The Batman Effect: Vanquish Addiction with a Heroic Identity

Use the Batman Effect— adopt a heroic alter ego– to attack anxiety, crumple cravings, and become the hero you’re destined to be.

Addiction? Bad habit? Fear?
Confidence. Control. Power.

(And backed by so much science that this is part 1 of 3. I might even write an ebook on it and put it in the Lodge.)

The Batman Effect Pinterest pin

The Batman Effect: proven by science

Psychologists call it self-distancing, but the name “The Batman Effect” comes from a Cornell University Food Lab study called “What would Batman eat?”

Researchers asked a group of 22 kids once a week whether they wanted french fries or apple slices with their lunch. For two of four weeks, they then presented the kids with pictures of Batman, Spiderman, and so on, and asked them “What would this person eat?”

According to the researchers, “During each of the two control weeks, two of 22 children (9.1%) selected the apple fries. On the week each child was primed with photos of models, 10 children (45.5%) selected apple fries.”

Note that on the final week, they didn’t present the kids with pictures. So the kids forgot and stopped caring. (!)

Yes, they were just children. But no matter your age, there are benefits to bonding with Batman: not only eating healthier, but exercising more often– so long as you emotionally identify with the hero. (Otherwise, you could compare yourself and feel bad.)

The Batman Effect kicks in regardless of which hero you choose. And you don’t have to pick a superhero: someone you admire—a family member, inspirational person with a similar backstory to you (see below), or a local healthcarer worker—works just as well.

For our purposes, we’ll change it to “What would Batman / Jesus / (hero) do?”

If an upstanding, healthy role model wouldn’t do what you’re doing, why would you?

Batman eats a hot dog
In case you wondered what Batman would eat. (© 2011 El-Cid on YouTube)

Start using the Batman Effect with these questions

Got that person in mind? Good. Let’s start there.

  • What qualities do I admire in my hero? In people in general?
  • What qualities do I wish I had?
  • What superpowers do I already possess? (You are the hero of your own story!)

Let’s say you admire Michael Jordan, one of the top basketball players of all time, for his skill and grace. From what I’ve heard, he often stayed after practice to shoot 3-pointers after his teammates went home. That’s deliberate practice. If you value power, knowledge, talent, then you value persistence.

Maybe you prefer Wonder Woman. Yes, she draws power from her bracelets, but that’s her armor. Amazonian strength, courage, and determination (while maintaining femininity) doesn’t come overnight. You can have those qualities, too, after fighting your Monsters (see below) over and over again.

And lastly, connect their backstory to yours. Did they suffer a hurt you relate to (illness, accident, from a bad neighborhood)? How did they overcome it? This is crucial to developing an emotional connection. You’ll see yourself as them if you can empathize.

These traits are your new goals. But you don’t have to determine why you want them yet.

Instead, find out where they came from.

1. A heroic backstory

We all have a wound. An unfair, painful weight on our soul. If you prefer, a fatal flaw.
And it’s our lifelong duty to overcome it.

This is how heroes– and villains– are born.

You can see yourself as an underdog who someone’s keeping down, or as a victim. Either way, downward pressure at times crushes all of us.

You can focus on revenge, or on responsibility. You can be bitter, or you can be better.

And if you’re on this site, trying to better yourself, you’re a burgeoning hero.

To use a Batman example, recall what Alfred told Bruce in Batman Begins:

“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Defeated man struggling to push himself off the ground
(image by Dusty Pedroia from Pixabay)

Maybe you haven’t yet found the grand, noble mission for which you were called. But I think we’re all called for something. And if you reflect on your backstory, you’ll uncover it.

That unfair, painful weight on your soul? You can let it devour you. You can leave your weak point vulnerable to every slight life can, and will, throw at you.

Or you can repair it with gold, like in the Japanese ceramic art of kintsugi. We’re all chipped, imperfect, beautiful pottery. So repair it with gold. Make your weakest point your strongest point by going so far in the other direction you become a healer for others who suffer the same as you did!

That’s truly the best revenge, to be unlike whoever, or whatever, hurt you. Show them how strong you are. They can’t hurt you anymore! I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become!!

(Yell that last sentence. Now!)

“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
- Viktor Frankl

This is Narrative, game element #38 in my free ebook, Game On: 60+ Cheat Codes to Kick Video Game Addiction and Make Life an MMORPG. I go deeper into how to discover meaning and design Quests based around it, inside. Want to become a hero? tie everything together, suffering included, as a thread of challenges leading you to herodom, for that which you were called and which you need to be a warrior. Addiction stands no chance against a heroic commitment.

I impel you to read #38 if you want to be a hardened, valorous hero.

2. A reason why

"He who has a why to live for and bear almost any how."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

I meditate and ponder deep things. Here’s some wisdom.

  • Motivation (or Your Why) originates from suffering. Without suffering, there is no desire.
  • Desire implies lack. Therefore, desire is suffering.
  • It may be impossible to eliminate suffering, but hopeful, enjoyable pursuit gives meaning.

The best Why’s are not to escape a negative identity, but to move toward a positive one. Remember what I said about kintsugi, repairing a chip in ceramic with gold? Find an identity that makes you happy and moves you in the opposite direction of whatever hurt you.

The Batman Effect: move toward a positive identity, not away from a negative one

But never forget the pain of when you fell. Use it to learn to pick yourself up.

Because no matter how strong Your Why is now, it’ll wane when you lack one of those psychological needs on my Panic button! page (see below). All addictions try to pull you back.

So it’s important to meet those needs with healthy alternatives. Fruit instead of birthday cake ice cream, so to speak.

But you’ll still have bad days, when your brain craves with incessant fury its fix. You’ll need powerful, emotional reminders.

And these are elements #20 and #21 of my free ebook, Game On: 60+ Cheat Codes to Kick Video Game Addiction and Make Life an MMORPG. Microtransactions and AFK Glow, respectively, function as kicks in the butt, when you feel like quitting. No hero can be a hero all the time. You have to weather the bad times, the down times, the questioning times. It’s those that show you how strong, or weak, you are.

I’ll expand on this concept in the future, but for now, I urge you to don the power of Microtransactions and AFK Glow. Read how in my free ebook.

3. A heroic identity

The Batman Effect: a phantom knight shadows behind a confident teen
example alter ego (© Atlus 2020 (Persona 5 Royal))
"Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
- Unknown

For the Batman Effect, you need strong visuals. Outside of weapons and armor, which I discuss below, your avatar needs to be distinctive. Some good starting points are mythology, a spirit animal, or a class in an RPG.

If you want, do some image searching. Maybe find one that’s close to your hero identity.

But this is a brief thing. It needs to be easy to remember, so don’t spend more than, say, ten minutes on it.

When naming your hero, you have options. Use a title like in World of Warcraft, invent a name, or make a portmanteau. For instance, in Jane McGonigal’s book SuperBetter, she gives a few examples from players of her recovery game:

  • Kingfisher Fire
  • Sargent Self-Care
  • Mary Effin’ Poppins

Distinctive. Easy to remember.

Heroic weapons and armor

By weapons, I mean counterattacks when your bad guys strike. These can be swords or spells, depending on your hero’s character. Mine, for instance (see below), is a bow and arrow, due to my tendencies to be distant and have piercing insights. Maybe you’re a healer, or a tank, if you catch my drift.

Armor can be distinctive, too, but you don’t have to design an ensemble. Look at the knight above. Not overcomplicated.

My best spell is “Posture.” A straight spine, shoulders back, walking with purpose (like Batman in the first image), and *belly breathing* infuses me with pride, determination, courage, and confidence. Try it yourself. Instantaneous.

Power poses like these are your best armor. Watch psychologist Amy Cuddy describe them below.

Website / app blockers are also effective armor. Although blockers (alone) won’t save you, not using one is like not wearing armor because you think the bad guys won’t hit you. Video games, social media, porn, or other addictions, there’s a blocker for that.

  • (websites and apps… but not Steam)
  • Pluckeye (offers a 10-minute+ delay with no passwords, technical setup, only mobile version is Android)
  • StayFocusd (lets you set a site time limit until they’re blocked for the day)
  • Cold Turkey (impossible to bypass)

I also encourage you to employ a heroic soundtrack for your Batman Effect. What songs speak to your intrepid identity? Would it work in the background while (hero) acts?

For example, Destiny of the Chosen by Immediate Music, or Tiger’s Lair by Mick Gordon. Something valorous, motivating, and tough.

Weapon freebie: Panic button!

I hand-coded my Panic Button page with links to random pick-me-ups based on which need your brain craves. (videos, quotes, etc.) Bookmark it and use it whenever an urge feels about to overpower you. There are 4+ links for each need now, but I’ll keep updating it.

My theory goes that we crave 7+ key emotions: love/validation, excitement, pursuit, identity, calm/autonomy, beauty/awe, and community. Everything we buy or consume is to fill one of those when we lack it. Sure, it takes a little introspection to pinpoint your chronic lack (or wound from point #1), but try them out and see which work for you.

Or just urge surf (breathe and ride it out; the same principle behind Pluckeye).

Panic button screenshot
Panic button! page (link also in sidebar)

And also, psst. If you’d like more free resources like this, or quotes and tips that don’t fit into a big article (not everything makes the cut), sign up for my Tuesday newsletter.

4. (advanced) Allies, Monsters, and an Archenemy

For allies, I guarantee there’s a subreddit for that. Get posting!

And as for Monsters, verbatim from my ebook:

"What do your monsters look like? Make them as visual as possible so you can remember them, and download pictures if you want. Do they appear in a specific location? Do they specialize in poison, spirit drain, or explosive attacks? Maybe they show up at a certain time of day. Maybe they’re attracted like sharks to blood when a debuff (tired, depressed, bored) is stuck to you.

And they need great names! The names you choose can make them intimidating, weird, or laughable (which helps diminish their power over you). For example, 'Snuff the Tragic Dragon' for self-pity or 'Frosty the No-man' for cold disengagement."

The Batman Effect on your archenemy

For the Batman Effect to defeat your addiction, you need to understand Carl Jung’s theory of the Persona.

Persona, the mask; Shadow, the back of the brain

Your Persona (from dramatis personae, the list of characters in a play) is the mask you wear to blend into society lest you be ostracized. In contrast, your Shadow is a misunderstood beast of suppressed emotions, desires, and drives unconscious to you that steer your every movement. It’s seldom easy to recognize either when they come out.

Your Shadow is your archenemy, the dark side of your coin, the Mr. Hyde to your Dr. Jekyll.

If you reject your Shadow, it’ll roar and rampage and make itself known in ways you regret.

But if you integrate your Shadow, your prizes become autonomy, wholeness, foresight to handle its rages, and victorious spoils from future otherwise unconquerable challenges.

Assertiveness, adventurousness, ambition, creativity, courage. Your unconscious villain self has these. But your Persona, which you fashioned out of societal expectation, rejects them.

So don’t reject your Shadow. Command your unconscious drives in pursuit of goals that push you from addiction.

"Good does not become better by being exaggerated, but worse, and a small evil becomes a big one through being disregarded and repressed. The shadow is very much a part of human nature, and it is only at night that no shadows exist."
- Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion

Taming, like a lion, Your Tech.

Use the Panic button above or in the sidebar to satiate your Shadow whenever it whines. It has psychological needs, too.

Example Batman Effect archenemy: “You’re not good enough”

A creepy, sad, blue head with one long cordlike hair
(© Cartoon Network 2002 (Courage the Cowardly Dog : episode “Perfect”))

All right, so in the show, this nightmare says “You’re not perfect,” which is a different issue altogether. Still, he’s a fair monster for insecurity.

I’m insecure. (Aren’t we all?) When I used to be much more so, my Shadow manifested as alternating rage and depression. Sometimes I hit things; sometimes I hit myself. The root of this was a lack of love/validation, which was caused by one of my Monsters: the Knights of the Red Pill. (adherents of a now-quarantined Subreddit) They threw off my equilibrium and wounded me, but all wounds heal. And their ideology is wrong to me now.

Again I’ll reference the kintsugi analogy. With metta meditation, empathy, and drive to be a great man (so I can give to others), my weakest point becomes my stongest point.

This is an archenemy I’ll fight my whole life, but if fighting means I channel him and produce works that make me and others happy, then so long as I don’t become workaholic, I’m using him for good. His drive to prove himself and be attractive comes in handy even for just this post.

So use the Panic button. I do.

My Batman Effect hero: Sarusídhe

(pronounced sa-ru-shee) A portmanteau of saru, Japanese for monkey, and sídhe, mythological Celtic druids descended from nature gods. So somewhere between a Japanese snow monkey and a wandering spirit.

I was born in the year of the monkey, and my real self has a puckish sense of humor. Sarusídhe wields a bow and arrow, as I tend to be distant and have piercing insights. And if he were an RPG class, he’d be a druid who can shapeshift. (I have strong emotions, negative and positive, and I wish I had more control over them.)

My armor includes all the things I listed above, plus more it would take too many words to go into.

As for monsters, I have envy, intolerance for hate, inability to look in a mirror, and a dark storm cloud. My archenemy is insecurity / “you’re not good enough” caused by the dastardly Knights of the Red Pill.

This led to a softcore porn addiction: to make me feel attractive. And video games on medium difficulty to make me feel powerful. (Never against other people, of course.)

But my archenemy is myself. That is, those Knights inflicted on me a curse I struggle to handle (though I’m a lot better since I started this blog!): unintentional shapeshifting.

Storm cloud -> slight mistake -> explosive anger -> depression -> anger again? -> depression again? -> apathy and laziness -> storm cloud

I still have bad days, but I use the Batman Effect to remember…

To summon the Batman Effect, say "I am the chosen one!"
(also makes a great wallpaper)

So maybe it’s cheesy. But say it to yourself. Would (hero) do what you’re doing?

If not, don’t do it.

Let’s wrap up, shall we?

The Batman Effect: you are the chosen one

  • What qualities does your hero have? Why are these important to you? Act like your hero, and you can have them.
  • “What would (hero) do?” Keep a physical reminder, like a bracelet, necklace, picture, piece of music, etc. (In the Batman Effect study, the kids forgot after a week of nothing to remind them)
  • Posture! Straight back, shoulders back, abdominal breathing (even while sitting). Walk with purpose.
  • If your hero is fantastical, give them an identity, backstory, name, and weapons and armor.
  • “Why do we fall?”
  • You are the chosen one, the hero of your own story!

And one last thing: this is a motivational tool. It’s not a demon possessing you, like some YouTube commenters think about Beyoncé’s former Shadow, Sasha Fierce, nor is it Dissociative Identity Disorder. It’s a Jungian persona. You’re acting.

But use your Shadow for uplifting motivation, not a desire for approval or fear of negative validation. Like the title of Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk above, fake it ’til you make it.

We all fashion our own masks. Why not make yours heroic?

What would (hero) do?

Batman Effect or not, we all wear masquerade masks.
(Hypocrisy Assembly by Mikhail Khokhlachev, 2009)

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