Becoming Batman: How Self-Distancing and Alter Egos Encourage Personal Growth

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Becoming Batman: How Self-Distancing and Alter Egos Encourage Personal Growth

On November 5th, 2017, the Cleveland Cavaliers welcomed the Atlanta Hawks for an afternoon matchup at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The LeBron-led club was struggling to start the season, reeling after an NBA Finals loss to the Golden State Warriors the previous spring and the loss of star point guard Kyrie Irving in the offseason.

Irving’s departure put even more pressure on Kevin Love, now the team’s second-best player and a two-time All-NBA power forward. The 6’8” Love had been a key part of the team’s title run two years earlier and would be needed to help get them out of this early slump.

But when Love started the game, something was wrong. His heart was racing, he was out of breath and unfocused on the court. The Hawks got a huge lead, thanks partly to Love’s poor play. 

After halftime, the towering athlete, with a salary of more than $22 million per year, raced into the locker room during a timeout to escape from the crowd and his teammates. 

He was having a panic attack.

Without him, the Cavaliers would come up short, losing 117-115 to one of the worst teams in the league. But two days later, Love would return to the court, all smiles, and put up 32 points and 16 rebounds—a dominant effort. No one knew why he left that game on November 5th; it could have stayed that way. 

A few months later, Love shared his story by penning a powerful article in The Players’ Tribune titled Everyone Is Going Through Something

He wanted to explain that even the athletes, celebrities, and business superstars that we consider larger than life are dealing with anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health issues. 

Sasha, Meet June

In 2011, British singer Adele was a rising star. Her debut studio album, 19, had landed her a Grammy for Best New Artist, and she had just released 21, album number two and the project that would catapult her to icon status. 

The record would become the best-selling album of the 21st century, making her one of the most well-known celebrities in the world. 

But an encounter with another pop superstar—Beyoncé—allowed her to overcome some of the fear, anxiety, and doubt that crept in every time she had to perform. 

At that point, Beyoncé was well known for her mental health struggles. In 2008, she told Oprah Winfrey about “Sasha Fierce,” her alter ego that helped relieve some of the pressure:

“When I hear the crowd, when I put on my stilettos. In that moment right before, when you’re nervous. This other thing kind of takes over for you, and Sasha Fierce appears in my posture, the way I speak.“

Beyoncé likened it to playing a character in a movie. She could put on this new moniker and release all the stress and expectations of being her

It’s hard to imagine a conversation between two more powerful, talented musicians than Beyoncé and Adele, and yet, the thing the latter remembers most about their first meeting is how she had a “full-blown panic attack” beforehand. 

After the interaction ended, Adele burst into tears again before asking herself, “What would Sasha Fierce do?” It was at that moment she created Sasha Carter, a mix of two icons—Beyoncé and June Carter. 

That alter ego helped her navigate the global success that would follow 21 and assist her transformation into one of the most prolific artists of her generation (and all time). 

The Batman Effect

“Character invention,” as it is called, doesn’t just work for celebrities and athletes. Self-distancing techniques have been studied as an effective way to improve executive function and perseverance all the way down to young children. 

A 2015 study found that five-year-olds would show significant improvement when taking on the “perspective of an exemplar other.” They were asked to picture themselves as a superhero like Batman or a television character like Dora the Explorer. 

Additional research found that when prompted to consider their behavior in a test from the perspective of “Is Batman working hard?” the children would spend 23% more time on the task than those considering it from the first-person perspective (Am I working hard?). 

These studies suggest that this kind of self-distancing can have a real-world impact on us as we face difficult situations, just as the Sasha Sisters—Fierce and Carter—helped two massively popular singers conquer their stage fright. 

Growth Through Repetition

At first, this might sound like a disingenuous coping mechanism. How can we pretend to be someone else whenever things get tough? Does that really help?

Well, for Beyoncé, at least, it did. 

See, Sasha Fierce isn’t who you’ll see on stage if you attend the Renaissance World Tour this year. As she told Allure magazine over a decade ago, “Sasha Fierce is done. I killed her.”

The singer explained that her alter ego helped her grow, and she was able to merge the two personas together and elevate her mental health to the point where she can now go on stage unfettered. 

Some might say she was always Sasha. After years of repetition and exposure, she doesn’t need to pretend anymore. 

Inventing Your Alter Ego

So how does it work, anyway? Do we need to comb through comic books to find our inspiration? 

It doesn’t need to be that complicated. You can make your own character in just a few minutes and have different ones for various situations. 

Step 1: Define the Purpose

The first step in creating your alter ego is deciding its purpose. 

Is it confidence you need? Then your persona might be assertive and commanding. If it's creativity, then your alter ego might be quirky and imaginative. 

Think about those areas in your life you want to improve or aspects of your personality you wish you could express more freely and aloud. An alter ego is a unique tool for self-improvement, helping you to compare your current self to your aspirational self.

Step 2: Associate Traits and Qualities

Once you've identified the purpose of your alter ego, you can begin assigning traits and qualities that parallel this purpose. 

For instance, if you lack confidence, associate attributes like self-assurance, boldness, or audaciousness. The key to creating an effective alter ego is to focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. 

Step 3: Choose a Name

Choosing a name for your character can be as simple as adopting an alias or as elaborate as crafting a new identity. The name should reflect the positive traits you associate with this character and resonate with you.

You want to be able to think of the name and feel the new persona welling up within you, pushing you toward your goal.

Step 4: Visualize

Draw your character in your head—how do they look and, more importantly, how do they act? 

The important thing is that you have a clear picture in your mind and feel a sense of connection with this image. Visualization is a key technique in many psychological fields, designed to strengthen your mental associations with your goals.

Step 5: Tap into Your Alter Ego

Try stepping into your alter ego's shoes when faced with a situation that would benefit from their qualities and skills. Feel their confidence, creativity, or courage and use that energy to navigate the situation. This practice is all about leveraging the power of perspective.

A Ladder, Not an Escape Rope

Remember, your alter ego is a tool you can use to confront the world. It represents the best aspects of who you want to be. It's not about becoming someone else entirely, rather it's about amplifying your potential and pushing yourself to grow. 

While it may feel awkward or forced at first, with time and practice, you'll find your new persona to be a powerful ally, helping you navigate challenging situations with more confidence, creativity, and resilience. And who knows, you might discover you're more ‘Batman’ than you ever thought possible. 

Character invention isn't about escapism; it's a strategy for growth and development. Harness your inner superhero and believe in your potential.

Final Thoughts

So what’s your character going to be named? Max Power?—wait…I think the Simpsons used that one.

For now, start visualizing where you need these alter egos the most. Important business presentations, or maybe even stressful family reunions. There’s nothing wrong being your own Batman, if Gotham City needs you.

If you enjoyed this article, I’d love to hear from you.

Write me at or tweet at me @ScottDClary and I’ll do my best to get back to everyone!


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