One of the key tools I recommend you add to your mental toolbox is to create a “list of role models.”
Role models play a big part in our self development because much of what we learn is based on what we see from others. This starts in early childhood when we first begin modeling the behavior of our parents, teachers, friends, siblings, etc.
If you take a moment, you can probably think of a certain thing you do that you’ve learned from watching someone else – like a habit you share with your parents, or a catchphrase you’ve picked up from a friend.
We all have role models whether we are aware of it or not. It’s a fundamental way our brains work and how they learn to adapt (and conform) to our environment and social circle.
By taking an active approach to finding new role models to learn from and be inspired by, we give ourselves more power and control to change in the ways we most want to see change.
For example, think of a trait you wish you had more of (like “confidence” or “kindness”). Then identify 2-3 role models who you believe embody that specific trait. Ask yourself, “What do these people do differently than me? And how can I adopt that into my own daily life?”
This is just a simple technique to use role models to help change your behavior. To get even deeper, try actually imagining yourself as another person.
Pretending you are someone else can be a very powerful way to tap into new aspects of yourself. By looking at a situation through a completely new perspective you can discover mental resources you already had inside yourself that weren’t previously available to you.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should try to be someone you’re not.
This just an mental exercise to practice every now and then to help step outside of your current “self image” and begin seeing yourself in new ways.
Our “self image” can often be very fixed and static. We observe certain traits and behaviors in ourselves that have persisted for long periods of time and we begin to believe, “This is just the way I am.”
But the truth is your “self” is often much more dynamic than you realize. It’s not just something that sits statically at an untouchable core inside you – it’s constantly being influenced and shaped by your perspective, your choices, your relationships, and your environment.
This is the difference between a “fixed self” perspective and a “dynamic self” perspective – the key insight is that we change a lot more than we realize.
By using role models and “pretending to be someone else,” we can often better tap into this dynamic self that we all have – and we can begin to change our self image in a way we want to actually see ourselves.
Pretending You’re Batman
When choosing role models, it often helps to choose people from your personal life because these are the people we are most familiar with and thus we know the most about their particular thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.
However, you can also choose role models that are completely fictional – like characters from books, movies, TV shows, comics, or wherever.
It can even be fun and helpful to occasionally pretend you are a superhero.
In fact, in one recent study published in Child Development, children were asked to imagine themselves doing a “boring but important” computer task as Batman.
The researchers found that the children who were asked to imagine themselves as Batman spent the most time working on the task, even though they were told they could stop doing the task at anytime they wanted.
By imagining themselves as someone else, especially a fun and heroic character like Batman, children found it easier to tap into mental resources that allowed them to focus on the task and stay committed to it.
While this is a very simple study, it touches on the potential power of role-playing to improve ourselves.
This is consistent with other research that shows how “playing pretend” can be a crucial part of a child’s learning and development.
You can likely think of countless examples of watching children role-play various characters – pretending to be “Mom” or “Dad,” pretending to be a “firefighter,” pretending to be an “astronaut,” pretending to be a “baseball player,” or whatever.
This role-playing helps a child play with different roles in their mind and find how those roles fit with their own sense of identity. It’s a process of both self-discovery and self-development.
Unfortunately, as we reach our late teens and adulthood, our tendency to practice “role playing” goes down dramatically. Our minds become more fixed, less dynamic, and we often become more set in our patterns of thinking and behaving.
This is why actively practicing “role playing” throughout our lives can be such a valuable tool – so that we keep growing and keep evolving in the best way possible.
Have Fun and Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
One of the key tips I give to those who want to practice “role playing” is to make sure you have fun with it and you don’t take yourself too seriously.
The essence of “role playing” is to play pretend – with an emphasis on PLAY.
Approach “role playing” as a way of exploring your mind and experimenting with different patterns of thinking and behaving. Nothing is set in stone – you’re just having fun with your mind.
Start off by practicing “role playing” on your own so that you can really exaggerate and be silly with it. No one else needs to watch you do it – it’s an exercise for yourself.
For example, sometimes when I’m alone I walk around my apartment as if I am the CEO of a major company. I imagine myself having this big vision for the world that I want to accomplish – and having loyal employees who want to help me carry out my vision.
I imagine myself in this situation and ask, “How would I walk?” and “How would I speak?” and “How would I treat my employees?” and “How would I think and feel about myself?”
Then I practice creating mini-situations in my head and acting them out, such as:
(Employee walks into my office as I’m admiring a beautiful painting)
Employee: Steve, there’s a problem with Project Z, we may need to push the deadline back.
(I turn around and look at employee directly in the eyes)
CEO Me: Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Let’s keep pushing forward and see where we end up.
(Employee looks worried)
Employee: But what if we don’t reach the deadline?
(Me with confidence and assurance)
CEO Me: It’s important we do the best work we can, if we have to push the deadline back then we have to push the deadline back. Just focus on what you can do on a day-to-day basis.
(Employee nods his head and walks out)
It’s nothing special, but walking through situations like this helps me to think of myself in a more motivational and leadership role, which are characteristics I want to work on more in myself.
Often as “CEO Me” I’ll imagine myself as a mixture of other successful CEO’s like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk. This makes it easier to get into character. (And this is why having a list of “role models” can be an important first step to take before “role-playing”).
You can do the same thing with any personality trait you want to work on more. Just imagine someone who embodies that trait and pretend you are them in an imaginary situation.
When “pretending you’re someone else,” it helps to have specific role models to draw from and be inspired by, but you could also create a completely new person you’d want to be like.
You could imagine “Confident Me” or “Kind Me,” and then role-play what THOSE types of people may be like in certain situations. And by doing that, you learn more about how the actual “You” can be more like that too.
Overall, role-playing and “pretending you’re someone else” can be a very effective way to expand your self-image and begin seeing yourself in a new light. I recommend it to anyone who wants to improve their self-growth.
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