Alter Ego – Week 7 | The Mental Work of Defining A Powerful Self
This is part of a weekly series where I write about my experiences in Niyi Sobo’s 12-week Mental Training group. This is week 7.
This week’s assignment is filling out an Alter Ego ID Card. The idea is to create an “alter ego” that allows you to take care of business in your actual business, in meetings, or in your sport. You’ll see this a lot with Thai fighters, who are ruthless in the ring but very quiet and sweet outside of it. I don’t think they actually develop alter egos for themselves, but it’s this whole Superman/Clark Kent thing of being able to transform in order to perform under the circumstances of whatever your high-pressure challenges are.
I happen to be really comfortable with the alter ego thing. I’ve had quite a few in my life, at various stages and for different purposes, but never formally or with the kind of “let’s figure out this character’s drives” approach that this Week 7 assignment warranted. And that’s where it gets difficult for me. Only one alter ego of mine ever got a name and it’s not appropriate for the context I’m developing under now. I’m incredibly comfortable mimicking a rockstar or an actor, something Kevin finds endlessly entertaining, and I reckon I’m pretty good at finding the essences of these personalities. In fact, just last week I did something very brave and went out to a club at midnight in order to see my favorite Thai band play at a small local venue here in Pattaya. I’ve been in atmospheres like this many times, but as a bartender you’re safely tucked behind the bar; walking out in the actual club area was a nightmare for me. Very shy, I nearly left in the 20 minutes I had to wait for the band to take the stage but I was too determined to see them and ended up pushing through. I’m so, so happy I did. They’re born for live performance and watching the lead singer on stage, seemingly possessed by the music and pulling the vocals out of the air in order to channel them through his whole body… unreal. His name is Arjan Kai and he does this thing where he touches his left hand to his forehead, between his eyes, and then to his chest. It looks almost like the start of a Catholic crossing himself, but it’s – I’m guessing – his orientation of huajai, meaning the head and the heart (literally) but conceptually is the soul. When I got home from the concert I showed Kevin this move and he got a huge grin on his face watching me imitate Arjan Kai. “I’m stealing this,” I told him, meaning I was going to channel the kind of raw expression that I witnessed with him on stage into the alter ego I bring forth in my better fights. I have also, at times, simply imitated Karuhat, while sparring with Karuhat in order to get in a better state and it works. So, Karuhat blended with Arjan Kai. Weird combo, but it works for me.
I think, however, why this works for me in a general sense – there are times I get to a fight and my energy is “off” and so I have to go into rockstar mode, which is mimicking no particular rockstar but just that “Hello Springfield!” kind of attitude, yelling out over a huge crowd of adoring fans. Because it’s non-specific it’s not really imitation, it is really me, it’s just a very deliberate performance. And the performance is without definition or hard lines, it’s just a rockstar in the sense that when I think of that persona there is a degree to which anything and everything that persona does is with confidence. Every movement is met with shrieking approval from the fans. Bob Seger sings, “out there in the spotlight you’re a million miles away/ every ounce of energy you try to give away/ as the sweat pours out your body like the music that you play.” I do that; I channel that. There’s a lack of intimacy because whoever “you” are as a rockstar doesn’t matter at all, it’s like you’ve slipped into this silhouette of that persona and it’s a pure expression of the music or the lifestyle or whatever. When I watch Arjan Kai on stage it’s like that’s the only element in which he’ll ever exist. There are those who want to see him backstage and shatter that image, to make it “real” in a kind of get-t0-know-him-in-person kind of thing, but I’ve never been one for that. I did’t want to read up on the real, personal life of Axl Rose or Trent Reznor when I was a teen. It breaks the spell, kills the magic. So, while I can put on the skin of these archetypes, so to speak, I’ve never worked to break down their inner-drives or beliefs or any of that. I’m not a real actor.
But when I have to fill out the values and drives of this alter ego of mine, and narrow it down to a point where I can give her a name, it becomes quite challenging. It feels, almost, like being asked to describe a suspect for a police sketch and I can’t remember the mouth shape. It’s all just, “uh, taller than me; dark hair; a general air of menacing swagger.” Try drawing that last one. But Niyi has broken it down so that I have to define and understand what my alter ego’s primary actions are: I must eat up space in the ring; I must answer every strike with a counter; or values like “I am a dominant force and this is my fight,” kinds of things. I can pinpoint those things and, ultimately, those words and beliefs act as reinforcements behind the swagger or gestures of the character I’m embodying. I don’t need to know what words Arjan Kai is thinking when he touches his head and heart, but I did understand the gesture enough to know – or surmise – that’s what he’s doing. When Tori Amos is grinding her hips while playing the piano, that’s a secondary way to express the energy that’s pouring through her as she plays her music. I’ve felt that in a few of my fights, where I’ll spontaneously grin or nod at my opponent after a shot, either given or taken, that’s just a natural expression of the energy I’m already feeling – and embodying – in the ring. Those moments are undefined for me; they’re not thought-out or planned. I reckon the idea behind the Alter Ego ID Card is to trace over those seemingly spontaneous lines in order to make them accessible on command. Rather than going on set as an actor and just seeing whether or not the character you’re hired to play comes out of you, you have to be able to channel that character on command. Some actors don’t come out of character at all, usually this is told to media outlets as a kind of complaint from their co-stars, because it’s too hard to go in and out. I suppose with the kind of alter ego required to dominate on the field or in the ring, you want to be able to put the “S” on your chest and take it back off at the end of your shift, so to speak. So the point is designing and defining the costume down to the last detail.
The other posts in this series: