‘Fake it till you make it’ is one of those aphorisms you often hear in 12-step programs. It essentially means to do the work even if you don’t feel like it. Many people want to get sober out of desperation. They don’t want to keep living with addiction, but they don’t really know how to change. They might enter treatment or start going to meetings only to find cold comfort. They may have a hard time believing that working the steps or participating in therapy will really do them any good. They don’t want to go back, but they don’t want to go forward either.
The solution to this dilemma is to fake it till you make it. Go through the motions, participate, generally act as if it will work, and eventually your attitude will catch up. It’s a bit like popping the clutch in your car. If you just get started you will eventually find your motivation.
There is some evidence that this can work. For one, studies have shown that, just as your mood influences your facial expressions, your facial expressions can influence your mood. For example, forcing yourself to smile or laugh actually makes your feel happier. Some of the original studies were done by asking people to hold a pencil between their teeth, so they didn’t even really have to smile. Unfortunately, the same is true for negative expressions. Scowling and slouching generally put you in a worse mood.
One study on people who have had botox injections found that they were less likely to feel depressed because their facial muscles were paralyzed and couldn’t perform sadness. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be very happy either. So if you want to feel ‘meh’, consider botox.
Studies have also found that acting as if you are confident can translate into real world benefits. People see you as more capable, even in the face of contrary evidence. The reason that matters in recovery is that it is essentially a social process. Having a strong sober network is one of the biggest predictors of success in recovery. If you go along, acting as if the steps or treatment will work, other people will believe what you show them and they will reflect it back to you. This is essentially a virtuous cycle and it can help promote a supportive environment.
‘Fake it till you make it’ does not mean to pretend to be sober when you’re not. There should be no intent to deceive. It’s really more of a strategy to use when your mind refuses to fully cooperate in recovery. Some have suggested a less ambiguous formulation: ‘Do it till you get it’. No need to fake. Whether you fake it till you make it or do it till you get it, the point is to start heading in the right direction, even if you don’t feel like it, and you will eventually get there.