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The Surprising Habit That Starts You Off on the Right Foot

Doing this one thing can make your whole day.

Raise your hand if you ever dreaded starting your day: getting out of your warm, cozy bed after a late night or going to work when it’s cold, gray, and rainy. And the more you dread the day, the worse you feel.

Most of you?

I thought so.

Studies show that morning moods stay with you all day long. That’s because whatever you focus on expands. The more you focus on an unpleasant feeling or sensation—such as pain, fear, or dread—the more it grows, nibbling away at you like torture from half a million cuts. So as you prepare to start your day, there’s one thing you can do to get off on the right foot: the age-old strategy of “acting as if”—a simple, yet powerful tool that says you can create your outer circumstances by acting as if they’re already true.

Photo by Kyle Loftus on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Kyle Loftus on Unsplash

Here’s how it works. You give yourself to a certain performance as if it’s how you already feel. When you act "as if," the mood you pretend becomes a reality. It might sound too simple to be true, but science backs it up. Suppose you’re angry toward someone who offended you but you want to be forgiving. You can start to feel forgiving by acting as if you are forgiving. Perhaps you’re feeling envious of a friend’s good news but want to be happy for him or her. You can be happy by acting as if you are happy. Twelve Step programs use this method to help recovering folks get through difficult emotional times. And author Tennessee Williams used it to jump start his writing mojo: “I believe the way to write a good play is to convince yourself it is easy to do then go ahead and do it with ease.” You, too, can apply this strategy to just about anything. If you’re having difficulty with something: Instead of fighting tooth and nail, try convincing yourself it’s easy, act as if it is easy, and see if you can tackle the difficulty with success.

The reason it works is because of the mind-body connection. When you “act as if,” the rest of you follows suit. The cells of your body constantly eavesdrop on your thoughts from the wings of your mind. When you’re doubtful or disappointed about something, your body goes with the downturn of your feelings and dumps a cocktail of neuropeptides into your bloodstream, making you feel worse in a matter of seconds. As you focus on the negative feeling, you hunch your head or slump when you walk. This body posture not only reflects how you feel but also contributes to how you feel, which makes you feel even worse and come across in a negative way.

But changing your body posture, breathing patterns, muscle tension, facial expressions, gestures, movements, words, vocal tonality releases a surge of chemicals that can change your internal state. Standing tall with shoulders back makes you look confident, plus it makes you feel more confident. Training your body to position itself the way you want to think and feel about yourself adjusts your thoughts and feelings to the way you want them to be. Making body adjustments—pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting up straight, walking in a more expansive way—can pull you out of self-doubt, disappointment, or dread and any other self-defeating emotion.

The same is true with smiling. Your facial expressions influence your emotions by triggering specific neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers. When you frown, you feel bad not just because it reflects how you feel, but the facial expression contributes to how you feel. In the same way, a smile can make you feel happier. Even if you fake it, pasting a smile on your face can raise your mood and reduce stress. And coworkers and family members respond to you in a more uplifting way. Studies show that when people's ability to frown is compromised by cosmetic Botox injections, they’re happier than people who can frown.

So next time you’re feeling blue or have a sour attitude, jump start a feel-good workday by putting on a happy face and smiling. Remind yourself that frowning and dreading make you feel worse. Even if you have to fake it to start, convince yourself that facing the day is a piece of cake, act as if it’s true, then notice how it becomes true.

Have any kind of day you want. But if you want to have a really great day, regardless of the outer circumstances of your life, simply act as if it’s a wonderful day. And it will become so.