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Let’s talk about Beyonce. You probably were not expecting this week’s blog to start off talking about one of the most prolific and successful musicians of all time, but stay with me here. Beyonce’s success is near-unmatched, and one of the key elements of her success lies in, among other things, her captivating and almost otherworldly stage presence. You would never guess that this person, who seems to feel at home in front of audiences, had ever experienced stage fright or nervousness at any point in their career. But these individuals who captivate us on stage are no more or less human than you or myself. Every human being on the planet has experienced some form of nervousness; it’s one of many emotions that make life colorful and exciting. So the question remains: if everyone experiences stage fright and anxiety, how do performers, speakers, and athletes remain in control, familiar to us, and effective on stage, where anxiety peaks for many? The answer: becoming a Sasha Fierce. Sasha Fierce is famously Beyonce’s alter ego that she has gone on record as stating she embodies when she is performing. Where Beyonce is reserved and subdued in her personal life, Sasha is exuberant, sensual, confident, all the qualities fans popularly attribute to the singer herself. And in a way they’re right: Sasha and Beyonce are the same person…but at the same time, not the same person. You don’t have to be a world-famous performer to recognize the power of adopting an alter ego, or the “attractive character” to overcome anxiety. I’ve dedicated much of my blog to breaking down the many ways individuals can harness their power to control anxiety when speaking in public, including deep breathing, visualization, manifestation, and cognitive restructuring. Supported by decades of research across psychology, communications, and neuroscience, adopting an alter ego is just one of many ways you can tap into that power. In today’s blog, we’ll look at the origins of performance anxiety, the psychology of performance, and how crafting the attractive character allows many to overcome self-doubt and anxiety.

What are performance anxiety and performance psychology?

Performance anxiety refers to the negative psychological and physiological reactions our minds and bodies experience when performing in front of others. It is one of many psychological aspects addressed by the broader field of performance psychology.

Performance anxiety symptoms can include:

  • Rapid pulse
  • Labored, fast breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Trembling
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
The level of performance nervousness a person will experience varies, but is generally influenced by psychological factors like one’s personality, memories of past experiences of performing (especially if they were negative), and a tendency to place high levels of demand on oneself. Performance psychology focuses on the mental constructs that help or hinder performers across many domains of performance, and its principles can be applied to public speakers, athletes, artists, and any individual who must perform under pressure. Performance psychologists analyze the many ways our psychology influences behavior in a stage or public social setting. Performance psychology, even in its brief history, recognizes how human performance is not simply a physical action, but also a psychological practice that stresses an individual’s ability to maintain focus, concentration, drive, and calm while meeting their performance goals. For example, athletes may experience nervousness right before a big game. Performance psychology techniques assist in helping athletes get out of their head and regain confidence in their ability to create success.

How do alter egos help a performer with nervousness?

Psychological research recognizes that, among many other factors, performance forces the performer to become vulnerable. Human beings, generally speaking, will naturally try to avoid situations where we can be harmed, whether physically or emotionally. Thus, the natural tendency is for our brains to engage in fear response, or the flight or fight response to threatening situations. But one of the simplest ways of preventing this response before it begins is to do what your brain is telling you: don’t perform. At least, you don’t perform. Your alter ego, however, is a different story. Decades of psychological knowledge and performance psychology suggest that something as simple as crafting a separate psychological construct of oneself can alleviate impending feelings of pressure or self doubt in one’s ability. Ergo, it is no longer you in front of everyone; it’s them.

Who uses alter egos, and what are they like?

Alter egos have become increasingly popular among performers, coaches, athletes, business entrepreneurs, and even many of my own clients! They are one of the very first tools I introduce to clients who are ready to tackle their fears surrounding public speaking, sport performance, small business ownership, and performance in general because it is so simple, yet effective.

An alter ego will differ between people, but they generally share a few things in common, namely:

  • The alter ego does not experience pressure, or at the very least, can cope with pressure more effectively than we can.
  • They are at peak performance, handle clients with charisma and ease, and maintain motivation in their goals.
  • They are usually present in the current situation, rather than delving into past failures or worrying about future consequences.
  • They embody confidence, concentration, and security in their mind, life, body, and intention, eliminating negative self-talk and making room for self-compassion.
  • The alter ego maintains motivation and, while not necessarily having skills vastly different than our own, is skilled in the moment.
I use a lot of wording here that separates the “you” from the “them” alter ego, and that’s intentional. But it is important to remember that all of this, all of these skills and confidence, comes from the same place. You. Research by performance psychologists demonstrates that separating yourself from an anxiety-provoking scenario improves focus and performance, a strange but helpful quirk of our internal psychology. Say, for instance, you are worried about a big presentation aka performance you must give to your team on Friday of next week, and you really dislike standing up in front of people. Simple as it may be, the exercise of crafting an alter ego who is perpetually unbothered by — and to the contrary, seeks out — opportunities to speak in front of others will make a world of difference in your approach, as demonstrated by psychology studies.

How do I create an effective alter ego?

I firmly believe than everyone can benefit from this practice, and the steps to crafting the alter ego are able to be done anywhere, at any time. Performance psychology is so interesting because it’s principles apply to everyone, no matter what differences may exist between individuals. The only skills required are an open mind, creativity, and ability to be detailed.
  1. Imagine yourself in the real performance situation and ask yourself what optimal performance looks like. This is unique between individuals; for instance, if you’re in sports, optimal performance may mean doing your best and putting in your hard work developed from practice and training. Vivid imagery is key here: really try to picture the moment.
  2. Analyze what traits would be needed to perform well in this situation. Does the situation require charisma, poise, tact, humor, etc.? It may be helpful for this exercise to think of characters or real people from popular culture, and imagine how they would tackle the performance.
  3. Now, put these traits you described into practice: what does a person who embodies all of these traits look like while giving a performance?
  4. Use detailed imagery. Really try to see this person as a unique human being separate from your own, and give them as many details as necessary. For instance, when not performing, what are they like? Are they outgoing, subdued, or do they maybe even have a bit of a dark side? Is their history the same as yours? What do they want in life?
  5. Flesh out this individual’s many quirks. How do they carry themselves physically? Is their intonation, body language, or physical appearance drastically differ from your own? \
Research supports the use of detailed imagery, and psychologists have stated numerous times just how powerful our mental imagery can truly be. Whether in business, sports, or working within teams, performance psychology supports positive visualization, and the level of detail we put into this future, through our alter ego, only serves to direct this visualization more precisely.


Psychologists studying performance psychology have conducted extensive research on the power of our minds to cope with stress, exercise confidence, regain control of our physical response to fear, and improve general well-being. Psychology, among many other scientific fields that come into play when discussing performance, reveals the nuances behind the power of shifting perspective in improving performance. I encourage you to take yourself through the previous exercise, and even if you never use your alter ego, reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself and where your inner strength lives. The lessons may surprise you.

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