Conventional wisdom states that our attitudes are what influences our behaviour. However, some studies have shown that changing behaviour can influence our mind instead.
When a person observes another’s behaviour, they make conclusions about that person’s attitudes. If you observe a person behaving angrily in response to a question about a controversial issue, you can usually deduce that person does not support that issue.
The Self-Perception Theory claims that we can use this process on ourselves to influence our attitudes. If a person does something without knowing why they did it, they create a reason after the fact that explains why they did it. Have you ever laughed at something without knowing why it’s funny, and then when asked why you laughed, you tried to find a reason that makes sense? In situations like these, a person rationalises their own behaviour in the same way that they try to explain others’ behaviour.
The Self-Perception Theory has some interesting applications. Multiple studies have explored the possibilities of intentionally changing behaviour in order to change attitudes. Two 1964 studies by James Laird reported that something as simple as making different facial expressions was enough to adjust their beliefs. Participants were told to contract or relax certain facial muscles without being told why. Participants who were manipulated into forming a smile reported feeling happier. Meanwhile, those who were made to frown reported feeling angrier.
Human facial expressions are innate, and not learned. Blind people will smile when happy even though they’ve never seen anyone smile before. So when people are manipulated into executing a behaviour that corresponds with a particular emotion, they adjust their attitude to explain it. “If I’m smiling, it must be because I’m happy because people smile when they are happy.” And so they start to feel happier. A person can make themselves happy just by smiling.
This application was made famous by life coach Tony Robbins, who supports using physical change-of-state exercises in order to change a person’s mental state.
Similar techniques have been used for psychological therapy. Rather than treating the psychological problems believed to be causing the poor behaviour, clients can instead be coached on changing behaviour, and once they do that the underlying attitudes will resolve themselves.
This can be used to solve shyness. Teach a shy person how to appear confident so that they have positive social interactions, and eventually they start to think of themselves as a confident person, overcoming their shyness.
The lesson is pretty simple. If you want to be something, just start pretending that you are. If you know someone who is successful and you want to be like them, then start acting like them.
Identify the behaviours they have that have convinced you of their success, and emulate them. Eventually, your attitudes will start to shift. You’ll stop thinking of yourself as an unsuccessful person trying to be successful. You’ll start thinking of yourself as a successful person doing successful person things. Because if you weren’t a successful person, why would you be acting that way?
You can apply this to nearly everything. If you want to be an athlete, start acting like an athlete by mimicking their behaviours. If you want to be an artist, mimic the behaviour of an artist.
We implement this technique in our morning change-of-state sessions at Full Circle. Every single day at 11am, we physically alter our state to shake off the morning drowsiness. This also helps us get ourselves in the right mindset.
Sitting behind our desks with a mug of coffee, drearily drudging away at work we don’t really care about is NOT what Full Circle is about. So we make sure that our behaviour accurately reflects what Full Circle is striving to be. We confirm the company values, we commit to success, and we act with passion.
We know what we want to be, so we make our behaviour reflects that.