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Rashi Goel

Unlock Your Superpowers, Put Your Alter Egos to Work

Unlock Your Superpowers, put your Alter Egos to Work
Reading Time: 7 minutes

#64 01.10.2023

This is a first for Performonks. Harinder and I have co-authored this piece. Harinder is a marketer at Amazon, a writer, and runs a cool marketing podcast – Brands, Brews, and Banter.We are both so happy we have done this and so excited for you all to read and tell us what you think.


Beyonce, Kobe Bryant, David Bowie… or should I say Sasha Fierce, Black Mamba, Ziggy Stardust…what do they have in common? 

Each of them metaphorically gets into the skin of their alter egos to enter a high-performance zone. And artists like David Bowie literally wear the skin of their alter ego. 

Late David Bowie’s Alter Egos

In this edition of Performonks, we encourage you to shapeshift through your alter egos to get to your goals.

Meet Your Inner Superhero or Superheroine

Before we go any further, let’s clarify what an Alter Ego is – it’s not a personality disorder or a sudden urge to wear a mask and cape to work. It’s the version of you that strides into work with unshakeable confidence, impeccable decision-making skills, and an aura that says, “I’ve got this.”

Beyonce created Sasha Fierce as a foil to her own shyness. “Usually when I hear the chords, when I put on my stilettos, like the moment right before when you’re nervous… then Sasha Fierce appears, and my posture and the way I speak and everything is different” (Beyonce in an interview with Oprah). 

She continued this strategy until 2010 when she felt she had matured enough to avoid the psychological crutch. “I don’t need Sasha Fierce anymore, because I’ve grown and now I’m able to merge the two”.

It isn’t about pretending to be someone you’re not. It’s about leveraging the power of intention to become the best version of yourself wherever it matters most to you – in your professional life, that weekend game you play, even those mother-in-law moments.

Alter egos help focus our minds and ready our bodies for situations that we know will demand the best of us. A weekend when we are running a marathon requires a kind of focused mind and resilient body that a Barbenheimer weekend does not.

The idea that we contain multitudes is as ancient as civilization

The Roman God Janus was a two-faced god and symbolized duality within humans. 

Janus

Alter Ego in Latin means, “Other I”.

Hindus believe in the duality of the feminine and masculine energies within one person, personified by Shiv-Shakti.

Merger of Shiv and Shakti- The New Indian Express
Shiv Shakti

Most of us already have at least one persona we slip into unintentionally – the ‘formal’ one we use for office and the ‘normal one’ for home. Don’t believe it? Ask someone to observe your voice and tonality when you take an office call or talk to your skip-level manager vs. when you talk to your family.

In actuality, we are like layer cakes – as William Safire- Richar Nixon’s speech writer describes him in the video below.

Safire says when you take a piece of a layer cake, you get many layers in one bite… we already contain multitudes. 

But what if we could pick and present the layer that is best suited for one situation and then move on to a different one?

What if we consciously and intentionally cultivate a toolkit of multiple alter egos to cope with, perform in, and master all kinds of situations in our lives? 

The Psychology of alter egos

Psychologists have concluded that alter egos are not just celebrity gimmicks, but have some real benefits. They say that an alter ego helps us ‘self-distance’ from our vulnerable selves and situations we struggle with.

If we see a situation as our alter ego would, we can take a step back from our immediate feelings, view it more dispassionately, and tackle it from a more resourceful state of mind.

In 2016 Stephanie Carlson, Professor of Cognitive Development at the Institute of Child Development, took a group of five-year-olds and gave them a test.  Some children were told to think “Am I working hard?” and others were given the option to imagine they were Batman. They were encouraged to ask themselves “What would Batman do?” whenever they felt the urge to give up.

The children who adopted the persona of Batman performed the task much better. 

Watch the video of the test here.

Intentional neuroplasticity through alter egos

Our brain wiring is not set in cement, it is like an electric circuit board that morphs as we change our thoughts and activities. In the humdrum world of the daily grind, it’s easy to get trapped in uninspiring routines, self-doubt, and monotony. But if we allow our Alter Ego to swoop in like a caped crusader, it rescues us from the wiring of mediocrity we may have learned to live with. It’s our passport to the extraordinary realm, where challenges are embraced, adaptability reigns supreme, creativity flows freely, and curiosity is our guiding star.

The reframing

When we decide to consciously create and adopt alter egos, we let go of three assumptions that hold us back:

  1. There is only one true version of our personality. 

In reality, our personality changes according to different social needs anyway. We might as well change it consciously.

  1. This is my anxiety and my insecurities are stronger than my self-control. 

What if it was Batman’s anxiety and insecurity? Batman’s self-control is stronger.

  1. My feelings and my identity are intertwined. How I feel is how I react. 

As my alter ego, I distance myself from my feelings – my alter ego becomes the pause between a feeling and my response. 

In a given situation, we can choose who we want to be. But how?

From Ordinary to Extraordinary

Todd Herman explores this concept in his book “The Power of the Alter Ego Effect”. 

According to Herman, your Alter Ego is your weapon against common career foes such as unruly emotions, crippling self-doubt, and the pesky habit of worrying too much about what others think. By invoking your Alter Ego, you can effectively combat these villains and come out on top.

The Totem: Your Secret Weapon

One of the most captivating aspects of Herman’s approach is the use of a Totem or Artefact. Imagine it as the Bat Signal – a symbol of your heroic self. It could be something as simple as a lucky tie, a power blazer, or a statement accessory. When you don your Totem, you’re sending a clear message to your brain: it’s showtime, and you’re here to slay.

But this isn’t just symbolic; it’s a psychological switch that aligns your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with your Alter Ego. 

For me (Rashi), just wearing my gym clothes and shoes makes me feel more fit and energetic and makes me want to go to the gym. And for me (Harinder) just the act of holding a special pen that I’ve had for years now, makes me immediately get into a flow state and sprout some amazing ideas. 

Music can be a good precursor and gets us into the shoes of a different persona. 

Maya Angelou had many totems that got her into a writing zone. She always wrote in a hotel room. She reached her hotel room at 6:30 AM, had a glass of Sherry, and then lay across the bed, and wrote. Here’s how she describes getting into the zone. It’s almost as if she’s shedding all her other identities and getting into the skin of a writer.

I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. Nothing holds me to anything. No milkmaids, no flowers, nothing. I just want to feel and then when I start to work I’ll remember. I’ll read something, maybe the Psalms, maybe, again, something from Mr. Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson. And I’ll remember how beautiful, how pliable the language is, how it will lend itself. If you pull it, it says, OK.” I remember that and I start to write.”

Craft Your Heroic Origin Story

Every superhero has an origin story, and so should your Alter Ego. It’s not about concocting a convoluted narrative but understanding why you’ve chosen this particular Alter Ego and what it represents. Your Origin Story serves as an emotional anchor, it brings your alter ego alive, makes it more real, and grounds you in the traits and abilities you need to succeed.

When he was sixteen, Benjamin Franklin created a persona called Silence Dogood, a woman who wrote satirical letters to the editor of the New England Courant. He had created Silence Dogood because the newspaper was run by his brother who refused to publish anything written by Benjamin Franklin. Franklin went to great lengths to get into the skin of Silence Dogwood. He invented a whole origin and life story for her, which he kept peppering through his letters to the newspaper. Find them here.

Choose your superpowers

What is it about this icon’s personality that makes you look up to them? Choose a set of behaviors you would like to emulate and associate them with your alter ego.

There is no limit to where you can get your inspiration. Movies, books, music, people you admire, even gaming. 

Adele learned from Beyonce and created her own alter ego – Sasha Carter – a combination of Beyoncé’s Sasha Fierce and the (real) country music star June Carter. 

Embrace your inner superhero or heroine today

In a world where cubicles, fear of failure, and conference rooms often stifle our inner superheroes, the notion of alter egos isn’t just for icons like Beyoncé or the late, great David Bowie. It’s a life hack waiting for you to don its cape and unleash your potential.

These alter egos aren’t about playing pretend or slipping into tights for your daily Zoom call (although, why not?). No, they’re the superpowers you never knew you had. But why only unleash it at the workplace, an alter ego may be just what you need while meeting your Bumble match for the first time (though we recommend that you avoid your tights here).

So, grab your lucky tie, power blazer/stilettos, or crank up your superhero theme song because with alter egos, you’re not just shaping your work; you’re shaping your ‘alter life path’.

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