Don’t Like Who You Are Right Now? Cool. Build an Alter-Ego Instead
How one Navy SEAL taught me to overcome my B.S. and be a better person
When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said “meh — you could really use some tweaking?” The last time I said that to myself was a few weeks ago. I had been talking to myself like that for years, but really had trouble digging myself from my own bullshit.
Until I uncovered the magic recipe.
I was in a dark place a little bit ago. It affected my life, my writing, and my work. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m currently reading the book Can’t Hurt Me by ex-SEAL, ultra marathon runner, and world-record pull-upper, David Goggins.
I wanted to learn how he overcame, and continues to overcome his demons.
Goggins grew up in hell. He had a learning disability. He could barely read through high school. His father was abusive and his mother did the best she could. He was an ultra-shy introvert with a stutter. At his heaviest he had given up on life and tipped the scale at 300 pounds, working nights as an exterminator.
But he didn’t give up. He learned to change himself from within.
The man had everything stacked against him. People who have grown in in 1/10th the circumstances would have given up earlier. But David was different. One day he looked in the mirror and got real with himself.
Goggins eventually became the only member of the US Armed Forces to complete SEAL training, US Army Ranger School, and Air Force Tactical Air Controller training.
Not only can I relate with the guy physically (we’re the same age, height, we both shave our heads, we both like pull-ups, and we’re both ultra-introverts), but he’s also an indie-author. He self-published his book and the thing is nearing the top of all books sold anywhere this month.
David developed a simple technique to overcome anything and harden the mind.
Not only does he subscribe to the ethos we should ‘embrace the suck,’ by doing something hard every day — something we don’t want to do. But he also created a method even more important. David learned a way to create an alter-ego (in a non-schizophrenic way) to overcome anything he wants to change about himself.
How to change yourself through an alter-ego
David developed a guy he calls ‘Goggins.’ This is his alter-ego — the toughest man alive. Bulletproof and unbreakable. His main self, David Goggins, is a shy kid from horrific beginnings, who’d rather stay home and hide from discomfort.
David Goggins wasn’t working for him, so David built a superhero in the mirror. And with Goggins, David Goggins has become the Toughest Man Alive.
Now, you don’t have to perform over 4,000 pull-ups in 24 hours, or run 135 miles through the desert to gain the same benefits from an alter-ego.
We all fight battles. No one’s battle is more significant than another’s. Maybe you’re so depressed you can’t get out of bed. Or maybe your start-up is eating you alive, because you can’t force yourself to make hard choices.
When you develop an alter-ego for yourself all the baggage is gone.
Start by developing a character description of this new person you wish to play. Make a list of everything this new alter-ego is and isn’t. Keep the list in your wallet or on your phone until you’ve memorized it.
I like to look at this exercise as playing a person, because it takes the pressure off of being you. Yes, you’re still you and no one else. This is an exercise in perseverance, bravery, and determination. But when you give yourself a clean slate to be anyone you want, overnight miracles can happen.
Let’s pretend your alter-ego is named the Big Bopper.
Next time you’re stuck in your old soup, think “what would the Big Bopper (BB) do here?” The BB is brave, doesn’t back-down from conflict, tells it like it is, and skips all the passive-aggressive nonsense.
We refer to our mental list.
If the BB wouldn’t do something on the list, we can’t either. We’re the BB now. We’re no longer ourselves. Our old garbage wasn’t working for us and the old ways of coping didn’t change us.
It’s time for immediate, drastic measures.
They say people don’t really change, but that’s a lie and an excuse. Sure, we can change. Our minds change all the time. We now know we grow new brains cells, can form new neural connections, and develop new habits until old-age. Of course we can change.
The first step is getting away from our bullshit.
We’ve all got some baggage we don’t like about ourselves. Maybe you’re a slob. Maybe you’re chronically late. Maybe you’re lazy, or you need to study more. Maybe you’re a terrible employee. We take action by addressing ourselves in the mirror and having an honest conversation with ourselves — one-on-one.
We talk to ourselves and say “enough is enough, this is what’s wrong with you… it’s time to change. The Big Bopper is taking over from now on and isn’t going to out up with your crap any more.”
You can use an alter-ego to change almost anything
We’ve got strong neural connections to our old habits and behaviors. Some of this stuff is baked into our DNA. When we play a mental game with ourselves and give permission for immediate change, we allow new behaviors into our lives.
When we play an upgraded version of ourselves we no longer have to follow old habits.
Now, this may not get you off heroin tomorrow, or prevent you from being a total a-hole if you’ve been an a-hole all your life. But if you’ve got deep issues about yourself you want to change, this alter-ego method really works.
Whether it’s psychological or physical, your alter-ego is there to help.
Stepping-in with her cape and shield, she’ll block all the old habits and swoop-in with behaviors you’d rather express. It’s worked for me. I’m a changed man. The difference was immediate once I made the commitment to play with an alter-ego.
I now stand taller all day.
I check myself before making instant, negative wisecracks.
I try to do something brave every day and I haven’t missed a workout (even if I couldn’t fit it in until late at night).
What would your Big Bopper do? I know you’ve got something to say in that mirror. Now, I’m not 100% fixed or anything. Who is? But the changes happened so fast. This does take work and a little make-believe. You’ve got to really want it.
But the change is out there. The mirror is waiting.
And we’re waiting for you.