27 March, 2023

Using Character Invention For Professional Success

Which Superhero are you?

The pursuit of professional growth is often hindered by stress and adversity, which is why mindfulness has become such a popular concept in Positive Psychology and well-being. However, not everyone finds mindfulness to be an effective tool in managing stress, leading many to seek alternative solutions. This is where the "Batman Effect" comes in, as it offers a new approach to dealing with stress in our professional journeys.

A study conducted by Professor Ethan Kross and his colleagues at the University of Michigan has shed light on the power of adopting an alter ego in managing stress. The study found that children who pretended to be their favourite characters like Batman, Bob the Builder, or Dora the Explorer while completing a boring task performed better and enjoyed the task more compared to those who referred to themselves in the first person or third person. This concept has been found to apply to adults as well, with subsequent research revealing the positive impact of the "Batman Effect" on various individuals, including drama teachers, special needs teachers, parents, and police officers.

The reason the "Batman Effect" works is because it enables us to create psychological distance from the situation, thereby reducing anxiety and building confidence. This distance allows us to respond to stress with a clear and composed mind, much like our alter ego would. The "Batman Effect" has been observed to have a profound impact on individuals, helping them move forward with confidence in many different challenging situations.

Can we be authentic and apply this practice? Rather than see this psychological costume change as changing your persona to fit a culture that doesn’t align with who you are, we are all multi-faceted and can sometimes identify with our fears when we’d rather identify with our bravery or effectiveness in the face of certain challenges. Superman and Clark Kent are not two different people, but are two faces of one character. We can be genuine and still use tools like this to bring out aspects of our personality that might otherwise be hidden.

This powerful cognitive strategy can enhance growth in our careers. By adopting an alter-ego to create psychological distance, we can respond to difficulties with greater composure, critical in building resilience and maintaining a determined focus on our goals. Some of the world's top performers, such as Beyoncé and Adele, have used this technique to better handle obstacles and achieve their goals. Beyoncé created "Sasha Fierce" to perform with extra confidence, while Adele adopted "Sasha Carter" to help her deliver her best performance. This technique, known as "self-distancing," involves taking a step back from our immediate emotions to view a situation more objectively. This has been called ‘Character Invention’, by entrepreneur Timothy Armoo.

According to Rachel White, assistant professor of psychology at Hamilton College, "self-distancing gives us a little bit of extra space to think rationally about the situation." This technique has been found to rein in anxiety, increase perseverance and self-control, and boost self-efficacy. In one study, participants who used self-distancing felt much less anxious about a challenging event and performed better when giving a public talk. Inventing a powerful character to assume the identity of can increase confidence significantly.

The creation of psychological distance enables people to focus on the bigger picture and maintain a focus on their goals, even in the face of distraction. In one experiment, participants who practiced self-distancing performed better on a difficult word puzzle and had a stronger intention to improve their performance. The technique can also have positive effects on health behaviour, increasing intentions to exercise and reducing the temptation of junk food.

Throughout the past decade, Professor Kross has conducted numerous studies showcasing the impact of minor changes in perspective on emotions. In one experiment, participants were asked to visualize a future difficult event, like an important exam, in two distinct ways. One group was told to picture it from a first-person, immersive viewpoint, while the other was asked to visualize it as if they were a bystander, from a distanced viewpoint. The results showed that the participants in the distanced group experienced significantly less anxiety about the event and felt a greater sense of self-efficacy compared to the immersed group.

In conclusion, the concept of "self-distancing" or adopting an alter ego for the “Batman Effect” has been proven to be a powerful and effective tool for managing professional challenges. By creating psychological distance from the situation, individuals can respond to stress with a clear and composed mind, which leads to reduced anxiety, increased confidence, and improved performance. The "Batman Effect" and the examples of successful musicians (maybe you feel more Slim Shady than Sasha) demonstrate the transformative power of self-distancing. The use of these powerful identities for professional development is becoming increasingly popular. Celebrities and individuals alike use the concept of character invention to overcome feelings of being an impostor and to separate their personal lives from their professional ones. Embracing the technique can help develop emotional regulation, self-control, and poise, allowing us to face challenges with confidence and focus.

Practical Tip:

The Character Alarm Method is a simple yet effective approach to channelling an alter ego. This method involves labelling three alarms on your phone with characters that you want to embody at different times throughout the day. By integrating the idea of being a certain character into your psyche, you can turn a self-fulfilling prophecy into a reality.

Science supports the idea that our brain is not fussy about what is real or not. For example, similar brain regions light up when we think of a threat as when we experience it ‘IRL’. By pretending to be a certain character, you can convince the brain to suspend disbelief and allow you to overcome your perceived limitations. The pressure of feeling inadequate melts away, leaving you feeling more in control, ambitious, and optimistic. The Character Alarm Method also serves as a memory receipt, reminding you of your efforts and successes. It's a way to ensure that you tried, even if you didn't achieve everything you wanted.

Try it out now and think of a few characters you’d like to inhabit for upcoming challenges and set alarms to remind you to put on your mental costume and get ready to defeat whatever dares oppose you!

George Berry

Written By

George Berry


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