10/31/2013 12:33 pm ET Updated Dec 31, 2013

Wear a Costume the Other 364 Days Per Year


One day per year, you and your neighbors turn into courageous creatures devoid of any semblance of self-consciousness. This year, you might have donned a super hero cape, let fake blood ooze out of your doctor scrubs, or danced in a leopard outfit with gold medallions the size of enchiladas dangling from the neck.

There is something magical about Halloween and in the spirit of improving the quality of your life, I want to suggest that you flip the switch and wear a costume every day except Halloween.

As I see it, there are two distinct ways to go about it.

1. The Behavioral Costume
Much has been written about the idea that you can learn from watching the behavior of people you consider successful. I would add that you can also learn a lot by emulating their behavior. I know a guy who invented a product when he was in college. When he graduated, he set out to sell it -- but he had no idea how to behave in front of seasoned business types looking to land the best deal.

So he did a smart thing -- he studied up on the behavior and mannerisms of people he admired (Howard Hughes, Andrew Carnegie). Then, when he went into a sales meeting, he "put on a costume" -- mirroring the habits and traits of those he studied. Inwardly, he was still the same wet-behind-the-ears kid, but outwardly, he projected an air of experience and authority. And it worked! He sold his product and it set him off on the road into autonomous adulthood.

Any time you feel like you're unprepared to handle a certain situation, ask yourself: "Who is someone who would handle this well, and what would they do in this situation?" When you have the answers, try that behavior on as a costume. You don't have to change who you are, your values and beliefs, but mirroring mannerisms of those around you will help them feel comfortable, and lead to a more productive discussion.

2. The Literal Approach
For those of you who think of a costume less as an attitude and more as, well, something you actually wear, this one's for you.

There has been a recent surge of popularity in zombie movies. Some of the enjoyment comes from experiencing fear, knowing that in the end we are safe with a big bowl of popcorn in our lap. But the greatest source of pleasure is the moment of uncertainty when the ominous music revs up, when anything could happen (or nothing at all)... that's where the real thrill lies. And yet, for 364 days of the year, when we want to improve our mood, we choose certainty.

Instead of trying to surprise people on one single day, try surprising them year round. Catch your family, friends or coworkers by surprise by choosing an outfit that is uncharacteristic of your usual wardrobe and see how it makes you feel and how others react to you throughout the day. If you're known for dressing formal, see how a more casual (but dress code appropriate) outfit changes your dynamic at work. Conversely, if you tend to dress down, pick out something a little more formal or fashion forward and take note of what the exterior outfit does for your interior mood and confidence. You'll likely attract some attention from those around you and have them guessing, what will he or she do next?

Step outside your comfort zone, be a little playful, and the world will become a far more interesting place.

Dr. Todd B. Kashdan is a psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University who gives keynotes and workshops to business executives, organizations, schools, parents, retirees, and health professionals on well-being. He authored "Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life" , "Designing Positive Psychology" and "Mindfulness, Acceptance, and Positive Psychology" . If you're interested in speaking engagements or workshops, see the contact information at

For more by Todd Kashdan, click here.

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