Do you remember when you were a kid, how much fun it was to play “Pretend?”
On any given afternoon you might have been a princess, a pirate, an astronaut or Wonder Woman. With some imaginative and adaptive costuming, we became convinced that we’d been transformed into a different person. We could fly, see through walls and travel to distant planets without effort.
How many kids, playing backyard football, shout out, “I’m Tom Brady!” as they go to throw a pass?
Actors and actresses, also, are constantly “pretending” to be the person they are portraying in the movie or play. In the minds of those actors who are regularly recognized as being at the top of their fields they actually become that character.
Whether we’re a child playing pirate or an actor playing Hamlet, in that moment we’ve been transformed into someone else. And with that transformation come all the skills and powers and traits of the person we’re pretending to be. The kid who pretends he’s Tom Brady will actually throw the football farther and more accurately than when he’s just being himself.
In the process of moving from fear and anxiety to fearlessness, playing “pretend” as a grown-up can help you get used to the new (and initially uncomfortable) mental state you’re trying to nurture.
In this process it’s important to have role models who can show us how it’s done. They demonstrate the behavior we admire and give us the “moves” that we can imitate. So, on your way to your own brand of fearlessness, who do you look up to? Who do you admire and seek to emulate? Who are your heroes?
If they really are your hero, you’ve watched them in action. You know how they behave. You even have an idea of how they think and react in different circumstances. All that’s left is for you to pretend to be them for an hour.
Of course, pretending to be Serena Williams for an hour today won’t put you on the center court at Wimbledon tomorrow. But pretending to be her for an hour again tomorrow, and the next day will be moving you in the right direction. Which is exactly how she, and all the other greats we admire got to where they are. They found a hero and modeled their thinking and behavior.
Oprah’s hero is Maya Angelou. Richard Branson admired Steve Jobs. Elon Musk looks up to Kanye West. He says that “Kanye's belief in himself and his incredible tenacity got him to where he is today. He's not afraid of being judged or ridiculed in the process.”
When you study your heroes, focus on learning how they think. If they’ve passed on, study them and read their biographies. If they’re alive, follow them on social, read whatever you can about them. Watch them and learn how they think, process information and make decisions.
Then try it for yourself. Pretend to be fearless like your hero for an hour. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. So only do it for an hour. Then go back to the comfort of being yourself. But do it again for an hour each day this week, and two hours the week after. It will get easier and you’ll be more and more convinced about the charade.
When you pretend this new mental state often enough and long enough, you’ll get more and more comfortable in the role till eventually you won’t be pretending any more. You’ll have become genuinely fearless.
In my own life, as I realized that anxiety was an obstacle to my dreams, I learned to watch and imitate the people who I could see were behaving fearlessly. They were the ones who weren’t swayed by the opinions of others, tried the scary things, got back up after being knocked down. It was obvious that I needed to watch these folks because they were accomplishing the ambitions I had for myself.
The more I watched them, though, the more I realized that, in spite of appearances, fearlessness hadn’t come naturally for them either. Turns out that many of those who appear to be naturally courageous, have had to learn, study and practice the art of fearlessness before they were able to master it.
And that’s the key to success for the rest of us.
You’ve heard the term, “Fake it till you make it?” Well it turns out that if we find a hero with the courage we admire, then observe them, learn from them, and follow them around, we can start to imitate them. And the more we observe and imitate, the more comfortable we become with the same skills, same habits and same behaviors as they have.
I’ve been watching these rare Masters for more than a dozen years now and worked hard to make a habit of doing what they do. And I’ve found that, when I imitate these masters, I get the same results, the same satisfaction, rewards and joy that they do.