The Alter Ego
If you’re struggling with belief in yourself, and refusing to see your limitless possibilities, then it might be time to don an alter ego to help.
Have you ever put on a mask for Halloween? Everyone you came into contact with that day knew you were wearing a mask.
They might have even known it was you behind it.
But admit it: wasn’t it just the least bit empowering? One of the best ways to create a sense of belief is by creating an alter ego because of the surprising feeling of power and control it can give you.
During Halloween, you might feel emboldened and empowered by wearing a mask or costume—imagine how great it would be to apply that sort of feeling to everyday situations.
Anonymity gives us a sense of bravery, and this is best showcased in today’s social media and online world.
When we lurk behind a fictitious screen name, we unchain ourselves from the restrictions of our own, real-world identities.
We speak through another voice, almost like a ventriloquist speaks through the dummy on his lap.
We may express things we’d never say in the real world.
This is what scientists call the “online disinhibition effect.” A recent survey conducted by the audience engagement platform Livefyre reinforces that conclusion.
The company, which powers user-content features for major web entities, asked 1,300 web users if they’ve ever commented anonymously online and why.
Most said they did so because they didn’t want their opinions to impact their work or professional life by being attached to their real names.
They also responded that they wanted what they said, the actual content of their message, to be the focus of the post rather than their identity.
Almost 80% said if a site forced them to log in with their true identities, they wouldn’t comment at all.
Seems that perceived anonymity isn’t just empowering; it’s necessary for most people.
This is the same effect you can create (in a nicer way) when you create an alter ego.
Alter egos can be a hidden side of your personality, an exaggeration of what you really believe, or someone totally opposite from who you are.
The underlying point is that you feel exponentially more freedom and belief, sensing yourself to be immune from retribution or harm in the real world.
Used properly, an alter ego can help nudge you closer and closer to the edges of your comfort zone and allow you to express your beliefs and big goals for the first time in your life.
An alter ego is a second self created by an individual, usually for the purpose of living out a “better” version of the self.
In comic books, Bruce Wayne runs his multimillion-dollar business every day.
Peter Parker works as a photographer for the Daily Bugle.
But when a crisis hits the cities they live in and the usual authority figures are unable to handle it, they morph into their crime-fighting alter egos Batman and Spiderman.
The city is saved, usually with a little property damage, but still saved.
Pop music artists, in particular, are frequent adopters of the alter ego.
When they take the stage, they have to push out a larger-than-life spectacle that takes more than their everyday, regular selves to pull off.
All pop musicians do that to some extent, but some go even further by creating elaborate personas.
For a time, the great British performer David Bowie changed personas seemingly at will.
The best-known was Ziggy Stardust, a humanoid alien who’s something of an extraterrestrial messenger.
Ziggy let Bowie distance himself from the boy from Beckenham and take on a fearless, heroic personality.
An alter ego encompasses the best parts of what you want to be and gives you full license to do what you couldn’t do as yourself.
At the very least, it allows you to ask what someone else would do and witness the separation between your answer to the same question.
An alter ego that’s thought out well can help you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
It lets you step out of the box you’ve created for yourself and do something that’s totally out of character.
The imaginative process you take in creating and being that alter ego might provide clues on how to make those improvements in your real life.
Finally, it just lets you ask, “What would my fearless alter ego do?” This is a more productive question to answer than, “What should I do here if I know I should be brave but am still scared?” Having an alter ego, as we’ve mentioned, is empowering.
After switching characters, you have a window of opportunity when you can be brave and detach yourself from your hang-ups.
That window of time is when you push against your comfort zone and try new things.
An alter ego can give you some distance from yourself and help you deal better with the past, present, and future.
When you think of your alter ego, you’re more likely to make good decisions on their behalf.
The self-distance and objectivity you create when taking on this alter ego, and thinking about what he or she would do, can sharpen your focus on the bigger picture and make some of your long-term goals a little clearer.
When it comes to the future, you might be more willing and eager to take on challenges if you picture your alter ego doing them instead of yourself.
For the moment, your alt-self will be the one taking the chances, facing obstacles, and risking failure.
It won’t be you, for now.
But when it finally becomes your turn, you’ll be more prepared to handle it, thanks to what your alter ego set up for you.
Every time you’re about to try a new endeavor to create a new belief about yourself, there’s a little voice in your head that begins whining and advising you.
This is your actual ego, the one Freud described.
Its job, as we discussed earlier, is to be the reasonable one in any new situation.
And when faced with a new situation, your ego gets a little jittery: “What are you doing? Stop! What if you look stupid? What will everyone think? What if they all laugh at you? Who do you think you are, anyway—you’re not brave or smart or strong enough to do this! Let’s just go home and watch The Little Mermaid again!” That’s when an alter ego comes to the rescue, bolts past your ego’s whimpering, and leads you out of the comfort zone.
Where the ego expresses fear, the alter ego is rarin’ to go.
“Hey! This looks great! This looks exciting! Let’s get started now!” The ego then says, “But what will everybody say? You’re just setting this person up for ridicule!” To which the alter ego responds, “Oh, forget them.
If they don’t have anything better to do than gossip, let ’em talk.
They can think whatever they want.
It’s not going to get in our way.
I got no use for ’em.” Finally, the ego cries, “But what if I fail?” And the alter ego says, “If you try it, yeah, you might fail—but you might succeed—whereas if you don’t try, then you’ll definitely fail.
Excuse me, I’m running late.” Your results—and inner dialogue—may vary.
Not only are you speaking in the terms of your alter ego, but you’re also treating your comfort zone’s ego as an objective, other character as well.
You can verbalize what you want to change about your comfort zone and let your alter ego run with it.
Determine why you want an alter ego.
Ask yourself what’s spurring you to develop an alter ego and what you hope to achieve.
Do you want to be more outgoing, confident, or unique? Do you need someone to stand up for you? Do you just want more people to read your blog or watch your YouTube videos? In what way will they be assisting in breaking you out of your comfort zone? Your alter ego should have some sort of purpose or mission.
Remember, you’re looking for empowerment, an avenue by which you can express yourself in a new context.
You’re putting your hopes, dreams, fears, and insecurities into this alter ego, giving them the kind of abilities that you don’t have as a mortal human.
Your alter ego doesn’t necessarily have to live by the rules, but it should have a point.
Develop your alter ego’s personality.
What type of person does your alter ego have to be to achieve the goals you’re after? How do they think? What’s their mindset? What models are you using to build their thoughts or actions? You have an unlimited range of options to choose from.
You could just use the alter ego as a reflection or extrapolation of yourself to imbue a personality that you’d like to someday inhabit.
Conversely, you can make it your polar opposite to investigate a total contrast of yourself to help you understand the “other side.” The answers you’re looking for are largely going to come from the type of attitudes and voice your alter ego has, so develop them as fully as you can.
Make sure you can describe your alter ego, without hesitation, using five positive adjectives.
These are the traits you are striving toward.
Flesh out the details.
The secondary part of your alter ego’s story will be how they’d present themselves to the rest of the world —so give them a name and an appearance.
Again, you have no restrictions here.
You might be a T-shirt and jeans person, but your alter ego could be a high-fashion hound all the way with garish fur coats and sparkling sunglasses.
Or perhaps they’ll only wear black and disappear underneath the hood of their sweatshirt.
Spend time developing your alter ego’s mannerisms.
How do they walk? What does their voice sound like? How do they wear their hair, or do they wear hats? Do they speak the King’s English, or do they have some kind of accent?
The more details you can provide for your alter ego, the easier it will be to slip into their character.
Try to come up with a significant and meaningful name.
You can base it on someone you admire, the name of your superhero, a take on another fictional character, or one from history.
You could just attach a superlative to the end of your name—“Felix the Great”—or spell your name backward.
Have some sort of justification or explanation for the name, even if it’s random.
As with appearances, the more detail you can invent, the more tangible the alter ego will feel.
Activate! An alter ego should respond to some kind of call to action, something to invoke them when they’re needed.
Captain Marvel called out to his gods, who then graciously struck him with lightning and turned him into a superhero.
Batman was channeled into action by an extremely powerful, custom-made flashlight that seemingly every household in Gotham had.
The alter ego rock band KISS took to the stage with the announcer’s cry “You wanted the best… you got the best! The hottest band in the world, KISS!” You could come up with a rallying cry, something that could theoretically fit on a T-shirt or hat.
You could cue up a song that would announce the alter ego’s arrival or something that would just pump you up.
You could throw red roses in its pathway, unfurl a flag or carpet, clang on a cowbell—whatever works.
The activation routine is important because it’s meant to snap you out of your mood and take on the alter ego’s spirit.
If you feel sad, it’s extraordinarily difficult to just “decide” you feel happy.
Some sort of catalyst, calling, or benediction can help turn that alternate mood on.
Remember, this isn’t just escapism.
A lot of people do role-playing or cosplay for recreational reasons.
While you should have fun with your alter ego, you’re not just creating it to escape into a fantasy world.
You invented it to figure out a solution of some sort to achieve a certain goal.
You know how you’ll act.
That’s why creating a distance from that is important.
Your alter ego encourages you to act more quickly, more sharply, and more bravely because you’re taking yourself out of the picture.
You’re not thinking about yourself anymore.
You’re thinking about a woodland nymph, an astronaut, Marilyn Monroe, and the Incredible Hulk now.
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- The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
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- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
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