Our egos are powerful things. They are the lens through which we view ourselves, our place in the world, the mechanism through which we determine our self worth. A strong, resilient ego can be an immense asset, but yet more often than not, it can be much more of a negative influence on our development.
Take weightlifting. Many people, myself included, start weight training with the lofty ambition of turning ourself into a chiselled Adonis. Certain that the quickest way to achieve this goal is to lift as much weight as quickly as possible, we compromise on proper form on our exercises, performing only half of the proper range of motion on our exercises, simply that we might progress upwards through ever increasing numbers of plates at either end of the bar.
At first, progress comes quickly. This will be easy, we tell ourselves. Yet slowly by surely, the progress slows, improper technique causes only parts of our muscles to develop properly, and eventually momentum is halted altogether. We lack the full strength that can only be developed from performing the full range of motion with proper form, and yet we have come to identify with the numbers on the bar we have attained. The only way forward is to take a step back, remove half the weight, and start again – but properly this time. Yet our egos prevent us from doing so. We identify with the level we have reached, and see any kind of backwards movement as failure, as becoming less in our own eyes. Little do we realise that no-one except us actually gives a shit how much we can lift.
At this point, you are faced with two choices – remain stuck at your plateau, performing your shitty half reps, or having your spotter lift half the weight for you. Or swallow your pride, remove your ego from the equation, and drop the weight off, go back to the start, and do it properly. The former leads to stagnation, the latter leads to the eventual re-attainment of the original level, swiftly followed its betterment.
But this post isn’t about weight lifting, at least not entirely – although it does often surprise me the number of analogies one can draw.
Investing your ego in the results you have achieved is a problem common to all areas of self development, not just the gym. Maybe you have reached a certain level with being able to get girls, but by using canned material. Maybe you’ve achieved a certain level of success at work by being able to produce work quickly, but at the expense of doing it properly, by cutting corners.
It takes a strong man to look himself in the eye, put his achievements to one side, and admit that he is not where he wants to be, and that he does not have all the answers.
Those of us that are capable of doing so will be the ones who truly reach our potential. Whilst it will be hard to do so initially, with time, you will actually come to relish the opportunity to step back and correct the shortcomings of your technique – be it in the gym, with girls, or at work.
Those of us who are not strong enough to be able to take our ego out of the game will be forever condemned to inhabit a small island in a sea of mediocrity. Some people simply do not have the strength of character to be able to strip everything away, and really face up to what is underneath – it’s quite often not pretty, and requires being extremely frank with oneself.
Being capable of realising when you have your ego invested in something is an important skill to develop, and you’ll come to realise that the mantra “One step backwards, for two steps forward” holds a lot of truth.