Act as if

I have been searching for a long lost relative of mine. By long lost, I mean a couple of centuries lost. He was last seen in Wales apparently. He was the father of Evan James.

We Mormons do this sort of thing, not because we want to substantiate our claim to an inheritance, or link up with royalty. We think we can do our ancestors some good, and feel we have a responsibility to them for preparing the way for us to be born.

But I confess I’m also curious to know if I have any kinship with William James, a notable philosopher and psychologist of late 19th century America. I rather doubt we are related, James is a common name in Wales. I suspect given my character and disposition, I’m more likely to be related to Jesse James than William.

But William James has intrigued me ever since I read three words he wrote, “Act as if.” They were part of his teachings on how to change and improve your life.

James approach echoed the American “can do” spirit that made, and still makes this country great. He counseled that if you want to add some ability or admirable character trait to your life, act as if you already have it.

Simple but powerful program. Some people to whom I have recommended this have said, “Great, if I want to be wealthy, I’ll act as if I am. I’ll spend money like a drunken sailor, and somehow it will never run out.”

My reply is, “Maybe people who are already rich act that way, but people who become rich do just the opposite. If you really act like them you will manage the dimes and dollars carefully then you’ll have the self control and skill to build the thousands into millions.” Despite their hefty salaries, eighty percent of the NFL football players are broke or worse within three years of their retirement. Lottery winners, show business stars, inheritors of estates are equally famous for letting fortune slip through their fingers. People who acquire money or retain money don’t throw it away.

The same is true of other things we might wish for. If we would have friends, act as if we were a friend, reach out, bring light, help others, and see how your social circle expands. If we would be healthy, do the things healthy people do. No guarantee, but it’s our best shot.

How do we change our actions to better obtain the good things we want in life? We can grab ourselves by the scruff of the neck and drag our mind and body kicking and screaming into a new life style. This works for some people, but it is a tough, uphill climb. Better to make use of the magic of imagination. Picture the new you doing the things that are natural to that person. The greater detail you can paint the better. See yourself in various settings doing the things that bring the life you want. Avoid weighting down your soaring dream with baggage such as, “This in not the real me. I’m being hypocritical. Can’t happen.” Anything can happen inside us. Nobody else has to know what you are creating there.

As you do this, the person you picture will take more and more control over your actions. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,” the Bible counsels us. The process from thought, to action, to result was described by David O. McKay, former president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He counseled us to sow a thought and reap an action, sow an action and reap a habit, sow a habit and reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny.

President McKay’s predecessor Heber J. Grant was a dynamic man famous for conquering his shortcomings and turning his weaknesses into strengths. He went from a frail and clumsy baseball player to a member of the championship team of the Territory of Deseret (later the state of Utah) He turned his embarrassing hen scratch handwriting into an art form with which he supplemented his income with superb penmanship.

Not surprisingly, he admired Reverend Ralph Waldo Emerson’s boot strap theology. He turned one of Emerson’s statements into the unofficial Mormon 14th Article of Faith. “That which we persist in doing becomes easier. Not that the nature of the thing changes, but our ability to do increases.”

As a religious leader, he also counseled that we will not be alone as we tread the long path to perfection. Our Father in Heaven will guide and sustain us along the way. I know of no more practical and accessible program for improving our lives, our conditions, and our ultimate destiny than William James approach, “Act as if.”