Research has confirmed that Bruce Wayne was right all along. An alter-ego can be a useful tool in achieving your goals. Let’s just hope those goals aren’t crime fighting in a leather bat suit. Academic researchers from the University of Michigan have been putting this theory to the test and have had some impressive results. Whether your goals are professional, personal, or social, an alter-ego should help you as well.
On the surface this revelation may not be too surprising. Our culture is littered with alter-ego’s being a tool for success. Performers like David Bowie, Donald Glover, and Beyonce adopted Ziggy Stardust, Childish Gambino, and Sacha Fierce to transform their stage presence. In the movies, method actors are notorious for transforming their identity into whichever role they are portraying. Even colloquial phrases like, “dress for the job you want” reflect this well known psychological tool.
The research began by studying the theory of self-distancing, defined as a mechanism which allows people to “take a step back” from their experience so that they could process it more effectively. More specifically, subjects were assigned tasks such as puzzles, public speaking, and exams and told to review them either in the first person or different forms of third person viewpoint. Those who were self-immersed “I feel” reported greater anxiety than those practicing forms of self-distancing, “Caleb felt.” Self-distancing has been known to help reduce anxiety in subjects.
Self-distancing can also be helpful from a personal health stand-point. In beating food cravings or sticking to a health schedule, a simple change of perspective can go a long way. I may not want to go to the gym today, but Caleb should go to the gym today. This led the Michigan team to then think in terms of practical uses of self-distancing. Would an alter-ego be a solution to solve a litany of psychological issues?
Working with elementary age children they pushed their studies. Assigning tasks to children ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. The children were assigned to one of four manipulations of distance from the self: self-immersed, control, third person, and exemplar. Self-immersed being encouraged to think of the self. Third person practicing the self-distance as explained earlier. And the Exemplar in some cases actually being Batman. To no surprise, Batman came out on top.
It is quite possible you are already practicing some form of self-distancing today without realizing it. For example, many introverts probably feel they are acting while attending social engagements. A quick step towards building an alter-ego is adopting a totem. Whenever you possess this totem, be it a piece of clothing, jewelry, or other item, you will know that you are your alter-ego. Steve Jobs had the black turtle neck, maybe yours will be a pair of shoes that gives you confidence.
Fair warning, an alter-ego is not always a positive trait. Politicians, teenagers, and Harvey Dent are notorious for being two-faced; acting one way to a certain group and reversing course whenever it can benefit them. You certainly wouldn’t want to turn into a villain. Similarly, you would always want to be in control of your alter-ego. Bruce Wayne eventually succumbs to The Batman and the billionaire playboy is actually the alter-ego of the vigilante. Let this be a tool for you to take that next step you can’t seem to get to, but don’t let it take over your life.
I just summarized three separate academic studies in 3 paragraphs. There was much more detail that was fascinating and I encourage you to read these studies linked at the bottom of this article. The idea of an alter-ego as a psychological tool is still in the early stages of study, but self-distancing isn’t. Reading a bit more on how to get the benefits may do wonders in helping you overcome anxiety or to help you stick to a life-style change.