Putting your alter egos to work

2009

Even when you're doing a job by yourself, who you put in charge may be the key to how well it gets done. That apparent paradox is according to author and creativity expert Jurgen Wolff, whose new book, Focus: the Power of Targeted Thinking, explains that we all have many sub-personalities.

"There are times when you're focused and times when you let your curiosity guide you," he says. "Likewise, sometimes you are in a conciliatory mood and other times you may have a steely determination to do things your own way."

Most of the time we leave to chance which one of our sub-personalities is in charge at any given time. The secret of greater success, Wolff says, is to make this unconscious process an intentional one.

At the start of any task, you can think about which qualities are most important for its achievement, and then evoke that frame of mind. Do the task, then go through the same evaluation before starting on the next task.

One example: if you put your 'curious kid' persona in charge of organising your office, most likely you'll spot some magazine you've been meaning to read and a few hours later nothing much will have been accomplished. On the other hand, that may be exactly the right sub-personality to put in charge of brainstorming a new project.

Wolff even suggests giving these aspects of yourself names. Some of his include the above-mentioned "Curious Kid," for when free-ranging thought is appropriate, "Attila" when absolute focus and determination is called for, "Sister Harmonia" for times when the emphasis is on cooperation, and "Moneypenny" for tasks requiring accuracy.

"Using the names just makes it easier to slip into the right frame of mind," he says. "It becomes a sort of shorthand. Of course you don't have to say them out loud." Hmm, yes, that might be for the best.

If you find it difficult to switch between subpersonalities, Wolff recommends following these steps:

  1. Identify the next task you want to accomplish.
  2. Identify the key trait that the task requires. If you were hiring someone else to do it, what is the main attribute you'd be looking for?
  3. Remember a time when you exhibited that quality yourself, even if in a totally different context. For instance, if you're a fierce competitor at games, you can bring that to the table in negotiations. If you feel you don't have any of the desired quality, think of someone who does and imagine what it feels like.
  4. When you get into character, use all your senses. What do things look like, sound like, and feel like when you're in the mental mode you've chosen?
  5. As you do the task, if you find yourself slipping out of your chosen character, stop and refresh the feeling.
  6. When the task is done, take a moment to clear your mind. Stretch, walk around for a moment, to clear your head.

The technique may sound a bit eccentric at first, but Wolff says many participants in his workshops have found it the secret to not only getting more done, but also to actually enjoying tasks they used to avoid. And finding that we all have a staff at our beck and call - if only internally - is a pleasant surprise.

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