Change Your Thinking to Perform Like Your Idols: a Proven Method

Steps to assimilate deep insights from people who are the best in their game

Alexander M. Combstrong
Oct 2 · 9 min read
A cat looking into a mirror and seeing itself as a lion.
A cat looking into a mirror and seeing itself as a lion.
Image credit: Bohdan Skrypnyk.

When I was a songwriter and musician, I tried a psychological modelling technique to learn how to write music like one of my favourite songwriters.

The result?

I wrote a better song than I’d ever written before. The song went on to reach the indie charts in Australia, which was one of the most satisfying and random success stories of my life so far, especially as I live in the U.K.

This worked not because I’d become a better songwriter suddenly, but because the musician I was psychologically modelling was a far better songwriter than me, and I was, in that moment, writing in some kind of way like him.

This isn’t just a mimicking thing. It’s deeper than that. It’s learning deep insights from the people who are the best in their game and assimilating them into our own thinking.

The method comes in part from the NLP world, and it’s loosely based on a visualisation method used in hypnotherapy.

When I later started acting and eventually teaching acting for film, I noticed parallels between some acting methods — where you’re basically being another person — and this modelling method, where you’re learning from and through other people.

Having put the best bits of the two together, I now have a hybrid technique that can up your game in almost anything, as long as you have a specific role model in mind and know enough about that person.

It doesn’t have to be music. It can be writing, acting, sport, or anything else.

Once, when fighting social anxiety, I used it using a charismatic extrovert I knew well who would always have amazing fun and easy conversations with anyone he met. Whilst I don’t believe it was part of my final anxiety cure, I learned a lot about how to be better socially and retain those lessons to this day.

It really can be used for improvement in thinking in almost any way. You just need to apply this with someone who excels in any field you’re looking to improve in.

This is the tried and tested method I use now, in two easy parts.

1. Psychological Modelling

Here’s how to take your role model and gain insights from them in a much deeper way than you ever could just through logical study.

Choosing a role model

To do this, you’ll need a specific role model. Not a list or a group, but a specific person.

Here are the criteria they must fit:

  • You must know as much about them as possible. Study them, read them, watch interviews and documentaries. Read biographies, autobiographies, and obituaries. Realistically, if they’re a true role model or idol of yours, you’ll have done this already.
  • Ideally, you’ll know what they look like.
  • They must in some way fit what you’re trying to achieve either in attitude, ability, or style.
  • You have to be interested in what they do, otherwise, you won’t properly commit. Don’t just choose Elon Musk because he’s fashionable if you’re not interested in what he does.
  • It’s not essential, but if the person is often thought of as a genius, that’s a good sign. The more advanced their thinking is, the more it will help you.

Choose the person wisely, but it doesn’t have to be a famous person. It could be Bill Gates or Serena Williams, or it could be a blogger or your uncle or friend, as long as they fit the above.

You’ll get a good feeling when you find the right person. That’s the nod from your subconscious that you’ve found your role model.

What the technique does is creates a simplified model of someone else’s experience of the world and how they do things. As they’re excellent at what they do, we can apply this simplified model of their experience to our own thinking to start to somehow resemble their excellence.

Obviously, by doing this technique you’re not going to become instantly as good as your genius role model. It’s a simplified version and there are many other factors at play. But if you can move substantially in that direction, your work will be far better for it.

Think of it as downloading enough information from a genius that your work will become instantly and noticeably better, like my song that reached Australia.

The imagination modelling method

Here’s what to do with your chosen role model.

1. Choose your model. See above. Just make sure they’re a top performer who produces consistent results in whatever you’re looking to do.

2. ‘Inhabit’ your model. Lie or sit down with your eyes closed. Relax. Take three deep breaths. Let go of tension. Slow down, you can’t rush it. Take three more deep breaths. When you’re happily relaxed, it’s time to start.

Imagine yourself sitting opposite your role model. Look at them. See what they look like sitting right there in front of you. Study them. See their energy and body language and expressions. Take your time.

After a while, imagine yourself floating up above your own body so you can see both of you below you, float up above the head of your model, and gently land down inside them, inhabiting their body and brain so you can see the world through their eyes. Wear them like they’re a new suit if you like.

3. Learn from the model. See what it’s like to be them. How do things feel? How do things look? How would they approach their job? What does it feel like to be so good at it? What do they do that’s different from you or unexpected?

Ask as many questions as you like. Stay as long as you like. Learn as much as you can.

Open your eyes and walk, as them, to your workstation, whether that’s a computer or piano or easel.

Still in their mindset, do some work for a few minutes. Then lie back down and close your eyes.

Ask some questions again. What did you learn? What was particularly useful?

4. Return to yourself. You can then imagine floating up and out of their body and back into your own. Open your eyes and consider what you’ve learned.

Hopefully, by now, you’ll have learned something valuable.

The psychological modelling technique ends there, and you can learn a lot by doing just this. But I like to take it further and apply some techniques I’ve learned from acting.

So, consider the above stage 1. You can repeat it a couple of times if you like.

Then move to stage 2, which is where a lot more of the learning will happen.

As stage 2 comes from acting techniques, it can get a little crazy if you’re used to sitting at a desk or sticking to the same routine. But give it a go. You’ll likely find it as fascinating, fun, and helpful in moving toward your goal of thinking and producing work like your idols.

The people who think it’s weird and uncomfortable won’t try it and get left behind. As they say, the magic starts where your comfort zone ends.

2. Whose Shoes?

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes needn’t just be a metaphor.

In preparing for a role as an actor, costume shoes can be really useful to get a feel for a character, feeling how they move and how those movements affect their general ways, mannerisms, energy, and even voice. Sometimes it helps to flip quickly into character when walking onto a film set.

Three pairs of used shoes in different sizes and styles sit on a matt.
Three pairs of used shoes in different sizes and styles sit on a matt.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

So you’ll need some shoes that belong to your role model.

Obviously, that’s not possible. Instead, go to a secondhand shop or charity shop/thrift store and look for a pair of shoes that you believe would be worn by your role model. Ideally, they’ll be a size too small or a size or two too big so they feel less like your own shoes, but if they’re in your size and otherwise perfect, that works too.

After all, you can never know anyone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, so the old saying goes.

But don’t walk a mile in them. Don’t even walk home in them. Just carry them home.

Take your brain for a walk

The next stage is to repeat stage 1, but after inhabiting your role model spend some time pacing up and down in your socks, moving like and as your role model. You’ll have studied their movements both in video and your visualisations.

Then, after a few minutes and when you’re ready, put on their shoes, and continue to pace. Let the shoes dictate your walk a bit. And then start thinking about your work while pacing in their shoes. When you’re ready, sit at your desk or computer or grab your guitar or paintbrush.

Let your role model’s thought patterns and feelings guide you. Let it somehow flow through and control you. Then see what comes out of you, your role model, or a combination.

The psychology and science of this can get dangerously close to confusion with superstition here, so I’ll clarify.

If you’re a highly suggestible type, this could potentially feel like a mystical experience, especially if your role model is dead. Rosemary Brown, the hugely talented pianist with limited training who claimed to be channelling dead composers including Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, was probably using the same psychology — just with a more direct route that she accidentally perfected without realising.

She truly believed she was being guided by dead geniuses, and she produced some incredible work that stunned everyone. She wasn’t even much of a pianist otherwise, by all accounts. But realistically, that wasn’t really happening.

Rosemary Brown’s unexpected leaps in piano compositions are far more likely to be proof that this kind of psychology works than proof of the supernatural.

Although psychic channelling of others is of course a myth, it doesn’t stop us from using the psychology behind it in useful ways for ourselves. Essentially, you’re sidestepping your own ingrained neural pathway patterns and using new ones that give you a fresh approach and perspective based on the work and behaviour of the best in the world.

Keep using these new pathways and they’ll become part of your new skillset you can call upon easily. They’ll be part of your own abilities. This is the beauty of neuroplasticity — the ability we have to change our thinking style by forming and reinforcing new neural pathways. Rewiring, if you like.

When you’ve done this for a while, you’ll find yourself able to incorporate those new styles of thinking into your work without thinking about it. You’ll have moved your abilities closer to that of your role models and be creating better work as a result.

After my song success in Australia, I tried it again with another songwriter I loved. The song wasn’t successful but it remains a favourite of mine. Now, when I hear it back years later, it doesn’t sound like anything I was capable of. Thank you, talented dead role model.

One final example. After months without practice, I ended up playing in a club league cricket match. Out of practice and unfit, I knew I’d perform poorly.

So, as I walked out to bat, I performed a mini version of the modelling exercise with an England international player at the time with a similar style to me, and I went out to bat as him. I scored the second-highest score of my life. Having used the technique enough times previously, I was able to truncate it and use it on the spot.

You really can use this in so many ways. I’ve used examples in songwriting, social skills, and sport. You will find ways that are appropriate to you as long as you have the right role model.

You won’t even have to keep buying shoes. After a few goes, you won’t need them anymore. You’ll understand and have a feel for the method without. Think of them as training shoes. They’re very useful at the start but you don’t need a new pair every time you want help from a role model or idol.

Enjoy learning new things from the best. Enjoy playing in new shoes. And enjoy using the skills that you never knew you had.

Try something new. That’s how your ways of thinking will also be new. Or at least, new to you.

So whether you want to write music like Burt Bacharach or move like Bruno Mars, or whether you want to work a stage like Beyoncé or give a speech like Barack Obama, or if you just want to gain insight into quiet meditation from the Buddha, it may just be that your first useful stop is an internet search to find a full-length image — and find out what kind of shoes they wear.

Although thinking about it, I’m not sure the Buddha wore shoes.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Alexander M. Combstrong

Written by

Pen name of actor, screenwriter and film producer. Breakthrough therapy advocate. Forge, Better Humans, PS I Love You, The Ascent, Writing Cooperative.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Alexander M. Combstrong

Written by

Pen name of actor, screenwriter and film producer. Breakthrough therapy advocate. Forge, Better Humans, PS I Love You, The Ascent, Writing Cooperative.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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