“Pretend until you believe”: can you convince yourself to be positive


Emotional control skills are often associated with inner strength and developed self-control. It is no coincidence that the ability to always look positive in the business environment has become one of the requirements for the professionalism of an employee. But psychologists are finding more and more evidence that a constant “duty” smile can lead to alienation from real emotions and even cause burnout.

Emotions are work too

“Everything that we feel as external, imposed, is perceived by us differently than we feel from the inside, coming from a pure heart,” explains Alisha Grandi, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The irony is that when you try to make yourself appear positive and cheerful, you fail. Once the brain recognizes an action as forced, it becomes akin to a violent one. “

The constant need to portray optimism and benevolence leads to estrangement. Alisha Grandi discovered that when we wear a mask-smile on our face, we expend more energy and get tired faster than when we behave in accordance with the inner state.

“We can hide feelings for a while – provided that we have a ‘refuge’ where we can be real, – says the psychologist. “But it will not work to deceive true emotions with the help of self-control – the body always recognizes such an action as an emotional effort and will require rest.”

Promotion or prevention?

If “inauthentic” feelings are a burden to us, to what extent can we even control our emotional behavior?

Psychologists Miong-Gu Seo, Lisa Barrett, and Jean Bartunek suggested that this depends on our motivation, which can be represented as a continuum with two poles. Inside, there is a constant tug of war, as it were. The productive function pulls in one direction (we are ready to make efforts or even take risks if we know that it will be beneficial), in the other – the protective function (we try to avoid negative scenarios)1

Although a positive attitude makes us more resilient, the body instantly recognizes attempts to deceive it.

A similar concept was developed by psychologist Tory Higgins. He talks about two different motivations that drive our actions – the reward mindset and the prevention mindset.

If we control our behavior, are afraid to make mistakes – we are driven by the motivation to prevent. We use this strategy to survive, but we are ready to drop our “masks” as soon as possible.

Agree with the inner child

Although a positive attitude makes us more resilient to shocks, the body instantly recognizes attempts to deceive it. If our behavior is just a way to defend ourselves or meet the demands of our boss, we will not look truly convincing.

In Alisha Grandi’s opinion, when it comes to emotions, we all act like two-year-olds. If you tell a young child what to do and what not to do, he will be stubborn. But if you turn the task into a game – something that he likes himself – he will get involved in the process.

To stimulate positive thinking, several conditions are needed: safety, a clear understanding of the goal, and the creative freedom to realize it. If we perceive our actions as our own choice, understand why we need it, our behavior becomes natural. This is how reward motivation works.

1 M. Seo et al. “The Role of Affective Experiense in Work Motivation”, Academy of Management Review, 2004, vol. 29.

Read also

Rate article
Women DO!
Leave a Reply