My Take on “Fake It ’til You Make It”

Anyone who’s been a part of a traditional twelve-step community knows the phrase. Even those outside of recovery know it.

“Fake it ’til you make it.”

It’s supposed to encourage us to keep on keepin’ on, even when there’s little emotional drive to endure. Other idioms such as “trust the process” and “It only works if you work it, but you gotta’ work it both day and night” share similar wisdom.

But some get stuck on the very first phrase: “fake it”.

The problem here is, in our emotionally-driven society, we think it’s a cardinal sin to do anything for which there’s no “passion”. Unfortunately, this perspective also causes people to marry “from passion”, only to leave when the “passion” is gone (and usually when they feel a “passion” kindled for somebody else on Facebook or at the office).

We need to stop thinking of this phrase as forcing ourselves to do something we really don’t want to do. That’s not the whole picture.

What if we restate it this way: Making a willful decision consistent with our deeply held convictions.

Willful because it’s about intentionality, not at the whim of a momentary feeling. Animals have no choice but to act upon instinct. We humans, made in the image of God, have a will that can override impulses. I’m not saying this is easy, just possible.

Decision because, at the end of the day, it’s a simple choice. Again, simple is different than easy.

Consistent with our convictions because, as divine image bearers, we have a conscience that (in cooperation with our will) can trump our most basic impulses. You can see it in a parent who make huge sacrifices for their sick child or in a soldier who risks death to save a fellow soldier in a firefight. Our closely-held convictions enable us to live beyond ourselves within a larger story much bigger than our own.

Deep convictions because this sense of knowing is more than mere intellectualism. It’s more like “I know that I know that I know”, a deeply held sense of what is right in a particular situation. A certainty, if you will. When examined and found to be consistent with God’s Word, such conviction can be a centering anchor in the gut-wrenching decisions of life.

Now, I’m not saying this will necessarily change our feelings and impulses. Maybe, maybe not. But what I’m suggesting is a sort of middle ground regarding the role of impulses in our decision-making as Christians. Rather than making decisions by our impulses (hedonism) or in spite of our impulses (a more harsh, almost denial sort of approach), what if we made intentional decisions from our deeply held convictions in the presence of our impulses?

That is, what if we acknowledge the presence of our impulses, without sensing the need to either be led by them or pretend they don’t exist?

Such a grace-based approach reminds me of a metaphor found in Psalm 23: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5, ESV). Here, we are encouraged to not act on our fear of the enemy, nor are we required to be in denial about the fact that our enemy lurks around the corner. Rather, we are instructed to trust in the Good Shepherd’s provision for us in our enemy’s presence.

Let’s face it. As believers, sometimes our fallen impulses may well feel like our enemy, especially for those in recovery.

When such “enemy impulses” are at their loudest, are we willing to trust our Divine Shepherd’s provision for us by choosing to act from our deepest Biblical convictions?