Don't Overthink It
Heart and Soul
Fake it ‘til you make it is one of the aphorisms that seems have great application in many contexts. Got a new job that you feel kind of unqualified for? Fake it ‘til you make it! Graduated from school and been given far too much responsibility for your skill level? Fake it ‘til you make it! Had a kid and realized you have no idea what you’re doing? "Fake it ‘til you make it!
Have a pen or pencil in front of you? Grab it and put it between your teeth. Hold it there for 10 minutes while you work on something else, and then watch a video that you know will induce laughter. Then do it again while holding the pen between your lips? Really, go do it.
Was there a difference in your reactions? This very unscientific prompt was an attempt to capture the essence of a real experiment:
In 1988, Fritz Strack, a psychologist now at the University of Würzburg, Germany, and colleagues found that people who held a pen between their teeth, which induces a smile, rated cartoons as funnier than did those who held a pen between their lips, which induced a pout, or frown1. Strack chose cartoons from Gary Larson's classic 1980s series, The Far Side.
Strack’s study has been quoted as a classic demonstration of what’s known as the ‘facial feedback hypothesis’ — the idea that facial expressions can influence a person’s own emotional state. The paper has been cited more than a thousand times, and has been followed by other research into facial feedback.
Scientists, as is their wont, have made attempts to debunk it in the years since with Strack even retorting back to their challenges. We won’t stray into that scientific kerfuffle. The question though of can we lovingly brute force our way into feeling or doing is an interesting one. While my original examples were ones situated in a mostly modern context, there is a biblical analog as well.
When the Israelites bring their offerings for the ten of meeting, the givers are described as have נשאו לבו ונדבה רוחו: elevated hearts and giving spirits. What exactly do these characteristics mean. According to the Ramban:
the reason for using such a phrase, whose heart stirred him up, is because they undertook to do the work, although there was no one among them who had learned these crafts from an instructor, or had trained his hands at all to do them. Rather, a person who felt in his nature that he knew how to do such skills, his heart was lifted up in the ways of the Eternal to come before Moses and say to him, “I will do all that my lord speaks.”
In other words, none of these people had experience with any of these crafts and tasks. After all, they and many previous generations had been enslaved for hundreds of years. But in this new world they were living, instead of bowing out, they leaned in and gave what they could. Through having a spirit that was willing, their heart was lifted up. The Torah doesn’t give us much insight into their other emotions beside their heart being lifted but one might also say, they faked it until they made it.
Darwin and James both spoke about willing yourself with your physical movements to create internal feelings. It’s the same argument here. The Israelites already having opted into a relationship with God based on the notion of “we will do and then we’ll learn” are aptly prepared for this type of living.
There’s something to be said for us as well. How often do we find ourselves in a situation where we back out of something because the conditions aren’t ripe for our ultimate success or where we feel somewhat nervous about our performance? Speaking for myself, I am certainly guilty of this.
How many potent opportunities could there be in life if we threw caution the wind on this one? We can’t be fully prepared for every new situation life presents to us. The best growth comes from moments of tension and discomfort. We don’t even need that much to do it. All we need is a spirit that is giving which in turn will lift up our hearts and from there, we may not even need to fake it anymore?
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!