The Acting As If Principle: Enhance Your Performance

What if I told you there was a way to jack into the Matrix and download the skills of successful people?

Ok…I’ll be honest, we’re not there yet.

But acting as if can still help.

Although it does require a good dose of hard work and imagination, it can fast track your progress…

Let’s see how it works.

A learning exercise

If I asked you to draw a cat from memory, would you be able to do it? 

Unless you’re a trained artist with splendid recall, probably not. 

To model an accurate depiction, it would be more effective to copy a cat. 

Similarly, when initiating a process of personal change and skill acquisition, psychological modelling can accelerate our transformation. 

It’s like tracing your personality onto the outline of success and creating nice straight, firm lines.

Acting as if provides the metaphorical tracing paper we need.
By imagining what a more competent person would do in times of struggle and imitating their probable response, we can improve our own performance.

It can either be someone you know, admire or even a fictional character, as we’ll discover shortly.


Why do you think all the ‘How many berries does Elon Musk sprinkle on his porridge’ articles are so popular? 

Because people want to copy him (weird breakfast routines included), thinking that it will generate the same results.

Elon’s berry consumption aside, embodying the traits of a successful person can help overcome unhelpful tendencies and cement habits central to success. 

I’m sure, at this moment, you can think of many gifted people or those who’ve already achieved your desired goal. 

You just have to imagine that person and you’re away to the races. 

How it helps

The problem with any change is that it’s unfamiliar. Two inherent issues emerge:

1. You don’t know the steps needed to achieve ambitious or complex goals 
2.You don’t know how to act to become the type of person capable of taking such steps

Acting as if can help in both instances. 

When we don’t know how to progress it’s tempting to play small, taking tentative steps or succumb to complete inaction. 

Conversely, someone who’s already conquered a goal has overcome their fears and adopted the most efficient solution. 

Modelling them, therefore, provides a shortcut, or mental heuristic. 

Why re-invent the wheel when you can re-invent yourself in someone else’s image?

Someone more capable of making positive progress.

How the dark magic works

By acting as if and placing another person front and centre you gain psychological distance. 

Negative emotions are so intense they tend to attract us like magnets. We become so wrapped up in a problem that we lose clarity and focus. 

By replacing yourself with a role model during discomfort or uncertainty, you gain greater perspective, permitting more informed, rational decisions appropriate to the situation. 

Much like a superpower, acting as if you were your role model allows you to temporarily adopt their traits. 

With practice, their abilities become your abilities. 

Pesky emotions 

Achieving goals isn’t a binary robotic process.

Instead, we deal with messy human emotions that stymie progress. 

Any time we try something new, fear is a natural byproduct. 

Trying to improve your public speaking for the first time? Cue the clammy hands and squeaky voice.

Although such reactions are overblown and undermine performance, they’re predictable survival responses.
This is where acting as if you were your role model can help. 

The best thing? 

Unlike the normal positive thinking platitudes, it’s possible to act in the face of fear while still acknowledging your disempowering feelings. Just as an actor plays a role.

When you put on this mask, your performance improves, encouraging real-world feedback.
And with enough practice, you might even come to embody the traits of your role model for exponential performance improvement. 

You really can fake till you make it. 

The law of attraction 

Google acting as if and you’ll find a lot of law of attraction information on visualising your bliss, radiating energy and letting the universe move its mysterious cogs to grant your every desire. 

Well erm…that’s not the way this version of the principle works.
Sitting in your pants on the sofa and imagining outlandish rewards, unsurprisingly, doesn’t tend to help on a practical level. 

But by imagining a role model and following it up with the secret all-important ingredient, as shown in the following book, we can make progress. 

Best book on the subject

Psychologist Richard Wiseman has written a book on this topic, called the ‘As If Principle’.

Luckily, this introduces some sexy science to support the psychological trickery. 
Whilst we usually assume that emotion induces certain types of behaviour, the research actually shows that it cuts both ways. 

When we start to act (the secret ingredient) we generate corresponding emotions.

For example, one famous study demonstrates that when participants were forced to smile by holding a pencil between their teeth, they felt happier.

Similarly, it’s been shown that when we tense our muscles, we exhibit more willpower.

And therein lies the kicker for my own version of this principle.

It’s not enough to just think a certain way or imagine a particular role as many law of attraction advocates propose. 

The visualisation must be coupled with action to generate the desired results. 

How to apply the principle 

There are obviously no hard and fast rules. 

However, my advice is to choose a role model for each applicable domain. Ideally, someone you respect and find inspiring. 

It could be a random famous person, a fictionalised version of your better future self, or even a character from your favourite book or movie.

Now wait until you encounter negative feelings (you won’t have to wait long!) 

This could be uncertainty regarding a major decision or the urge to quit.

Rather than succumbing to such feelings, recall your role model and act as if by asking ONE important question:

What would X do in this situation? 

To spice things up a bit, engage in some visualisation.

Imagine that person in your position and their next likely action. 

And as the research shows, don’t simply let your imagination run amok.

That will make you less likely to do the work required to fulfil the vision. 

Instead, initiate the actual action your role model would perform in a comparable situation. 

That takes this technique from nice theory territory to a concrete technique, applicable in all tricky situations. 

What would Goggins do? 

I workout most days but inevitably there are days when I complain, not from fatigue, but rather laziness. 

At such times, I ask myself the all-important question:

‘What would Goggins do?’ 

David Goggins is a beast of a man. Retired navy seal and now ultra marathoner, he gives himself no excuses.
By imagining I’m the man and legend himself in personal moments of weakness, I power through and get the job done. 


We humans are irrational little creatures.
Even though we know what’s good for us, rarely do we do what’s needed, especially in our vulnerable moments.
Instead, we’re often betrayed by transient feelings, resulting in a series of false starts and dead ends. 

By acting as if and modelling people who’ve already hacked life, you can instill the behaviour needed to fast-track your personal growth.