Work from the Outside-In

 

Sometimes, when all else fails, you need to fake it. I’m not talking about Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally.” I’m talking about creating an exterior that represents how you want to feel rather than how you actually feel, looking good when you feel not-so-good, and acting energetic even when you don’t feel it.

After a recent night meeting, I went out with friends for a drink, got to bed too late, then was awakened by one child or another three times between midnight and four a.m. before my alarm went off at 5:30. Needless to say, I was not feeling my best. But I resisted the urge to throw on the closest thing to pajamas I own (yoga pants and a sweatshirt), and instead I put on a flattering top and cute skirt. And mascara and lipstick, too.

I started to feel better almost immediately. I felt happier and more energetic than I had any right to feel, and my day went well. My coaching had great energy that day — and since I coach over the phone, none of my clients could even see what I was wearing. I was productive, and I wound up feeling really good about my work and my business prospects.

So why did how I looked on the outside matter? Part of it is that it genuinely gives me a boost to look good. Checking myself out in the mirror after putting on nice clothes and a little makeup cheered me up. Another piece is something actors know — if you dress and walk the part of an energetic, successful person, it will help you project those qualities to your audience. But more than that is the fact that energy level is contagious. If I greet a person with exhaustion, I often bring them down, and myself down even further. If I project energy in my interactions, I usually receive energy in response.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating insincerity or inauthenticity or a “fake it till you make it” approach to success (though it has its merits). Instead, I recommend constructing some scaffolding to support the positive affect that you want to embody as a way to create energy and feel better. The interior comes to match the exterior.

And then at the end of the day, when exhaustion catches up to you, feel free to put on your sweats, eat cereal out of the box for dinner, and go to bed early. Because the best way to really feel more energy consistently is to GET MORE SLEEP.

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