Today’s examples of the Method are simple but effective so they illustrate the Method well as well as how to use it.
The first is an effect you probably already know. Everyone knows feeling happy tends to make you smile. Most people also know that it works the other way too: smiling makes you feel happy. For that matter, showing any emotion’s facial expression tends to create that expression’s mood in you.
Recall that from your emotional system’s perspective, your body is part of its environment. So putting a smile or any other expression on your face involves using your behavior to influence your environment. Since your emotions react to the other three elements of an emotional cycle, as long as your beliefs don’t overly contradict the mood your face projects, your emotions will follow suit.
For your mood to be consistent with your facial expression makes sense evolutionarily for a social species like ours. The ability to project one motivation while behaving according to another — also known as deception — could damage a community if doing so were too easy. It seems plausible for us to have evolved to behave consistently with our expressions. Actors have to practice years to behave like someone else and even then they often learn to “become” the other person so that they can convey “truth,” not lies.
Of course, when you only change your expression, you change your emotions on a short time scale since expressions fade within minutes. Besides, just changing your expression doesn’t change your beliefs. You probably couldn’t make yourself happy for hours just by forcing a smile. Nonetheless, the practice illustrates how the Method works for this range of characteristics.
If you wanted to feel happy for hours, this example suggests that finding a behavior consistent with happiness that lasted hours would prompt a happiness that lasted hours, though you’d probably have to adopt beliefs consistent with happiness for it to work that long.
In my experience, when I try to act happy or any other emotion long enough, eventually I start feeling that way. Most people readily accept this pattern for unpleasant emotions. For example, if you stay in on a night when all your friends go out, you likely expect to feel lonely. Well, you can just as easily evoke joy.
Today’s other simple example is the Body Language exercise from my Social Skills Exercise series. I usually start my seminars with this exercise, so in person I can ask people to remember how they felt doing the exercise as well as other specific questions about the experience. I recommend trying it yourself now.
The Body Language exercise has people adopt body languages consistent with different emotions along with everyone else in the room, creating a greater effect than just smiling. Within a minute, people change their emotions 180 degrees — everyone in the room at the same time. Talk about consistency and predictability — exactly what we want in techniques to change our lives.
When I ask people at the seminars if changing their body language caused them to genuinely feel the new emotions of if they just faked them, they universally say they genuinely felt the new emotions.
You can think of doing either of these examples as early exercises in the Method. You’ll see you’ve done all the parts of the Method before. The Method only systematically combines what you already know how to do.
I made these last points to help lower the barrier to effectively doing the Method.