How to Change Yourself In 10 Seconds or Less — The Alter Ego Effect by Todd Herman
[Detailed Book Notes]
We read and watch stories because it is a kind of lower-cost virtual reality, especially back before there was such a thing as virtual reality. When we read/watch stories, we get to walk in the footsteps of the main characters of these stories for a few hours. Feel what they feel, experience what they experience. See life from their perspective.
But have you ever considered what it would be like to be able to slip into a particular character or persona’s head space in your own life? That’s what The Alter Ego Effect is all about. In this book, Todd Herman, specialist in the mental game of high performance, explores this one major strategy that many successful athletes and actors have used to, in a sense, “become someone else,” or perhaps, another angle of themselves. It’s a fascinating concept, and worth some consideration!
Chapter 1: What’s Your Phone Booth Moment?
Superman is known to duck into phone booths to transform from Clark Kent to Superman.
Most people think Superman is the alter ego, but actually, that’s the original identity, and Clark Kent is the alter ego.
If you want something, go get it. And if you want something faster, go get it with a great mentor.
Story: Herman was once surprised by a struggling young student athlete who always failed at critical moments. This athlete, Anthony, snuck out of his house at 4am to go to Herman’s Sports Club and impressed him. They worked on his alter ego. He liked panthers (nickname “Ghost of the Forest”), and came up with the name, “the Black Ghost.”
Your imagination can build ordinary or extraordinary worlds. Up to you.
Chapter 2: The Origin of Alter Egos
Shep Gordon is a Supermensch, the “unfamous man who made everyone famous.” Including people like Jimi Hendrix, Groucho Marx, Raquel Welch, etc. He also invented celebrity chefs. He’s a Hollywood super agent.
Shep’s advice to celebrities is to not let the public figure be themselves, but to play a character so that they always know what to do, and that they can deal with bad reviews.
Cicero was the first to talk about the Alter Ego as a second self and trusted friend. “Alter Ego” in Latin means “the other I.”
Herman first stumbled on alter egos when as a teen, he lost his temper during a volleyball match and got chewed out. He recalled stories of Native Americans living in his area and decided to take on the identity of a tribe of warriors. He chose football players he admired, slip their trading cards in his uniform, tape it down, and go out on the field.
We don’t know all there is to know about the brain.
Actor Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, grew up with a stutter, but found that when he played a character other than himself, the stammering disappeared.
Herman experienced this again when he saw an Oprah interview where a lady who bought Oprah’s old shoes at a charity sale would step into those shoes when she felt bad, and all her depression would fade. Herman decided to use glasses to feel more confident in business. The glasses symbolized Martin Luther King.
He even used his real first name, Richard. (He goes by Todd but uses his legal name Richard for certain business needs)
Herman started noticing that many athletes talked about becoming “different versions of themselves” when they started engaging in their sport. It’s a fast way to help people get in the zone, NOW.
Chapter 3: The Power of the Alter Ego Effect
Tennis player Ian had a temper problem. When he lost, he’d fall apart. Why?
“I was failing as a human being because being a tennis player was my identity.”
This is a common thread among ambitious people.
You have a Core Self: where possibility exists. It’s your deep desires and dreams. It’s where your intrinsic motivation comes from.
Ex’s of intrinsic motivators: growth, curiosity, mastery, adventure, enjoyment, self-mastery, love
Everyone has all of the intrinsic motivators in some way or another.
We confuse all the things that influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with who we really are (our possibility).
We have 4 layers of influences around our Core Self:
Layer 1: Your Core Drivers (What Motivates You at a Grander Scale Than Yourself)
What you deeply care about, relate to, identify with, such as family, community, nation, religion, race, gender, group, idea, cause.
Layer 2: The Belief Layer (How You Define Yourself and the World Around You
Including attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, experiences, expectations
Layer 3: The Action Layer (How You Show Up)
Skills, competencies, knowledge, behaviors, actions, reactions
Layer 4: The Field of Play (What’s Happening)
Context. Physical environment, circumstances, constraints, people, places, things we interact with and their expectations.
These layers are built up over time.
Beyonce used “Sasha Fierce” as an alter ego but after 2008, she retired “Sasha.”
Teaching kids to act like favorite characters can help them persevere. This is the power of identity — the power of how we see ourselves.
You don’t become an alter ego in every single area of your life. Just in certain fields of play.
- The OW mindset: your actions are motivated by negative feelings, a desire to prevent bad things from happening.
- The WOW mindset: your actions are motivated by a growth mindset, you want to gain something in life.
Alter Egos help us suspend disbelief and align with someone else’s strengths.
Most people use their imaginations to create horror story worlds. They move away from their goals.
But if you act like a superhero, which would an observer consider the “real you”?
We are judged in our lives by what we do, NOT by what we think or intend to do.
According to casting director Michael Shurtleff, acting is really about tapping into what already exists inside.
Your alter ego is about defining how you want to show up, and borrowing someone else’s characteristics to activate the “heroic self.”
Chapter 4: Your Ordinary World
What is one field of play for you to build an alter ego? Personal life? Professional life?
Go with the field that’s causing you the most heartache. Build an alter ego there and it will make a huge impact on your life.
There are 5 bridges to progress:
- more of
- less of
All change involves one of these. If you pay attention to your life, you’ll find these “I need to change” moments happening almost hourly.
There are four planes we’re always living in:
So make a list for each of these categories and ask what you want to:
- stop experiencing, stop getting as a result
- experience less of
The answer must be something you can hear, taste, touch, smell. (Ex: stop not seeing m y creative work get out there, hear less rejection, stop seeing my to do list grow)
Be honest and don’t edit right now. Do you know what you want to stop? If so, it’s time for you to step from your ordinary to extraordinary world.
Chapter 5: Finding Your Moments of Impact
Target mapping: Look at your field of play and work backward from your ultimate goal to identify what you need to change to make it happen.
Moments of impact: opportunities, actions, situations, events, expectations with the greatest impact on your success. They’re filled with the most emotion, resistance, and challenge because they often happen when you’re most vulnerable. (Ex: asking for a sale, taking a shot, apologizing, taking a test, etc)
Sometimes you lack the courage to try or admit you’re trying the wrong things.
Of everything you do, is there one that’s created more opportunities/success for you? Are you not doing more of it? What’s the reason for that?
(This is the “more of” bridge from the 5 bridges of the last chapter)
- Recommended book: Resonate by Nancy Duarte (story-driven presentations)
If you don’t have optimal tools, change them if you can. None of us get EVERY resource to succeed. Do what you can with what you’ve got.
I was so hyperconcerned with my image in other people’s eyes that it caused me to be a person I didn’t like. Now…I’ll treat people with kindness and respect just because it’s the right thing to do, and not because I’m trying to get them to like me.
Chapter 6: The Hidden Forces of the Enemy
We all exist on many fields of play: home, sports, friends, career, hobby, health, etc. And in each one we have different roles with different requirements.
We’re showing up as different versions of ourselves all the time. This is natural, and it’s human.
You have an Enemy who is holding you back, through these forces:
- Not controlling your emotions
- Lacking self-confidence
- Worrying about other’s opinion of you
- Doubting your abilities
- Taking more risks in life
- Not being intentional
- Having a bad attitude, etc.
Most people don’t get results because they’re not intentional. The enemy uses worries and doubts to undermine confidence and prevent you from showing up as you can.
Alter egos is not about pretending you have skills you don’t have. It’s about bringing your A game.
There are 3 hidden forces that slow or stop you:
- Imposter syndrome
- Personal Trauma
Hidden Force 1: Imposter Syndrome
You don’t just judge yourself, you also worry about others judging you, creating a vicious cycle.
Your Enemy creates Imposter Syndrome and downplays your previous successes by creating a narrative that dismisses your accomplishment, attirubting it just to luck.
Hidden Force 2: Personal Trauma
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering. — Nietzsche
The author tells the story of soccer player Javier whose coach motivated players by yelling at them. But for Javier, who grew up with a screaming alcoholic father, the yelling triggered an emotional reaction of terror and caused him to make mistakes.
Alter egos can’t erase an emotional wound, but they can help you put down the weight for a bit so you don’t carry it everywhere you go.
To be clear, your personal history isn’t the Enemy. The Enemy only uses past traumas against you if it can. People have things happen to them all the time that they would never want, but they use them to fuel their success.
Hidden Force 3: Tribal Narratives
This force affects your thinking/behavior from the core drivers, the deeper, unconscious beliefs you’ve adopted.
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. It creates beliefs about who is worthy of achieving something, which you may have unwittingly adopted and now color the way you see the world and what’s possible.
This tribal narrative can be about your family “we’re not entrepreneurs” etc., your race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, gender, etc.
Almost all of us want approval from our peers, the people in our tribes.
Story: the author worked with an athlete named Rachel who consistently started tennis matches well, then ended up losing. He figured out the problem when he invited her to lunch and she refused to let him pay because “he paid last time.”
Turns out, Rachel valued FAIRNESS, but there’s a time and place for everything, and sports competitions are not a field of play where charitability/fairness is a good quality.
The author shifted her paradigm by telling her she needed to play her hardest in order not to give competitors the “unfair” idea that they are better than they are. By challenging them with all she had, she is giving them a gift.
The author didn’t try to talk her out of her values, but helped her understand it from another angle.
Fake it til you make it doesn’t work because it’s the wrong intention. But if you have a clear vision from a deep desire that really represents who you are, you can do it.
We get trapped by selecting the wrong traits to use at the wrong times. Like bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Becoming Your Own Coach
Coaches hold up mirrors to let their players see their behaviors and understand the driving force behind them.
Athletes can do that by reviewing game tape. You can do it too.
Chapter 7: Pulling the Enemy from the Shadows
We all talk to ourselves. But how constructive is the conversation?
A 1994 study, “Private Speech in Adolescents” shows how narrating the process of what you’re doing improves how you perform.
Many people have a circular bullying conversation with themselves, which just beats you up into more self-defeating chats.
Instead, understand that the negative talk comes from the Enemy, label it, and shove it to the sidelines.
Naming your Enemy creates a distinction that alllows your Heroic Self to talk back to the Enemy trying to entrap you.
The Problem With the Unseen and Unnamed
Not seeing the enemy makes your imagination run wild. That’s how Spielberg created fear in Jaws, by hiding the shark.
So, shine a light on your Enemy by giving it a name, form, shape, structure. Something you can battle against.
The power of giving a name/form: allows you to talk to the Enemy, kick it to the sidelines. Make it something you will love facing down and conquering, humiliating.
Some people build their alter ego first, then pick that alter ego’s natural enemy, someone they know their alter ego can easily defeat.
Chapter 8: The Power of Your Story
When you pay attention, you realize you’re a natural storytelling machine…Right now, whether you realize it or not, you’re living out a powerful story.
You tell stories to yourself, you listen to others’ stories, you absorb stories from the media
- See Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story: “We think in story”
We all react differntly to different words. Ex: one entrepreneur considered “introverted” people to be bad at networking. So she avoided it. But introversion doesn’t have to be a negative unless you make it so.
Here’s where alter egos come in. Instead of trying to take the long road of changing, just step into a non-shy alter ego.
People are more driven by gut feelings than thoughts. Unconscious ideas and emotions drive action.
Masters of emotion know the best way to sell is to tell a compelling story.
Chapter 9: Choosing Your Extraordinary World
The author talks about meeting a stranger once who asked him unusual questions:
- What do you feel called to do?
- What do you want to be proud you accomplished by the time you’re thirty?
- What’s the biggest action you could take in the next 2 weeks that will help you move toward that goal?
He also said things like:
- Whatever good things we build, end up building us.
- We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.
- If you’re not wililing to risk the unusual, you’ll have to settle for the ordinary.
The man was Jim Rohn.
Getting Out of the Ordinary and Into the Zone
Build an alter ego that will go on a quest to get what you want.
So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality…You can fail at what you don’t want so you might as welll take a chance on doing what you love. — Jim Carrey
Our imaginations short-circuit negative self-talk and taps into our creativity.
A l ot of people are challenged by the question “what do you want?” Many feel scared to admit what they want.
It’s easier to answer the opposite: “What DON’T you want?”
Whatever your target is, there’s more than one way to get there.
So we will now look at the “continue” “more of” and “start” bridges from a few chapters earlier.
To get clear about your goals, what would you like to:
- Continue experiencing, achieving, getting as a result?
- Experience more of, achieve more of?
- Start experiencing, getting?
Try to focus on things you can see, hear, taste, touch, smell.
If you look, there are already positives you can continue developing. Now you want to add to that. What do you want to
- Start doing, responding, choosing, behaving, saying, thinking, trying?
- Do, c hoose, behave, say, think, attempt more of?
- Continue doing, choosing, thinking, saying, behaving, attempting?
Ex: write more, ask for the sale more, reach out to people more, start cooking, launch more products, etc.
Winners become winners because they failed more than others.
So learn to love failing, because you know you’re taking action and improving.
What Does Your Extraordinary World Look Like?
Imagine the actions you’re taking in your “Extraordinary (ideal) World?” What are your traits, thoughts and feelings, possible outcomes/results?
Chapter 10: The Power of a Mission
Batman fought for justice after watching his parents’ murders. What are you fighting for?
Todd Herman once coached a hockey player by askinig him what he fights for. The man replied, “self respect,” to prove that someone from his “podunk” town could “make it.”
When Herman replied with “meh, I’ve heard that before,” the man cussed him out. Herman told him to notice his indignation, and said “you direct that ‘pissed-offness’ at yourself when you don’t show up.”
Admit what you want. Do you feel a strong emotional pull toward it? do you feel motivated to go on this quest? Does it mean something to you?
If not, you have a problem.
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. — Viktor Frankl
Comic book heroes always fight for something bigger than themselves, even those that start out selfish.
Studies show that the obsession with happiness makes people feel empty. People who only pursue personal pleasure lack meaning. People who have meaning are literally stronger (immune system gets stronger).
You can’t really take action for something you’re indignant about.
The Latin root of “motivation” is “motivus” = “moving cause.”
Mental strengths coaches can’t coach people on motivation. No one can create it for you. It’s the x-factor.
- See Jonah Leehrer’s How We Decide, which argues that rationality depends on emotion.
Wanted: Strong Emotion
There are mostly 4 core motivators:
Batman was motivated by trauma. So was Oprah (“you can’t discriminate against the best” — she as motivated in the face of discrimination)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is driven by Destiny, though at first reluctant. Many ambitious people also feel “chosen.”
Wonder Woman is driven by Altruism. Certain young athletes also strive to do their best to bring hope to their decaying hometowns.
Self-expression drives people who wonder what they can do, create, find. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Wayne Gretzky, etc.
These factors come from events, situations, experiences.
Core Drivers can be:
- identifiable group
You need a strong feeling, and you may not be able to articulate it. Even negative emotions can help build momentum early on. Just get on the field and get moving.
Ask “why do I want this?” “why do I want to make it?”
Purpose and emotion are entwined.
If you can’t figure out what your motivation is, use Sakichi Toyoda (Toyota’s founder)’s Fie Whys exercise. Just ask Why you want to do something until you get to the core. You’ll find it always leads to one of the core drivers.
The ones who keep going are the ones who know WHY they’re in this race in the first place.
A Psyschological Trick
The self-reflection paradox: asking “what do you want and why?” can tie people up in knots. So you have to self-distance by asking:
“Why does [Jane] want to [write novels?” or “What’s the purpose of [Todd’s] life?”
This creates an observer effect and helps you gain perspective.
This is what the alter ego does, actually, “What would [Mother Theresa] do?”
Time Makes “Why” Clear
Many don’t begin their journeys knowing the answer to their “why” they just had a little interest oor skill and as their passion grew, so did their clarity around “why.”
Sometimes the answer grows from the doing, not from the thinking or feeling.
Chapter 11: Defining Your Superpowers and Crafting the Name
Horses are some of the most emotionally mature animals in the world, which is why they’re often used in therapy. But this makes horse-related sports challenging.
When Herman worked with Lisa, who got nervous during precision dressage competitions with her horse, he asked her to think of someone who represented total calm, coolness, and she picked Wonder Woman.
When Herman worked with a hockey player, he thought of the Tasmanian Devil, but because the effect wasn’t consistent, he went through and built a composite alter ego, like the way Herman built a football alter ego out of several diferent Native American warriors.
So how do you create an alter ego?
Prompt 1: Start with the Superpowers
Look for adjectives to describe how your alter ego shows up during your specific moment of impact?
Flexible? Kind? Bright? Courageous? Easygoing? Lovable? etc. Answer this question: “I wish I was…”
Now what or who represents those adjectives?
A businesswoman named Julia struggled with negotiations because she was too much of a people-pleaser. She wanted to be like a lion, but she didn’t emotionally resonate with one. Instead, she chose a stag — quiet and gentle, yet strong.
You don’t need 18 superpowers for your alter ego. Herman’s alter ego Richard just had 3 — confidence, decisiveness, and being articulate.
If you struggle, think about the traits holding you back and go with their opposites.
Prompt 2: Choose Someone or Something You Admire
Another way is to start with someone or something you already admire and ask why. What traits do they have that you admire/appreciate?
Think of fictional heroes, historical figures, literary characters, celebrities, family members, people you know, animals, objects (race car, robots, gadgets, etc), athletes, etc.
One sales rep used a magnet as his alter ego to “attract the perfect clients and deals.”
Prompt 3: It’s Right in Front of You
Do you know someone who feels like a kindred spirit? Some people choose ancestors, or living relatives and teachers as their alter egos.
The best alter ego is one you have the deepest emotional connection with. If you’ve loved a character for a long time, admired a celebrity or relative, etc, go with them.
You can also creatively build an alter ego. Herman created an alter ego called “Geronimo” by mixing together Walter Payton, Ronnie Lott, and a tribe of Native American warriors.
Some other questions you can ask yourself:
- What qualities do you admire about others in your field of play?
- What qualities do exceptional people in your field of play have?
- If you were prolific at what you do, how would you think about yourself? What attitudes and beliefs would you have? How would you carry yourself physically?
- Oe year from today, your identity is totally altereed because of your alter ego, what would your most supportive friends say are the top 3 astounding things regarding your trnasformation?
- What traits, abilities, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors do you neeed to defeat your Enemy?
Try out some of these words: Adaptable, adventurous, affectionate, agreeable, ambitious, amusing, badass, brave, bright, broad-minded, calm, careful, charming, collected, communicative, compassionate, competitive, complete, confident, conscientious, considerate, consistent, cool, courageous, creative, deadly, decisive, determined, diligent, diplomatic, disciplined, discreet, easygoing, emotional, energetic, enthusiastic, extroverted, exuberant, fair, faithful, fearless, fierce, fiery, flexible, forceful, friendly, funny, generous, gentle, gifted, good, hardworking, helpful, honest, imaginative, impartial, indepenedent, intellectual, intelligent, kind, loved, loving, loyal, mighty, modest, mysterious, neat, nice, optimistic, organized, passionate, patient, persistent, pioneering, philosophical, placid, polite, practical, proactive, quick-witted, quiet, rational, reliable, reserved, resourceful, sensible, shadowy, sincere, sociable, spirited, strong, swift, thoughtful, tidy, tough, understanding, versatile, vicious, warmhearted, willing, witty.
Choose 5–10 traits and think how you’d demonstrate those qualities:
- What does that look like to others?
- How does that feel to you?
- What would you sound like to others?
- What attitudes do you have about yourself that would make you more powerful?
- Do you have an example of someon you already perceive as powerful? How do they act/think/speak?
Go through these questions as your alter ego. This can release a new level of creativity and imagination and possibility.
Naming Your Alter Ego
Your alter ego needs a name just like your enemy does. The alter ego name encompasses all the superpowers and gives your alter ego a real identity.
- Catracho Spearo: “Spearo” is the word for a spearfishing guide, and “Catracho” is the Honduran nickname for Hondurans. Ted the businessman who like spearfishing uses this alter ego name in business situations.
- Big Wave: This is the name business owner Alonto used to represent the Pacific Islands and the island explorer lifestyle and inspire him as a speaker. It’s modeled after the Moana character, Maui.
- Black Mamba: is the name Kobe Bryant chose thanks to Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill which used it as a code name for an assassin.
Names can have cultural meaninings, help you reach flow state, etc. They can evolve over time. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Just make sure you have an emotional connection to it.
- Combine names from different sources of inspiration like “Black Panter + Wonder Woman = Black Wonder”
- Give your alter ego a title like king, lord, commander, champion, etc.
- Use thesee frameworks: [Title] of the [Field of play] (Commander of the Court), [Name] [Title] of the [Field] (Joanna, Queen of the Boardroom), [Name] the [Characteristic (Tyler the Unstoppable)
- Create a secret identity fictional name like Beyonce’s Sasha Fierce (Michael Sharp, Witty Wynona, etc)
- Combine a character’s name with your name or profession (Editor Bond = Profession + James Bond, Incredible Baller = Incredible Hulk + Role)
Chapter 12: Breathing Life into Your Alter Ego
Young people often play make believe and let their imaginations run wild with ideas.
Here are some exercises to work through the alter ego effect model:
Layer 1: How you Show Up
What skills, knowledge, behaviors, actions, reactions do you want your alter ego to possess?
Herman had a client who wass running a big business but hesitant to learn finances. Instead of discussing why he disliked numbers, which Herman knew came from past bad experiences of being poor, they decided to create Financial Fridays, when they’d take care of all the financial needs using his alter ego who loved finances and details and numbers.
How do you want your alter to show up? Talk quietly and calmly with an air of authority? Exciting and lively and eager?
What are your alter’s behaviors? posture? facial expressions? physical mannerisms? Dress/clothing?
Layer 2: Who You Are
Attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, expectations
Start with “my alter ego believes…” and fill in the blank. Now, try “my alter ego knows…” (Ex: “my alter ego knows she’s a powerful presenter on stage.”
There’s a difference between knows and believes. Alter egos aren’t just about changing behavior, but thoughts. What does your alter ego believe about him/herself or the field of play they’re on/the world or his/her values?
More Exercises to Build Your Alter Ego
- Imagine watching your character grow up. What shaped them? What do they do differently than you? How do they look, speak, feel? What abilities do they have?
- Imagine creating your alter ego in a lab. What do you add or take away?
- Write out a convo between you and your alter ego, how does his/her mind work before a competitor, how does s/he think of competitors, what does s/he worry about, strive for. Observe the alter. How does s/he move, express him/herself?
Chapter 13: The Heroic Origin Story
Stories create emotional context.
Every hero has an origin story.
So what’s the driving force for your altere ego to stand against the enemy?
Find your alter ego through story. Have a deeply rooted story for why you chose or whom/what you choose helps you to activate ethe heroic self.
Is there a stsory you’re drawn to? Why?
You can try reading about successful people in your space. See if any resonate with you.
Often the simplest origin stories are the most powerful.
Some origin stories have more emotional resonance than others for some reason. Olympic athletes tend to connect to cultures and nationalities. National pride is a great motivator but it can also cause inward collapse from too much pressure.
How to Create Your Alter Ego’s Origin Story
Make sure you connect emotionally to your character’s origin story.
You can look to TV, p ersonal history, etc. Know your alter’s driving force.
If you’re inspired by an animal, look for cultural stories about an animal. Searrch documentaries, know its traits and representations. Read about what experts have said about it. Even children’s books are great sources.
Chapter 14: Activating Your Alter Ego with a Totem or Artifact
Winston Churchill was known to use hats to evoke different personalities.
Martin Luther King used glasses though he had perfect vision, because he felt it made him look more distinguished.
The Kellogg School of Management did a study where they found that the symbolic meaning of what you wear affects how you do on a test. They studied students who wore white coats of a doctor (not a painter).
Enclothed cognition: the phenomenon where the symbolic meaning and psychological experience of a clothing item makes you more like the thing it represents.
Having a symbol allows you to enclothe yourself in the traits rather than trying to think about what the traits are and how you are supposed to create them in yourself (too much brain work)
The Power of Symbols, Objects, and Environments
We live in a world filled with symbols, and the human mind has this fantastic capacity to create a sense of meaning from virtually anything.
We come from different backgrounds, so items mean different things to us. MLK thought glasses = confident, articulate, decisive, while Clark Kent’s glasses made him more mild mannered.
Smartphones represent relationships, work, memories, security.
It’s incredible how quickly we can change our concepts of what’s possible when we adopt a new identity
The Formula for a Powerful Totem
Totems call forth your alter ego.
Herman used glasses to evoke “smart people” and “superman” in school and with clients.
We need totems because we’re always moving through different roles and fields of play.
Herman worked with a colonel who had trouble connecting to his kids with his military persona. So he used a Mike Rowe alter ego (Dirty Jobs) by using a basebal cap as a totem.
Herman used the placebo effect to give people tic tacs with labels torn off. He told them to take these “alter ego x pills” and imagine they activate the heroic self.
The totem gives your alter ego a form/shape. Totems are things you can touch and feel. Your imagination is powerful but it’s not the same as experiencing it in the physical world.
Herman found that he started by using glasses and calling himself Richard, until over time he didn’t need the name or glasses to feel smart, respected, confident.
1970s’ Noel Burch created a model to explain the 4 stages of learning:
- unconsciously unskilled (ignorance, you don’t know what you don’t know)
- consciously unskilled (awareness, you know you don’t know some things)
- consciously skilled (change, you consciously decide to change)
- unconsciously skilled (transformation is complete, actions are automatic)
A totem can help you train your heroic self. Sometimes it’s a song, a ring, a twoel, a uniform.
The Three Types of Totems or Artifacts
Totem: something you use to represent/connect to your alter ego or field of play.
Artifact: same thing, but with historical significance.
They have to strongly associate with your alter ego, like doctor/stethoscope, Thor/hammer, etc. There are 3 kinds:
- Something you wear (uniform, helmet, hat, glasses, jewelry, wristband, socks, shirt, bandana, watch, pants, shoes)
- Something you carry (cup, notebook, ball, rock, feather, picture, card, pen, coin, towel)
- Something connected to the field of play (ball field, stage, writing chair)
Don’t make the totem into a Halloween costume or have more than one totem. Mandatory principles:
- It must symbolize something to you
- It must always be usable on your field of play (not too big, like a specific hometown rink)
- It must be easy to take off or put on or step on or off of quickly (when you first start using an alter ego, you will slip out sometimes, so you need a reset. Herman would take his glasses on and off)
Avoid these mistakes:
- Don’t use or carry around the totem all the time. Save it for a field of play or challenging moments of impact.
- Don’t give it away or lend it to anyone. Don’t tell people about it. Keep it private at first, it gives you confidence.
- Choose something you’ll enjoy wearing, carrying, using. It should have a positive association with it.
Honor your alter ego by not letting yourself get pushed around. Commit.
The Activation Event
The activation event is uniting your alter ego, totem, and field of play/moment of impact.
Imagine your alter ego living inside the totem. The moment you slip it on, it’s activated.
Anthony, who chose Black Panther as his alter ego, would activate it by wiping his face with a towel then springing from his chair like a panther. Others may put on their shoes and give one stomp, or tap their heels.
Keep the event simple and easy to remember. It must be a physical action though.
Your alter ego isn’t on 24/7 duty.
Chapter 15: Tests, Trials, and Delivering the Ground Punch
What happens if you doubt yourself or start retreating?
A ground punch is how you knock out doubt and fear when the Enemy pulls you off course. It’s your deep inner commitment to being the heroic self.
Ground Punch 1: The Curb Kick
This is kicking your Enemy to the curb. Whenever you feel yourself slipping, tell your Enemy to bug off. Do this intensely.
When you put names or personas to conversations in your head, you can create constructive conversations.
Ground Punch 2: Your Response Proclamation
If you start feeling like this is silly, or you can’t change, who do you think you are…that’s the Enemy.
Have a good response to “who do you thtink you are.”
“I’m the one who…[does some amazing thing] so get back to the sidelines where you belong!”
The proclamation highlights your grit, hustle, and achievements.
Remember the beginning of your career. Tell the story of your life, through wins and accomplishments. When you feel insecure, remind yourself of what you’ve done.
Or you can create your response from the perspective of your alter ego. Imagine embodying the history and traits of successful historical people.
Have fun and be lethal in your response.
Chapter 16: Mindsets, Missions, Quests, and Adventures
Story: According to Robert Stein, In 1955, Marilyn Monroe put on a coat, combed down heer hair, and walked through Grand Central Terminal without anyone noticing her.
As soon as she took off her coat, fluffed her hair, and struck a pose, thousands swarmed to her.
That’s sthe power of alter egos. You can use them to change your lifee, overcome challenges, chase down goals with more freedom.
Now you can do some quests/challenges to test out your alter ego:
- Go to a local coffee shop and drink a favorite drink as your alter ego. Start practicing. Or go on a walk.
- Sit comfortably and place an object like paper or a ball on the object. Set the timer for 3 minutes and visualize the number 1 on the object. As soon as you notice your mind drifting off, visualize the number 2, and so on. After three minutes, write down the number you end up with. Each time you do it, you want a lower number. Now do it again with your alter ego. The idea is to give your alter ego something to do under slight competition.
- Play a game with friends or family or a gaming device or puzzle and compete as your alter ego.
Remember, your enemy uses fear, others’ judgment, and pride to pull you away from your best.
When you slip, reset by putting down your totem and picking it back up.
Find a group of alllies to support you. When people do things together for positive reasons, they create an “upward spiral.”
When you use your alter ego, often a new tribe shows up.
Six Mindsets to Win
Embrace these principles:
- Bring it on! Embrace the challenge
- I’m ready for anything! Stay flexible/adaptable
- I’m a creative force! Embrace your imagination
- I love to play! Keep a playful attitude.
- I wonder what will happen? Appreciate discovery, curioisity, life like a lab
- I believe I can change! Personalities are malleable, as is the mind
Joseph Campbell came up with the Heroes’ Journey which influenced George Lucas to rewrite Star Wars. He was also featured ini a 1988 documentary called Powers of the Myth.
There’s a poinit in the hero’s journey where he has to “cross the threshold,” leave their ordinary world and start a new adventure. Like when Luke Skywalker leaves home to go with Obi Wan Kenobi or Frodo leaves the Shire to destroy the ring.
Herman waited 15 years to write the book to give stories from clients, research, science, and history.
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