We all have days when we doubt ourselves. We give in to the voice in our heads telling us we’re not good enough, that we can’t achieve what we set out to do and that we’re going to fail. In moments like this, all we want is to run as far away as possible from the challenge that faces us.

But in tough moments like these, what if you could be somebody else? Probably a superhero who could deal with the situation better than you can? 

Turns out such wishful thinking actually has psychological backing. 

The Batman Effect

In 2016, researchers Stephanie M. Carlson and Philip Zelazo from the University of Minnesota conducted a study on young children to test their perseverance. The children were divided into two groups and assigned a challenging task. 

The first group was asked to pretend they were a superhero before they began the task. They could pick characters like Batman, Rapunzel, Dora the Explorer, and so on. They were also given a prop such as a tiara or a cape to remind them to behave like their hero. People in the other group were being themselves.

What the study found was fascinating: children who pretended to be their heroes persevered much longer than those who were being themselves. This study then came to be known as ‘The Batman Effect’, because of all the characters that were offered to the children, the ones who chose Batman persevered the longest.

Turns out that by pretending to be their superheroes, the first group of children had created a kind of psychological distance between them and the task at hand. This strategy allowed them to see the problem more objectively.

Pretending to be their superhero also encouraged the kids to keep going and pushed them to be their best possible self. During the study, a little girl who was struggling with her task said calmly: “Batman never gets frustrated.” This means even though she may have given up by now, the superhero she’s being will not. 

This reminds me of when I was little and would mimic my favorite character from a show called Karishma Kaa Karishmaa. Karishma was a little girl just like me but she was also a robot who helped everyone, did all the chores at home and never complained or got tired. 

I was so mesmerized by her that I would go around the house behaving exactly like her: walking and talking like her, and helping everyone else. Whenever I felt the urge to complain or throw a tantrum, I would immediately remember that I’m Karishma, and Karishma cannot lose her calm!

In pretending to be more competent and patient, I would actually become more competent and patient. 

Using Personas To Overcome Limiting Beliefs

This strategy isn’t just for kids though. Many adults, notably celebrities such as Beyonce and Adele, use stage personas and alter egos to channel their confidence. They say that pretending to be someone else, even if a fictional character, helps them break out of their limiting beliefs about themselves. 

All of us have limiting beliefs that constrain us from doing things we most want to do. They make us give up even before we try. But what if we could break out of them? 

Harappa’s Leading Self course helps us understand limiting beliefs and how to overcome them. You will also learn many other tools and frameworks that will help you become the best version of yourself, maybe even your own superhero. But until then, why not be Batman? 

Manisha Koppala is an Associate Specialist in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. The literature graduate from Ashoka University loves a cup of good coffee and happens to be a free-hugs dispenser, these days via screens. 

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