Ego is the Enemy is the title to a book by Ryan Holiday. When I listened to this audio book last year it resonated with me on many levels. Yes, like all of us I have an ego and it showed me where my ego has prevented me from achieving my best in different situations.
However, in a World dominated by social media and a constant feeding of the ego it also allowed me to reflect on how our ego holds us back when it comes to triathlon. And for that matter any endurance sport.
In Ego is the Enemy, Holiday argues that often our biggest problems are due to our own attitude, selfishness, and self-absorption. When ego becomes part of a situation it stops us from making decisions that are rational, objective, and clear headed.
Holiday further discusses the difference between ego and confidence and argues that the solution to the problem of ego is humility, self-awareness, purpose, and realism.
What does all this mean in a sport like triathlon?
In my role as a coach I want athletes to have confidence in their ability. Confidence that they have prepared well and can execute a race to the best of their ability. But within that confidence is also a high level of self-awareness around their ability and the humility to accept their limitations.
Developing all of this is all part of the training process and setting up a training environment that allows athletes to be challenged. If they are challenged appropriately the end result hopefully is greater confidence.
However, this can be challenging as we live in an age of comparison. Comparing to others rather than ourselves and being tuned into what our purpose is. If your purpose is to truly be the best athlete, you can be then it does not matter how we compare to others. Our motivation is intrinsic and comes from within.
External motivation that comes from comparing yourself to others does not last and is a recipe for disaster in my experience. That is our ego talking. It is our ego wanting validation from others and measuring your success on how you compare to others as opposed to measuring success on your own personal journey.
One athlete I worked with had a bad race at an Ironman event many years ago. He struggled throughout the race because one of his training mates was ahead of him all day and ultimately beat him. He said to me after the race he thought he was having a bad day because he was behind his training mate and in training, he was always ahead of him.
This was all ego, being too worried about comparison, not being present in the moment and focusing on what he needed to do to perform his best. We cannot control how fast others go, nor do we know what their inner thoughts are and what they are doing to perform at their best.
It is also our ego talking while doing a training session with others and knowing we should slow down. Think about the times you have gone for an easy ride or run with friends and the pace is too fast for you to keep up on what is supposed to be an easy aerobic session. What happens?
You keep pushing too hard rather than saying to the group, “I will drop back this is too fast for me.” Our ego will not let us make the rational, objective, and clear-headed decision. We are too worried about what others will think and comparing ourselves.
In my experience single biggest mistake age group athletes make is going too hard in their easy sessions. I believe, it is their ego that leads them to make this mistake. In a previous blog GPS Devices and Why You Still Need To Listen To Your Body (worldmultisport.com) I wrote about the importance of doing your easy sessions at the right intensity and being able to listen to your body.
Think of how many decisions you sometimes make in training and racing? And then consider how many of those decisions are influenced by your ego? When you take your ego out of the equation, you can consistently make the better decisions. When this happens you’ll not only perform better but also enjoy what you are doing more.