The Key to a Powerful Personality: Have an Alter Ego

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Alter Ego Effect" by Todd Herman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How does an alter ego help you become more powerful? How can you stop people from walking all over you?

A strong personality doesn’t necessarily mean you’re intimidating. It just means that you understand your worth, and having an alter ego can help you feel more confident.

Keep reading to discover how an alter ego will give you a powerful personality.

How to Have a Powerful Personality

To unleash your powerful personality, you need to have a simple, repeatable action that officially signals the assumption of your alternate identity. Todd Herman explains this in more detail in his book The Alter Ego Effect.

You’re best served by finding an action that, for you, “releases” your alter ego, proposes Herman. This might be donning the object if it’s wearable, touching or opening the object, or a more elaborate action. 

(Shortform note: The idea of using an object to release your alter ego may feel somewhat silly. However, others agree with Herman that engaging in such imaginative exercises can help you achieve goals. In Girl, Wash Your Face, Rachel Hollis contends that you can use fantasies to power yourself through tough situations, like difficult meetings and dull classes, to attain your aim.)

Give Your Alter Ego a Hidden Weapon

Let’s discuss what to do when even your powerful personality faces unforeseen challenges: Give your alter ego a hidden weapon. According to Herman, your inner nemesis may even attack your alter ego, leading to doubt and the resurfacing of negative self-created stories. For example, if, when you’re giving a speech, your audience protests what you’re saying, even your alter ego Michelle Obama might allow the inner nemesis to sow seeds of doubt in her abilities. 

(Shortform note: Herman advises you to give your alter ego a hidden weapon to counter doubts and negative self-created stories. An alternative to this “spot treatment” approach is to cultivate general emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to be in tune with your emotions and control them. If you’re generally able to regulate your emotional response to difficulty and avoid downward emotional spirals, you might never need to rely on a hidden weapon to tune out negative self-created stories and self-doubts.)

When this happens, use your hidden weapon: Reaffirm your alter ego’s strengths, values, and abilities, insists Herman. Do this as yourself or as your alter ego, either by either:

  1. Talking back to your inner nemesis, which allows you to dismiss the critical self-talk and return to the activity
  2. By saying a self-affirming phrase that reinforces that you deserve to be doing what you’re doing. 

In the case of your speech, you might tell your inner nemesis: “You don’t get to tell me I’m not good at this. Go bother someone else (talking back). I’m a competent orator, and I can hold an audience’s attention (self-affirming phrase).”

(Shortform note: Herman proposes you battle your inner nemesis by talking back to them or saying a positive affirmation. It may be equally important to later celebrate your victory over your inner nemesis by saying another positive affirmation. In Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg contends that celebrating personal successes is critical because it lets you feel good about yourself, thereby creating emotional resilience and making it easier to achieve success the next time. Celebrating the defeat of your inner nemesis could make it easier to defeat it again in the future.)

Practice Using Your Alter Ego

Now, put all the pieces of alter-ego creation together and practice using this powerful personality in low-stakes situations, recommends Herman. Do this in familiar public settings, when meditating, or when playing a game.

(Shortform note: Herman recommends you practice applying your alter ego in low-stakes situations. Indeed, practicing a new skill or communication technique in a controlled setting is commonly done in the business world. This increases the chances of having a successful interaction with a client. You might even adopt an aspect of business role-playing and ask a friend to help you simulate the specific high-stakes situation you plan to use your alter ego in. For instance, if you’re going to use your alter ego during an important negotiation, ask your friend to play the other party.)

No matter what you do, consider how your alter ego would behave, respond, and think. For instance, if your alter ego is Eleanor Roosevelt, you might behave with greater equanimity than you would as yourself.  

Experience the Merging of You With Your Alter Ego

The final, bonus step of bringing out your alter ego is to notice and appreciate when you and your alter ego merge, writes Herman. Once you’ve been using your alter ego for a while, you adopt their traits and qualities and no longer need to intentionally activate your alter ego using your trigger object. This will create a powerful personality you can always use.

The Key to a Powerful Personality: Have an Alter Ego

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Alter Ego Effect summary:

  • What an alter ego is and why you should use one
  • The steps of building, shaping, and unleashing your alter ego
  • Why your alter ego is still authentically you

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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