“Check yo self before you wreck yourself?” Ego versus Mastery


Right now I am conducting a good amount of team trainings and I love it! When working with athletes the theme of ego often comes up in discussion….is it a good thing or a bad thing? I guess it depends on how you define ego and in what context. Some athletes believe ego to be synonymous with confidence and self-esteem. Philosophers and psychoanalytics define it differently. I gravitate towards this definition by Deepak Chopra from the Seven Laws of Spiritual Success :

“The Ego, however, is not who you really are. The ego is your self-image; it is your social mask; it is the role you are playing. Your social mask thrives on approval. It wants control, and it is sustained by power, because it lives in fear.” 

However, I can’t talk about the ego without talking about its counterpart the master. The definition I subscribe to is:

A Master is someone who has achieved control, mastery of all his thoughts, feelings and acts […] To achieve comple control of all one’s thoughts, feelings and acts implies the use of special methods, a special discipline and a profound knowledge not only of the structure of a human being, but also of the forces at work within him “

Everyone has ego and everyone has an inner master. However, some athletes are better trained at noticing their ego, checking it, and allowing their master to take over. Athletes who are highly ego-ego not your amigo doitmarketingdominant find themselves seeking perfection, having emotional ups and downs because base their perception of their worthiness on their outcomes, feel good when they train “good” and feel bad when they have a “bad” workout. They are stuck in cycle of outcomes. The ego gets insecure when any hint of “weakness” “uncertainty” or “unexpectedness” approaches in training or competition. The ego hates to look “bad” even in training. They want the win regardless of whether it’s against the worst or the best- a win is a win. High ego athletes tend to be dependent on external validation for a sense of identity and are more concerned of how others think of them. They run the risk of quitting their sport or goal if the results don’t come as quick as they want.

Whereas, athletes dominant in high mastery thrive off of the improvement in their sport and see themselves as their biggest competition. They are motivated from the process of mastering a skill, technique and strategy of their sport. The process of growth, improvement and challenge motivates them day-in and day-out and fuels their commitment. They see a win as a manifestation of hard work, challenges, and dedication. A “win” or accomplishment of a goal is a symbol that represents a process and not an identity or means to an end. They see outcomes as feedback for improvement. They view their competition with respect and seek to compete against the best. High mastery athletes love what they do and persist even when the attention, validation, outcomes aren’t immediate.They are more concerned with their character than what others think of them.

“Even when I lost, I learned what my weaknesses were and I went out the next day to turn those weaknesses into strengths.” – Larry Bird

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” -John Wooden

However, ego-mastery attitudes are not black and white. They occur on a spectrum. For the sake of this post I discuss the differences in the extreme sides of the spectrum, as shown in the chart that I use to illustrate clear differences between high ego vs high mastery. Like I said before, we all have an ego and all have an inner master. For example, this morning during my tempo run of 5×1 mile repeats when I started on the 3rd repeat and the lactate build up was setting in I noticed my ego self-talk saying “I don’t know if you can hold this pace. You’re feeling like you’re slowing down.” I quickly cut it off and said to myself “This is where my strong is made. This is the space I get my strength. Keep turning over. Your body knows what to do.” The second part of that self-talk reflected my inner master that knows and desires to improve; it also trusts what my body can do. It knows that to improve physically you must be challenged outside of what is comfortable – in this case holding a pace. In that short moment I shifted my mentality from ego to master.

HighEgoVsMasterySo what drives your commitment for training, racing, and/or accomplishing your New Years resolutions? Where do you fall on this chart? Be honest. Check yourself and reflect on what really feeds your drive for sport and competition. As I always say, “you can’t change what you are not aware of” so reflect on your patterns of ego vs mastery. Then decide if you want to change. It is possible to shift from being ego driven to mastery driven but it must start with goals that you are truly passionate about that are aligned with your deepest values. You must commit to the things that give you a sense of satisfaction or else it’s likely that the ego may take over and you may find yourself dropping out, quitting, or being unhappy in the process. So tap into your inner wisdom and reflect on the things in life that YOU want to master….everyone has something that they are genius at….everyone, that includes YOU:)

I hope your year is off to a great start and you are still committed to the intentions that you set out for yourself at the beginning of the year. My big intention for the year is “To do more things that scare the sh*t out of me,” meaning to intentionally get outside of my comfort zone and face my fears in small and large ways. Last weekend I got to opportunity to put this intention to the test by running my first ever open 5k. I would much rather race a 10k or half-marathon (which I will be in March), but to race a 5k in the first week of training was scary. However, I rose to the challenge and BOOM! I made women’s overall podium at 3rd overall and 1st AG! It was hard, it was a challenging up and down course, with an uphill finish, and my lungs were screaming the whole way but I did it! It was by far one of the hardest races (next to my first time doing Wildflower Long Course) that I have ever finished. I share this with you because you never know how well you’ll do something unless you give it a shot, get out of your head, and in the the “game.” Try something new. Go for it. Be a master and learn from everything. When you do there is no “failure” only learning…Shine On Beautiful People!

*Stay hungry, stay humble*

-Dr. G






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Dr. Gloria Petruzzelli

Dr. Petruzzelli is a clinical sport psychologist, triathlete, and certified mindfulness meditation teacher located in Sacramento, California. She works with elite athletes and sports teams across the country. She is a competitive athlete and enjoys practicing yoga, spending time with her family, and traveling.

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