This key question is core to what Herman’s book is all about. We can all remember a time when we were young and felt invulnerable, when our imaginations ran wild and it seemed like nothing could stop us. We wanted to be superheroes, astronauts, rock stars or famous actors. And most of us can’t remember when we lost that.
In this book, Todd Herman aims to help us to rediscover that childlike awe and hunger. Tapping into scientific research and personal experience at the same time, Herman’s goal is to activate the Heroic Self that’s already nested within us and to allow us to tap into our Alter Egos.
And Herman knows what he’s talking about. He’s a high-performance coach and mental game strategist who works with everyone from entrepreneurs and business leaders to athletes and more. His clients have climbed the Olympic podium, built multimillion-dollar companies and established international brands. The man knows what he’s talking about.
And so with that in mind, let’s dive into The Alter Ego Effect and see what Herman has to share with us.
How do you tell whether the Alter Ego Effect is right for you? Well, luckily for us, the author himself has provided us with a target audience. Herman says, “The Alter Ego Effect was built to support ambitious people doing hard things. It’s constructed to help you to be more resilient, creative, optimistic, and courageous. It’s been shaped by the data collected from more than 75,000 business owners and professionals who have implemented this strategy.”
Herman says that he’s always been interested in superheroes and comic books, and it’s there that the idea of the alter ego is most recognisable. What’s interesting is that when he asks audiences who’s the alter ego out of Clark Kent and Superman, 90% of the time they answer that Superman is the alter ego.
But they’re wrong. “The alter ego isn’t Superman,” Herman says. “It’s Clark Kent. Superman is the real person. He created the alter ego, mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, as a useful persona to go unnoticed day-to-day on earth and blend in to help him achieve a crucial goal: understanding humans. Superman would flip between his alter ego and the S on his chest at precisely the moments when he needed each persona the most.”
To get started, Herman helps us out by taking us back to the roots of the alter ego. He credits its creation to the Roman statesman Cicero, who used the term in his philosophical works in the first century BC to refer to “a second self, a trusted friend”. Herman says that the Latin meaning is “the other I”.
Herman’s early experience with his alter ego came when he was a youngster, growing up on a farm and doing whatever jobs needed doing. He had an interest in the Native Americans who had been living on the land and learned that during their war dances, a ceremony in which the natives would dance and chant while circling a ring of fire, the goal was to “gather as one” and to channel the spirits for help in their quest. He was then able to tap into the alter ego of an American Indian during an important high school football game, ultimately finding the strength to work as a team player.
Of course, Herman knows that to achieve something like this, it takes belief. “I’m going to reinforce this point throughout the book,” he says, “because I don’t want you to get a sugary sweet taste in your mouth from the words on the page. You’re not a terrible human being if some area of your life is ‘average’. You won’t put this book down and become Batman, Black Widow, or Black Panther in EVERY. SINGLE. AREA. OF. YOUR. LIFE.”
The Field of Play Model is designed to group the different layers of influence that can have an impact on our core self, and indeed you can download a copy of it for free. Let’s take a look at each of those layers:
Layer #0: Your Core Self
Layer #1: Your Core Drivers: What motivates you at a grander scale than yourself.
Layer #2: The Belief Layer: How you define yourself and the world around you.
Layer #3: The Action Layer: How you show up.
Layer #4: The Field of Play: What’s happening.
“All of these layers influence and shape how you think, feel, and see yourself in relation to the different areas of your life,” Herman says, “or what we refer to as the Fields of Play. Each of those layers is built up over time. Often, we’re unaware of some behaviour, and it’s because the influences are outside of our awareness.”
Of course, Herman says that as with any good story, where there’s a hero, there’s also an enemy. There can be no light without darkness and no good without evil. He says, “Because your orientation has been set to ‘negative or pain’, the Enemy feeds off it and fills you with doubt, worry, self-judgement, avoidance and fear.” The Enemy uses each of your layers to try to challenge you, and Herman provides the following examples:
Layer #1: Your Core Drivers: “You’re not meant for that; after all, nobody from your family has ever done that before.”
Layer #2: The Belief Layer: “You don’t believe in yourself, because if you just take a look at your past, you’ve quit on a lot of things.”
Layer #3: The Action Layer: “You don’t have the skills or knowledge, so you should probably just wait until you do more research, work on it more, and finally get it perfect.”
Layer #4: The Field of Play: “You don’t want to make a fool of yourself. Are you sure you want to take such a huge risk? I’d hate for everyone to see what happens if you fail!”
The good news about our Alter Egos is that many of us are already using them. An example here is Kisma, who’d used a variation of the technique as a musician. “Playing in professional orchestras,” she explained, “there’s a certain level of nerves I’d feel before solos. I played the flute and performed a number of concertos, and I had to get into a different mind-set. As I’d walk across the stage, preparing myself for the concerto, I’d think, ‘Who do I want to channel? Who do I want to be like?’ Sometimes it was Yo-Yo Ma, other times it was Emmanuel Pahud. Whoever I chose, it was like an instant drop-in, as I told myself that I’d pull from them.”
Using the Field of Play model, you should be able to get to grips with your ordinary world and to start identifying which field of play you wish to operate in. This could be anything from sports to business or to your career. Then you’re ready to plan your route forwards over one of the five bridges to progress.
“Quick question,” Harman says. “Have you paid attention to the content or topic of the conversations you’ve had with people lately? I can guarantee they’ll fall into one of the following Five Bridges. I refer to them as bridges because bridges are pathways to allow things to come in and out of an area. For you, these Five Bridges can either help or hurt the quality of your professional, athletic or personal life.”
The five bridges, along with a few examples, are as follows:
1. Stopping: I want to stop smoking/I want to stop eating unhealthy foods.
2. Starting: I want to start eating more vegetables/I want to start working out in the morning.
3. Continuing: I want to continue working out/I want to continue my pre-game routine.
4. Less of: I want to watch less TV/I want to spend less time on social media.
5. More of: I want to read more good books/I want to go on more date nights with my wife.
The next section of the book is dedicated to moments of impact. “Your Moment of Impact comes down to knowing what outcomes you’re supposed to create on your Field of Play,” Harman explains. “What are the traits, capabilities, skills, attributes, beliefs, values, and all the other bits and pieces that you need to succeed?”
Here, Harman offers up another free download along with these examples of three moments of impact to help the reader to identify theirs:
The next two chapters are dedicated to identifying the hidden forces of the enemy and dragging them into the light. Harman says that there are three common forces that can slow us down or stop us, and that they’re surprisingly difficult to detect and can control our lives like strings on a puppet. They are:
Imposter Syndrome: “Many high achievers and successful people struggle with it. People like Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck and Tina Fey [have all] spoken or written about feeling like a fraud.”
Personal Trauma: “You can’t heal emotional scars with an Alter Ego. However, you don’t need to carry that weight with you everywhere you go.”
Tribal Narratives: “These are the deeper things you connect yourself to and the unconscious beliefs you’ve adopted because of prevailing narratives. The Enemy is sneaky. It slips in unnoticed and attaches itself to stories about what a certain group of people can or can’t do.”
Words have power, and Harman says that the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves can have a big impact on the people that we actually are. As a basic example, if we see ourselves as caring for the planet, it makes it more likely that we’ll remember to recycle. Better still, our stories can change, and a better story awaits us.
The next step is to create your extraordinary world. “Do you want to be a powerful presenter?” Harman asks. “Great. Own it. Do you want to be a calm, assertive, confident leader in the midst of crisis moments? Great. Own it. Imagine the behaviours and actions that you’re taking in your Extraordinary World. How are they different from your Ordinary World? Are you bolder? Are you more thoughtful? Are you more focussed? Do you follow through and finish all the projects you start? Are you more articulate, assertive, or active? Are you more relaxed, calmer, or peaceful? Are you more rebellious? Are you more fierce, bold or adventurous?”
With that done, there’s not too much left for you to worry out. You’ll need to define your superpowers and give your alter ego a name, and you’ll also want to think about your origin story, as where we come from often has a major impact on where we go in life. When you’re finally ready for your Alter Ego to go out into the world, Harman even has a few quests for you.
Arguably the most powerful of these is also the simplest: it’s to go to your local coffee shop in your new persona, to order a coffee and to drink it. Why? “It’s a meaningless situation with no threat to your world,” Harman says. “I’m not asking you to go and close the biggest deal of your life or to do something terrifying or dangerous. You’re just ordering a drink. The less stress around the activity or the more familiarity you have of that single routine, the easier it will be for you to step into the playful side of the Alter Ego, without worrying about performing a difficult task.”
Now that you know just a few of the lessons that are on offer in The Alter Ego Effect, it’s time for you to put what you’ve learned into practice. Feel free to read back through this blog post and to take notes as you go and to set yourself some actions that you want to follow up with. And of course, be sure to leave us a comment to let us know how you get on!
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