What is the difference between ego and mastery?
You'd think that success parameters are everywhere—and they are. Yet, some of them are so obvious that we completely miss them.
In order to turn things around and get people to get your clients—and yourself—to understand success better, you have to know the difference between ego and mastery.
In this episode, that's what we explore and why it makes such a vast difference.
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Can a referee be too close to the action and therefore make the wrong decision?
It was just six minutes into a soccer game that referee, Darren England had to come to a quick conclusion. One player, Nathaniel Chalobah, had made a rush towards his opponent, bringing him to the ground in pain.
Such an attack would have warranted an instant red card.Nathaniel Chalobah would have to leave the ground and his team would be a player short, giving a huge advantage to the opposing team.
However, the referee let the game go on. After all, he seemed like he was close enough to judge what was going on, on the field. As it turns out, he was too close!
A referee tends to make better decisions when he's about 11-15 yards away.
Because of intense studies made on referees, we know that the referee needs to be some distance away.
Yet, this fact isn't blindingly obvious to begin with. A similar problem lies when we look at people who are successful at what they do. We tend that it's often to do with strengths and weaknesses.
However there's a blindingly obvious reason why people get successful at what they do. It's also the reason why you do extremely well in some areas, but fail miserably at others. The three points we're going to cover are:
- Mastery vs Ego Orientation
- The problem with embarrassment
- How to keep the confidence strong.
1) Let's start out with the concept of mastery vs. ego.
In 2021, my friend Doug gave me his Leica camera on loan for a month.
If you're not familiar with Leica, you may not have realised they're very expensive cameras. Most of them cost upwards of US$6500 and some of them sell for well over $20-30k. To simply loan a camera like that would mean a big leap of faith, especially as Doug is very fussy about his cameras—or his things in general.
Having got the camera, I decided to take pictures indoors.
I'd take a few pictures, send it to Doug and then wait for his response. “Out of focus”, that's what he'd say to me. I'd take some more pictures. “Out of focus, out of focus, out of focus” were the repossess I'd get almost all day long.
The weird bit about this “focus” problem was that the camera wasn't a manual camera. It was autofocus and all I had to do was point and shoot. Even so, I was getting the focus all wrong and I was getting increasingly frustrated with the camera.
At this point, would you have given up if you were me?
“It all depends on why you do what you do,” says Dr.Gio Valiente, a sports psychologist. If you want to find out who's going to meet with success and who's going to quit, you need to go back to the reason why they're doing the activity at all.
At first, all activities are fun, but sooner or later things go wrong
Even so, some people don't give up. The reason, says, Dr. Valiente is “the difference between mastery and ego”. The people who are mastery-0riented are focused on their own level of improvement. When they fail, they don't necessarily give up.
Instead, they get curious. They want to know more about how others have overcome the same problem. This spurs them to keep attacking the issue until they have the answer to the problem, or at least a part of the answer that moves them forward.
The ego-oriented person is also curious, but their motivation can be quite different. If you ask an ego oriented person the reason why they do something, the answers are different. They sound a bit like this:
I want to beat other people.
I want to prove a point
I want to show them that I'm good at what I do.
I want to win the trophy.
Invariably all of us are hit by failure.
However, when the ego-oriented person fails, they don't tend to bounce back with curiosity. Instead, they're embarrassed. Knowingly or unknowingly, they got started because they wanted to prove their worth and then things started to go south. When they reach this point, their normal reaction is embarrassment.
Which takes us to our second point: Why is embarrassment so very deadly for us?
2) The problem with embarrassment
“Humiliation, is second only behind grief,” says Valiente. “When a child or loved one dies, there's intense grief. You shut down and can't think of anything else. Right behind that is humiliation.”
Embarrassment is such an overpowering emotion that when things go wrong, all you tend to see is an attack. Just like grief, you shut down and don't want to continue down the path you've set on.
Many of us have had this feeling of threat and embarrassment, often as children.
My sister in law must have been around seven years old, at school. In her drawing class they had to do an assignment. However, later, the teacher held up her artwork, and without mentioning anyone's name said, “Who did this rubbish?”
From that moment on, my sister in law felt that drawing was not her forte.
She felt she was not “born to draw” and it was a better idea to abandon that “weakness” and concentrate on a “strength”, instead.
That level of embarrassment was so great, that she didn't attempt to draw for many decades later. Today, she's an accomplished artist that turns out splendid work, so you can safely say she's not permanently tarred by embarrassment.
The change in trajectory is solely due to the fact that as an adult she looks at all the goof ups with curiosity. In school, we are largely driven by ego, to prove a point to our teachers and parents.
We want to get high scores because it's how we tend to be measured. It's easy enough to place so much emphasis on that ego-orientation, that we just give up when faced with difficulty.
A similar sort of ego plays itself out in many courses that we conduct at Psychotactics.
It's not unusual to have a client say: Their work is so much better than mine. They draw cartoons better than I do. They write articles that are far more evocative than mine. These are all ideas driven by ego, by wanting to prove that we somehow need to be in a different place.
The gap between who we are and who we want to be is so great that we are embarrassed. The humiliation can wash over us like wave after wave until we feel destroyed.
However, if we approach the very same task with a mastery attitude, we simply get curious and want to learn how to surf over those waves that are causing such a nightmare.
We somehow need to keep the confidence strong. How do we do that?
3) Keeping the confidence strong.
Remember the camera story? Did I give up or am I still taking photos? You probably know the answer already, but there's a way I got my confidence back.
If you ask me: Were you trying to get some amazing photos? I'd probably deny it. Yet, it's more than likely that ego was playing its part, alongside a great amount of lack of skill.
The way out of this hole is to stop forcing yourself to get everything right. Instead, you prioritise getting 80% of the activity wrong.
As weird as it sounds, this crazy method causes the ego to make a quick exit.
Instead of taking every picture in focus, I moved towards getting just two out ten in focus. In short, I was giving myself the task of taking mostly fuzzy pictures.
In the book, “The Inner Game of Tennis”, another sports psychologist and trainer, W.Timothy Gallway brings up a story of a woman who came to him with a tennis problem.
She played mixed doubles with her husband but was sorely embarrassed because instead of hitting the strings, she seemed to get the ball on the frame of the racquet. No matter how hard she tried, she'd almost always get it wrong.
W.Timothy Gallway asked her to focus on the frame, instead.
The instruction was to make sure she hit the ball with the frame of the racquet. As you'd expect, something odd transpired. Time and time again, the ball went flying off the strings.
In a slightly weird manner, focusing away from the result, did what most of us know to be true. When we're relaxed and not focusing on trying to be the best, we relax. The brain takes over, the embarrassment disappears and we turn out a pretty good job.
Is it the best?
No, of course not. You're not in the game to be the best. In some areas, you have the luxury of rankings. You can tell that a player is No.1 or that you got the highest marks in the exam. However, you can't measure which cook is better, or whether one podcaster is vastly better than another.
You will get better if you stop saying you're a perfectionist (that's ego, again). It's a steady, quick progression to getting very good at almost any skill. Most people think it takes years, but in reality most people get relatively proficient in a skill in as short as 12-20 weeks, working just an hour a day.
They start off feeling hopeless, but with precise instructions, they find themselves to be surprisingly successful.
Success is a weird term.
Everyone has a different description of success. However, at some level, we all seek to get better—a lot better—at what we do. Some people never make it because they're more focused on what others think.
Their ego drives them over the metaphorical cliff, and they can't recover easily. Since humiliation is so intense an emotion, it may seem like there's no way out and yet there is.
Instead of trying to get most things right, your goal should be to get most of it wrong. Unless you're flying a plane, getting 80% wrong is a good goal to go for at almost all times. Your brain relaxes, the embarrassment slips away and that's when you get ahead.
You're going to do badly for a while. Get used to it. You're on the road to success.