or felt the power to overcome them.
Against the use of this technique, the criticism or objection has been raised that it is a sham, a hypocrisy, something artificial; especially, people of impulsive temperament rebel against such a technique. But if we impartially examine this objection, we find that it is based on equivocation and misunderstanding. (see the section on “The Wise Will” in Chapter 8 of The Act of Will)
Acting “as if” one had a feeling without having it, would be hypocrisy when one did not sincerely want to have the feeling, but acted contrary only out of calculation, for selfish ends. For example, if someone acted as if he loved a woman without really loving her, in order to induce her to marry him out of greed for her dowry; or if someone showed sympathy and friendship toward another for the purpose of deceiving him or cheating him. Here, too, as in so many cases, it all depends on the motive: if we earnestly desire, if we propose to be benevolent, sympathetic toward a person for whom we feel an instinctive dislike, and behave in this way, this is not pretense: instead, it is the way to really eliminate the dislike that we would prefer not to have.
So we need to get our facts straight about sincerity and spontaneity: if they were taken literally, we would have to give free rein to all lower instincts and impulses, because they are — in a sense, and at their level — “sincere” and spontaneous. But this is a misunderstanding based on a fundamental psychological error, namely that of not taking into account the complexity of the human soul, the coexistence in us of contradictory elements. Thus, if we give spontaneous free rein to a lower impulse, we are going against an aspiration, an ideal, or a higher purpose that is equally sincere and genuine in us.
In fact, the deepest and most real sincerity is voluntary allegiance, the choice to identify with one’s highest and truest being; and thus to master lower tendencies and impulses, even if they exist and stir in us. Thus, in Turenne’s case, it would not have been spontaneity and sincerity to run away, to obey his fear. His true sincerity consisted in being true to his deepest will as a brave general. One can arrive, then, at a higher spontaneity that manifests itself when all ordinary pseudo-spontaneities — which are actually passive subserviences to primitive impulses — are eliminated. This higher spontaneity is the action of the Spirit, of the spiritual Self within us; it is the implementation of will of Self, which by our internal allegiance has become our true will.
Let us now see how this technique can be combined with others. We have already talked about its association with visualization, with imaginative training, with the Ideal Model, but the technique that can best enhance this one, and which should to some extent be used first, is the disidentification exercise. It is this that enables us to maneuver — in our inner self, so to speak — to direct the various psychic functions, to use one against the other, or — better — for one to regulate the other. In a word, to be the directors on the stage of our psyche: directors who instruct the various actors; that is, the various functions and tendencies of our soul to behave in the desired way, so that the scene set in the theater of the world is played out in the best way.
 This law is elaborated more fully in Chapter 5 of Assagioli’s book The Act of Will, where it appears as Law II.—Ed.
 The Italian phrase, “canta che ti passa” (literally, “sing and this will pass”) means “cheer up, you’ll get over it!” —Tr.
 Graphology is controversial. While many positivist scientists dismiss graphology as a “pseudoscience” because there has been a lack of successful studies showing its “predictive value,” it has been defended by such psychologists as Alfred Binet, and used successfully as a therapeutic tool, as reported by Annette Poizner in her 2012 book Clinical Graphology: An Interpretive Manual for Mental Health Practitioners. —Ed.
 The Assagioli Archives contain numerous documents, both hand-written and typed, in Italian and in English, dealing with the transmutation and sublimation of energies. The topic was so important that Assagioli discusses it in all his published books. —Ed.
 The Act of Will, David Platts Publishing Co. edition, 1999, pages 103-104. —Ed.