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Why “Fake it ‘Til You Make It” Doesn’t Work – and What Does


by Leslie Ehm, author of “Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are and Become Everything You Want

Why oh why are we willing to go to such extreme lengths to convince the world that we’ve got it all on lock?

If you Google “How can I come across as more confident?” you’ll find more than 415,000,000 results, including “7 Ways to Look Really Confident (Even When You’re Not),” “7 Conversational Tricks to Appear More Confident,” and “How to Fake Being More Confident When You’re Just Not Feeling It.” As a society, we’ve become so obsessed with the almighty power of a confident persona that we’re even prepared to lie about it!

I understand the temptation and even the rationale to fake confidence. There’s a ton of research reinforcing the almighty power of a confident persona. Just one example: a University of Sussex study recently demonstrated that the “brain is wired to allow confident people to influence our beliefs.” Holy crap! Does that make the opposite true as well? No confidence = no credibility = no power of persuasion? On the surface, it would seem that an illusion of confidence is better than none at all. But in my experience working with countless entrepreneurs and executives, it has proven to be a very, very flawed concept.

Where Confidence Comes From

Here’s the problem. You cannot fake confidence. The only way to achieve legitimate confidence is as a result of legitimate competence. Only when you’ve done a thing enough times for your highly resistant brain to accept that you have a strong grasp on the fundamentals and can apply that competence to a variety of situations will you experience the bliss of confidence. If you accept that logic, you’ll see why faking it will bite you in the butt.

When you fake it, the message you’re announcing to the world is that you know what you’re doing when you don’t. Once you go down that road, you have no choice but to keep going. Backtracking is no longer an option. This opens up countless pitfalls and potholes for you to fall into along the way.

The best, smartest and easiest way to deepen our competence is by learning from others. But if you’re busy running around telling everyone that you’re already skilled and experienced, you lose your greatest asset in competence building – the ability to ask for help! There’s brilliance in the heads of everyone around you just waiting to be tapped, and there you are, trapped in your “Nah, I’ve already got this” pretense. I’ve always put my money on telling others how much smarter they are than I am and then asking them to share their wisdom (ending the request with, “Oh, great one,” usually seals the deal). Besides, don’t we all secretly hate that smarmy jackass who claims to have all the answers? We know it can’t possibly be true, yet we tell ourselves we need to be just like that to succeed.

The Power of Owning Where We Are

There seems to be so much shame around accepting and owning where we are in our journey. We all started from a place of “I have no idea what I’m doing”. No one is born with competence. And yet we let the world convince us that we should always be further along than we are, forgetting how much we’ve progressed from two years ago and how much we’ll grow and learn in two years from now. The smart money is on being proud of how far you’ve come and not faking where you hope and plan to be. It’s one of the secrets to eradicating the dreaded Imposter Syndrome because you won’t be an imposter! When you have real competence and own where you are, despite how people might try, no one can take it away from you. It’s simply fact. And then there’s never of risk of getting “found out”. Phew. What a relief that is!

Add to that, there’s a dangerous side effect of faking it, which a Cornell University research team called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. This syndrome occurs when you start to believe your own hype without having the actual chops to back it up. You not only start losing the ability to make good and informed decisions, you also literally brainwash yourself into believing you’re better than you are, which in turn leads to less of a desire to improve. So while having some bravado might not sound like such a bad idea for your client presentation, imagine the ultimate impact on your business. How long before you are labeled an arrogant or ignorant ass?

Even juicier still, a well-known study from the 1960s, which has since been replicated and proved, discovered that the way to make the best first impression and get people to like you is to screw up fast. Yup, that’s right. The phenomenon is called the “Pratfall

Effect.” Spill coffee, make a bad joke, fumble, stumble, and recover — anything that makes you appear human and vulnerable will have a massive impact on how people are drawn to you. Our subconscious minds can’t resist flaws in others because we all know how flawed we are.

Forget Faking It and Try This Instead

Bottom line – confidence is not a “thing” to get or achieve; it’s a guaranteed by-product of real competence. While you’re building that competence, instead turn to self-belief – the unerring sense that you have what it takes to step off the cliff into the unknown and that you will not die as a result. From there, everything becomes possible and it’s only a matter of time before that your substance will shine over any strut.

Fundamentally, if you believe that you are truly worthy of owning your awesomeness at the stage you’re currently at, then you do. Nothing or no one can tell you differently. And people will respect you far more for it than if you try to sucker them into believing a life.

So lose the “fake it ’til you make it” once and for all. Instead, just “feel it ’til you find it.”. That will give you more true swagger than any false front ever could.


Leslie Ehm is former TV host turned training guru, speaker and Swagger coach. She’s also the Wall Street Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon #1 bestselling author of “Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are and Become Everything You Want“.