Act As If and The Feelings Will Follow

William James

William James was born in 1842. He went on to become the unofficial Father of American Psychology. I am a dyed in the wool “Jamesian” meaning I agree with and practice his philosophy and psychology. He heavily influenced a young Teddy Roosevelt as one of the most popular professors at Harvard College. He (and his novelist brother Henry James) were educated overseas. The both wrote extensively, Henry 32 novels. William wrote about Habit, Pragmatism, Philosophy and of course Psychology, WHY people do what they do. One of my favorite principles, he wrote over 120 years ago:

“If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.”

It’s a little like the advice The Wizard of Oz gave the Cowardly Lion. ACT BRAVE and the feelings follow. James went on to write, Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.

He wrote a great deal about the importance of Attitude. On that subject he said, It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task, which more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome. Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude. Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity successful men act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results. The world we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds.

In my seminars I ask audiences, Is a bird happy because she sings or does she sing because she is happy? James answers my question with: “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.”

Now how does this help us in our day to day lives? How does it help to influence others in business? In Management? In Coaching? As Parents? The answer is simple, Able example. My kids (players, sales reps, employees, fill in the blank) don’t listen to a word I say but watch every move I make!

If you don’t FEEL like smiling, do it anyway! People are watching. If you have had a bad day, shrug it off and ACT enthusiastic! People are watching! If you got seven NO’s in a row from prospects, say to yourself: “Some will, some won’t, so what, NEXT!” People are watching! If you daughter lost her soccer game and is feeling down in the dumps, be the role model of a great attitude. Avoid blaming and complaining about the coaching or officiating and ask her two questions: “What did you do well?” and “What can you do better next time?” (By the way, if you are managing sales people, those are great Autopsy Questions after you lose a sale!) People are watching.

You are the leader. Act as if! The feelings will follow! If you really want to raise your own bar, read anything by William James….you will be glad you did.

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