Act as if. These are three of the most powerful words I’ve ever heard.
Too often we find ourselves caught in the trap of saying “when”. When I become a senior, I’ll be a leader. When I have that new job, I’ll start working harder. When I have that new partner, I’ll be happy. When we start winning, I’ll recruit better players. If you’re reading this and thinking “that’s me”, it’s okay. We’ve all been there, but it doesn’t mean we have to stay there.
John Calipari is the head coach of Kentucky men’s basketball program where he boasts a 78% winning percentage including a national title and four trips to the Final 4. He’s been College Coach of the Year three times, ranks in the top 20 in wins in Division I history, and is a member of the basketball hall of fame. He’s also a walking testament to the power of acting as if.
When Coach Calipari took over at UMass in 1988, they finished the season with a 10-18 record. While he was out recruiting, he was invited to watch a top prospect. After just 5 minutes of watching the player, Calipari told the coach he wasn’t interested. The coach was confused and told Calipari “He’d start for the team you have right now”. Calipari, unfazed, responded, “Yeah, he’d start for the team we have right now, but he wouldn’t even play for the team we’re going to have.” Calipari passed on the prospect and went on to lead UMass to five consecutive conference titles, a #1 National Ranking, and multiple March Madness appearances including a Sweet 16 appearance and Final Four run.
Author James Clear describes this concept perfectly in his book Atomic Habits. He encourages readers to think of every decision they make as casting a vote toward the type of person they want to be. Make lazy decisions? These are votes for becoming a lazy person. Make healthy decisions? Those are votes for becoming a healthy person. Our life is ultimately the result of these votes. The voting polls never close, and we cast votes every minute of every day. Ultimately, we don’t just want to change our actions for the sake of changing our actions, we want to build an identity and a character that will sustain the success of the person we’re becoming. Heavy right? Just stick with me, there’s a formula here.
The simplest way to start the process is to identify the type of person we want to become. I’d suggest breaking it down like this:
1. The person I want to be is (insert adjectives)
2. This person makes decisions that look like (insert adjectives)
3. To be this person, I need to build the following habits (insert habits)
4. I will do the following things to build these habits (insert daily actions)
Boom. 5 steps to greatness. Keep in mind, that this is simple, not easy. The power of this process lies in the execution. For this to work, you have to be intentional about your decision making. Leaders and high performers don’t live on autopilot. They challenge their decision-making constantly by asking “Is this a decision the person I want to be would make?” Think about yourself as if you’re already that person. Build it into your identity and act accordingly. Muhammad Ali said it best, “I am the greatest, I said that before I even knew I was.” The greats know that belief causes behaviors just as often as behavior causes belief.
So, if you’re just starting out chasing your dreams or you’re in the middle of your race for success, I challenge you to act as if. Make decisions that the person you want to become would make. Make those decisions often enough with the right intensity, and soon you will be that person. Champions think and act like champions long before they hold the belt. See the process as an opportunity to pour the cement for your future. Practice delaying gratification. Get experience passing on the small wins now for big wins later.