Cultivate an alter ego. Want to be braver? Calmer? More ambitious? In his new book, The Alter Ego Effect, Todd Herman explains in a Q&A how to instantly become your best self.

By Lynya Floyd
Photo by Stocksy

You say alter egos can be real people, like the Dalai Lama; superheroes, like Wonder Woman; or animals, like a panther—and that we have their qualities inside us. How do we channel those powers?

It could be as simple as what you’re wearing. There’s a “Batman Effect” study where 4- to 6-year-olds were asked to work on a puzzle. It was unsolvable, but the researchers wanted to see how long the kids would stick it out. Then the researchers rolled in a rack of costumes, and there was a Batman costume and a Dora the Explorer costume. The kids picked one and then tried another unsolvable puzzle. The kids dressed in costume stuck with the puzzle longer and their self-talk changed. Instead of saying, “Oh, I quit!” they said things like “Batman wouldn’t quit, so I’m not going to quit.” Adults have been inhibited by all these years of “acting our age” and it’s holding us back.

What’s unique about using this technique to be braver in a work meeting, more loving toward your partner or less panicked if your kid gets injured in a baseball game?

Most people’s experience with personal development is that you have to go journal things out and take a long time to build new habits. The alter ego effect is immediate: You’re tapping into a power—your imagination—that’s larger than your critical thinking skills. So if you’re super engaged with the idea of being Michelle Obama, in a moment you will be.

Photo courtesy of Amazon

People can probably imagine how this concept can make somebody reserved, like Beyoncé, become captivating onstage, like her alter ego Sasha Fierce. But how can a regular mom benefit from an alter ego?

We all have those moments when we get so caught up in the emotional experience of our kids pushing us to our limits, and then we end up saying or doing something we regret. If I didn’t have an alter ego, I’d snap and then beat myself up over 50% of my parenting life. But because I act through my alter ego—Mr. Rogers—it’s 10% to 15%. For my kids, that’s a very big difference.

How do you trigger an alter ego?

By finding a totem or an artifact to help embody and activate it.

In the book, you mention a woman who bought a pair of Oprah’s shoes at a charity sale and put them on when she wanted to feel confident. You wear glasses even though you have 20/20 vision. What else do you use?

When I walk through the door of my home, I have a little ritual: I take a deep breath and I snap on a bracelet that one of my daughters made with her and her siblings’ initials on it. That’s my little trigger where it’s like, “Now it’s fun time.” 

Parents of teenagers need to have really difficult and important conversations about sex, about drugs, about drinking. To me, that parallels how people will use alter egos when getting up on a stage to give a speech or a presentation. Does the alter ego technique help you stop avoiding those conversations

Absolutely. That’s what I refer to as a moment of impact—an opportunity for something great to be created. So many times people are trying to get the script right in those moments. But it’s really about just getting on

the stage.

About the expert

Father of three Todd Herman is an author, speaker and performance coach who has worked with Olympic athletes, Navy SEALS and business leaders across the globe. You can find his book here.