Podcast

Episode 66 – Todd Herman, author of The Alter Ego Effect

Remember when you were little and you played “pretend” for hours on end? Except for you, it wasn’t pretending. You really were someone else and you could fly, dance, tumble, and sing just like that person. Well Todd Herman is trying to harness that childlike imagination to help us adults release the power inside of us. Today, Jessica and Todd get deep into what it means to have an alter ego and why it’s so important to literally put on the cloak of our idealized self.

toddherman

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey, everyone. It’s Jessica Honegger, your host for the Going Scared podcast and founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. This podcast covers all things social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. Before I tell you about today’s guest in our conversation, I wanted to read a review by one of you. NJC says, "Excellent listen. Jessica inspires us to not only be brave and break out of our comfort zones, but just do it scared. She interviews guests with inspiring passion and highlights her mission of giving back, whether sharing lessons learned or her dream to inspire world changers with Noonday Collection. Love her transparency and authenticity."

Thanks so much, NJC, and thank you guys just for tuning into the show, for sharing the show. We’re at 890 ratings on iTunes, and I would love to get to 1,000 by the end of July. So, if you could hop on over, you just dot, dot, dot, press, press, press, tap, tap, tap. Give it some stars, and I know that we can get there. It sounds so minor and you’re like, "Why do I need to do that?" But honestly when you give the show ratings, it helps more people discover the show and the kind of conversations like we have today with my new friend, Todd Herman.

Todd is an author, a performance advisor, and an entrepreneur. He recently wrote the book called The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform your Life. I have to admit, I was a little bit skeptical going into the interview because he proposes this whole idea that we can create an alter ego, and that alter ego can help us become more confident. It can help us be who we want to be. And I thought, "How can we have an alter ego and also still be authentic?" Did you know that Martin Luther King’s glasses were actually fake? Martin Luther King actually put on his glasses to be this distinguished Martin Luther King in order to access this alter ego, this guy who could get up in front of thousands and share an inspiring speech that would rally everyone around him.

So, Todd made me a believer by the end, and I am really curious what you’re going to think about this episode and this conversation. In fact, maybe we should have him back. You guys let me know. Hope on over to Instagram after you’ve listened, and I really wanna know what you learned and what you think. I am currently still working on my alter ego, but I have to admit, since I’ve done things since this interview that typically scare me or where I typically felt like a fraud, I can still feel like a fraud when I am a keynote speaker. Instead of telling myself the usual stories, like, "You’re not really a keynoter, you’re just a CEO who gives keynotes," and like, “it’s OK, and dah, dah, dah, dah.” Instead, I put on my Martin Luther King glasses and I created my alter ego, and it really did help with my confidence. So, I’m just curious, I’m curious what you’re gonna learn and what you’re gonna find out from this interview

OK. So, because last night, I took my daughter to see the musical "Cats." I love "Cats." Do you like "Cats"? Do you like seeing Broadway shows?

Todd: Love seeing Broadway shows, and I actually like the animal cats as well.

Jessica: Well, that’s being authentic because sometimes cat lovers have very bad reputation. It’s so crazy. So, I took my daughter to see "Cats" last night and "Cats" was like my musical. That was like the soundtrack of my youth, and I loved Broadway shows. I used to wanna be an actress in middle school. That was my diehard passion. Ironically, I’m going to go see "Hamilton” tonight. I’m like, I haven’t seen a Broadway show in years. Suddenly, this is my week.

Todd: Wait. Where are you located, Jess?

Jessica: I’m in Austin.

Todd: Oh, OK. Well, I’m in New York City, so when you’re bringing up all these Broadway shows, I’m like, "Wait a second." I didn’t think that you were in New York area and I didn’t think that Texans were allowed to go to theater. So, this is just blowing my mind. I lived in Texas for a bit before when I first moved from Canada. I’ve lived in Texas before I moved out to New York City here.

Jessica: OK, we are cultured here and, yeah, I saw that…

Todd: Very well cultured.

Jessica: OK. OK. So, I’m at "Cats" and I just was having all of these like sentimental feelings about how much I used to wanna be an actress. And then I even started thinking, I mean, now I’m the CEO of this fast-growing company, so I’m like not gonna be an actress anymore. But then I started thinking maybe I should just give community theater a try. And then I’m like, "Wait a minute. What is it that’s making me wanna just get on stage and just get lost in being someone else?" And here you just wrote a book called The Alter Ego Effect. So, this is where we’re gonna be talking about this today, but I wanted to set this up for my listeners because I talk a ton about authenticity, about vulnerability. I mean I have whole chapters about it in my book. And as I was prepping to interview you, I’m thinking, "OK, how am I going to hold this tension…"

Todd: Reconcile?

Jessica: Yes, of authenticity and alter ego. So that’s what I wanted to set up. So, we have got Todd Herman on our show today, you guys. And Todd, I’ve already told them all about you, who you are, all of your accomplishments. But I’m just so curious. You are a performance advisor. How do you become a performance advisor and what does that mean?

 

From Trauma to Creative Imagination

Todd: I have no idea. Well, I can tell you that I am a what would be in the very beginning an accidental coach. I didn’t start out by having a very, very clear path of the direction that I wanted to take and the career that I wanted to have by any stretch of the imagination. I was a college athlete, I was a nationally ranked … so I had college football scholarships, and I was a nationally ranked badminton player as well. So that was my kind of individual sport that I could develop my mental toughness in. But I’m not a physically gifted person, but I was always really strong with my mental game. Maybe some of it was because I was the third boy, and I always had to compete against two older brothers, and they wouldn’t give me any sort of edge whatsoever. So, I also had a battle for all my stuff.

But when I got done playing, and I was now volunteering at a high school, working with the defensive backs on a football team, I would spend way more time with them talking to them about, "Listen, like, you don’t need to do anymore cone drills or sprints or whatever. Your issue, when it comes to your performance, is that you don’t have good preparation, you don’t have good routine, you don’t set some good goals for yourself. You’re not actually seeing how much you’re progressing." And that was always a strength of mine. And I was consumed with this world of the mental game. And I came by it very honestly. And it was because when I was young … so I grew up on a big farm and ranch in western Canada, amazing family, amazing parents and siblings.

Jessica: Basically Heartland. You grew up in Heartland.

Todd: I did, yeah. I mean we’re farmers and ranchers and big Rodeo family kind of thing. And when I went away to a church camp when I was 12, 2 men singled me out, and over the course of 2 days I was sexually assaulted and raped. And obviously as a young kid that is going to have just a tremendous impact on you and created a lot of trauma and PTSD that I carried with me a lot of my life. And so, actually, right after … on the ride home, I was terrified that my family was gonna find out about it and you just riddled with so much shame and guilt that when I got out of the back of the Buick LeSabre car from the 1980s, and I dropped off my little duffel bag out the front door and I walked into the backyard where we had just put in a new pool and tried to try to drown myself because I didn’t want anyone to find out about it.

And, that sort of was a recurring theme of my life for a while was battles with suicide attempts and keeping it hidden. No one knew and no one did know for 30 years. I didn’t even tell anyone about it. I didn’t tell anyone about it until a year and a half ago when I finally told my wife. And so that then led through the whole process of treatment, and I share all this now because it doesn’t rule me in and hold me like it did in the past. But the reason I say all that was I ended up getting into and trying to master my mental game out of survival more than anything else. So, I was trying to find any strategy and any tool that I possibly could. I was researching the brain even at a young age, and personal leadership stuff, just trying to see if I could get anything, and it was.

“I ended up getting into and trying to master my mental game out of survival more than anything else. So, I was trying to find any strategy and any tool that I possibly could.” Todd Herman

The pursuit was a pain pursuit from pain. Not necessarily that I was trying to gain skills, but I was just trying to get through my day a lot of times. But, like many things in life, sometimes those tremendous hurts that you have end up becoming powerful superpowers that you are then gifted with. And so that’s what happened with myself because I ended up staying so rooted and close to my creative imagination, where, because the reality that I was associating myself with was so painful, I would escape into a bit of a fantasy world like kids do, right? And because I know you’ve got a lot of women and then moms, and family is a big part of the culture that you have. The great thing about young children is from the ages of one to six, that age group specifically is operating almost purely inside of what’s called the theta brainwave state.

“Sometimes those tremendous hurts that you have end up becoming powerful superpowers that you are then gifted with. And so that’s what happened with myself because I ended up staying so rooted and close to my creative imagination, where, because the reality that I was associating myself with was so painful, I would escape into a bit of a fantasy world like kids do.” Todd Herman

Theta brainwave state is the creative imagination. It’s where the zone and flow state is. Anyone who’s ever experienced that time where all space and time stands still and you’re just absorbed in whatever the activity is and some sort of peak performance comes out of you just because you’re unfettered and you’re untethered from the strings of resistance because you’re not worried about what other people are thinking of you. You’re not worrying about the outcome even. You’re just caught in the process. That’s what children are doing. And that’s the creative imagination. That’s actually what we’re gifted with. That’s truly our superpowers as human beings, is our creative imagination. Because it’s the only thing that makes us unique on the planet. Love: obviously powerful. Caring for others: obviously powerful. Gratitude: obviously powerful. They’re not unique to us. Other animals have shown caring and affection and love and all that. So that’s not unique. But our superpower truly is that creative imagination.

“Truly our superpowers as human beings, is our creative imagination. Because it’s the only thing that makes us unique on the planet.” Todd Herman

So, I say all this because I ended up staying rooted in that playful spirit sometimes. And I ended up creating that great alter ego that helped me perform on the football field. So maybe I was six feet tall, but I was very skinny. But I didn’t go on the football field as a skinny kid. I went out there with this alter ego that I built out, which was a composite of my heroes. And I showed up as them, they came with me on that field. And it was a powerful way for me to suspend the disbelief of what I thought I could or couldn’t do, right? Because we all do this, that we all have some sort of hangups about the narrative of ourselves and everything, and that can be the power of us, where we create, I haven’t from hell, but that can also maybe a hell from heaven for many people where they don’t bet on themselves in some ways.

 

Reconciling an Alter Ego with Authenticity and Vulnerability

And an alter ego has been a powerful tool to help people find themselves to see just what they could do. Because the great thing about this, Jessica, and I’ve converted every single podcast listener I’ve ever talked to about this, where they think that this is maybe somehow being inauthentic. And then at the end of it they’re like, "Oh my, this is actually the most real me that there is because…"

Jessica: Well, I love how you talk about Superman and Clark Kent, and how we often say like Superman is the alter ego, but actually you’re like, “No, it’s Clark Kent.”

Todd: It’s Clark Kent.

Jessica: It’s Clark Kent, yeah.

Todd: Because people automatically think, well, they associate with an alter ego is like the better version possibly. And so, they go, Clark Kent, Superman, Superman is the alter ego. No, no, no, no, no. Superman is the real individual.

Todd: It’s like that’s us.

Jessica: Yeah. That was a powerful reframe for me.

Todd: Yeah. And yet Superman puts on the glasses to become the mild-mannered version, so he’s accepted and can walk around in society without being bothered or being asked to be the superhero kind of thing. And so, my contention, and again, I’ve worked with pro and Olympic athletes, hundreds and thousands. I’ve worked with public leaders all around, they were public figures, entertainers, entrepreneurs, moms, whoever. I’ve done this for 22 years. I’ve got over 16,000 hours, Jessica, working with people one on one, coming up on 17,000 hours. And that’s really important for the listener to understand because I’m not hiding in groups. I’m not hiding where I’m standing in front of a stage, in front of many, many people. I’m truly face to face, toes to toes, nose to nose with the reality of what people are going through very personally. And in groups, sometimes, people have a tough time truly sharing and being vulnerable.

So, I know how important vulnerability is to the work that you do. And Brené Brown has done phenomenal work around vulnerability. But where I will always push back with people on is the idea of authenticity. I think it is a trap. I think it is a paradigm that traps people. And this is the context of it, Jessica. A lot of people refer to the authentic self. There is no such thing as the authentic self because there is no self. And here’s how we all know that it’s true. We have one body, but we have many selves that we show up in the world as. You have many, many different identities that you have. There’s the mom or the dad, there’s the leader in your business. There’s the presenter on the podcast, there’s the presenter on the stage, and they’re all different slight variations. There’s the you that hangs out with your friends, that laughs and talks about completely stupid stuff, right, where we feel like those people know us the best, right?

“I will always push back with people on is the idea of authenticity. I think it is a trap. …There is no such thing as the authentic self because there is no self. And here’s how we all know that it’s true. … You have many, many different identities that you have. There’s the mom or the dad, there’s the leader in your business. There’s the presenter on the podcast, there’s the presenter on the stage, and they’re all different slight variations.” Todd Herman

So, we have many selves. And in fact, the psychology world has just now come around to this in the last decade. And for the longest time they had trotted out the idea of the single self theory, where every human being that operated as a single identity or single self were the healthiest mentally. Now me, as a practitioner, I knew that that was fundamentally wrong because I’m working with an athlete, that when you meet them off the ice or off the core, people go, "Oh, he’s a lot different than I thought he would be." Of course he is. Of course he is.

Jessica: Isn’t the idea to integrate all of these different selves so that we do show up the most self that we can be? Because I feel like what you’re describing is … I mean it’s like I have a teenager right now, and I’m trying to teach her to be who she is at school and who she is at home—to be able to be this person who doesn’t care what other people think and then is able to have these connected relationships with people because she’s not playing pretend. So, what you’re saying, you are telling us to play pretend. Well, first tell us your theory, the alter ego effect. Tell us what that effect is and then let’s get into all of the qualms that you know I have in my head because you’re already speaking to them.

Todd: Well, no, and it’s not about really coming out and challenging the idea. Authenticity is a beautiful idea. But I’m always confronted with the reality of life, not what we think it could be or should be like that Utopian world that just doesn’t exist. And it’s a beautiful pursuit. But think about how you’ve developed Jessica over all the years, you’re constantly unfolding. There’s more and more of what you are becoming. The most … a really, really, difficult frame that’s been thrust upon people is asking the question, “Who are you?” Who are you, Jessica? And just linguistically, when people ask that question, what most people will automatically go to is they will go to your past because the “Who are you?” the first place to go to is your past. Now, depending on your own context of yourself and how much you like yourself or your own self-worth, sometimes that question traps people.

So, I don’t ask people “Who are you?” I like asking people a substantive question. What are you, Jessica? Because what are you made of? What can you do? But what are you? So just this idea that your daughter has to have some perfect integration of all of these things, I think, that is a lot to ask of someone because we all do live in context. Like me, I’m a challenger personality type in my business, even on the podcast, because I’m built to challenge paradigms. I have to, because that’s what I’m trying to get people to do to master their own mindset, master their own psychology. One of those paths to do that is to break a paradigm, which is a set of beliefs that people are operating through, which then permeates into their behaviors and their actions and their habits. So then…

“What I’m trying to get people to do [is] master their own mindset, master their own psychology. One of those paths to do that is to break a paradigm, which is a set of beliefs that people are operating through, which then permeates into their behaviors and their actions and their habits.” Todd Herman

 

Becoming Someone Else to Be Who You Really Are

Jessica: I guess, I mean I’m thinking now, yes, I’m thinking automatically of how I show up differently in different contexts and how people experience me differently in different contexts. Now, I lead … I’m a CEO of a business and I lead our sales community of Ambassadors. And so, these are women that are very similar to me, and I show up as the inspirer, the cheerleader, the one who helps them book to believe. Now, I did my first 360 feedback last year as a CEO with an executive coach. And how I show up with my home office team was really different, and it wasn’t good. I wasn’t very proud of that 360 feedback that I received. So, my thing was like, wait a minute. How can I show up more as the person, the inspiring person that is alive and full of passion for my home office team that I lead as well as for my Ambassador community? So how do you reconcile like saying, “OK, I do show up as a different person in different contexts,” but where do you identify? Yeah, how do we…?

Todd: Let’s leave it right here and then let’s come back to it after we talk about some … Because I think it’ll really help create a good frame for people. And again, this isn’t me like saying you’re so wrong for wanting off. No, because it’s a beautiful idea. But the one that I do automatically go at is the authentic self because it’s just … there is no one self. We need to get that across to people that it’s really important that people don’t get trapped with that because…

Jessica: I get that. I get like … I’m sorry, I’m interrupting you because I’m fascinated.

Todd: No, no, it’s OK.

Jessica: We’re having a fascinating conversation that I just … Let me say this one more thing and then I wanna … I was just telling yesterday a friend that I’ve been … so I had been … I’ve been using the term ego a lot in the last two weeks. That’s why I think this is interesting, that this book came into my life because I’ve been saying, "Man, I’ve been confronting my ego and I feel like my ego is a three-year-old that says I want what I want and I’ll get when I want it." That’s my three-year-old self that I’ve noticed more in my life. And I’m like, "But I don’t want my three-year-old self to boss me." Like I’m gonna be like this … And so, I see what you’re saying. I just don’t know how…

Todd: And that’s what I mean is that the ego, for some of us, absolutely is the enemy, the alter ego isn’t. So, in its root form, the alter ego’s term itself came from Cicero, the great Roman statesman and philosopher. He stated it for the first time in 44 BC. Now, again, this is the person who is named as the most-wise Roman to ever live, OK? So that’s important context. So, one of the most-wise individuals that’s ever walked the planet coined the term, the alter ego. And in its root form it actually means the other eye or trusted friend. And so, really, in the context of for yourself and the way that would be probably helpful for you to be thinking through the book is, “Yes, this ego, this kind of one that wants everything for itself or it wants its own pursuit or it’s selfish or whatever the case is,” the alter ego is a higher self. It is a more inspiring self that helps you walk through the fires of difficulty with more grace and more grit.

“The alter ego is a higher self. It is a more inspiring self that helps you walk through the fires of difficulty with more grace and more grit.” Todd Herman

And in the book, I unpack a lot of the science behind why it does it and why it’s so powerful. So, the alter ego isn’t about you being fake, because being fake is when you’re doing something in order to deceive and trick other people. That is not what this idea is about at all. The alter ego and its effect or the alter ego itself is about you disassociating away from the narratives that might hold you back or the beliefs that have trapped you in some way when you know that that really isn’t you, that you know that you’re more than that, and now you’re inspired by someone and something else to get all of you out there instead.

“The alter ego and its effect or the alter ego itself is about you disassociating away from the narratives that might hold you back or the beliefs that have trapped you in some way when you know that that really isn’t you, that you know that you’re more than that, and now you’re inspired by someone and something else to get all of you out there instead.” Todd Herman

Just like Beyoncé did with Sasha Fierce. Think about Beyoncé. Beyoncé was … here’s a girl who grew up in a religious family in Houston, singing Gospel. Then the community gets wind and gets their ear on her voice, and now they have just an absolute standing room only in the church to hear her sing when she was young. Her parents pick up on that, and her and her sister get put into a group of eight others, eight total in a group, and now they’re singing pop songs that have got provocative lyrics. They’re doing dance routines on stage that are a little bit provocative. And that was creating a lot of just psychological angst for Beyoncé because she’s like, "Well, that’s not me." Why is that? Here’s a takeaway for everybody. This is one of the biggest things to write down or think about. We as human beings will always act through whatever we associate ourselves with. We will act through whatever we associate ourselves with.

“We as human beings will always act through whatever we associate ourselves with.” Todd Herman

And so, for me, the reason I built up a really big name in the world of sports and why I’m kind of known as the quick fix artist, the quick fix performance guy is because I come in and I can shift your identity really quickly because identity trumps it all. Some people come in and they wanna talk to you about behaviors and habits, those things are powerful ways to shift, but nothing is faster than identity. Because the moment I can get you to associate yourself with something different, something more powerful, all of those other performance switches get flicked automatically. And so, for Beyoncé, she built out Sasha Fierce who loved the stage, loved to own it out there, loved to be fierce on that stage and own it. And then, of course, she retired Sasha Fierce in 2009 when she came up with their album. She didn’t need her anymore because she became the performer that she wanted to become.

And there’s just countless stories of other people that have used this idea to more creatively express what they actually are and not be trapped by the narratives and the identities that were thrust upon them at young ages. Like, no matter how we try and slice and dice, I don’t know about you, but my great kind of thing that I had to get confronted with when I became a parent was, "Oh, my god, no matter what I do, there’s probably gonna be something I say or do that’s gonna cause some sort of little mini trauma in my kid." And for me it was like, "You go to your room right now." And for them it just caught them at whatever time, and they’ll never forget that, and they think that, "Dad, whatever." That was the hard part for me because I’ve got three little ones here in New York City.

And so, why I say that is sometimes how people are showing up right now is a byproduct of labels that were given to them at young ages that are actually not what they are. I look at someone, Jessica, and I never look at anyone as if I need to fix them. I always look at people and I go, "Everything that you have, everything that you need or everything that you need, you already have. It’s already there." Because I know at the root and the core of human beings is this just place of massive creative possibility. And I want to cut the strings of resistance to allow whatever that aspiration that’s there to come out without any concern of what other people are thinking of them. Just like you’re trying to do to your daughter when you were saying to her like, "I want you to never concern yourself with what other people think of you."

“Sometimes how people are showing up right now is a byproduct of labels that were given to them at young ages that are actually not what they are.” Todd Herman

And, again, that’s a beautiful idea, and I want that exact same thing for my kids. But now I wanna give them some tools to help them do that. And that’s where that trusted friend between the six inches of your ears can help you do that, where you feel like, “You know what, I can’t do it, but you know who can? Thor or Wonder Woman.” And really what you’re doing is you’re using their inspiration to pour your qualities out onto that field to play.

 

The Alter Ego Effect

Jessica: No, this is cool. This is really cool. I mean, because I talk a lot about mindset in my book, and then I’m constantly leading other women through their fears. I mean the whole podcast is called Going Scared. That courage is simply being afraid of going anyway. So, you’re simply providing us with tools for when you are afraid. Here you can just start accessing sort of these alter egos. So, break it down for us. Like, how does that work?

Todd: Sure. So, well, we were kind of talking about before … the people that use this the most and they’re the ones who are our best teachers are young children. Again, they’re locked into the creative imagination. And so, they’re more freely expressing themselves. They play around with their dolls and they’re trying on all sorts of different ideas in their mind of, "What could I do if I was a princess? What can I do if I was, Wonder Woman or whatever?" And it’s just them naturally asking that question and untethering themselves from their own current identity to play with a new idea. We did it when we were on the front driveway and we asked ourselves or we say, "I’m gonna to be my favorite athlete." Again, now I get to act through Lebron’s qualities or someone else’s, and we get to see what we can do.

So, this is tapping into is a natural part of the human psyche that we all use and all have used. No one listening to this has ever not used it because it’s built into the human consciousness. So, it’s a great way for us to get past the resistance. Now, the first place to start with it is going back to that what I’d said earlier around the fastest growing area of study right now in psychology world is Multiple Self Theory— Multiple Self Theory, which is the opposite of single self theory. Now they’ve come to the conclusion, finally, that the people who actually see themselves as having many identities, many selves that they show up with in different roles in life, that you’re an entrepreneur, Jessica, that you’re also a mother, that you’re also a friend. And all of these roles that you play demand possibly different qualities. They only share some similar qualities, but then there are some other qualities that need to be heightened in order for you to go and perform and be your absolute best in that role.

And so what I always tell people is when you’re first really not experimenting with it, but reuniting with this idea because you’ve already used it when you were young, is pick the place or the area of your life that’s frustrating you the most right now, where you feel like you’re more trapped in an ordinary world, where you’re not truly getting all of what you can out onto that stage or that field or in that role. And so that’s the first place, is always in context to a role or a field of play that you’ve got in life. So where are you most kind of frustrated? And then secondly…

Jessica: OK, can you do some live coaching? Can I just tell you this?

Todd: Let’s do it.

Jessica: OK. So, our business is plateauing a bit right now. Like our sales are not where we want them to be, and we made some pretty extreme changes to our compensation plan and we were really excited going into this year, that this was gonna be breakthrough, and it’s just not breaking through. And I have found myself feeling very attached to the outcome. So, it’s led to a lot of disappointment and discouragement. And so, my emotional resilience hasn’t been where I want it to be because I do believe that we’re gonna live in this … I believe we’re gonna break through. I know we’re gonna be a well-recognized brand, but right now we’re in this a little bit of a flat place, like an athletic plateau, almost, is how I picture it. And I feel very discouraged and disappointed about that, which makes me feel stuck.

Todd: OK, great. When you think of someone, whether it’s from a character from a movie or something that you’ve read, like, who has inspired you in the past and specifically around that they’ve kind of walked through the fire and they came out the other side just an absolutely rising zenith type individual, or animal, or anything like that?

 

Enclothed Cognition: The Power of a Wearing a Story

Jessica: I mean, someone that inspires me is one of the Artisans we partner with, Jaya, who grew up in devastating poverty, and she was like a child led home. She had to parent her own children and now she runs a successful business in Uganda.

Todd: And what are the qualities that you really attach to with her? Like, what are her traits and…?

Jessica: Tenacity, joy, passion.

Todd: OK. And if I were to hand you, what are some of the kinds of jewelry pieces that she makes?

Jessica: She makes these brightly colored paper bead pieces, and sometimes I will wear them to try to access her spirit.

Todd: See, look at Jessica. You’re already using this idea and you are gonna try and channel it. I’m just teasing. But you’ve got it. Now, here’s the thing, what we talk about in the book. So, I wanna unpack a quick little study for you first before I jump into how we use these beads. Now, there is this psychological principle that we, as human beings, have called enclothed cognition, which is that we attribute story and meaning to the clothing that we wear or the articles that other people wear. And so, when you see someone walk in the room with a white doctor’s coat on, unconsciously you automatically start telling yourself a story about who they are and maybe how skilled they are, how smart they are, what traits they have, OK? Whereas, if you see someone walk in the door and they’ve got an apron on or they’ve got a chef’s uniform on, right? Like, we attach meaning to things.

Well, but enclothed cognition is that the moment that we put on an article of clothing, and it has story and meaning attached to it, we actually just now enclothed ourselves in the cognitive traits of whatever we’ve associated with that article of clothing. And there was a study that was done at the Kellogg School of Management, where they brought a bunch of young students into a room. And have you ever seen that kind of eye test where it has the word of a color, but then it’s colored differently? So, it’s like the word purple, but it’s in yellow, and then there’s like red, but it’s in black and in brown, but it’s in green. And what you need to do is you need to say the word, not the color that you’re seeing, because the brain picks up color before it sees the word itself.

“Enclothed cognition [means] that the moment that we put on an article of clothing, and it has story and meaning attached to it, we actually just now enclothed ourselves in the cognitive traits of whatever we’ve associated with that article of clothing.” Todd Herman

So anyways, this eye test, there’s a whole bunch of these words all colored in differently, and you have to go through this test with the least amount of mistakes and as quickly as you possibly can. So, they bring in these students and they each do this test individually. They record all the stats and then they leave. Then they bring in another group and they hand them a white coat and they tell them that it’s a painter’s coat. And they put on the painter’s coat and then they do the exact same test. It’s trying to say the word instead of the color that they see. Then they bring in … those people leave. Then they bring in a third group of students and they hand them the exact same white coat, Jessica, except this time it’s a doctor’s coat. They tell them it’s a doctor’s coat, and then they put it on, and then they do the test, and they record the results.

Now, what were the differences? The people who wore the doctor’s coat did the test in less than half the time, with less than half the mistakes. Why is it? Well, because the cognitive traits that we attribute to someone who has or wears a doctor’s coat is someone who is methodical, detailed, and careful, all qualities that would help them do that specific test. Now, what about people who wear the painter’s coat? Their results were no different than the people who were just in their plain clothes. Why? Because a painter’s coat means that you’re more creative, expressive, and imaginative. Those three specific things don’t help you with that test. So, context matters all of a sudden. But then when they gave them a creative test, the people who wear the painter’s coat, now they excelled, and the people who wore the doctor’s coat didn’t excel.

So, this is this example, Jessica, of when people try to argue about authenticity, we are so malleable, like we’re so flexible. We’re so adaptable as human beings. I don’t wanna get wrapped up in trying to define myself as being authentic necessarily. What I do know is I wanna be kind. Just because I disagree with you on something, Jessica, doesn’t mean I’m not gonna be kind to you. I can handle that. And I mean it’s not gonna break my world of someone wants to hold onto the idea of authenticity because you’re not hurting anybody by holding onto that if you were holding on to something that was actually destructive. But I think what’s important for me in the way that I wanna help lead people is that I wanna make sure that we’re not allowing people to stay stuck inside of paradigms that are not based in truth. And that’s what bothers me a lot about the self-help and personal development world, is that there are a lot of ideas that have been shared for decades from people that have actually not been doing the work one on one.

That’s why I massively respect the work that Brené Brown has done. She is like me; she is a practitioner. She’s done the work. Inside my sports company, we’ve conducted more sports studies than pretty much most organizations on the planet around mindset and performance. We just keep them private for ourselves, and that infuses itself into our training. So, getting back to this idea of the beads, though. So one of the ways that I talk about the power of the alter ego effect in the book then is when I’ve been building out these powerful identities for people, that they can be using to perform at a level that they’re capable of and they know that they can, is that when you put on those beads, Jessica, I want you to really embody her spirit and never, ever, ever … This is the key, never dishonor her memory and the way that she would operate by ever not showing up like she would.

Because when you take it to that level, your level of psychological and emotional commitment has just been jacked way up because you have a certain reverence and affection and affinity and care and love for her, that if you truly were acting in her spirit, there would be no way that you would let the current circumstances of what the flat line on your freaking revenue dictate how you’re gonna feel and show up with less joy and with less love for the process of what you’re trying to create out there. And so, for me, when I got done playing football and I started my business when I was 20, 21, 22, I mean I was baby face, I looked like I was 12, and here I am going out to start doing some speeches on the mental game, and I was so insecure about, “Well, only people who are 40 years old can go and do speeches and I need 9 degrees. And I haven’t worked with any Olympians yet, so who’s gonna listen to me?”
All of this kind of crap narrative that isn’t true, but man, was it ever trapping me and stopping me from getting out there and showing up.

Like, I know that I could, I was already helping people. I wasn’t asking for money back then. It was just, I was … I loved talking to young kids about this and I was really good at it. Why? Because of that really bad experience that I had when I was 12, developed an extraordinary level of compassion for other human beings, and knowing that sometimes people are just going through some tough stuff and brow beating them with the idea of just do it isn’t enough. There may be needs to be a little bit of nuance in the way that we treat other people.

And so, I was always very careful to treat each person individually and really understand kind of where their headspace was. But I was still so insecure about myself. And then I remembered that, "Hey, wait a second, when I played football, I went out there as Geronimo." Geronimo was the name that I gave my alter ego, who is a composite of many different heroes that I had. Now, I grew up in an area of western Canada on our farm and ranch where it’s kind of rich in Native American history. So, I have this huge love affair with the Native American culture. And so, when I was thinking about the alter ego that I could use in business, I’m like, "Well, Geronimo was a little bit too intense to maybe bring to the business world and what I was trying to do."

But I was inspired and I did love Superman, and I’m also a massive Joseph Campbell buff. For people who don’t know. he wrote the book Hero’s Journey, did amazing work on myths and legends, and just an amazing thinker. And so, I was inspired by a few different people, and I went out and bought a pair of glasses to do the reverse Clark Kent. I put on the glasses to become Super Richard. You know, Richard is actually my first name. Todd is what I’ve always gone by. But that was me stepping into this decisive, this confident, this articulate version of myself, so that I could move past those insecurities. And Super Richard would never ever, because Superman wouldn’t. I was never concerned about … when I was in that zone, I was never concerned about other people were thinking of me. And then it helped me get out there and serve more people.

So, this is the whole … this is why cracking the nut on the psychology of human beings is we gotta be careful with it because the tools and the ways that all of us just need to navigate life, I’m not here to judge someone. And so, if someone taps into this inner spirit of Oprah, in order for them to get out there, go for it. Because who’s to say that you’re not her already? Because we share these things as human beings. And then, six months later when I was … I just booked two workshops, and they were big workshops for me that brought in some good money for my business. And I looked down and I didn’t have my glasses on at the time. And then I immediately thought of the quote from Cary Grant because I was so connected to this quote, where it probably is the most perfect encapsulation of the idea of an alter ego, is he said, ”I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person, or he became me, but we met at some point.” And I think it’s such a beautiful idea because, really, that was the real me. I just finally got past some of those hurdles and showed up in a different way.

The only thing I would change with it, and I talk about in the book is, instead of saying, "I pretended to be," it’s, "I activated somebody I wanted to be," which means that you’re choosing this. So, for you, Jessica, it’s like when you put on those beads, really step into like a ritual of like honoring who she is and how she shows up so that you bring those traits and qualities because it’s not like you’re faking to be her. It’s that you’re tapping into the qualities. It’s the inner part. Does that make sense?

Jessica: You’re gonna help me sell some jewelry because all of our stuff is handmade by these really inspiring women. And in some ways, we say that our jewelry is soulful because it’s accessories that do come from this place of people that are overcoming, and so there is something really special about that.

Todd: Well, and again, Jessica, we’re talking for the first time. So, people, it’s not like Jessica and I have been longtime friends and this is just us catching up. But I did my research ahead of time. And the first place that I started donating money was in Ghana through the Christian Children’s Fund when I was 17. Started sponsoring young girls over there. Afiliua Abdullah was my very first one when I was 17, and sponsored tons of … not tons, but sponsored more than 20 young girls to go through and get their high school diploma and then off onto college as well. And so, when I saw that, I was like … I mean I’ve done work in South Africa. I built their leadership program for helping them overcome apartheid back in 2006.

And so, I spent a lot of time over in Africa. So, I love the work that you’re doing. And I agree, I think it’s powerful and soulful work. And through the work of Muhammad Yunus and microlending, it’s been proven that you empower young women or women in general in those impoverished areas. You change an entire cultural economy when you do that because it’s been proven that they will spend more money on bettering their home or bettering their community. And so, I think what you’re doing is super powerful.

Jessica: Thank you. Yes, I agree. I believe in it, absolutely. Which is why I … when I do go through periods of discouragement or disappointment, I’m very aware of … this is not the emotional resilience that I need to have as a leader that’s gonna take this organization to the level that I believe it’s called to go.

 

Community Inspired by Alter Egos

Todd: Well, I mean, you take a look at Oprah Winfrey’s alter ego, so Oprah Winfrey. And she said it when she would go on stage, she says, ”I show up as one, but I show up as one standing in front of a tribe of many.” And so, in her mind, when she was going on a stage, she was never going out as Oprah. She was always going out as a woman surrounded by other phenomenal, inspirational people that had come before her and were there currently, people like Maya Angelou and the like, Martin Luther King Jr. And Martin Luther King Jr., MLK, I mean, he’s the inspiration for the cover of the book. Those glasses that sit on the cover of the book are a replica of his fake glasses that he used in order to step into what he called his distinguished self because…

Jessica: And I did not know that until reading your book.

Todd: His best friends didn’t know that. His best friends didn’t know that. So, his wife is the one who told me that after I did a speech in 2004 at a leadership event in San Antonio, Texas, actually. So not far from you. And she came up to me afterwards, and I just told everyone about how I use these glasses to get past my insecurities and they were my shield to protect my child self that was scared or whatever. And she came up to me, she said, ”I loved what you had to say. Specifically, I love the fact that you use fake glasses because Martin had a pair of fake glasses too.” And I looked down, and I see her placard on her and it said, "I’m Coretta Scott King." And I said, ”Please tell me more.” And she said, ”Well, he felt like he was leading such an important movement, trying to inspire people to protest nonviolently, to lead an entire group of people forward so that they had rights, too.”

And he didn’t want his insecurities to get in the way of the message he knew he needed to share. And so, he would put on those glasses every time he was gonna sit down and write something. And that was him stepping into what he called his distinguished self. And the great thing is … and I never shared that story before, but now in the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, there’s a shrine set up for Martin Luther King and there is a little shadow box with his glasses and a little placard that sits next to it that says these were his non-prescription glasses that he used to step into his distinguished self.

And so, in the book I talk about the jewelry that you’re putting on, that’s a totem. That’s an artifact. And just like the superheroes of the day, they all have their capes or they have … Wonder Woman has her Lasso of Truth or her wrist jewelry. The words are escaping me for some reason. They all have these artifacts that they use that are a part of their uniform. And in the book I talk about how the power of creating a uniform and then using that as just a powerful way to really step into the presence of how you wanna show up on that field, that’s gonna really help you succeed and really helping you to separate the different worlds that you live in, right? I still use those glasses, but I don’t use them now because I need to step into another version, because I became that person. But I’m always operating up against the end of my comfort zone and I’m always being challenged by it. And when that comes up, then I grab those glasses again because they still hold that power for me.

But I never wear those glasses around my kids. And that’s just me being very intentional. When I go home, I have a wristband, a little bracelet with beads on it that my daughter Molly made for me a couple of years ago, and I leave it on a hook at the front door. And when I walk through that door, I have routine where I grab that a bracelet and I put it on, and I snap it. And that’s me going into dad mode. And my dad mode is inspired by who I think someone that is one of the most phenomenal leaders in the world of child psychology, which is Mr. Rogers. And he’s my inspiration for how I wanna show up around them. Because the last thing they need is like this challenging personality to come home. They want playful, they want fun, they want caring and a patient version. And so that’s me being … And again, those qualities already nested inside of me. They’re already there. That patient person is there.

But, Jessica, for both of us that are always being challenged by the issues and the situations that we get put in by being business owners or coaching people and leading people, we’re flexing a muscle all day long. And me flexing the muscle of challenging people and all that, it’s very natural for me to just go home and not turn that off without being very intentional. And I wanna now bring out this other quality that is there for me, which is that dad, because I don’t want my kids telling me when they’re 25, "You know what? It would’ve been nice if you would have maybe taken a little bit of a break from that guy and maybe have been a little bit softer, kinder," or whatever they would say.

Jessica: No, it’s a really powerful ritual. I mean, I just got back from meeting with our Artisan groups in Nepal, and I mean one of the things that I even did coming home, because Nepal is Buddhist and India is predominantly Hindu, but they have artifacts everywhere. I mean, you can’t walk by a block without seeing a shrine or walk in a home and there’s the prayer wheel. And so, it really started making me think more about those transitional places, even in my home. Walking in, I have a St. Francis statue that I grew up with that just reminds me of my own roots and who he is. And yeah, so it’s like I was like, "Man, I need to get back in touch with my own artifacts." I love thinking about that as far as our wardrobe and what we can put on and take off. And I could come up with a whole marketing campaign. Thanks, Todd.

 

Embracing Playfulness to Play Impactful Roles

Todd: But, Jessica, this is the powerful part of this, and this is the one thing I don’t wanna get lost. So yeah, we’re talking about, yeah, I went through some pretty tough stuff when I was a kid and here’s what I know. There are a lot of listeners that have gone through some tough stuff. Every human being deals with trauma. I mean, it’s just the way that life goes. Now, there’s degrees of trauma of it, of course. But at the end of the day, just what you just hit on is the most powerful part of this, is playfulness, to be a little bit more playful with life. And again, you don’t need to go and share with other people who your alter ego might be. You can, if you want. Some people do, some people don’t. Mine was always a private thing for me because I was kinda thinking … I’d always think that like this is my secret superpower. You don’t even know kind of this presence that’s in the room kind of thing right now. But this idea of playfulness is so lost right now.

And this is coming from someone who, as a kid, I mean it’s very natural for me. I was always a pretty serious kid, took life very, very seriously, and then took it even more seriously obviously when things went sideways for me when I was 12. But playfulness, for me, this is why I leaned on the alter ego so much as a major tool to work with people on, because at the end of the day, my number one goal was to always help people get into the zone and flow state, where they are truly allowing every single ounce of their possibility to come out of them. And there is no denying that playfulness, as an attitude, helps trigger it faster than anything else. And so, yeah, if you’ve got some special uniform that you use, or I love what you just said about transitional spaces, that’s like I talk about in the book, those are like those phone booth moments, but now you’re intentionally creating your phone booths, right, where you walk through a threshold and you’re activating another quality.

“I leaned on the alter ego so much as a major tool to work with people on, because at the end of the day, my number one goal was to always help people get into the zone and flow state, where they are truly allowing every single ounce of their possibility to come out of them. And there is no denying that playfulness, as an attitude, helps trigger it faster than anything else.” Todd Herman

Jessica: Well, I think that’s why something in me was activated last night watching "Cats." There was something in me that was like, "God, I wanna just look like dress up like a cat and sing and tap dance."

Todd: Again, that’s that child part of you that wants to play, right? I mean you’re leading this. I mean, this is the hard part of these roles that we have where we’re trying to lead missions forward is we take them so seriously, but then we forget that we can also be really … Because we’re so close to it and it means so much to us, it’s almost like we’ve got gritted teeth with it. And when you got gritted teeth, it’s impossible for you to get to zone state. Actually, physiologically, by the way, your jaw has to be in a relaxed state, almost like your jaw has to be … your mouth has to be open for you to get into the actual physical state of the zone. And so, when we take a gritted teeth approach to things, like, "Oh, I’m just gonna fight through it," well, there are times when we might need to do that, and that’s some sort of gear that we’re gonna get into. But having a little more playfulness with it. And I think that’s kind of maybe one of the things that you were sort of longing for was maybe some of those things. And again, that’s just me rattling around between the six inches of your ears a little bit there.

Jessica: No, I love that, I love … Because you started off by talking about that flow state and how it’s where we don’t care about the outcome, right? And I feel like, in business, I mean when you’re daily looking at your bottom, your revenue numbers and all of these things, it’s very easy to start attaching yourself and white knuckling yourself with your business. You know? But when you do, there’s no fun in that. And then, gosh, I want my life to be about the journey, right, because you can get to the same outcome in faith or in fear. But I wanna get there in faith. I wanna get there having walked with joy.

“It’s very easy to start attaching yourself and white knuckling yourself with your business. You know? But when you do, there’s no fun in that. … I want my life to be about the journey … because you can get to the same outcome in faith or in fear. But I wanna get there in faith. I wanna get there having walked with joy.” Jessica Honegger

Todd: What you’ve just unpacked there is something I refer to a lot. I have this little kind of graph that I show people when it comes to, for the longest time when people talked about the equation of success, like, what’s the equation of success? Pretty much, the two things that come up is basically success is equal to results over time. So, how long did it take you to get to that result? So, someone comes along and says, "You know what? I’m gonna help you reach success ergo the result, faster." And so, people … someone goes, "Yeah, I like that. I like to get to that result faster." But, for me as a peak performance person, there’s a big missing part of that equation that’s there. Because I know people, and you do too, that have reached success, did not enjoy the process at all. And then when they got to the success, it felt like it was pretty empty because you feel like there’s gonna be some sort of like massive fan fair and ticker tape parade for you or something like that, but it doesn’t happen.

And so now it feels a little bit empty. And so, for me, there’s a little Q that sits over top of the S. It’s the quality of your success. It’s the quality of the path, while you’re getting there that really, really matters. So, results over time is still a part of that equation. But, for me, I focus on the quality of that success for my clients and the people who go through my programs. It’s just always challenging them on bringing them back into enjoying this process. And so, I know this is a big part of my mission is continuously sharing this concept of the alter ego. And I get pinged every single day on Instagram and on Facebook and other places where people are like, "Thank you for reminding me that this is actually a part of me, and now I feel like I’ve got free license to go out and do some of the things because I have a tool that really does work. I feel like I’m in a completely different present state when I’m operating through the idea of," and then they share kind of who’s inspiring them as their alter ego.

Jessica: Courage is just being afraid and doing it anyway. This whole idea of coming up with an alter ego is a way to get through your fear. I can’t believe I’ve never really thought about this before. So, I’m excited to figure out who my Sasha Fierce is. I want you to figure that out to you. So, hop on over to Instagram. I’m Jessica Honegger, two Gs, one N. Send me a DM. Tell me about your alter ego.

Thanks so much for joining us on today’s show. Our music is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.