You don’t have to be Superman or Wonder Woman to have an Alter Ego. In fact, many people have some secret identity that they can pull out and put on when they’re facing a difficult task or situation that makes them unsure. I have one and maybe you should, too.
That’s the theory behind Todd Herman’s book The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life. Herman is a high-performance coach and mental game strategist for entrepreneurs, athletes, and leaders who want to achieve big goals. He’s owned his sports science training company for over twenty years, and he write The Alter Ego Effect to help ordinary people like us overcome the voices in our head.
Herman protects and obscures the identity of his famous clients, but he writes that many, many professional athletes suffer from performance anxiety that they overcome by assuming another, secret identity. Herman met Bo Jackson at a conference where he was speaking. If Bo Jackson is before your time, here’s his short sport bio from Todd Herman: “Bo Jackson is the only athlete in the big four of major North American sports to be an all-star in two of them, Major League Baseball and the National Football League. He was a phenom who transcended sports in the 1980s.” And he is one of Herman’s personal heroes.
When Jackson heard what Todd Herman’s topic was, he broke into a grin. He leaned in and said confidentially, “Bo Jackson never played a down of football in his entire life.”
As Jackson tells it, he was a hot-headed kid whose ultra-competitive nature hurt him on the playing field. He’d lose his temper at any provocation and get penalized for retaliating. His behavior threatened to derail his young football career before he could grow into his potential.
Young Bo Jackson was also a fan, like most kids his age, of the horror movie series Friday the Thirteenth. He was drawn to the main character, Jason, the hockey mask–wearing killer. He didn’t admire his deeds, but he was fascinated by his cold, emotionless, and unstoppable nature. Jason was the opposite of overemotional Bo Jackson, and it was Jason Bo became on the field.
Herman writes, “Bo went on to explain how Jason only lived on the field. And when he walked out of the locker room and reached the football field, Jason would enter his body and take over. Suddenly the hotheaded, penalty-prone, easy-to-provoke Bo Jackson transformed into a relentless, cold, and disciplined destroyer on the football field. Channeling a “different” identity helped him focus every ounce of his talent and skill, and enabled him to show up on the field, without any emotional issues interfering with his performance.”
Beyoncé Knowles, the superstar performer and international sex symbol, actually wrote about her alter ego. Beyoncé grew up in a devout family and started her singing career in church. As her fame grew, she struggled with sexy lyrics and suggestive dance moves. So she created an alter ego who was comfortable with performing on stage.
She wrote, “I have someone else that takes over when it’s time for me to work and when I’m onstage, this alter ego that I’ve created that kind of protects me and who I really am.” Her alter ego’s name was Sasha Fierce (one of the great alter ego names of all time.) Sasha Fierce allowed Beyoncé to get through the early stage fright and self-consciousness she felt, and she retired Sasha after her 2008 album, I Am . . . Sasha Fierce.
Are you facing a challenge that feels overwhelming? Maybe it’s public speaking, applying for an ambitious promotion, networking, or starting to date again. I have often recommended to students and coaching clients that they channel their inner hero – the person for whom these challenges are no challenge at all. You can assume the identity of a famous person, channeling your inner Winston Churchill or Beyoncé. Or you can create your own “other me,” the direct translation of alter ego.
In future posts, I’ll share some of the tips Todd Herman uses for his clients to help them develop alter egos.