If you’re like most people, you probably face self-doubt and negativity on a daily basis.
Did that self-help book or new age guru tell you it’s just a matter of setting an intention or exerting your willpower?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but those ideas — while nice in theory — are terrible tools for creating lasting change. And what’s more, they aren’t backed by proven, scientific strategies.
Fortunately, Todd Herman, high-performance coach and author of The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life, offers a unique strategy that you can cultivate right now.
Spoiler alert: it’s a quality that you already possess.
Dispelling the Myth of Balance
Many self-help experts profess that solutions to most of our problems coalesce around our ability to create balance.
Herman says that nature is a litmus test — if you want to find out whether or not something is true, just see if that thing exists in nature. If something doesn’t exist, then we need to look at it more deeply to understand it.
Herman claims that balance does not exist in nature. This is not to be mistaken with equilibrium. When nature is unaligned, it will do what it needs to do to bring itself back to an equilibrium. He urges us to rid ourselves of this idea that we must conform to a practice that neither exists nor works in nature.
Instead of beating up on ourselves for failing to compartmentalize our lives in a way that achieves “balance”— why not make a conscious choice to change our approach?
Nature is flow — the different components that make up the totality of our lives should remain fluid and interwoven. Like nature, we can bring ourselves into a state of equilibrium by integrating, not separating.
This brings us to the idea of the alter ego...
Introducing, Alter Egos
You may be wondering what exactly is an alter ego and how does this connect to the idea of flow in nature?
Your alter ego is your innermost, trusted friend who shows up to help you navigate the resistance with grace. Like Superman, your alter ego arrives in the nick of time embodying those innate qualities to serve you and help you attain the results you want.
Just as nature calls on itself to create a state of equilibrium when it is out of alignment, so does the human psyche when it calls forth the alter egos to save the day.
Imagine presenting a pitch to your boss so you can take the lead on that multi-million dollar advertising account or showing up on the football field for the championship game or managing a classroom full of rowdy pre-teens. No matter your struggle, your alter ego is a superpower that you call upon. In other words, alter egos help us get into the zone, or state of flow without judgment.
When you're in a state of flow, Herman says that you're literally allowing every single ounce of your capability to show up in that moment without any sort of restriction of negative self-talk. He says, it's a massive allowing that gives you permission to achieve.
"Our imagination is more powerful than knowledge, and our creative imagination is truly our gift to handle the world and handle it with more grace” – Todd Herman
The kick-ass feature about alter egos is that it utilizes our creative imagination. They’re like a backdoor which harnesses our creative instincts to help us ward against the shadow self (the dark parts of our personality), or what Herman refers to as the enemy.
The enemy wants to drag you back to the shadows. It uses nefarious tactics familiar to most of us. We know them as resistance, imposter syndrome, negativity, self-doubt, and fear.
Because our alter egos employ the use of our creative capacity, Herman says that your alter ego can be anyone or anything you want.
How do we trigger our alter egos?
One tactic Herman encourages us to do is to select an artifact or a totem to trigger the alter ego you want to come forward.
Have you ever heard of the saying, “dress for the job you want, and not for the job you have?” There’s a reason why those who dress to play the part stand a better chance of achieving their goals as opposed to those who don’t. That reason is called enclothed cognition.
What does science tell us about alter egos?
Cognitive psychologists Hajo Adam and Adam Galinksy from Northwestern University have examined the psychological and performance-related effects that wearing specific articles of clothing have on the person wearing them. They coined the term enclothed cognition — which captures the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. In a nutshell, what we wear can be an implicit non-verbal way to express our unique personalities.
Herman recalls a time where he gave a talk and shared his secret on how he wields confidence in business situations. Even though he had perfect vision, he would wear non-prescription glasses to summon his inner Superman alter ego. He said, “I was using the glasses to activate specific traits [so that I may] step in to [my] inner business Superman.”
Afterwards, a woman approached him and thanked him for his wonderful talk. She shared that her husband “Martin never needed glasses either. He had perfect vision and he had nonprescription glasses…to help him do the hard things that he was out there doing.”
When Herman glanced down at her name tag, it read “Coretta Scott King,” and of course, the ‘Martin’ she was referencing was none other than one of the most influential civil rights leaders of all time: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
She went on to tell him that for MLK, putting on his glasses meant that he was stepping into his distinguished self and gearing up to do what was necessary to carry the dream forward.
The second take away here is that the self is defined by its context, and the idea of the self as one entity is completely flawed. We carry multiple selves in various contexts. Or as science calls this, the Multiple Self Theory.
You don’t build just one ego to serve you throughout your entire life, you create several to help you rise to performance in any context of life.
Whether it's having a difficult conversation with your boss or calming down your toddler’s temper tantrum, sometimes “to meet force with force does not help when dealing with difficult people. All it does is prolong the tantrum and create problems. Be like Mr. Rogers.”
Herman teaches us that we must use the alter ego appropriate for the given performance zone. In his case, Clark Kent/Superman is needed when powerful business deals are being negotiated, but Mr. Rogers has a softer, gentler way of comforting his daughter.
Through utilizing our creative imaginations to bring forth various alter egos, we harness the power to make ourselves more powerful and more effective.
Wait...isn’t this just another form of “fake it til you make it?
Herman’s answer is no.
People who live by the “fake it til you make it” rule are in fact not creating an alter ego. Rather, they are creating a trapped self — a person who’s heavily influenced by the changing tides of the external world. It’s like being a puppet, and the world is your puppeteer. When we fake it, all we are doing is being inauthentic to who we truly are.
Herman recalls the moment he met legendary Bo Jackson, the only athlete to be named an All-Star in both baseball and football. When he shared with Bo that he was speaking on performance zones and the importance of alter egos, to his surprise Bo responded and said, “Bo Jackson never played a down of football his entire life.”
When he first started playing football as a teenager, Bo was angry, emotional, and reckless —which caused him to be unfocused, imprecise, and fumbling. One night, Bo watched the movie Friday the 13th, and setting aside the presence of slasher film gore, he admired Jason’s ability to remain staunchly focused. From that moment on, he told himself that when he stepped on to the field, he would become Jason — focused, methodical and destroy anything in his path.
True inauthenticity is living a life where your dreams and ideas are tethered to someone else’s. You don’t allow yourself the chance to show off what you are capable of. It’s the denial of the talents, skills and abilities you bring unto the field. When we allow ourselves to live an inauthentic life, we find we are yielding diminishing returns on our self-efficacy, self-esteem, and self-confidence.
“I [activated] somebody I wanted to be, and I finally became that person, or he became me, or we met at some point.” – Todd Herman
Cultivating alter egos is really about understanding that at your core, there is an unlimited possibility that dwells within the human spirit and the human person. Creating an alter ego is very intentional. It's about deciding who you want to be and who you choose to show up as on the field. It’s about taking your power back and getting the results you want and deserve.
Your alter ego is truly a trusted friend. It’s a special relationship that we develop within ourselves. When your back is against the wall, it shows up to carry you forward. When you need to perform, it helps you to deal with the resistance. Ultimately, our alter egos are the infantry soldiers we need to win the war over negativity, insecurity, and self-doubt.
What’s the gift in all of this? The more alter egos you create to serve you, the more you have to integrate and develop your true self naturally. This isn’t about becoming something you’re not, it’s about bringing out who you are. It’s about remembering something that’s already inside of you, and for some, giving yourself permission to start doing it again.
Questions for self-reflection:
To get started on developing your alter ego, begin by reflecting on the following questions:
Which field of play are most frustrated with and need to focus on?
What are the traits do you want to bring onto the field?
What are the positive traits you admire in other people?
Is there anyone or anything that already embodies those traits right now?
What superpowers do you want to start showing up for you?
What can you use to help activate that, those superhero qualities or those traits out there? What are the artifacts?
With the help of your inner Superman or Superwoman, you can truly achieve anything you want. Now go out, create your own destiny, and seize your glory on the field.
“Infuse your life with action. Don't wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope.” – Bradley Whitford