We all have greatness inside us—we just need to find it and give it life.
Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect, tells us exactly how to do that. As a high-performance coach to ambitious entrepreneurs, athletes, and leaders, Herman for two decades has been helping clients tap their inner greatness. His advice for those who feel “blocked” in some way is to find an alter ego that represents their “best self.” We can find alter egos in mythology, movies, TV, family members, or the workplace.
In a recent interview with Herman, I learned about five steps–marked by five questions—that will enable you to “uncap your best self.”
What frustrates me?
Herman explains that the starting point is “to decide which area of your life is frustrating you the most. Your home life? Your work life?” And “getting that fixed will have a domino effect—that confidence will work for you in other areas.” “Often some kind of emotional resistance gets in our way,” says Herman. “Fear of failure, feelings of not having the skills you need, nervousness, stage fright, insecurity. But what you want to do is get out there and say, ‘I’m going to own it.'” You’re going to move beyond the things that block you.
How would you like to come across?
For Herman the second step is asking yourself, “What would I like to show up as?” It’s at this stage according to Herman that “you figure out what about the situation is frustrating you. Is it that you are not confident in that situation? Is it that you’re not volunteering for more difficult projects? Is it that you are not applying for more senior or fulfilling roles?”
In asking these question, you can begin to see how you would like to come across in that situation. Or as Herman puts it, “If you could bring your absolute best self to that situation, what would that look like?” Suppose you’re a client rep in an advertising firm, and you feel your boss doesn’t respect you. You’re thinking of changing jobs, but before you do, you want to see if you can be your best self in this role. Herman says “Ask yourself, ‘Do I have the confidence to ask my boss for an honest conversation about that?’ Perhaps not.” So find an alter ego that can help you unleash that peak performance.
Who inspires you in that situation?
The third step is finding that alter ego who according to Herman “inspires you to show up as they do.” Herman told me about “a wealth manager on Wall Street. He was very successful financially. But he wanted to be more successful with people. So he asked for my help. Turns out his grandmother was his inspiration. He admired his grandmother, who was the one he needed to channel if he wanted to get along with his leaders. She handled everyone with kid gloves, and he needed to do that rather than boss people around.”
Interestingly, Herman says “grandmothers are by far the most used alter egos. Why? You can have an emotional connection with them.”
I told Herman that I was beginning to understand why, as a teenager, I would often ask myself, “What would Joyce [my older sister] do in this situation? She was sophisticated, smart, and savvy with boys. She was my alter ego! And I learned a lot by watching and channeling her.
Once you identify someone who models the behavior you would like to have in that tough situation you’ve identified, they become your alter ego and you can look to them for strength. “I have seen people completely transform themselves,” Herman told me, “in a moment when they truly get engaged with a second self.”
What totem, artifact, or talisman can you use?
The fourth step in finding your best self is to have something that conjures up your alter ego. “The most powerful totem,” according to Herman, “would be something that you can put on and wear—glasses, or a ring, or a necklace. Or you could have something on you or with you—for example, a stone in your pocket.” Herman advises “finding a totem or artifact which can be used to activate those character traits you want.”
Pictures can play this role. The executive who was channeling his grandmother, according to Herman, “had a picture of his grandmother on his desk and whenever he wanted to model her, he would look at her face on his desk. You have to be really intentional. The grandmother became the person he wanted to emulate when it came to dealing with and motivating people.”
Herman also describes someone who “channeled Oprah” by buying a pair of her shoes at a charity event. Wearing those shoes, she became more confident, and eventually didn’t even need those shoes to feel that confidence. This is a true story.
How can we honor the person who is really inside us?
The final step, Herman explains, “Is to act with real intention to honor the person or being who is really inside you.” At this point in this transformational process you become the person who is your “second self” or alter ego by expressing those qualities they represent–and in so doing realize those qualities that are in you. And here is the beauty of this approach: your second self is not just a person or entity outside you; it is someone who lies within you. And that’s why finding your alter ego is, according to Herman, “a self-development strategy. With an alter ego you have someone else who can help you navigate the struggles that life presents, and do it with more grace and more grit. And the higher and better quality of people you’re around will give you access to a better life.”