Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman: The words “as if” inspired psychologist Richard Wiseman to write a new book called “The As If Principle,” based on William James’ idea that “if you want a quality, act as if you already have it.” Wiseman highlights some fascinating research that shows that change doesn’t always come from the inside out — sometimes, change comes from the outside in.




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“Each generation, people must see themselves as if they themselves went forth from Egypt.”

That quote is the essence of why we celebrate Passover, read the Haggadah and hold a Seder. When we think about that sentence, we naturally focus on how Passover should inspire us to work for freedom and justice. But often, we overlook two crucial words in that sentence: “as if.” And those two words may, in fact, be the most important ones.


The words “as if” inspired psychologist Richard Wiseman to write a new book called “The As If Principle,” based on William James’ idea that “if you want a quality, act as if you already have it.” Wiseman highlights some fascinating research that shows that change doesn’t always come from the inside out — sometimes, change comes from the outside in.


In other words, if we act “as if” we were trying to improve who we are and how we behave, we actually do improve who we are and how we behave.


One striking example he brings up was a method to get heavy smokers to give up cigarettes. There have been all sorts of attempts to get people to give up smoking over the years, and most have used the scare route, such as public service announcements featuring people who have lost their voice box or ever-increasingly ominous warnings on cigarette packs. But John Mann, a researcher at Harvard, decided to try something different: role-playing.

Twenty-six very heavy smokers were randomly assigned to two different groups. One group was asked to behave “as if” they had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and even went into a room that looked like a doctor’s office, complete with an actor in a white coat, X-rays and medical charts. This group was asked to think about how they would behave now that they “had” cancer. In contrast, the control group simply were simply presented information about how awful it would be to have lung cancer, but didn’t do any role-playing.

What happened to the two groups? Before the study, all the participants were smoking about 25 cigarettes per day. At the end, the control group had cut back by five cigarettes. But the role-playing group had cut back by 10. Even years later, the group that had to act “as if” they needed to change their lives actually did.

Role-playing, acting “as if” we were someone else, changes our outlook and our behavior, and so that is why the Seder commands us to act “as if we ourselves went forth from Egypt” — because Passover, at its heart, is truly an act of role-playing. We have props (the seder plate, Elijah’s cup), stage directions (recline, drink wine) and a script (the Haggadah). And they are all designed to help us act as if we ourselves went forth from Egypt.

So what outlook or behavior is Passover trying to get us to change? Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, who calls the Haggadah “the script for a sacred drama” in order to help us to role-play more effectively, argues that it’s to help us connect to our history, our community, and our obligations to others. As he says, when we host our Seder and act “as if we ourselves went forth from Egypt,”

[we] do not just “play” the roles, [we] are the roles, and [we] take the roles so seriously they [we] internalize them as [our] identities. When the actress playing Lady Macbeth leaves the theater, she is not expected to murder someone on the way home; when Jews put down their Haggadah, they are expected to have a heightened sense of Jewish identity and to be more attuned to their Jewish responsibilities. People, that is, who leave the Seder and ignore the plight of the homeless have missed the point. (Hoffman, ‘My People’s Haggadah Vol. 1,‘ 5-6)

The “as if” principle teaches us that “once you behave as if you were a type of person, you become that person.” So on Passover, when we act “as if” we ourselves went out from Egypt, we are also leading ourselves to act like people who care deeply about the oppressed, who fight for justice and who extend a hand to those less fortunate.


And when we act that way, we soon realize that we aren’t simply role-playing; we truly are changing ourselves and our world for the better. Indeed, those two little words that we too often ignore — “as if” — are truly what allows us to transform our hopes and dreams into our reality.









Norman Vincent Peale

“If you want a quality, act as if you already have it. If you want to be courageous, act as if you were – and as you act and persevere in acting, so you tend to become.”

―    Norman Vincent Peale




William James said “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it”. So, is it possible that we as professional leadership guides can provide the highest quality training only so that someone can “act” as if they had leadership quality but they really cannot lead effectively? That seems self evident in some cases and is a reflection of the view that nurture cannot answer all questions. I am also a sports coach teaching the correct paddling technique for racing kayakers. What I have learnt is that I can get someone to adopt what looks like the perfect technique but they have no idea as to whether or not it is effective on the water. I now teach less and less of the mechanics and more about how to feel and sense when what they are doing is moving them through the water more efficiently. I am convinced that the same is true for any kind of training.

What then is the extra missing element? For me it is not so much about nature, as most of us have pretty much similar genetic and hence biological capability. I am convinced it is more about being able to tap into our own personal life experiences and to have deep insight and awareness of how they have moulded our behaviors in the moment. The potent combination of insight, feeling and technical skills is then life changing for the lead and the led.











What “Act As If” really means and how to do it


You’ve probably heard the concept behind the words “Act as if.”

It’s the idea that if you want to have, do, or be something that isn’t currently in your experience, then “act” the part and you will increase the likelihood of that apparent vacuum being filled with the thing you desire.

You may have even read or heard stories of people with health challenges or lack of experience in a certain area who, through the power of “Act as if,” manifested good health and excellent skill sets in those areas.

About this very thing, the American psychologist and philosopher, William James, is quoted as advising “If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.”

That’s all well and good if you are Tony Robbins or some other famous self-made figure who has created success for him- or herself, but what about regular Jane Entrepreneur or Joe Sales Professional who is trying to wrap their mind around what seems to amount to ‘faking it till you make it’?

Stories of those who beat all odds and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps are inspiring, to be sure, but just because someone says “If I can do it, you can do it,” doesn’t necessarily make you feel any better when you’re in the trenches struggling.

Since heart-based sales professionals hold authenticity as a high value, anything that smells phony or fake isn’t very attractive.

And, “Act As If” does indeed look and feel phony if you are BEING phony.  But, that’s a misunderstanding — in my view — of what “Act As If” really means.

To really invoke the power of “Act As If,” my suggestion is to borrow real memories that evoke real emotions from past experiences to support you right now in the present moment.

Here’s an example:

Suppose you want to be an accomplished public speaker.  You’ve taken classes, perhaps joined your local Toastmasters, and have a list of topics and outlines that you can speak on.

The only problem is you are afraid of public speaking.

What quality or qualities would you need to possess in order to reduce or eliminate the fear of speaking in public?

“Confidence,” is one quality  you might be thinking of.  So, when in your life did you feel absolutely confident?

It doesn’t have to have anything to do with public speaking, or even remotely related.  Maybe you drew a picture in kindergarten or you learned to ride a bicycle or your father told you how proud he was of you.

Maybe it was something else that someone else may think inconsequential, but for you, it was a singularly confident moment.

How were you breathing?  How did you stand in that moment of pure confidence?  What was the temperature like?  What were you thinking?  What were people saying to you?  How were you feeeeeling?

Write it all down, if you like.  Or, record the narrative of the memory with full feeling into your computer.

I will act as if (image) . . .

The key is to borrow that memory, remember the moment and its associated emotion.  In this case, “confidence” is that emotion, though there are probably other equally empowering sensations and emotions residing side-by-side in that memory.

Allow yourself to use the memory to evoke the feelings now, for theme to show up in your experience now.

This is what’s meant by “Acting As If.”  You are borrowing from the past when you actually experienced the quality you require now, and then transferring that magical moment to a new context.

When you add same physicality, breathing rhythms, posture, and ways of thinking to the emotion-filled memory, you cannot help but respond correspondingly as an empowered (nearly-)fearless public speaker.

So, using that same process, what are qualities that you need to be a magnetic, super-star sales professional?

Confidence in this context is certainly one quality.  A few others might include Perseverance, Empathy, Quality-Driven, Focused, Enthusiastic, Trust-Worthy, Collaborative, Purposeful, Organized.

You can come up with many more that may be similar or quite different that these I’ve listed.

When in you life did you exhibit Perseverance?  Enthusiasm?  Organization?

The point is you already possess what you need to be successful, however you define success.  Sure, there may be specific skill sets that you might need to learn, nurture, hone.

But, believe me, being the one who knows all the lead-in questions, sales techniques, objection stoppers, and other slick tricks of the trade are not usually the top sales producers.  At least, not in the long-term.

The best listeners and the best givers win the prize in the end.

And, you already know how to listen and give.

If you don’t think you do, borrow a powerful emotion-filled memory from your past and “Act As If”!

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