Effecting the cause

This was a significant realization that I had during the silent meditation retreat here at MAPLE last month. I think the idea itself is very deep, and my understanding of it is still deepening. 

The approach of “faking it till you make it” seems to be ingrained in me, probably resulting from a combination of societal messaging with my own lived experiences of times this strategy has worked. The classic example that comes to mind of faking it till you make it is with confidence. If you’re not confident, this strategy advises you to just act like you are—by doing things that confident people do, you’ll naturally start thinking of yourself as more confident, which will translate into actual increased confidence. I think this does work, but the reason it works is because many of the actions that you would take (like adopting a more positive mindset) are things that do have existing positive loops with confidence. In other words, both of these statements are true: if you’re confident, you will have a more positive mindset, AND if you have a positive mindset, you’ll feel more confident. 

The problem that became clear to me over retreat is that a positive loop doesn’t exist between everything that you might do to fake it till you make it for. For instance, I’m sure there are things that you might do to fake confidence that wouldn’t actually increase your confidence. But to make this point clear, I’ll use another (silly) example. If you want to become wealthy by faking it till you make it, you might try to act like a wealthy person by buying a lot of designer clothes. I’m not saying that this strategy will never work, but it most likely will just result in massive credit card debt. And the reason for this is because a positive loop between buying designer clothes and being wealthy doesn’t exist.

In my own life, I often have a fixation on being in particular states. Whether that be peaceful, compassionate, relaxed, “in the zone,” etc. And when I’m not in one of those states but want to be, I’ll often try to adopt patterns from when I’ve experienced those states in the past, or from what I’ve observed (or projected) about others in those states, without consciously thinking about whether or not those things would actually result in the desired state. I’m conceptualizing this as blindly trying to effect the cause. There are a lot of subtle ways that I do this, of associating possible effects of something with the thing itself. 

One somewhat less subtle example is that in circling, something that I created an association for is with “good circling” (and a state of connectedness and presence) and the use of certain sentence stems (“I notice,” “I imagine,” “I have a projection that,” etc.). While I do believe there is a positive loop between using those sentence stems and a certain level of connectedness, a lot of the best circling that I’ve done and witnessed don’t rely on them. So while using the fake it till you make it strategy is partially effective, I can't use it to go all the way—I have to drop it at some point in order to get even deeper, and to get even deeper I will likely need to find a more process-focused strategy. Finding such a strategy is a lot harder to do, but the work of doing so seems fundamental for becoming skillful at anything, including achieving certain states[1].

To summarize how you could apply this realization: start to notice when you are subconsciously trying to effect the cause and ask yourself if there’s an actual positive loop there, or if you need to drop your strategy and find another process that works. My processes for the circling example include following the Circling Europe principles of committing to connection and owning your experience. 

For my friends who are familiar with logic, I could restate this post as follows: I was able to discover the fallacy of affirming the consequent in my own life. And,

  1. p → q, q → p, q ⊨ p
  2. p → q, q ⊭ p
  3. p → q, p ⊨ q


[1] Another example is that in equanimous states, it can be easy for me to hold the perspective that everything happens for a reason. Forcing myself to see things that way when I’m not in an equanimous state often just makes me feel bad for not being in an equanimous state, instead of the desired consequence.

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