Fake It Till You Make It?

There is no better master class intensive for personal growth than being on a film or tv production set. As the founder of and spokesperson for Happy Calories Happy Exercise™, I don’t talk about that other part of my life much. But to answer the question of “how” to apply various principles and tools of self-actualization, I learned to do it through my roles as an actress. It wasn’t intentional – it was a happy accident. By practicing creating multi-dimensional characters in plays and independent films, I learned to be a more authentic and fully actualized version of myself. I’m currently working on a tv episode for a cable network and each day brings more life lessons for me to share through this blog.

This first topic I’d like to discuss is the idea of “fake it till you make it.” If we are navigating life challenges or are called to reach beyond our comfort zone, supportive friends, colleagues, and coaches often tell us to “fake it till you make it” as a way to bolster our confidence. In addition, this “fake it till you make it” philosophy is often an underlying principle that many teach on the topic of practicing affirmations. Many people approach affirmations from the perspective that you simply tell yourself what you’d like to be true – even if it’s not true – and that by saying it over and over again – that by “faking it” – you will eventually “make it.”

One of the problems with this “fake it till you make it” approach is that we can waste precious time and energy trying to convince ourselves of something that we just can’t see as true – no matter how hard we want to “fake it.” And that’s where the lessons from tv acting can be very valuable.

In this current show, my character is very self-centered. She has been doted on, given special treatment and told that she is the most beautiful woman in the state her entire life. Early in the morning on our 4th day of shooting, there was a scene where my character was admiring herself in a mirror. Shooting a scene in a mirror is always a bit tricky – the camera has to be at just the right angle so the audience doesn’t see the camera’s reflection in the mirror. Therefore, the camera has a different perspective of the situation than I do. As they rolled the scene, the director and producer were giving me thoughts to think that they hoped would translate into the expression on my face that they wanted to capture on camera. Some of the thoughts they suggested were things that my character would be thinking – thoughts like, “I’m so pretty,” “I love looking at myself,” “I’m so beautiful,” etc.

The director and producer were looking at the scene on big monitors that showed the camera’s perspective. And because we have a brilliant cinematographer and lighting crew, I felt confident that I looked flattering on camera. But neither the camera, nor the director, nor the producer saw what I saw. I was truly seeing things from another perspective – I was on a different angle to the mirror than the camera was. And after three long days of shooting with 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night – and with the bright lights of the scene – all I saw was a tired, haggard actress and every line and wrinkle on my face. And I’m supposed to be thinking, “I’m the most beautiful woman in all of …?”

The other thing about shooting a film or a tv show is that we are always on a tight schedule. We have to move through scenes quickly so that we can get everything shot before we lose daylight. So I didn’t have the luxury of time to try to “fake it till I made it” – to convince myself that – despite all evidence to the contrary – that the face I saw in the mirror was so very, very beautiful. The camera is, above all else, a master lie detector.

So I tried a different approach. What the director and producer wanted the camera to see was a certain expression on my face. They wanted an expression that could be the result of thinking “I’m so beautiful.” I couldn’t authentically think that thought in that moment, but I could think other thoughts – thoughts that might lead to that same expression of appreciation and satisfaction on my face. I could think, “Wow! I can’t believe I’m really here on this amazing show!” I could think, “I love playing this part.” I could think, “I love this house we’re shooting in.”

The camera didn’t need to know what I was thinking – but it would know if what I was thinking was “fake.” So from my perspective, “fake it till you make it” doesn’t mean to pretend something you don’t believe to be true is really true. It means finding approaches – even alternative approaches – filled with authenticity – that are congruent with the results you are trying to achieve. Just like that camera, Life doesn’t want you to “fake it” – it wants you to be authentic – and it knows the difference.