169: Todd Herman – Creating An Alter Ego To Uplevel Creative Performance


“We all naturally do this. We aspire to be the heroes that we see out there, and we put on their uniform or jersey and try to activate that better version of ourself.”
– Todd Herman

Would you believe it if you heard that Beyoncé uses an alter ego called “Sasha Fierce” to overcome her stage anxiety? Did you know that many of the top performers in the world, from the sports to the arts, perform as somebody else?

Believe it or not, using alter egos can help us get past our own blocks and stories to get in the zone and perform at our highest abilities. Take a moment and think about your weaknesses. Maybe like Beyoncé, you struggle with being in front of a crowd. What if, before you went on stage, you acted as though you were someone who was not afraid. What if you acted like someone who loved being on stage and even received energy from it? 

Right now, it may seem hard to visualize such an abrupt change happening, but with practice, our alter egos can actually become our greatest assets. And today’s guest on ONKEN RADIO (previously NION Radio), Todd Herman, will help us get there. 

Todd has clocked over 15,000 hours working one-on-one with people from all backgrounds and circumstances to develop an impenetrable mindset. He knows the mental performance game better than anyone, and his mindset strategies are used by entrepreneurs, entertainers, and athletes worldwide.

Read on to learn the importance of an alter ego in your creative work, how to develop your own, and how best to put it into practice in your daily life!

Who Is Todd Herman? 

Todd Herman has been working with elite performers, athletes, and entrepreneurs for over two decades. He’s the creator of the multi-award-winning Leadership & Skills Development program, 90 Day Year, and he’s the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life. His elite programs are delivered annually to over 200,000 professionals in 73 countries. 

Named by the Boston Herald as a “Training Superstar,” Todd has been featured by The Today Show, Inc Magazine, CBS, Business Insider, and many others! He also received Inc. 500’s “Fastest Growing Companies Award” and the “Rama Award for Wisdom and Leadership.” 

 Originally from Alberta, Canada, Todd grew up on a large farm and ranch (where he developed a healthy dislike of chicken coops). Todd now lives in New York City with his wife and three young children and calls himself the “world’s worst ukulele player.” 

As a high-level coach for today’s top performers, athletes, and creatives, Todd teaches people how to step into their alter egos to help them succeed. If you’re a photographer like myself, an entrepreneur, or even a parent, Todd has the knowledge and advice you need to operate at peak performance. 

 Todd is a good friend of mine, and it’s been exciting to see the impact he’s making on people’s lives. I was honored to have him join me on the podcast. If you consider yourself a Creative Alchemist, then this is one interview that you can’t miss. Let’s get started.

 Todd’s Story: The Power in Activating Your Alter Ego 

Growing up in the middle of nowhere in Canada, Todd had a big imagination. He pretended his driveway was an ice rink, and he’d pretend to be his favorite hockey star, stopping goals right and left. As he grew up, he continued investing in sports, and he even went on to become a nationally ranked badminton player! 

Eventually, Todd began volunteer-coaching football, and it was then that he realized he had a talent for managing his own mental game. He saw that the greatest challenge with these young football players wasn’t that they didn’t have the skills they needed — it was that they hadn’t prepared their minds well for the game. 

Todd grew a reputation as the “mental coach,” and he started serving some high profile clients — even Olympians. Throughout these years working with top athletes, Todd found that one of the best strategies for preparing yourself for peak performance was to do exactly as he did as a kid — activate your alter ego.

“All of these dominoes just dropped in my head where I was like, ‘Wait a second, all my consistent, best performers talk about this other self.’ So I’d go back, and I would interview people and talk to old clients and try to unpack the whole process. … And then I started to create this process, this system, and … I’ve become well-known at the highest levels of sports. … I’m known [as] the guy who comes and builds alter egos and secret identities to help people transform their performance.”
– Todd Herman

In his book, The Alter Ego Effect, Todd explains how every single one of us has access to this ability — we can all unlock our alter egos so that we can operate at our highest potential.

“And then I [talk] about the history and the science of it as well because it’s not just anecdotal. There’s a lot of brain science and psychological science about why it all works.”
– Todd Herman

You all know that I love getting into the science of things — a huge part of who we are is wired into our subconscious, so when we begin to think differently about ourselves and act as though we will be successful, our bodies and minds respond in a corresponding way. 

Who do you need to be to make your creative career work? Today, I encourage you to take some time and think about that person —when we take the time to visualize who we want to be and practice stepping into that personality daily, we begin to see results in our business, our relationships, and even our Creative Alchemy. 

How Unlocking Your Alter Ego Improves Your Creative Alchemy 

In his book The Alter Ego Effect, I was fascinated by the section where he talks about Beyoncé. She sometimes struggles with stage anxiety, so in order to perform at her best, she adopts an alter ego who is completely unafraid of pressure. And we all know that Beyoncé absolutely kills it at performances — and you can use the same strategy in your Creative Alchemy.

In order to start this process, Todd recommended that you start doing what you did as a child: play pretend:

“This playful attitude, which we naturally embrace as a kid, is [a way] to tap into our creative imagination. And our creative imagination is the great superpower that human beings have. … No other animal on the planet has creative imagination like we do, where we can suspend the disbelief of what we think we can and can’t do and step into another version of ourselves. We get to create our own worlds.”
– Todd Herman

Creative Alchemy starts in the imagination — if you’re a photographer, you may like to imagine different sets, poses, and props that would carry a message in your photos. If you’re an illustrator, perhaps you use your imagination to create new characters, styles, and storylines. And if you’re a creative entrepreneur, you constantly have to use your imagination to think of new services and products to make an impact on the world. 

“That’s what you’re doing every single day — you’re creating something. But are you creating it underneath a bunch of rules of what you think you can and cannot do?”
– Todd Herman

As artists and creative entrepreneurs, we’re often plagued with self-doubt. We compare ourselves to others, and we keep ourselves from leveling up our creative performance. But that doesn’t have to be the case. 

“And when you step into your creative imagination, it actually is like the back door to peak performance because it sidesteps doubt because ‘you’ are not doing it. So the gremlin in your mind isn’t going to try to tell you can’t do it because it’s just like Beyoncé’s [alter ego]. Sasha Fierce went out on stage, not Beyoncé.”
– Todd Herman

Next time you tell yourself, “I can’t make this deadline, I can’t start this business, or I can’t be a successful artist, take a deep breath and visualize who you need to be to make all of those statements become untrue. 

The Three-Step Process to Creating Your Alter Ego 

What does your Sasha Fierce look like? Are they fast, efficient, and an expert communicator? Or are they deliberate, methodological, and diligent? If you’re not sure where to start, Todd gave a three-step process to craft your alter ego: 

#1: Understand Your Alter Ego’s Role

Are you trying to gain new clients? Or are you focusing more on your personal brand? In order to craft your alter ego, you have to first get clear on the role that alter ego will be playing. If you have a few roles in mind, take a moment to write them all down.

#2: Understand the Abilities that Alter Ego Would Have

Now that you understand the role of your alter ego, you’re ready to start brainstorming the qualities that ego would possess. 

“If you could go into the lab and custom create a creative photographer [who] is going to help you win, … what traits and abilities would they have? Would it be playfulness? Would it be detail-[oriented]? Would it be free-flowing? … And then … is there someone or something else that you admire that you sometimes ‘wish’ you were that person or wish you could be like them?”
– Todd Herman

If you’re having some difficulty thinking of abilities, take a moment and think about the people you admire. What are their qualities? How can you emulate those qualities in your alter ego?

#3: Find an Artifact to Help Activate Those Qualities

“And now we’re going to go to the next stage, which is [to] find an item, an artifact, [or] a totem to help activate those qualities. … It taps into an already existing, psychological phenomenon … called ‘enclothed cognition.’ And enclothed cognition is that we, as human beings, tell stories, and we wrap meaning around the items that other people are wearing. … Like if someone walks in here with a doctor’s coat on, we naturally, without even thinking about it, think, ‘Okay, they’re competent, they’re successful.”
– Todd Herman

It makes sense, right? We naturally assume that people who wear glasses are smart, and people who dress in suits are business-savvy. So, if we find an artifact that we automatically attach a quality to and we keep that artifact around us, then we naturally start to adopt those qualities. 

Be a Creative Alchemist with Todd Herman 

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Creative Alchemy as using the process of creativity to create a lens through which to perform alchemy. These principles not only apply to artists and creatives in their own creative processes, but to anyone who wants to create an extraordinary life in color for themselves. 

I’ve found that 80% of creating is alchemizing the thoughts, emotions, and other inner blocks that keep you from putting the pen to the paper. Navigating to the act of creation takes alchemical processes, and when we create alter egos for ourselves, we uplevel our creative performance. 

I know that I got so much out of my conversation with Todd, and I hope you did too. Make sure to listen to the full episode to hear more about alter egos and how they uplevel your performance. And if you enjoyed the interview, make sure to tag Todd, @todd_herman, and me, @nickonken, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways on Instagram. And if you love this podcast and want to support me, please subscribe and leave a good review on Apple Podcasts. Every review helps.

Thanks so much for reading. I’ll leave you with Todd’s definition of what it means to “live inspiration”:

“Live inspiration means 100% staying tapped into this creative and playful self within me. … And the more I can stay tapped into being playful, the more I can allow the tough things that can end up happening to me just be water off a duck’s back because it doesn’t have to be my story. So [to] live with inspiration is a lot about intention.” 
– Todd Herman

Let that inspire you today — tap into your inner child and start creating your own story.

Nick Onken 

“The moment you shift your identity, it changes behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs because you are no longer shackled to your own narrative.”
– Todd Herman

You can Subscribe and Listen to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts. And please leave me a Rating and Review!


Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • How Todd’s experience as an athlete growing up led him to use the “alter ego” effect [2:54]
  • How this alter ego can affect our creativity [9:30]
  • The different types of alter egos that can manifest in a person’s life [16:46]
  • The practice of stepping into these different identities [23:33]
  • How Todd short circuits the ten thousand hour rule [33:24]
  • What challenges people face when growing in their work [41:10]
  • Why you should always work with the best [43:16]
  • Why “fake it til you make it” just doesn’t work [51:27]

Links Mentioned:

Connect with Todd Herman on ToddHerman.me | AlterEgoEffect.com

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