Gen Z isn’t afraid to make up words and terms that turn right into trends—usually via TikTok. Lately, posts have been going viral as Gen Zers promote being “delulu.” But don’t stress, boomers and millennials. It’s just an abbreviation for the word “delusional.” So how could this be a good thing?
What does delulu mean?
In one TikTok, a non-Gen Zer asks her Gen Z intern to explain. “Delusional is rooted in almost like you are losing your mind. Delulu is like, ‘I’m just being a silly little goofster who is exploring possibilities’… it’s like a mindset.”
Before older generations write it off, everyone can take a step back to realize that really, it’s a new iteration of “fake it til you make it.”
Insider reports a user who got a job at Google as a technical program manager without industry experience right after college by, you guessed it, being a little “delulu.” But does it work, in love and at work? Maybe, experts say.
“It can most definitely work for some folks. But to say that this is an option that everyone can do and it’ll work and make their life easier, would be a false statement,” says Jeffrey Sounalath, a therapist at ADHD Advisor and a self-declared “Z-llenial” himself.
Here’s how to decide if getting a little more delulu in your personal and professional life will open doors, or be too risky for you.
Getting delulu about your job hunt or career transition
A shocking 84% of hiring companies are willing to hire and train a candidate who doesn’t have the required skills in that job description you’ve been reading and rereading, according to 2019 research from a global staffing firm, Robert Half. Additionally, 78% of applicants routinely apply for jobs they aren’t qualified for, and half of the incoming resumes don’t meet requirements. So, the odds are in your favor to fake it til you make it—a little bit—in the job hunt.
“You hear about how people fake it til they make it all the time, and I think people focus in on the ‘fake it’ part, but not the ‘make it’ aspect. Regardless of how one gets there, they still get there and stay there,” Sounalath says. He recommends breaking this trend into three parts:
- Fake it. Be a version or character of yourself that you feel can handle the stressful task at hand and “act” it out to get the job done.
- Make it. You’ve taken on this persona of a more capable you and are now able to complete what used to be a stressful task on a regular basis; you aren’t faking your ability to complete that task anymore.
- Maintain it or adopt it. People don’t typically just lose their learned experiences after the event is over. You remember what was involved in completing something and how it felt to complete it.
Approach the delulu mindset with caution
Former chiropractor-turned-media personality, Dr. Letitia Wright, says, “I don’t fully endorse the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach, as I am not a proponent of pretending to be someone you are not, or falsely claiming skills you don’t possess. However, I do advocate for the idea that you don’t need to have complete mastery, or know everything, before embarking on something new.”
In her case, she explains that coming from a medical background, there were absolutely parts of the TV and media landscape she didn’t get. But curiosity, a bit of fake it til you make it and help from others, bridged the career jump. “Even if you feel embarrassed to not know something in the beginning, remember that we all start somewhere,” she adds.
Accessing a delulu mindset
Once you’ve successfully accomplished something that felt a bit like you were faking it, you can go back to the headspace in future situations where you might need to do that again.
“Yes, a task can still be daunting or scary even after a few tries, such as presenting to large groups, but at least you know that you can get into that delulu headspace again to get the job done,” Sounalath says. And this can be a useful skill whether you are approaching someone to ask for their number or asking your boss for a raise.
So, instead of trying to fake it in all aspects of life, consider it a skill to move in and out of this exceptionally confident mindset as you need to.
Avoid actual delusional thinking
There’s faking it a little, and then there’s faking it a lot. Learning the line is a must to use this strategy for good and not contribute to your own demise. “If a 16-year-old high school student who has completed one course in biology thinks that they can now perform surgery on others because they understand the body now, this would classify this as a person with delusions,” Sounalath says. “If a newly appointed manager who has worked for the same company for five years was tasked with firing their first-ever low-performing employee thinks that they are entirely incapable of ever doing such a task… it isn’t necessarily them being delusional or having a delusion.”
To walk that line, consider what historical evidence you know (Can high school students typically perform surgery?) and also the situation you are in (Can a tenured employee likely adapt their skills to tough new situations?).
So, he concludes, being delulu isn’t about being straight delusional.
What does science say about whether the strategy ‘works’?
As a therapist, Sounalath points out that the strategy is a routine part of cognitive behavior therapy, which is about how our emotions affect our thoughts, which then affect our behaviors. “In a way, delulu is taking that second before an event, thinking about how you naturally react in the situation, how you wish you could handle the situation, and then intentionally choosing to act in the preferred way—the delulu way,” he says.
It involves mindfulness, imagery and moving away from living on autopilot, all necessary tools proven in cognitive behavioral therapy to improve your life.
“This is a tool of mindfulness that requires individuals to intentionally stop and focus solely on a specific prompt,” Sounalath says. “An example would be closing your eyes and envisioning a beach, thinking about how all your senses would react in that situation and how your mind would be in that relaxing setting. To be in the delulu mindset, you are essentially envisioning this persona you want to embody and how they would handle, react and feel in this tough situation.” Or, like in some of the delulu TikToks, you are just trying some stuff to see what sticks.
One of the most classic examples that fake it til you make it proponents point to is the fact that faking a smile actually makes you happier. One such study involves using Botox to prevent people from frowning… and it worked! Participants reported higher levels of happiness. So, Botox aside, people can expand that concept to other situations to see if faking it is effective for them.
How to make delulu work for you
Caren Lettiere is the founder of Democracy Clothing, the size-inclusive brand known best for its signature “Ab”solution jeans. After graduating from UCLA as a political science major, with no formal fashion training, Caren pursued a career in fashion sales. Then, after having children and frustrated at the lack of clothing that fit her post-baby body, she began creating her own brand as a side hustle within the larger company, figuring it out during evenings and weekends with help from a designer in the building that she enlisted in the stairway. She learned there is no pre-qualification for pursuing your dreams. With audacity and persistence, you can forge your own path.
“You don’t need to have a formal education in order to be successful. If you can identify a problem that needs to be solved, trust your instincts. All that you need is passion, tenacity, work ethic to see it through. Along the way, the inner circle that you cultivate will help make the magic happen,” she says.
So, as you consider if going delulu is for you, think about if it’s time for a push out of your comfort zone. As one delulu fan concluded, “I am jumping head first into delulu season from today onwards, meaning I’m going to be delulu with my goals. Why? Because most often we have goals we are absolutely capable of, but our minds, thoughts and belief systems tell us we’re not capable, or ‘that’s not impossible.’”
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