My sports are gym and martial arts. I’ve been swimming in those shores for years, and let me tell you – I’ve seen a lot. Not only that, but I’ve worked my whole life in the sports/wellbeing industry, and trust me; there are some very out of touch people out there and I’m sure you will know what I’m talking about.
Every day I see someone committing some sort of atrocity in the gym or at the park. At least in the park we can put the blame on the lack of information maybe, but in the gym even with some sort of professional guidance I see people destroying their bodies by trying to prove something, whether it’s to another person or themselves.
Sports in general involve a lot of overcoming limits, but they also revolve around image, and therefore it is very hard to avoid the biggest enemy that exists in this area:
That stubborn little guy can lead us to do many, many things we regret, and within time it can cause you pains and regrets that will last a lifetime.
I had the pleasure to work and practice with the very best professionals in my country and internationally and I can tell you that the scenario nowadays at the gym is chaotic. Even in martial arts centers, where the ego should be controlled even more, I can still identify people getting hurt physically and emotionally because of their egos.
Don’t fool yourself if you think this is not a widespread scenario in all sports, from running to dancing.
For my example I’m going to use bodybuilding since it has grown a lot in the past few years and is primarily focused on appearance, and therefore, ego.
Once I watched an interview with Kai Greene (a famous body builder), and his genius definition of bodybuilding was that it has nothing to do with weights; it simply is meant to work your muscles to the maximum, with controlled movements and full range repetitions.
At the time of the interview he was working out, and huge as he is there was a guy drastically less muscular than him doing the same exercise with higher weights. Greene said to the guy, “If you want to do weights, be a weightlifter, not a body builder.”
Using that example, you can clearly check out for yourself how many times that happens in the place you work out. Most people are trying to impress others or even themselves.
It’s very common when I’m working out that some guy starts checking out my weights and trying to keep up just because, or when I’m doing my thing someone that likes to lift weights comes and says,“Hey Grandpa how’s the therapy going?”
I used to be like that when I was a teenager and thought it would bring me results, but it only brought me a very serious injury in my joints at the age of 19. I learned my lesson.
Ego clearly gets in your way many times in your life, especially in sports, giving you the fake impression that you are doing better but actually you are evolving slower and hurting your body.
But now let’s talk about when it hurts your emotions.
In martial arts you can encounter many types of environments and groups depending on what kind of teacher and type of approach you have, from savagery to very calm inner spiritual work.
I’m not criticizing any type as long as everybody agrees with it, but personally I don’t believe that acting like a barbarian and intentionally hurting students or less graduated colleagues can help anyone but your ego.
Once I had the great pleasure of training with Kärsten, a very enlightened man and teacher. He started an amazing rehabilitation center in Denmark that uses martial arts as the main form of therapy to help criminals, drug addicts and even wealthy kids.
When I talked with him and got the chance to know him better, I noticed that his passion for his work was so genuine that his ego was nowhere to be found.
Usually martial arts centers are a sort of safe harbor or sanctuary for the practitioners, as it has a very strong sense of brotherhood and belonging and many people with a lot of social problems find themselves better both physically and emotionally in those kinds of places.
Also in those sanctuaries people can get scarred great deal. You never know how people are feeling, what problems they carry; you never know how close to the edge someone is, and unfortunately I’ve seen two people, close friends, losing their marbles over situations that happened in the practice.
You might be feeling awesome with the fact that you can, blow after blow, perfectly land punches on someone; it feels great…for you. But what about the evolution of your partner in that exercise?
Let’s get something clear: fighting is very different from practicing. Some people go to martial arts centers to get in shape, to clear their minds and to make friends; not everybody has to be a hardcore fighter and competitor.
Maybe for you, getting touched in your face doesn’t represent anything, but for others it can be the ultimate disrespect.
The important thing is that although you may have your ego satisfied, you could be sacrificing not only the maximum performance of the practice but also damaging your partner and your relationship forever.
I was already a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu when I decided to stop attending the place where I used to practice because of attitudes like that. More and more fights and disrespectful arguments where happening inside my sanctuary,and within months something that I used to count the minutes until I could go became something that I counted the minutes until I could leave.
Once again, what did someone gained from that? Nothing, besides an instant ego boost.
This happens in running, swimming, soccer, football or anything else when people don’t respect the limitations of themselves or others, teammates or adversaries.
The goal of having a healthy practice, of taking your growth to the maximum, is leaving the ego outside. When you pay attention to your body and your mind it allows you to fully understand yourself, to understand your limits and work with them, not against them.
Also, when you stop trying to beat your adversaries you start to understand them, and your learning rate improves dramatically because you judge him for what he is and not with the fake impression that the ego gives you.
For instance, thinking, “he is the best student, I have to be faster,” not only makes you sloppy, but also might lead you to make a poor decision when you are angry or frustrated and end up hurting him.
Shutting off ego completely, however, is a no go. Instead, identify it and learn to live with it, not for it.
Ego is necessary for many things, such as pleasure and reward, but it is a sneaky factor in your practices. You will realize that once you master it you will run faster, get stronger, acquire a nicer shape, feel better about yourself, endure pain ridiculously longer and much more.
The mastery of the ego, I dare to say, is the ultimate goal in almost any sport.
When you achieve a complete control of your ego, the things you can accomplish are simply impossible for those who are still attached to their egos.
Remember, you are not your ego. It is a part of you; it is that little brat that is always asking for things and you have to learn how and when to say no.
Every time that you see people waving weights like they were acrobats, or when you see someone recklessly overcoming a practice partner, look, pay attention, and remember the goals of the activity and you will see that the person is very far from them.
Always watch yourself during your exercises, and constantly remind yourself that you are not your ego; it is a part of you that has to be mastered.
Respect yourself, love yourself and in this way you will accomplish results that you never expected.