Read my conversation with Todd Herman, a performance coach and author of the book The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life
You’re a high performance coach and your clients include athletes, entrepreneurs, and other leaders. What usually is it that brings them to you? What “problem” are they most often trying to solve?
Most people are coming to work with me because they know they have another level of performance they can get to, but they can’t pinpoint what might be holding them back. There’s some sort of resistance they’re battling and they need a trusted mentor or coach to help them get unstuck. Or, they’re just simply looking for a new set of skills to help them master their inner game, so their outer game is a success.
Why do you say that we should find an alter ego that “represents our best selves” when we’re blocked? First off, what do you mean by “alter ego” exactly?
Well, to begin with, everyone has already used this concept. We did it as kids when we pretended to be Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman as we jumped off the sofa, or we played our favorite athlete on the front driveway to unleash more elite skills. All of that was to simply help us answer the question, ‘what could I do if?’
Beyonce used Sasha Fierce to move past the insecurities she had of dancing and singing provocatively, when her entire background was gospel music and modesty.
Athletes use Alter Egos to bring a certain level of intensity and focus to the field, so they don’t fall prey to the worries & concerns of failure.
And everyone can use this idea, because we all want to rise above current circumstances or past struggles to realize dreams or live a more fulfilling life. An Alter Ego, helps people move past emotional resistance and create another level of performance free from what we perceive to be our personal constraints.So an Alter Ego is simply a trusted friend or ally you create i to help you navigate life with more grace and more grit.
I thought it was so interesting that grandmothers are by far the most common alter ego used – why would that be?
Because one of the fundamental rules of tapping into this concept is to find a source of inspiration you resonate with and ensure you honor its spirit when you activate it. And because people we have an existing relationship with carry strong emotional ties, Grandmothers are a really common source of an Alter Ego.
Even a very wealthy client of mine on Wall Street, who struggled with his leadership abilities, found a completely new level of performance when he tapped into his Grandmother. He went from a cold, hard-charging, bullying type when leading his team, to a calm, strong, and kind leader that people loved to work for.
THE 5 QUESTIONS…
You’ve determined that there are five questions that, if we can successfully answer, will help us all to “uncap our best selves.” Let’s go through them now and you can tell us a little bit about why these specific questions are so essential in helping us understand ourselves…
–What frustrates me?
We all have an area of our life or current role in our life, that might be causing us the most challenge right now. So pick a role or area of your life you’d most like to make a change in. It could be your role as a parent, spouse, work (sales, manager, leader, entrepreneur etc.) or an area like fitness or health.
–How would you like to show up?
Now you start to map out how you’d like to show up or perform in that role. Do you want to be more confident, decisive, patient, loving, stoic, fierce, strong, detailed, articulate, powerful etc.
What qualities or traits would make success more likely? Whatever they are, map them out.
–Who inspires you in that situation?
This is the point where you start to find someone or something you already admire, so you can borrow their traits to help you move past resistance, because they wouldn’t get tripped up by it.
I used Superman and a few other heroes to create a ‘Super Todd’ in business when I first started out, because I was insecure and worried about rejection. I was inspired by how they would show up and it allowed me to untap my skills and grow my business.
[Similarly], Beyonce used Sasha Fierce. Even Martin Luther King Jr. used this concept which you can read about in the book. It’s powerful and you already know how to do it.
–What totem, artifact, or talisman can you use?
I talk about the importance of finding something you can wear or have near you that can help you trigger your Alter Ego and act with more intention.
People have used all sorts of devices over the years. I used eyeglasses, others have used, rings, necklaces, specific uniforms or clothing.
It taps into a psychological phenomenon called ‘enclothed cognition’, which basically means that humans attach meaning and story to things we wear and others wear. The moment you see someone in a Doctor’s coat, you automatically associate certain traits to them.
But the powerful part of that equation is that if you put on the coat of a Doctor, you’ll also activate the traits in yourself and start to behave more careful, methodical and detailed. It’s not like you become a Doctor and have their knowledge, but you start to behave like they would.
So using a totem or artifact helps you to unleash the traits you most want to display, to help you succeed.
–How can we honor the person who is really inside us?
This final part is to really think about honoring the spirit or identity of the person or thing you’re using as inspiration. It’s a funny thing about humans, which is we’ll often do more for others than we will do for ourselves. So if you truly take this final piece to heart, the chances of you shifting your entire behavior increases, because you wouldn’t let your inner Oprah, Batman, or Grandmother down.
Finally, you’ve seen people become completely “transform themselves” by using these questions. Do you think that’s possible for all of us? Does practice make perfect?
The great thing about us all is we have the capacity to change in an instant. The moment someone starts living through a new paradigm, or acts through a new identity and sheds the unsupportive story of the past, behaviors can change immediately. So many people have been practicing a self, that doesn’t serve them. Why not begin creating the person you most want to be, and an Alter Ego is a proven way to make it happen.
I’ve worked with pro athletes, Olympians, public figures and leaders for 22 years, and everyday I get to see the power of the creative imagination buried in all of us.
We’re not trees, we can change.