“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing and keep pretending.” – Jim Henson
Authenticity is important. It’s important for ourselves and it’s important that we know other people are authentic as well. We always want to portray the real person we are, and we want to see the real person from other people. But is there a way that we can take pretend, play, play acting, and become someone else, to better our goals, and to give ourselves a new perspective. When we think about the word empathy, it means we step into someone else’s shoes and we primarily do this because we’re trying to feel what that other person is feeling, even though what happened to them didn’t happen to us. It helps us identify with other people. This podcast is going to be talking about a similar but different concept, where we actually step into someone else’s shoes to help us achieve our goals. When researchers took a look at this, they realized that something interesting was happening, when we try to imagine how someone else would feel about something or how someone else would look at something and act in a given situation. It’s somehow retrieving a memory in our brains that we have felt when we were in a similar situation. But it also tries to imagine the reaction the other person is having. Those imagined reactions influence how we perceive the situation that’s happening, and it can influence how we act from there. We’re going to talk about a couple of pieces of research that discuss how we can step into other people’s shoes and do better in our own shoes with that.
We just had Halloween last week. And if you’re anything like me, as a kid, you remember dressing up in your favorite superhero, or your favorite character from a TV show. And don’t you think that for a few minutes, you thought, “I am Wonder Woman”. Something like that. It somehow, as a child made you bold, made you step out of your own self, and really try to do that. Think about times at your play acting as a kid, and you stepped into the role of your favorite TV show character. It really helped us as children become someone else. But the question is, can it help us now?
“Psychological Halloweenism” is a term that was invented by psychiatrists Srini Pillay. He talks about it as the act of mentally dressing up as a creative person, such as an architect or a painter, really trying to get out of your own head and start doing things in a different way. He indicates that a 2016 study where two psychologists asked subjects to come up with new and creative ways of using regular items. But the people in that study were either supposed to just be themselves, they weren’t told anything. Some were told to be eccentric poets, and others a narrow-minded librarian. Now, we’re going to go ahead and think creatively about these objects and put them into a different perspective. And of course, the people who were the artist did best because they were told to step out of themselves and become someone who was a little bit wilder, and a little bit more interesting, and a little bit more creative than probably the regular people were. The interesting thing is the librarians also performed better. So, in some ways, just pretending to be someone else help the person regardless of what kind of person that was. So now it makes us question, is it possible that stepping into the shoes of someone else and play acting can help us in doing better for ourselves? And if you want to read the articles and the scientific studies, they are of course in my show notes.
When looking at this, it really asks us to step outside of ourselves when we are playing acting. Another scientist wrote in an article about actors pretending to be someone else. They felt that we are really “one voice, one face, one body”. But being another character allows us to devote our personalities to something else, and we diminish our own personalities. And we can go on to think outside the box and think outside what we would normally do. Other studies found that this type of therapy was great for people battling shame, or abuse, or even a study found that chronic rheumatoid arthritis was helped by play acting to be someone else.
The study with actors found that while they were pretending to be someone else, entirely different places of the brain, were lit up. And the normal part of the brain that lights up when we’re talking or thinking or planning about something actually shrunk a bit. So, this is not just play acting, this is actually changing the way our brain thinks. I think this all sounds like a really good idea. And the good news is, or the bad news, depending on how you look at it, the changes in our brain and our thinking, when we’re play acting, do not go on long term. So, there’s not much risk to harming our own psychological being. However, I would say, be really careful about this. You want to pick people who are going to inspire you to go to this other level of behavior, this next step towards your goals.
The reason I started investigating this is that a number of years ago, is I found that I started to have a mixed personality. I wasn’t going the whole “Three Faces of Eve” method of split personalities. But what I started to do when encountering situations that I’m not particularly strong in, I started play acting in my brain. You remember a couple years ago, there was those wrist bands that said, “What would Jesus do?” Which The idea is, if we’re in a tough situation, step back and think what would Jesus do in this moment, hoping that we would take the higher road. That we would try to use Jesus’ behavior as a better emulation for ourselves. Not only did I do that part of it, but I also started doing it in terms of what would other people do? My friend who was my roommate in college, she is very organized and very detailed. And I started to want to go down this path of when I finished projects, taking that next step up. Don’t just finish a project but go to that next degree to make that project, fantastic. So, I would sit there and look at my project and think, what would my friend do? What would she do if she were in this case? How would she organize this? How would she take it to the next level? The next personality came in terms of fitness. Fitness has been a big struggle of mine, which is why I’ve spent so much time focusing on it. I love sitting and I love all these activities that involve sitting everything from reading, and computer work and knitting. But I want to be that adventurer. So, my fitness trainer, Heather, is an adventure. She does these amazing, adventurous things. And so, when I’m thinking that I don’t really want to exercise. I don’t really want to get out of my chair. I think what would Heather be doing right now. She wouldn’t be taking this time to just sit here and not exercise today. She would be going out and going for a hike or going for a walk or going for a run or a bike. I have to be a little bit more like Heather, if I’m going to be the adventurer at least somewhat that she is and that encourages me to go out and do those things. Then the last one I can think of is my friend who lives a bit far away from me. She’s bold. She’s very bold, and I will tell you, I am not the most bold or confrontational person in the world. And when I feel like someone is taking advantage of me, I think, what would she do if she were in my shoes? What would she say right at this moment and it helps me to become more bold, more direct, and say the thing that’s really on my brain in a good way, instead of getting just run over? It helps me to say the thing that I really need to say. So again, at these times I take those positions to try to make myself do better.
I think that all that controversy that happened a few years ago about the TED talk about the power pose. You’re standing up in front of a group, and right before you’re about to do this speech and you stand up there like Wonder Woman, and it worked for her. It empowered her. But when it was tried in a study, it didn’t really help people the way that they thought it would. And so, the power pose, we thought, maybe this just doesn’t work. And I wonder if it didn’t work, because of the story, she was telling herself. “I’m Wonder Woman, I’m going to do great on this speech!. I’m powerful! I’m strong! I know what I’m talking about. I’m Wonder Woman!” And then she goes out and does her speech, it empowered her, not because of the pose, although that pose helped her do a little play acting. But because of the story, she told herself about the pose. And so, I’m wondering to that if there’s not a script that has to go along with the pose, and not just the pose itself.
So, think about it a little bit, I don’t even think that it has to be someone who’s a real person. Perhaps the person that you play act for a little bit, in order to come up with a good decision, might be someone on television or in the movies. It worked for us as kids. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t work for us now? Find someone who has that right attitude you need right at that moment. And think, what would they do right now? What would they be saying right now? What would they be planning for and thinking right now and try to do that?
The other funny personality I took on was someone who is not even real, and I call her Grocery Shopping Jill, and I was going to buy sensible, healthy foods, what would those foods be? So, I came up with some basic rules, which we’ll talk about next for myself. And for whatever reason, it worked! Grocery Shopping Jill is discerning. She’s firm and she will not buy garbage food. It’s hilarious, because I’ll come home and I’ll think, “Wow, I don’t have a single snack in the house.” And my friends will say, “Was it Grocery Shopping Jill again?” Yes, it was. So, it even works, if the person was never real in the first place. But give it a shot and try to find someone that you can pretend to be in tough situations.
Something that’s tied to this pretending is also limiting your choices by trying to come up with personal rules and personal guidelines that you will not cross. And again, it’s not so much that you’re pretending in that particular case. But you’re pretending that there’s a rule out there, you cannot go against even though it’s a rule you created yourself. It’s something that is your personal guideline, your personal rules, and you will not cross those things. So, think about the story of Odysseus. In the Odyssey, he was going by the island of the Sirens. And the island of the Sirens had these women that would sing out to the sea crew. And that would lure them to the island which could cause them to crash on the rocks near these islands. And I think the Sirens ate them! So, what Odysseus did is he plugged up the ears of his entire crew, so they couldn’t possibly go to the bad Siren Islands. He wanted to hear it. So, he had his men tie him to the mast. So, he could not make the bad choice of causing the ship to go in to the islands. And he heard the Siren song, but he was unable to respond in such a way that would get everyone killed. In this way, we can also limit our own choices by coming up with these fake rules that don’t exist anywhere, but somehow give us agency to say no to things or to follow certain rules. And I think that’s where a Grocery Shopping Jill is born from. Some of my rules have included. I can’t buy a carb unless it has more than three grams of fiber. I cannot buy something with sugar in it. If it has more than 25 grams of sugar. I don’t eat after 6pm unless I am really hungry and not feeling well.
Like I said, I think that Grocery Shopping Jill is honestly just a set of rules that I’ve turned into a personality. We could take some of these traits that we have. And these rules that we decide for ourselves and turn them into a personality, like Grocery Shopping Jill. I put some, I put some resources in the show notes about some good rules to live by.
1. When you’re stuck in a situation, and you can’t think about how to do this thing properly, step into someone else’s shoes, find someone who would do a great job at this particular situation, pretend like you’re them, and figure out what they would say,
2. Come up with a cast of characters who you can commonly refer to when you’re stuck in that situation. Who’s someone I can refer to when I need to be more resolved? Who’s someone I can refer to when I need to be more healthy? Try to come up with that cast of characters you can refer to frequently.
3. Come up with non-negotiable rules or guidelines that will help you stick to the goals that you’re seeking to do. Again, these are just for you. But they will help you if you come up with them and you repeat them often.
Come up with your number one goal, maybe in some of the exercises that we’ve done in other podcast. What’s the number one thing that you want to work towards? Find an alter ego who can help you build those skills to achieve those goals? What would they do if they were in your situation? How can they encourage you to do the right thing?
And here’s our fun, quote advice a day you start pretending to have fun. You might have a little by accident, Alfred Pennyworth for Batman Begins.
You start pretending to have fun, you might even have a little by accident. This is a great quote. I’ve heard many times before where people talked about if you’re in a terrible situation, or you’re at a party and maybe you’re not having any fun. If you start pretending to have fun, you will actually start to have fun. This quote is from Batman Begins in 2005. This is great advice and I highly recommend using it.