“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself,
and you are the easiest person to fool.”
— Richard Feynman
I try to write every week on Wednesdays, and most weeks I know what I’m going to write about by Monday or Tuesday and start piecing things together, and by Wednesday it’s just about typing the thoughts banging around in my head. This week I was stumped though, and so I asked a friend for advice. I told her I was considering a technical piece on getting stronger at pull-ups, and she said “No, write about ego. We all need it.” I agreed, and decided to put the pull-up post on hold (don’t worry, I’ll get back to it!), and we started to go more into detail on ego and how it applies to CrossFit and athletes. We talked about competing with others unnecessarily, and how our ego makes us resent others when they beat us in a test we thought we should be better at.
In short, ego seems to be a key negative element in our training, so I thought I would dig into it a bit more, given that we are almost halfway into our annual CrossFit Open competition.
Denee and I like to trade books back and forth, and we have both recently been on a Stoic kick. If you’re not familiar with Stoicism, it’s a philosophy based on Greek writings (the original Stoics lived in Greece around the time of Socrates and Plato). One of the books that I hadn’t read yet that was sitting on her nightstand was Ego is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday. I have read two of his other books, and loved both of them — The Obstacle is the Way, and Stillness is the Key. All very quick reads, and if you’re a reader or a thinker, you will devour them quickly.
I read the first couple chapters to understand more about the ego (and learn how much it was controlling my life) and found some great insights already. My (incomplete) book report is: Read it!
I pulled out a few key concepts I wanted to share, but first of all let me define “ego” for this conversation. Ego is an unhealthy belief in our own importance. You could also think of it as arrogance, or self-centered ambition. Right away, most of you are recoiling and refuting, “that’s not me, I’m not arrogant.” And I’m not saying you are! This post is not for the egomaniacs that are out there, completely involved in self-worship. We all have a little bit of pride in ourselves, a little bit of hubris that makes us act irrationally at times, and my point is to just highlight that a bit so that we can all see it, witness it and correct it, before we come across negative effects in our relationships, or even our bodies in terms of injuries.
The first insight I got from the book was that our egos are being continuously stoked by social media. We all put our best foot forward on Facebook and Instagram, and show our best selves in order to get LIKES. As a business owner, I look at our posts to see how many people liked or shared our posts because I want to see how successful different themes are so I know what to post in the future. But that also means that I do that with my own personal life, as I’m sure many of us do — we post the best times or when we feel like we have a flattering image of ourselves to share with the world, and we want to be validated. “Look what I did, look how great I am.” This model of sharing our lives in order to get validation, while very inspiring at times, can be detrimental to our mental well-being when we don’t want to also let our “friends” in on the things that are troubling us. All of the super-positive and inspiring posts are also leading us to believe that if you want to be successful, you have to have an ultra-confident mindset, and if you do radiate self-belief that good things will come. What we know in reality is that is not always the case, and we’re setting ourselves up for a big Turkish letdown when we haven’t prepared ourselves doing all the hard work but instead focused on creating a false sense of confidence.
In short, if you want to be successful, make a plan to get there, do the work, and then enjoy the confidence of having accomplished your goal when you get there. On to the next goal, starting again with humility and hard work.
Another nugget from Ego is the Enemy that might tie even more closely to our CrossFit theme is the fact that we can’t smokescreen ourselves into thinking that we are great, or even close to proficient, at everything. From Ryan Holiday, “the ability to evaluate one’s own ability is the most important skill of all.” Think critically about your skillset, and what you struggle with. One common way of framing this for CrossFit is, if I told you I was making up a workout by pulling pieces of paper with movements written on them out of a hat, which movement would you dread being pulled? Work on that!! Build your strength, practice the skill, improve your mobility, do what it takes to get better.
Imagine the best CrossFitter that you know. What is their weakness? God knows they had some, but it’s hard to pick out anymore. It’s not because they were born great at everything — they realized quickly that they had some holes in their game, and they worked to improve them. Now their previous weakness is a strength!
The best executives and entrepreneurs in the business world are constantly improving their skillset by researching the market, understanding what’s coming next, and pouncing on those opportunities! They’re not resting on their laurels and hoping to ride the cash cow. They also hire people that complement their strengths and weaknesses, so that they can delegate projects that don’t fit into their skillset.
Know your abilities, develop your weaknesses into strengths, and then you will have true confidence rather than the false hope that you will perform better than before when the test comes up.
Again, if you are interested in more here, I recommend the book Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, as well as his other books that are sure to stoke your fire for self-improvement. You are not as awesome as you think you are, but we can always get better if we work at it.
See you at the gym, I’ll be working on my double-unders.
“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself,