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What Can an Alter Ego do for You?

Do you have an alter ego? I’ve always claimed that my superhero alter ego is “The Enabler.” I even have a Halloween costume, complete with a cape and a little bag of tricks. Can I interest you in a mini bottle of Jack? What about this guy named Jack? Or maybe you’d prefer an adjustable rate mortgage?

In both my personal and professional lives, part of my guiding principle has been to help others get what they want. Little wonder that I ended up in marketing and consulting services.

In reading The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life by Todd Herman, I came to understand that alter egos are a common, often spontaneous, and highly effective way to be accomplish transformation. At its core, it’s a self-help book written by a performance coach. Herman helps his clients win gold medals, national championships, Oscars, and lucrative professional positions.

The essential premise is that by donning an “Alter Ego,” an individual can unlock desired yet elusive characteristics of their own personality to significant benefit. It’s not Bruce Wayne and Batman so much as it’s Bruce Banner and The Hulk. Best of all: It’s Beyoncé and Sasha Fierce.

There are actually a lot of rules to how this works, though Herman allows for a lot of freedom within them. I did what he told me to. I invested a good amount of reflection and journaling in following closely each step of his method as he prescribed it.

For example, he indicates that your alter ego should only ever be asked to show up on one “Field of Play.” Context is important to choosing the right characteristics for your Alter Ego, but also the right triggers (called “Moments of Impact)” Maybe the opening seconds of a sales call makes you especially awkward and nervous before you hit your stride. Maybe it’s an inability to say no to a family member that doesn’t understand healthy boundaries. Or maybe it’s the start of the third quarter, and you’re behind, but only by a field goal.

You wouldn’t want the same Alter Ego to show up in each of those places. Pick one, invest deeply in understanding it, and then watch them show up and fight your Enemy. Only when your Enemy is permanently rendered powerless can you let go of that Alter Ego and start the process of identifying a new one created to fight a different Enemy.

I’ll be honest, this part was hard for me. As a recovering fundamentalist and very happy agnostic, I’m not super comfortable with personifications of imaginary malevolence. But I did what I was told, down to naming it.

Naming it certainly is a thing that Herman is committed to. This book takes a long list of regular nouns, sends them to charm school, and makes them proper. Heroic Self. Activation Event. Ordinary World. Of course, the way these are employed is all in the service of fantasy, with the goal of tricking your mind into showing up with the powers you need, not the limitations you think you have. Sometimes it’s more like reading a Dungeons & Dragons manual than a self-help book.

This feeling is exacerbated by long lists of characteristics (Superpowers), motivations (Five Bridges to Progress), behaviors (Action Layers), and objects (Totems and Artifacts), among others. This approach does two valuable things:

  1. Provides enough of a defined framework that many readers will be successful without Herman’s direct support.
  2. Empowers self-awareness by proxy, where readers can choose emotions, desires, or characteristics from a list, rather than have to come up with them on their own.

That last one is important because, throughout it all, Herman insists that therapy is not necessary. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s beside the point: You don’t need to know WHY you choke on the short putt, his theory goes, you just need to get someone else to show up who never chokes.

Maybe he’s right. I traded in The Enabler, mostly designed to serve others, and created a new alter ego specifically to serve me. Early but repeated results revealed that she was actually quite good at the thing I needed her to do. Months after her creation, I find I call on her very rarely because she’s simply not needed. There is peace in Gotham City, but I’ll keep her around and deploy her as needed, because these days anything that can’t hurt might help.