Whether it’s Thor or Tina Fey, these simple exercises will help you get in touch with your best self
By Jordan Myska Allen
Last night I watched Iron Man 3. I love Tony Stark (the character who is Iron Man); he’s brilliant, brave, delightfully arrogant in a self-aware kind of way, and he consistently saves the world. He’s quick witted and able to work through almost any problem. He’s got some issues, but that humanity makes him even more lovable.
I often write and speak about looking at negative emotions, how we project them onto others, and how to accept and release them; yet focusing on the positive projections is just as important. In some circles, people like to call the disowned, projected pieces of our selves “shadow,” and the self-empowerment, positive projections are then called the “Golden Shadow.” So I started thinking, what parts of myself am I projecting onto Iron Man? Can I use Tony Stark to see my own Golden Shadow?
Take a minute and play along
Open up a journal or new text doc; even send yourself an email. Who is one of your heroes? What do you love about the person? Jot a quick list, like the one I made about Iron Man.
- Quick witted
- Way of ordering people around
Next, ask yourself some questions about this hero—it doesn’t matter whether they’re real or fictional, alive or dead. In what ways am I like Tony Stark? In what ways am I not? What can I do to embody more of the qualities I like, and what holds me back? Try to stay away from the details like “He invented a fictional renewable energy source and a new element”; go to a more general level such as, “He is inventive and his creations are eminently practical.”
Take it to the next level
This could be a useful and fun exercise by itself, but of course we can go much deeper.
Option 1: Dialogue with the character. Ask the character in your mind—either on paper or role playing as the hero with a friend, what makes them able to do what they do? How can you step into those shoes? For example, I might ask Tony Stark, “How are you able to be so creative and so practical at the same time? How do you stay so far ahead of technology?” Then I answer my own question pretending to be Tony, such as “I refuse to take no for an answer, I obsess to the point of isolation, and a lot of my inventions are driven by survival—if I didn’t invent that reactor I would have died from the metal in my chest.” Then I can see how I might choose to adopt some of those qualities, or not, in my own creative process. I rarely invent from a standpoint of survival; what would happen if I did? Or, I don’t want to obsess to the point of isolation.
The point here is that by adopting the character’s viewpoint, you find out what wisdom inside of yourself you’re projecting onto them. The “wisdom” could be true or not in reality; this exercise just lets you hold up the mirror and see your unconscious beliefs.
Option 2: Pick 2 or 3 more of your heroes, and make a list of their attributes. Circle what they all have in common. Do you share these traits? What are you missing?
You might find a couple of characteristics that you admire in others but feel unable to adopt inside yourself and your own life. The point of this is that the cognitive dissonance of seeing something out there that you admire but aren’t capable of doing or being could be (1) a source of unconscious unhappiness and (2) a wonderful opportunity to grow.
You may release your need to be that by becoming aware of it, or you may decided to take more proactive steps to learn how to be embody the characteristics you love in the people you admire.
Be the hero
What you do to develop those heroic capacities is up to you, and will likely be determined by the characteristics you admire. For example, if you admired the easy-going nature of Winnie-the-Pooh, you’re not likely going to set up a hard-core regimen to achieve that way of being. If on the other hand, you listed Bruce Lee’s work-out ethic, you’ll want to be more disciplined about your growth.
There is one technique that will help regardless of what you want to develop. Think of a situation where you might normally react in a way that isn’t like your hero, or think of a problem you’re currently faced with. How would your hero deal with it? Don’t just think it through, close your eyes and really get into their skin. See their reaction from their eyes, feel their body move, smell the smells and hear the sounds accompanying the situation and their amazing reaction to it, and then remember that this capacity is in you. You could not imagine this reaction if it were not. You are actually the one doing this. Now you can rehearse a heroic response to that trying situation over and over, from the inside, as if it were a true memory, as if you were really there.
This might feel a little familiar—it harkens back from the days of kindergarten-playground-make-believe. For most of us, those were some pretty happy times, so we might as well adopt the best-practices from our youthful former selves.
Who are your heroes? Have any suggestions for some I can borrow? What traits do you love about them? Let us know how it works for you.
Costumes from disguise.com