Does Buddhist psychology view the concept of "fake it 'til you make it" as an acceptable social behavior (eg, cheerful behavior rather than stressed behavior, or calm behavior rather than emotional behavior)?

For example, I recently attended my first meditation retreat (a weekend event). I was overcome with emotion a couple of times during meditation practice and teaching sessions, with quiet tearfulness. Also, during the sharing time, at the end of the retreat on the final day, I wept as I finished my expressions of gratitude to the teacher and group.

Should I have restrained that last public display of emotion? Was that display of emotion an ill-timed expression of ego/self, and, therefore, according to Buddhism, best to be avoided?

  • 1
    IMHO, no. Your reaction was normal. You're human, you can't be logical all the time. It's inconsequential in comparison to your action and achievement. I wouldn't fret over it.
    – Shon
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 12:57
  • Behavior is a type of mental state, so to a certain extent, you are changing your mental state with behavior, so "fake it 'til you make it" can be valid. Still, there's a difference between "purely external behavior" and "behavior that emerges from a particular state" (even if both are mental states) so care should be exercised. I wonder how/if The 8-Fold Path relates to "fake it 'til you make it"? I also wonder if people who meditate "an expression of enlightenment" aren't using "fake it 'til you make it"? Pure speculation of course...
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 17:58
  • I didn't get the connection between "Fake it 'til you make it" with the example of public emotion. What do you want to make restraining your public display of emotions?
    – eric
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 21:12

4 Answers 4


The idiom "Fake it until you make it" or the recent turn of phrase "Fake it until you become it" used by Amy Cuddy in a Ted Talk about body posture and how it effects your psychology seems to focus mostly on the concept of confidence: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

In that sense in the west there seems to be an interesting idea that confidence is key to success and therefore one should be confident at all times. This is of course not possible and there is where this idiom comes in. The idea is that if one act and behaves as if one is confident, one becomes more confident by way of training. in other words: "embody as best as you can, that which you want to be."

If taken in this way the idea may be applicable to Buddhists, not waiting for confidence, not being paralysed by uncertainty but practising being the person you want to be. Note that this is not the same as ignoring ones feeling or suppressing it. Nor is it a mode you don't allow yourself to fail.

I agree with the other answers that you did not act inappropriately. As long as one does not flinch because of it, or see it as a failure.

  • Hi. Upvoted, although I disagree that this idiom refers mostly to confidence. Actually I've more often heard this idiom referring to happiness than confidence. For instance, some people say "I don't smile because I'm happy; I'm happy because I smile". Depression tends to lead to isolation which tends to lead to more depression, and "faking happiness" can, sometimes, be a way to happiness.
    – Stef
    Commented Jan 26 at 23:40

I'd say NO. Buddhism is, if anything, about practice, practice, and more practice. If you don't do the work, results will never appear. Your expression of emotion was entirely appropriate, even expected. A meditation retreat is a challenging thing, and if it had had no effect on you, I'd have been more surprised.

  • No it's not acceptable, or no you shouldn't have restrained your display? Or no to both? :-)
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 13:56
  • Both! I don't know if I'd say OP shouldn't have acted the way they did, merely that the way they did was perfectly understandable and acceptable.
    – Zefareu
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 18:42

"Fake it till you make it" is one of many views a disciple could endeavor on his way to liberation. It could be a good way to gain some knowledge/wisdom. Once knowledge/wisdom is gained, sooner or later one abandons the view "fake it till you make it".

You have done right by not restraining your last public display of emotion.

Even if that emotion was coming from your ego, it should not be avoided. The reason the emotion came is to learn why it came. The whole universe is here for you to see the path leading to liberation. Even if you probably don't see it this way, your emotion was one of the many experiences that lead you closer to liberation.


I would like to mention the difference between realities. We have conventional reality and ultimate reality.

Conventional reality is based on concepts such as "I, Me, Self, Persons, things, entities, animals etc." Here there is a Self, an experiencing entity, a creator of kamma.

In ultimate reality there is no concepts, meaning that there is no I or Self. In other words there is noone to blame or to restrain.

Regarding the past. What have been done have been done. Pondering about it is not conduceive to ones practice. Reacting to these mental formations only serve to bring one away from the Present moment and into delusion.

Remorse, regret of the past, thinking about what could have been done differently belongs to the 4th hindrance, ie. Restlessness and Worry. The hindrances are what keeps on from developing in meditation. You can read more about them here.

Lastly, in buddhism we try to develop a non-stick mind. A mind that does not cling or have aversion. We practice non-reaction, non-interfering with phenomena. Instead we observe them and learn from them. We observe phenomena and let them show us their true nature. When reacting to them, e.g. reacting to emotions we provide them further fuel to burn. We strengthen them. Its like taking a magnifying glass and concentrating the sun rays. They get stronger. In the same way if we have aversion towards them they also become stronger and grow bigger.

When just observing phenomena without interfering they are not being provided any fuel. Instead we turn them into objects of observation. We make them into the soil that will nurture our spiritual growth. So when these mental formations arise you can observe them and note them (Mahasi Sayadaw Tradition) in order to realize their impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and uncontrollable nature, i.e. the 3 signs of existence.

  • Right, we cling to concepts that have no inherent existence whatsoever. We think our thought are reality, but they aren't.
    – Shon
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 3:17

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