If you’ve ever watched an episode of What Not to Wear (if you’re like me you’ve watched many), you can recall fashion expert Stacy London telling women to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. I’m not sure who first coined that phrase, but it’s a good one. You’re not likely to make your way to the corner office if you come in every day looking like the janitor.
Interestingly, this concept works for your life too. I learned this from personal experience a few years ago when I found myself in a deep rut mid-divorce. I slept all of the time, exhausted by the tiniest of tasks. For several days I couldn’t even muster the strength to brush my teeth and leave my apartment. My therapist wondered if something as simple as taking a shower and getting dressed for the day might make me feel a bit better. I had been living in my pyjamas for weeks, so I decided to give it a shot.
Re-engaging in life in any significant way seemed unfathomable at that point, but taking a shower and getting dressed for the day? That seemed manageable. When I rose out of bed in the morning (or more often afternoon), I took a shower and put on my big girl clothes. After a few days of this I put on a little make-up too – no mascara (still too much crying), but a little lip-gloss. A few days into the routine I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and thought, I don’t look half bad, all things considered. I decided to leave my apartment and go to the grocery store. Days later I was leaving the apartment for walks, and coffee with friends. The passage of time probably played a role, but I’m certain that getting out of my gloomy clothes and back into my big girl pants did too.
My coaching mentor, Martha Beck, also uses this approach with people who want to get fit, but can’t find the motivation. She told one of her clients that she didn’t have to go to the gym, she just had to get up and put on her workout clothes. That’s it. Of course, her client thought it was a ridiculous idea, but did it anyway. She got up, put on her gym clothes and sat at her kitchen table. Within days she stopped walking over to the table and finally walked out the door and went to the gym instead.
Why does this work?
The strategy works for two reasons. One, it’s a teeny-tiny baby step. It’s so tiny, in fact, that it’s impossible to get intimidated. It’s designed to be seemingly insignificant – like me putting myself together to mope around my apartment, and like Martha’s client putting on her gym clothes to sit at the kitchen table.
Two, it can be the catalyst for a shift in mindset. There is a certain energy that comes from feeling put together. I’m not suggesting that you should go out and get a new wardrobe (that’s retail therapy gone overboard), or dress in clothes you can’t afford (that’s living in denial). I’m just talking about dressing for the life you want. Martha’s client wanted to go the gym. Stacy London’s clients wanted to be taken more seriously at work. I wanted to pull myself out of a slump. Step one was to get out of my pyjamas and into clothes that made me feel human again. It was the small change I needed when anything larger was too much to handle. Baby steps.