Are you distracted from your goals by negative thoughts or lack of confidence? Do you sabotage yourself at crucial moments at work or at home? Do you wish someone else could take over and do the heavy lifting? Just cultivate an “Alter Ego,” says business coach Todd Herman, who has helped dozens of high achievers develop other selves that “step in” when the going gets tough. Remember when you played superhero as a kid and felt invincible? Herman tells you how to harness that power again. If you seek inspiration and guidance, examine what’s holding you back, decide what matters most and focus on building the Hero Self who can take on some of life’s toughest challenges.
“We are judged in our lives by what we do, not by what we think or intend to do.” – Todd Herman
The Alter Ego Effect (2019) is a guide to achieving your goals through the use of alter egos. Featuring numerous examples of successful people who have created alter egos, it offers clear, practical strategies for success in every area of life.
In this book summary, you’ll learn how to leverage an Alter Ego to overcome obstacles in your life.
Business and Money, Business Mentoring and Coaching, Interpersonal Relations, Mate Seeking, Motivation and Inspiration, Personal Development
- An Alter Ego can make you more resilient and unlock your Hero Self.
- The Core Self is where your aspirations reside, along with the motivation to act on them.
- Your Trapped Self exists in the Ordinary World. Your Hero Self exists in the Extraordinary World.
- Moments of Impact signal what skills, traits, attitudes and beliefs you need to get the outcomes you want.
- The Enemy uses Common Forces to suppress the Hero Self.
- Define your superpowers when creating your Alter Ego.
- Totems and Artifacts are powerful symbols that can help activate your Alter Ego.
- The Alter Ego’s Ground Punch “puts the enemy in its place” and demonstrates deep commitment to the Hero Self.
- Your Origin Story and Quest Story are powerful conduits for bringing your Alter Ego to life.
Introduction: A guide to discovering your secret identity.
You’re about to start a presentation at work, and your palms are sweaty. You sit down to write your slides, and your mind goes blank. You step onto the stage, or into the room, and freeze. The voice in your head says, I can’t do this.
Perhaps your everyday self is struggling. But there’s another you that is ready for the challenge – your alter ego.
When it’s time to perform, to face your fears, or to chase your goals, your alter ego can be your secret weapon. You may not yet know the exact identity of your alter ego – it could be Wonder Woman, Muhammad Ali, or a powerful animal. But once you identify and embody this character, you’ll be able to reach your full potential.
In these summaries, you’ll discover
- why successful people like Beyoncé use alter egos;
- the power of a pair of glasses; and
- that silencing the negative voice in your head is easier than you think.
Successful people use alter egos to improve their performance.
Bo Jackson is a phenomenally successful athlete [slight pause] with a secret. Somewhat surprisingly, he admits to being fascinated by Jason Voorhees – the unemotional, mask-wearing murderer in the Friday the 13th movies. In fact, when Jackson walks onto the football field, he becomes Jason.
In other words, Jackson transforms into his alter ego. Adopting the persona of a calm and calculated killer helps Jackson stay cool and calm under pressure.
But Jackson isn’t the only one with a secret identity.
Here’s the key message: Successful people use alter egos to improve their performance.
Once upon a time, there was a talented girl in a Christian family who loved to sing gospel. She joined a girl group and started to become famous, but there was a dilemma. The “suggestive” lyrics and dance moves that made her popular were at odds with her religious identity. In order to express herself freely, the singer created a provocative, extroverted alter ego called Sasha Fierce. The name of the singer? Beyoncé.
In short, both Bo Jackson and Beyoncé use alter egos to dramatically heighten their performance. You might find adopting a new personality in this way to be a bit strange, but it works. Its effectiveness is even backed by science.
In a recent study by the University of Minnesota, young children were split into different groups and were given a toy in a locked glass box, along with a set of keys. None of the keys would open the box. One group of children had access to some costumes and accessories. For example, they could wear a cape and pretend to be Batman as they tried to open the box.
The children who adopted these impersonation strategies showed much greater perseverance and flexibility than their peers. They adopted the personality traits and strengths of their alter egos. In the words of one child who kept persevering, “Batman never gets frustrated.”
You don’t have to be a little kid to call on your inner Batman in times of trouble. Anyone can use an alter ego in order to have success – in any area of life. In the following summaries, you’ll find out how.
Use your alter ego to escape the ordinary world and make real change in your life.
A famous author was struggling to overcome writer’s block. Every time he sat in front of the computer, he would stare at the blinking cursor and hear that little voice in his head: You can’t do this. You can’t do this. He felt trapped.
When you find yourself in a similar situation of being stuck in a rut or doubting your abilities, you need a quick solution.
Here’s the key message: Use your alter ego to escape the ordinary world and make real change in your life.
Normally, your imagination exists in a place called the “the ordinary world.” It’s easy to get trapped here – and even the most successful people aren’t spared. Suddenly, and without warning, we just feel stuck; we’re unable to express ourselves fully or to realize our dreams and aspirations. But the good news is, there’s a way out.
First, identify the areas of your life where you feel unhappy. These could be related to your career, your personal relationships, or even your hobbies and creative pursuits.
Next, be clear and specific about the changes you want to make. There are five main categories of change: stopping [slight pause], starting [slight pause], continuing [slight pause], less of [slight pause], and more of. For example, you could say, I want to stop smoking or I want to read more good books.
Using these categories, make an exhaustive list of things you want to change. Doing this exercise forces you to be honest about how you’re currently living and leads you one step closer to creating your perfect alter ego.
So, how did that successful author get over his writer’s block in the end? In other words, how did he escape his ordinary world? The solution was surprisingly simple. Once he had identified the area of his life where he felt dissatisfied – his creative self-doubt – he looked for an alter ego.
Not long after, the author came across a quote from the novelist Victor Hugo: “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” He was so inspired by this concept that he adopted Hugo as his writing alter ego. The words started to flow once more.
Before you start creating your own alter ego, it’s time for a little self-reflection.
Identify the challenging moments in your life – and the negative forces holding you back.
Think about what happens when you have to give a presentation at work. Do you ace it? Or do you develop a stutter and sweaty palms?
When it’s your time to shine, performance anxiety can often take over. But before you can improve your performance, you need to recognize situations where you tend to struggle.
At work, these could be presentations, client meetings, or closing a sale. Carefully consider your behavior and your choices. Where are you going wrong? What’s preventing you from achieving your goals?
Here’s the key message: Identify the challenging moments in your life – and the negative forces holding you back.
We all have negative traits. Without them, we wouldn’t be human. Let’s start by giving these negative traits an identity – “the enemy.”
Your enemy might be imposter syndrome, a personal trauma, or a negative narrative you tell yourself. Whatever it is, it’s probably preventing you from reaching your full potential.
This is what happened to Valeria, a rising tennis star. She felt she was being held back by her negative self-talk during games. Her inner voice was highly critical, saying things like, Stop being so stupid. It was distracting and destructive, and it interfered with her performance.
Valeria created an identity for her enemy. The negative voice in her head became “Igor,” and he represented the boys who used to bully her as a child. By shrinking the enemy to an eight-year-old boy, Valeria found it much easier to dismiss him and regain control.
Once your enemy has an identity you can ignore it, humiliate it, and, ultimately, defeat it.
Try to understand the stories you’ve been telling yourself, as well as your deeper motivations.
Amy is an entrepreneur. For a long time, she struggled with finishing projects. She repeatedly told herself she was “a nonstarter” and “inconsistent.” This became a self-fulfilling prophecy – time and time again, she failed to bring projects to completion. It was only when she discovered the concept of the alter ego that she realized she could change her story.
Here’s the key message: Try to understand the stories you’ve been telling yourself, as well as your deeper motivations.
Human beings tend to turn everything into a story. In her book on brain science, Lisa Cron argues that we’re hardwired to think in stories. It’s the brain’s way of making sense of a chaotic and confusing world.
When we tell ourselves stories about our own identities, these stories influence our unconscious ideas and emotions, which in turn influence our actions. If the story is negative – for example, that we “lack consistency” or are “too shy” – it can hold us back.
When you use an alter ego, you create new stories for yourself. This is liberating and empowering; it allows you to leave the dreary, ordinary world where you feel stuck and discover what the author calls your extraordinary world. This is a magical realm where you reach peak performance by finding your “flow state” or “getting into the zone.”
Before you can reach this state, you need to think long and hard about what you want. Start with a concrete goal. For example, if you have artistic ambitions, your goal could be to “see your creative work displayed publicly.”
Then think about a practical step you can take – something like “paint more.” Finally, consider the beliefs you’ll need to make your goal a reality. For instance, “start believing you’re capable.”
While it’s useful to have clearly defined goals, you’ll need to take it one step further. Ask yourself why you want to do something. Your why is entirely personal. It could be individualistic or altruistic. But, in order to work, it has to be something with strong emotional resonance.
Emotion is key because it’s a strong motivator. For instance, if you feel you’ve been a victim of discrimination in your life, that could shape your goals. Your sense of injustice is likely to push you forward.
Once you’ve carefully considered your goals and motivations, it’s time to get to the fun part. Are you ready to create your alter ego?
An effective alter ego needs a clearly defined identity and story.
Having total self-control is hard enough. But what if you also need to have absolute control over another creature?
This was the challenge Lisa faced. She competed in dressage, an equestrian sport, and would become extremely anxious during competitions. Unfortunately, her horse was quick to pick up on her nervousness. To improve her performance, Lisa needed to regain control of her horse – and herself.
Lisa opted for a character that represented total control, confidence, and poise: Wonder Woman. This iconic superhero descended from an Amazon tribe that rode horses into battle. She had a strong emotional resonance for Lisa, providing the perfect alter ego.
Here’s the key message: An effective alter ego needs a clearly defined identity and story.
There are many different ways to create an alter ego. You can begin with an adjective, such as “determined,” and then choose a person or animal that represents that quality. Alternatively, like Lisa, choose someone you already admire – a fictional character, performer, or historical figure. You can even pick a person you know – anybody with whom you feel a strong connection.
Once your alter ego has a basic identity, give it a name. Then go deeper – define its appearance, style, behavior, and presence. And then go even deeper – outline its beliefs, values, and expectations. In other words, bring it to life!
And don’t forget the importance of stories. Yes, your alter ego needs a story too! A story will allow you to connect on an emotional level, increasing the effectiveness of your alter ego. After all, this is not just an intellectual exercise – it’s a way to make real changes in your everyday life.
Your alter ego’s story doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it will probably work better if it’s simple. It just needs to resonate emotionally. Take the career of J.K. Rowling, for example. Rowling went from being a struggling single mom to a world-famous author. If you’re a single parent facing challenges in your career, you’re bound to find Rowling’s story motivational.
OK, so you’ve chosen your alter ego and given it a fully developed identity. What’s next? It’s time to get your alter ego out of your head and into the real world!
Activate your alter ego with a physical object that has personal symbolism.
It’s 1940 – a critical moment in world history as countries are dragged into the second major war in a generation. It’s an especially challenging moment for Winston Churchill, who is about to become prime minister of Great Britain. As he prepares to travel to London to accept the job, he looks at his collection of hats and asks himself, Which Self should I be today?
The mind can turn any object into a symbol. For Churchill, each hat represented a different self. A pair of glasses could have a similar symbolism. For a celebrity, wearing glasses might represent the switch from public life to personal life, while for another person glasses could symbolize intelligence, confidence, or eloquence. Symbolism is personal.
Here’s the key message: Activate your alter ego with a physical object that has personal symbolism.
Symbolic objects are a quick, simple, and subtle way for you to transform into your alter ego. To make this change, you’ll need something grounded in a physical presence.
Let’s call this symbolic object a “totem.” There are many different kinds of objects to choose from. Your totem could be a piece of clothing, or an accessory like a hat or ring. It could be a picture, pen, or pebble. Your totem could even be an action, like stepping onto the stage or into the boardroom.
Choose your totem carefully. It must symbolize something to you, be something you can always use, and be something you can activate quickly.
To activate your totem, physically put it on or hold it. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a natural, comfortable action that you can do at any time. But don’t overuse it! Your use of the totem should feel special and intentional in order to help you in those difficult moments. Take inspiration from Martin Luther King, who wore glasses he didn’t need in order to look and feel “more distinguished” when facing the public.
But what happens when the going gets really tough? In the next chapter, we’ll look at a couple of additional strategies to help you get back on your feet.
When you’re close to giving up, use the power of your inner voice to fight back.
In every action movie there’s a moment when the hero is close to defeat. For instance, Rocky is about to lose the fight when . . . bang! At the last minute, he knocks out his opponent.
But we all know that real life isn’t like the movies. When you’re at your lowest, it’s hard to fight back. So how can you keep moving forward, even during a moment of weakness?
Here’s the key message: When you’re close to giving up, use the power of your inner voice to fight back.
Consider Rachel. She’s a top tennis player who often deals with moments of doubt on the court. In normal life she considers herself a fair person, so she feels almost guilty about defeating her opponent. In the middle of the match, this sense of guilt risks seriously damaging her performance.
How does she overcome these tricky moments? By metaphorically kicking her enemy to the curb. Rachel has a quick conversation with that negative voice in her head, who she’s named Suzie: This is my court, Suzie. Get to the sidelines! Rachel uses this conversation to fight back, putting her enemy in her place. It’s a useful way to avoid getting stuck in negative thoughts.
Here’s another technique you can try. This is for moments of self-doubt or self-criticism, when your negative voice – your enemy – is asking things like, Who do you think you are? You need a powerful, well-prepared answer to this question – something called a “response proclamation.”
To create your response proclamation, think carefully about your life, career, and achievements. Alternatively, try using the story of your alter ego as inspiration. Whatever you decide to use, it needs to be a story of determination and accomplishments.
So, when your enemy asks, Who do you think you are? your prepared response could be something like: Who am I? I’m the guy who left a job, started a new career from scratch, and worked hard to become the success I am today. So if you think you’re talking to someone who can’t reinvent himself, walk away! A powerful affirmation of your achievements will silence the negative voice in your head and boost your confidence.
You’re almost ready to go out into the world with your alter ego. But before you launch your secret weapon, there are just a few more tips to help you succeed.
Have the courage to put your alter ego to the test, and enter your extraordinary world.
One day in 1955, a young woman walked through the streets of New York. No one noticed her; she was just another face in the crowd. Then she turned to the photographer following her and asked, “Do you want to see her?” The woman took off her coat, fluffed up her curly hair, and struck a pose. Within seconds, crowds of people were swarming toward her. This was the moment Norma Jean transformed into her alter ego, Marilyn Monroe.
Like Norma Jean, you can have fun with your alter ego, choosing the moments when you want to perform.
Here’s the key message: Have the courage to put your alter ego to the test, and enter your extraordinary world.
Start small with a simple challenge. For example, head to a coffee shop. Try walking, ordering, and drinking as your alter ego. Or the next time you play a game with friends or family, compete as your alter ego. You’ll be surprised by how much of a difference it can make.
These simple exercises are a great way to get used to your alter ego in low-stakes scenarios – and to test its strength. If you already feel comfortable with activating your alter ego, it will be much easier to call on that source of strength when you really need it.
Having the right mindset is crucial too. As you get ready to enter your extraordinary world, here are a few final pointers to keep in mind.
Embrace challenges, as well as your own creativity. Be flexible, playful, and curious. And remember that you are always capable of change and growth. This last point is particularly important. To use your alter ego successfully, you need to believe that you can change. This will help you create completely new results.
It’s time to cross the threshold with your alter ego. At the end of your life, your thoughts and intentions will be long forgotten. It’s your actions that count. So act!
Insights from The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman
After two decades of coaching, Todd Herman has found that Alter Egos are the quickest and most reliable way to achieve optimal performance in all domains of life. The instant someone adopts an Alter Ego they trust, their mind gets busy thinking, acting, and feeling the way the Alter Ego would and suspends self‐doubt.
Complete the following steps to develop an Alter Ego you can trust to perform in high‐stakes situations and to get you to the next level in your career:
Where are you struggling?
- Are you struggling to transfer your skills from practice to performance?
- Are you struggling to complete your projects or get your business off the ground?
- Are you struggling to hit your next performance milestone (scoring average in basketball, a rating in chess, half‐ marathon time, etc.)?
What qualities do you need to push through your struggle and make progress?
- Would being calm, clear‐headed, and confident under pressure help you transfer your skills from practice into your performance?
- Would being more focused, driven, and creative enable you to complete more projects or get your business started?
Who embodies the qualities you need to succeed?
Think of someone who has excelled in the area you are trying to excel in. When you consider who embodies the qualities you want to emulate, don’t limit it to people. Kobe Bryant’s Alter Ego was a snake – the Black Mamba (qualities: fast, smooth, and terrifying).
After identifying people (real or fictional) and animals with the qualities you need to overcome your struggle, pick one or combine several to create an Alter Ego with a catchy name. I came up with the Alter Ego “Limitless‐man” for when I work on new business projects (combining Bradley Cooper’s character from the movie “Limitless” with Tim Ferriss and Malcolm Gladwell).
“The best Alter Ego is the one you have the deepest emotional connection with; emotional connection trumps everything.” ‐ Todd Herman
Why does your Alter Ego have complete confidence?
Write out a compelling story to explain why your Alter Ego is extraordinary. Then, remind yourself of that story to prevent self‐doubt from creeping into your performance. As “Limitless‐man” I remind myself that I can use 100% of my brain’s capacity thanks to a smart drug that permanently upgraded my brain (as detailed in the “Limitless” movie).
Once you’ve gone through the where, what, who, and why, you have an Alter Ego you can put to the test. So, test it, but start small. Use your Alter Ego in a casual meeting before using it during a critical meeting. Go between using it and not using it to feel the difference. Go into one meeting with your Alter Ego and another without it and then determine which meeting went better.
Imagine the instant you put on a special pair of shoes, or a special hat, ring, or watch, your Alter Ego takes over.
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put on non‐prescription glasses before interviews to trigger his “distinguished intellectual” Alter Ego.
- Herman’s client has a framed photo on his desk of his grandmother who survived the Holocaust. When facing a challenging situation at work, he turns the frame slightly toward himself to “switch on” his grandmother’s strength.
- I use headphones to trigger my “Limitless‐man” Alter Ego. When I put my headphones on, it feels like I’ve taken a smart drug. When I get distracted, I reactive my Alter Ego by taking them off and putting them back on.
“Your Alter Ego is really about defining how you want to show up, defining the Superpowers, and borrowing the characteristics of an existing person, character, superhero, animal, or whatever to help Activate your Heroic Self…Most of my clients say the Alter Ego feels more like their truest self—I’ll let you judge that for yourself later.” ‐ Todd Herman
An Alter Ego can make you more resilient and unlock your Hero Self.
As a young football player, Bo Jackson had a lot of anger issues, and that hurt his game. He created an Alter Ego, “Jason,” based on the main character in the Friday the 13th movie franchise. He appreciated Jason’s lack of emotion and relentlessness. By bringing Jason, his Alter Ego, onto the field, Jackson could leave his anger on the sidelines. He understood that people play many roles in life: The Alter Ego can activate the Hero Self, who is free of doubt and fear and who can engage meaningfully with work. The Alter Ego helps build resiliency and allows your creative self to flourish, while protecting your fragile self from criticism.
“Frankly, life is hard. There are a lot of different responsibilities we all carry on our shoulders. There are a lot of different roles we play.”
People mistakenly believe that Superman is Clark Kent’s Alter Ego, but actually, it’s the other way around. Superman is the Core Self, and Clark Kent is the Alter Ego that allows him to exist in society.
The Roman philosopher Cicero mentions alter egos in the first century BC. The term translates as “the other I,” and he refers to it as a “trusted friend.” People can use their powerful imagination to create possible alternate identifies. For instance, using a simple object such as a pair of glasses can facilitate the transformation from the ordinary to the Hero Self. Athletes in particular struggle with being judged and criticized. While many use different strategies, such as meditation and visualization to get their heads in the game, the Alter Ego strategy delivers the most consistent results. Nothing can remove the challenges in life, but the Alter Ego can make them more manageable.
The Core Self is where your aspirations reside, along with the motivation to act on them.
Ian gave up playing tennis at a young age, because he couldn’t separate his identity from the game. If he failed at a match, to him that meant he was a failure as a human being. He didn’t understand that he wasn’t bringing his most intentional “self” to the court. To get to the heart of intention, you must understand that you have a Core Self, where your deepest desires and aspirations reside. The Core Self knows what you really want, and is the “intrinsic motivator” that pushes you to achieve what matters most to you.
“There’s a Heroic Self waiting to get unlocked, and an Alter Ego or Secret Identity is the key to activating it.” ”
The self has many layers. The Core Self is your potential, but the Core Driver Layer most motivates you to do something greater. The Core Driver can be your family, community or nation. The Belief Layer is how you perceive the world around you, according to your attitudes, beliefs and expectations. The Action Layer holds the skills and knowledge you’ve developed over time; it determines how you behave in the Field of Play. The Field of Play is the context for the other layers. It is your physical environment and the people in it, their circumstances and expectations, and how you interact with them.
Your Trapped Self exists in the Ordinary World. Your Hero Self exists in the Extraordinary World.
You live in a world of opposites: up/down, hot/cold, light/dark. They delineate how your Core Self divides its time. The Enemy lurks in the Ordinary World, trying to sabotage your efforts at self-realization. This internal Enemy is a necessary “natural part of how you’re built.” It challenges you at every layer. It makes you feel trapped and incompetent. But the Trapped Self isn’t you. You have a Heroic Self as well, and the Alter Ego protects it.
“An Alter Ego is a useful tool to help you…handle the adversity of life with more resiliency.”
The Heroic Self orients toward the positive and resides in the Extraordinary World. The Enemy is powerless before it. The Heroic Self grapples with life’s problems and doesn’t believe in weakness. The Alter Ego fights the Enemy, allowing the Heroic Self to expand. The Alter Ego isn’t fake. You are judged not by your intentions, but your actions. Some people find that their Alter Ego feels like their “truest self.” It is what you put forward intentionally as the best version of yourself, and it adapts to each role you play in life. Define the Field of Play (personal or professional) that most frustrates you, and develop an Alter Ego to tackle it.
Moments of Impact signal what skills, traits, attitudes and beliefs you need to get the outcomes you want.
Shaun needed help to improve his sales at a large firm. He wanted to be the best. To do that, he needed to do target mapping – setting a goal and working back from his current level of achievement to build a plan to get to his objective. On his individual Field of Play, his Moments of Impact would determine whether he succeeded in his goals. Moments of Impact are the actions, opportunities, situations and expectations that have the greatest effect on your success. They come with challenges, and they often appear when you are most vulnerable. These are the moments when you’re taking a hoop shot, making a speech or even saying “I love you.”
“We are judged in our lives by what we do, not by what we think or intend to do.”
Shaun identified the Moments of Impact where he wasn’t at his best and, working on them through an Alter Ego, he became one of his company’s top sellers. For a boost toward being who you want to be when it most matters, determine what skills, traits, attitudes and beliefs you need to have to tackle those Moments of Impact, and create an Alter Ego to assist you.
The Enemy uses Common Forces to suppress the Hero Self.
The Enemy is part of you. For light to exist, dark must exist, too. But while the Enemy is part of you, it’s not actually you. It interferes when you are about to take that crucial shot or make that important presentation. It keeps you in the Ordinary World. It creates and unleashes negative thoughts – Common Forces – such as lack of confidence, doubt in your abilities, or uncontrolled emotions. It interferes in all layers of your Field of Play.
“When you begin to attach what you’re trying to achieve to something larger than yourself, it delivers a deeper purpose to your mission.”
Take the negative force of “not being intentional” when approaching the Field of Play. That means you are carrying aspects of your character that aren’t conducive or appropriate for your activity in the Field of Play. For instance, Rachel is a fair-minded person off the tennis court, always thinking about other people’s needs. She can’t bring Everyday Rachel into her game, however, because she will let the other player win. She must cultivate a Court Rachel whose only goal is to win.
Other Common Forces are more difficult to detect – and therefore, more insidious. They include:
- Imposter syndrome – People who think that they are imposters believe that only luck got them to the top, not their skills or experience. They can’t own their success. When in the grip of the imposter syndrome, they are terrified of being exposed as a fraud and ridiculed.
- Personal trauma – Bad things happen to everyone, but they don’t have to dominate your life. The Enemy will blame you for your traumas or tell you that you can’t overcome them. Instead, your Alter Ego can ignore it completely or you can use trauma to fuel your success. Trauma doesn’t belong to your history.
- Tribal narratives – People have deep-seated narratives that connect to their family histories. For instance, if your name is Wilson and you were told as a child that “Wilsons aren’t entrepreneurs,” you might implicitly accept that you can’t be an entrepreneur. The Enemy makes you believe that your success would hurt or disappoint the ones you love. No one wants to live in exile from the tribe.
How can you defeat the Enemy? Pull it out of the shadows. The unknown is far more scary than the known. Turn it into something you want to confront and humiliate. Make it cute and give it a nickname. Once it is in the bold light of day, it loses its power.
Define your superpowers when creating your Alter Ego.
Once you’ve determined what is holding you back from being your Heroic Self, focus on the superpowers you need to cultivate for your chosen Field of Play and its Moments of Impact. Building the Alter Ego is a way to enter the Extraordinary World. Find adjectives that define your Alter Ego, even if they only state the opposite face of traits you don’t like about yourself. Another way to find an Alter Ego is to look to for a role model of determination, maybe someone from history, or from fiction or someone who is right in front of you, such as a family member or a teacher. Whatever the process, choose an Alter Ego who represents your deepest emotional connections.
“The best Alter Ego is the one you have the deepest emotional connection with; emotional connection trumps everything.”
Run through some character traits to determine which ones suit you best. Ask your Alter Ego questions as if you were it. Give it a name, because, like the Enemy, it is better to name the unknown in order to master it. Singer Beyoncé Knowles gave her Alter Ego the name Sasha Fierce – a character with the confidence and fearlessness she felt she lacked when she embarked on her music career. Fierce expressed her attitude. Use your imagination. No rules apply.
Totems and artifacts are powerful symbols that can help activate your Alter Ego.
Winston Churchill famously used hats to evoke different personalities, saying, “Which self shall I be today?” Wearing a white doctor’s coat improves medical students’ attention and accuracy once they come to understand its symbolic meaning. This “enclothed cognition,” this level of understanding, is important when creating an Alter Ego.
“Building and using an Alter Ego is more than an intellectual exercise – it is about transforming how you perform and show up during your Moment of Impact.”
Totems and artifacts symbolize – and even embody – your Alter Ego’s superpowers. They demonstrate your intention, which is necessary for success in the Field of Play or during a Moment of Impact. The Alter Ego’s mission is to improve your performance, including how you physically behave as well as your thoughts, emotions and beliefs. While totems are items that connect you to your Field of Play, Artifacts have more historical, meaningful resonance. They might connect you, for instance, to your family. You can wear your totems and artifacts, or they could be things you carry, like a rock or a lucky coin. They can connect to your chosen Field of Play – even to the physical Field of Play itself, like an actual field or a stage.
Use your totem and artifact only in the Field of Play, or it will lose its power. Don’t give it to someone else, and don’t tell people about it. Choose something you enjoy wearing or using. Whatever it is, make it a switch that “activates” your Alter Ego.
The Alter Ego’s Ground Punch “puts the enemy in its place” and demonstrates deep commitment to the Hero Self.
Every superhero story features a crucial moment when the Enemy is winning and defeat seems inevitable. The Hero must summon his or her strength to stare down the Enemy and declare, “This ends now!” Creating a great Alter Ego doesn’t make your problems go away. The Enemy is always waiting to pull you off course and wreak havoc. The Alter Ego delivers the Ground Punch that demonstrates your intense inner commitment to your Heroic Self.
“At the end of your life, you won’t remember the thoughts or intentions you had. You’ll remember the actions you took.”
Remember, though, the Enemy is part of you, and never really goes away. You have two ways to dispense with it. One is the “curb kick” that puts the Enemy on the sidelines when it tries to distract you. The other is the “response proclamation.” When it says, “who do you think you are?”, you can respond, “I am the one who…” and then reassert your achievements and your right to own them. That assertion exposes the Enemy as weak and vulnerable and knocks it out.
Your Origin Story and Quest Story are powerful conduits for bringing your Alter Ego to life.
Stories – especially origin stories – connect emotionally with your Alter Ego. If you don’t yet have an Alter Ego, reading biographies of famous people might inspire you. The drivers of the Origin Story are the same as the Core Drivers that motivate you; they represent your striving for something bigger than yourself. The Quest Story is an age-old tale that aligns with your Alter Ego. If you embark on a Quest, you’re choosing to “cross the threshold” from the Ordinary world to the Extraordinary world. Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings are quest stories. On a quest, you have allies who understand your search and can help you. Your allies could be your friends, family members, mentors or strangers who “get” you.
“What’s happening in your Ordinary World may also be what’s not happening. It could be what you’re avoiding.”
Once you’ve built an Alter Ego, you will be ready for your quest and new challenges. Cultivate a mind-set in which you embrace the struggle, maintain a flexible attitude, become creative and see challenges as fun. Reject the “fixed mind-set” and embrace the “growth mind-set” to reshape your Moments of Impact.
The key message in these summaries:
Struggling with confidence and self-doubt is normal. You might feel you’re not good enough, or that you can’t possibly accomplish what you want to in life. But one surefire way to overcome these fears and improve your chances at success is to use an alter ego. By tuning into existing parts of your identity and using them to improve your performance, you – like Winston Churchill or Beyoncé – can achieve amazing results. The only question is: Who do you want to be?
Actionable advice: Make a list of your mentors.
Great mentors can have a powerful impact on your life. Even if they’re not actively coaching you or giving you advice, you can still draw inspiration from them and learn from afar. Try reading books by or about them. And remember, you don’t need to transform into every person you admire. You can always learn valuable life lessons from someone without making them your alter ego!
About the author
Todd Herman is a toughness and performance coach who works with professional and Olympic athletes. He created the 90-Day Year, a business achievement program that helps business owners master execution.
Todd Herman is a toughness and performance coach to professional and Olympic athletes, as well as a leadership and performance advisor to billionaires and hundreds of entrepreneurs. He is also the creator of the 90 Day Year™, a business achievement program designed for business owners to master the art of execution.