What Is ‘The Batman Effect,’ And How To Use It To Overcome Fear

Back in 2013, I was training to become a barre instructor. Crippled with insecurity and self-doubt, it was challenging for me to even get through the first five minutes of the flow without an overwhelming sense of anxiety. It would stop me in my tracks; I would forget the choreography or the cues, which only created a vicious cycle of stress. With a lot of dedication and determination – and months of practice – I was finally able to teach a full class, but the fear beforehand remained. While there can be a healthy amount of nervousness before any performance (which also signals that you are about to do something that matters to you), high levels can be detrimental to the experience, resulting in paralysis and even panic.

After a couple of months of being a full-time teacher, I would still get criticism and complaints from clients. This feedback just made matters worse, and I found myself wanting to give up altogether. Then I watched a Britney Spears documentary, and something she said changed everything. She admitted to being a very shy person in real life, but when she gets on stage, she finds herself almost embracing an alter ego – one that can sing, dance, and perform in front of thousands of people with more ease, energy, and effortlessness. I realized that was exactly what I needed to do. I could embrace an alter ego when I stood in front of my class to teach. I called it my Britney Spears alter ego, and implemented it immediately. Not only did I teach my classes with more confidence, but the lead instructor would recount this story to her future trainees in case they needed the extra encouragement as well.

I have now been teaching barre for over ten years, and while my need for an alter ego has disintegrated over the past decade, I have realized that it remains a part of my teaching in more of an indirect way. In other words, it has become enmeshed in my teaching personality. I can still be introverted and even shy in real life, but when I stand in the studio to teach, it’s almost as if a different side of myself shines through. Little did I know when I was starting out, I was using a strategy called the “Batman Effect.”

What is the “Batman Effect?”

I first learned of the Batman Effect while reading Feel Good Productivity by Ali Abdaal. He referenced the alter egos of both Beyonce and Adele when they step on stage to perform. Doing so is “a powerful tool for overcoming fear,” Abdaal explains. First termed by University of Pennsylvania Professor Rachel White and her team of scientists, they found that children who impersonated a character such as a superhero (i.e. Batman) were more likely to persevere on a given task. Another study showed similar positive results on executive function. This research shows that when we can use our imaginations to create some space from our individual concepts of “self,” and embrace the mindset and energy of someone who we perceive to have more competency and confidence, it plays in our favor.

How to use find your own alter ego

Visualization is a powerful tool to help you find your own alter ego. Whether you want to sit in a quiet space and reflect, or actually put pen to paper and journal, both methods will work. I am a big proponent of writing things down, and the following prompts should help you gain some clarity:

  • When you think of your alternative “self,” how is she moving throughout the day or activity (think posture, facial expression, voice, and overall energy).
  • What are her habits and behaviors? Maybe she has a morning routine that starts the day in a mindful and empowering way.
  • How is her mindset? What thoughts are she thinking? How does she speak to herself?
  • Along those lines, are there any mantras she repeats to herself for self-encouragement and confidence?

Once you get clear on specific aspects of your alter ego, practice. Remember, this is not about perfection. We will never be fully rid of certain self-conditioning. You have lived as your “self” for years, and most likely decades, so stepping into a whole new personality overnight is not possible. Awareness will help you notice when you fall back into old patterns, which then allows you to make a conscious choice to embody those other desired characteristics you need to persevere.

If you are having trouble using your imagination to construct an alter ego, try using the concept of “expanders.” An expander is someone in real life (not an imaginary character) who is a living example of what you are trying to achieve. For example, when I was starting my natural foods business, and all of a sudden found myself with a high growth company, managing a team of people, I underwent an identity crisis of sorts (along with some imposter syndrome). So I thought of women out in the world doing something similar – building businesses similar to what I wanted to build. Who is to say how much fear they might have felt along the way, but they were all exuding a certain amount of the cool, calm, collected confidence I wanted for myself. Even if we have to “fake it until we make it,” it can be an effective way to change your mindset and beliefs.

How this exercise helps you to overcome your fear

Everyone feels fear. It serves a purpose, and is simply a part of the human condition. It is biologically hardwired in our species to keep us safe and alive – a survival mechanism that is very strong. For our primal ancestors, it kept them alert when hunting for food so they could fend off the saber tooth tigers. In our modern day society however, it has translated to more abstract scenarios: speaking in public, starting a new venture, showing up in a situation where you don’t know anyone, putting yourself out there in relationships, business, and the like.

One of my favorite expressions is “feel the fear, and do it anyway.” Coined by psychologist Dr. Susan Jeffers, she argues that the only way to tackle fear is to approach it head on. Fear exists for all of us, and we might not be able to ever get rid of it. But when we face it, and do the thing we are fearful of in spite of it, we come out stronger on the other side. As a result, we become more confident and empowered. Taking on a more confident alter ego can help you get over the initial hump.

Just like in my story as a barre instructor, adopting an alter ego served as an effective tool in the beginning, until I no longer needed it. It became a part of who I am, so automatically comes through when I start to teach. It has since translated to similar situations such as giving a presentation, yoga teacher training, or trying to land a major customer or client. Interestingly, the energy isn’t always on par with Britney Spears, but the exercise is the same. It’s a practice of asking myself, who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want to feel? What are the things I need to say to myself, and the thoughts I need to think to achieve that vision? Then I try my best to be that vision.