Shhh! Don’t tell anyone, but I used to be Redwing Dreamseeker.
I played my first round of SuperBetter 4 years ago after I had shoulder surgery to repair a major rotator cuff injury, and had months of physical therapy rehabilitating the shoulder. As part of playing the online game to get me on track and through rehab, I selected a “secret identity,” a heroic nickname for myself.
In her book SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal explains the research that indicates having a secret identity can remind you daily of the personal strengths you bring to your challenge. Whether it’s humor or caring or creativity, you have some personal strength that are so you that they are your “signature strengths.”
Your secret identity can remind you of those when you’re facing a challenge. For example, to help her in her post-concussion recovery, McGonigal chose to adopt a name to remind her of a favorite TV show and became Jane the Concussion Slayer — step aside, Buffy!
So, to help me rehab my shoulder, I adopted the secret identity of Redwing Dreamseeker. Though now graying, my hair and beard used to be rather red, earning me nicknames with “red” in them for years. My shoulder injury felt like “clipped wings” to me, especially in terms of mobility (I couldn’t drive for 3 months). And “Dreamseeker” just clicked with me instantly, and so a secret identity was born.
Adopting a secret identity can provide you with a potent tool in meeting your challenges: a short-cut to self-distancing. See, there’s a lot of research indicating that encouraging people to think about their negative feelings can lead t0 physical and mental benefits. But there’s also a number of studies that indicates when people try to understand their feelings, it often backfires as they spin off into “compulsive thought cycles” of rumination that make them feel worse.
So a couple of researchers looked closer at a lot of those studies and their research findings suggest that “to benefit from thinking deeply about your own personal challenges, think about your challenges as if they were happening to someone else” — self-distancing.
Using self-distancing while thinking about our feelings, actions or situations works whether we’re thinking about past events, our present situation, or future possibilities. People who use self-distancing while recalling traumatic events experience less anxiety. Using self-distancing while considering a present situation can enhance willpower, and also allows you to engage in more constructive problem-solving. And applying self-distancing to thinking about the future helps you adopt that challenge mindset so critical to develop psychological flexibility.
For my shoulder injury rehab, what this meant was that whenever I felt depressed or angry about not being able to get around, I could say to myself, “Redwing Dreamseeker wouldn’t let a little thing like that slow him down.” When I didn’t feel like doing my PT exercises, I’d remind myself, “Redwing Dreamseeker would just get up and do the damned exercises right now instead of moaning about them.”
McGonigal suggests celebrating your secret identity, listing off several ideas some SuperBetter players have shared with her:
- Create a visual cue: put an image on your fridge or your phone screen
- Adopt a mantra, or call to action: choose a short powerful phrase
- Wear it with pride: wear a little something (wristband, shoelaces, socks) that represents your secret identity, especially on days you know you’ll need to draw on your signature strengths
- Pick a theme song: choose a tune that always pumps you up and listen to it as needed for that extra boost
- Sneakily show it off: maybe post a new profile photo on social media that only hints at the secret identity
- Collect heroic quotes: use real quotes or make them up if needed, and then post these for your own viewing….maybe even write them on tiny slips of paper like fortune cookie fortunes and draw one out of a jar daily for inspiration
- Immerse yourself in the hero’s world: if you’re inspired by a TV or film character, binge on all the episodes or sequels; or re-read the book the character comes from; or read biographies of any real-life heroes your secret identity might reflect
- Reveal your secret identity to someone you trust: share your secret identity with an ally and they can help you celebrate your signature strengths more directly
One final note about your secret identity: sometimes, you might retire a secret identity. Once my shoulder had healed and my physical therapy had ended and I was once again able to drive my old truck, Redwing Dreamseeker hung up his wings for good.
Now that I’m back in the SuperBetter game again, though, it’s time for me to take on a new secret identity.
Stick around and maybe I’ll share it with you later.
Next: Epic Wins