Activate your Alter-Ego!
Each sport, exercise and even different situations have specific mental demands that you need to meet in order to perform well. One sport might require a confident, pumped up and aggressive mindset, and another may call for a calm, balanced and thoughtful mindset.
Your personality is an important factor that will dictate how you react to competitive situations. Some of us are very competitive, others are not so much. Today’s post is about having a bit of fun and finding a way to set yourself up in the best possible way for your chosen activity by embracing an alter-ego!
The Scientific Bit: Your Personality
Your personality is made up of a unique combination of traits. These remain pretty stable throughout your life. You were born with a natural inclination for most of your traits (your genetics). The rest you will have developed as a result of your upbringing and environment. Your traits form the core of your personality.
Don't get hung up on labelling your traits and personality or trying to put yourself in a box - you won't fit!
Your personality traits inherently effect your mood, thoughts, feelings and behaviours in any given situation (known as your state). For example, a person with a shy trait will be more inclined to feel nervous or self-conscious in a competition or match, whereas a predominantly jovial person might feel relaxed or excited.
Making changes to your personality is very difficult, but thankfully there’s a short cut to help you adapt and thrive in situations that might otherwise be very challenging for you.
Find freedom in an alter-ego!
Developing an alternative personality mode or 'alter-ego' is incredibly effective when your natural personality is not completely conducive to a situation. Learning to shift into another mode, means you can minimise or even irradiate your more ‘inconvenient’ traits whilst exaggerating helpful ones. This is great if you suffer from nervousness, over-exuberance, over-aggression or lethargy during competition or even in training.
You will find plenty of examples of performers who change their personality through alter-egos:
Beyoncé Knowles becomes ‘Sasha Fierce’
Dwayne Johnson becomes ‘The Rock’
Katrin Davidsdottir (a CrossFitter) becomes ‘The Sled Dog’
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta becomes ‘Lady Gaga’
Ernest Hemmingway wrote through his alter-ego, ‘Nick Adams’
Each of these temporary personalities have a new set of traits that suit the image and function of the performance - Beyoncé describes Sasha Fierce as, "the more fun, more sensual, more aggressive, more outspoken and more glamorous side that comes out when I'm working on stage." These are all traits that Beyoncé herself doesn't believe she possesses, or at least not to the extent that her performances require.
An alter-ego can give you the freedom to think, feel and act in the best way possible for your performance without the inhibitions you might normally experience. Beyoncé explains, "This alter-ego that I've created kind of protects me and who I really am."
Let’s have some fun with this…!
How to create your own alter-ego
Get your pen and paper out, and let’s create your new sporting personality! This is a fun exercise to do whoever you are and whatever your sport!
1. Pick a few traits you’ll give your alter-ego:
What are the helpful traits you already have?
What traits do you need for your sport?
Consider the most challenging situations you face?
The ideal mentality for training and performing?
What will separate you from your competitors?
2. Use athletes and role models for some more ideas
A personality is more than a list of traits. We need to also add a bit of substance to your character to give them a realism.
Get yourself onto YouTube and watch videos of the best in the business... I mean REALLY watch them. Pick a performance where they excelled and analyse the little things they do; from the moment they enter the arena to the moment the competition or match is over.
Examine their body language, their posture, their movements.
What, if anything, do they say and how do they say it?
Do they use pre-performance routines or have any cool rituals?
Do they ignore their opponents or engage with them?
How to they interact with teammates, spectators, referees, coaches…
Look for your listed traits in their behaviours (update the list if you want to).
I am not suggesting you imitate your role models but pick out characteristics and behaviours you see and like in them that you can add to your sporting personality. You do need to like your alter-ego, even if they can be a bit of an arse!
3. Give your alter-ego a name!
A name helps you draw a clear distinction between you and your character. It could just be simple like 'Sally or ‘Bob’, or it could be more descriptive like ‘Beast Mode’ or ‘Pitbull’. Combining the two is fun; e.g. Rob Quick, Laura Grit, Sarah Strong, Michael Tough… Avoid putting your own name in there though – this personality needs to be new and different.
4. Use imagery to bring your new persona to life
Picture the finished product in your mind – they will live through your body, but they will think, feel and act very differently to you. Play through a few scenarios in your mind:
How does he/she think, feel and act in the heat of battle?
Imagine how they will approach a match or deal with a hostile situation.
Mentally rehearse the build-up to a competition as your new personality.
Practice creating a complete sense of how it is to be your alter-ego!
5. Cue it in and then practice, practice, practice!
I would recommend a specific cue you can use that prompts the shift into your alter-ego. This works best as a physical act such as stepping onto the field, a slow blink, clenching and loosening your fists or even just a deep breath.
CrossFitter Sara Sigmundsdottir says she looks for her ‘Beast mode’ banner which is always held by a member of her family in the crowd - seeing that is her cue to go into Beast Mode. Test out your cue and practice your transition in training, especially when things get a bit competitive.
The more you train and compete with your alter-ego, the more natural it will become.
6. Put your alter-ego away afterwards!
When the competition is done, it might help to re-perform or reverse your cue to let go of your character entirely and become yourself once more.
With practice, this will become a natural shift back and forth that automatically occurs when the competitive juices start to flow. Ultimately, your cue will begin to naturally occur when you enter into a competitive environment and with it, you will automatically switch into and out of your alter-ego.
7. Embrace it!
This might feel a bit silly, but there is a serious side. An alter-ego is an incredibly powerful strategy that will help you adapt into a very serious force to be reckoned with. I would suggest you tell your team-mates, coach and family about your alter-ego, because, let's be honest, if you're doing it right, they'll likely see the change in you anyway and they will help you fully embrace it.
The change between your personality and alter-ego doesn't have to be monumental, but it should be significant to you. Go all in and enjoy becoming the person you need to be, at least for a little while!
Sport Mentality is a free blog written to help casual exercisers, sports enthusiasts and athletes get the most out of their activities and performances. Please feel free to share these posts with friends, team mates and coaches, and don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter (see the form below) to get alerts about new posts, article summaries and Research Watch links from Sport Mentality.