According to author Ryan Holiday, ego is more than confidence; it’s a feeling of superiority that distorts our perception of others. This can lead to overestimating our abilities and underestimating challenges, leading to failure and negative traits like addiction and depression.
Even small amounts of ego can hinder success. Holiday identifies three ways ego can lead to failure: before success, during success, and after success. These will be explored in the following sections.
Holiday believes that ego can hinder success by distorting your thoughts and preventing you from achieving your goals. To overcome this, he suggests stopping self-talk and self-centred thinking to control the influence of ego.
Stop Talking About Yourself
Holiday observes that ego often drives people to self-promote, particularly on social media, by posting their thoughts, activities, and interactions. However, he warns that this type of talk can hinder success by replacing action with mere words. Holiday identifies self-promoting talk as a hindrance to success because:
Holiday argues that self-promoting talk can hinder success by monopolizing time that should be spent working towards goals, sapping psychological energy by providing a false sense of accomplishment, and preventing necessary periods of silence for productive reflection. Research supports these claims, showing that visualization of positive outcomes can decrease enthusiasm and that meditation can improve focus by allowing for silence and freedom from distractions.
Stop Thinking About Yourself
Holiday advises against self-centered thinking as well, as egotistical thoughts can lead to self-aggrandizing ideas that hinder success. He outlines three ways that such thoughts can paralyze you: shifting focus from tasks to “greatness,” preventing action out of fear of imperfection, and creating a barrier between you and reality by ignoring facts or imagining threats.
Aim to Do Something, Rather Than Be Someone
Holiday warns that ego can hinder achievement when it drives us to prioritize recognition over accomplishment. We face a choice between being somebody (earning recognition for doing a job as expected) or doing something (accomplishing things that elevate our profession or the world).
Pursuing recognition can lead to compromising our values and betraying friends to obtain markers of success like promotions. Pursuing accomplishment may not bring superficial markers of success, but it allows us to positively impact others by contributing ideas to the world.
Become a Lifelong Student
Holiday warns that ego can hinder your progress by making you believe that you have nothing left to learn and don’t need improvement. However, the need to learn never ends, and even experts can still learn to improve.
To continue your growth as a lifelong student, Holiday suggests seeking feedback, taking on new challenges, learning from successful people in your industry, utilizing training courses and books, and becoming a mentor to someone less experienced.
Control Your Passion
Holiday challenges the notion that passion is the key to success, pointing out that it can actually hinder progress. While caring about your project is important, unchecked enthusiasm can blind you to potential problems and cause you to ignore objections and jump ahead too quickly.
Passion often masks weaknesses in a project, which can lead to failure when reality sets in. Instead of relying solely on passion, Holiday suggests being realistic and strategic in pursuing your goals.
Keep Your Head Down
Holiday suggests three things to overcome the urges of the ego:
- Be a helper: Take humble positions that will help you learn about your business from different perspectives.
- Keep your temper: Stay in control of your emotions and act professionally, even when mistreated.
- Do the work: Work hard to put your ideas into practice and avoid getting caught up in grand ideas or self-promotion.
Holiday offers advice on how to handle success and the challenges that come with it. One of the main challenges is navigating your ego, which can cause you to behave poorly and ultimately lose the success you’ve achieved.
To prevent this, Holiday recommends staying a lifelong student, keeping your priorities in focus, and avoiding letting your success destroy itself. Don’t become complacent and always be open to new lessons, ask yourself if new opportunities will advance your ultimate goal, and beware of feelings of entitlement and the need to control others.
Recovering From Failure
After exploring how ego can hinder success, let’s see how it can also lead you astray in times of defeat. Failure is inevitable, but how you react to it will determine your future success. Ego is especially dangerous during this stage because it can make it difficult to react rationally and can make failure permanent.
However, with the proper attitude, you can turn failure into eventual success. Holiday suggests turning “dead time” into “alive time” by using non-productive periods to prepare for your next step, letting your “low moment” transform you by honestly assessing what went wrong, redefining success to focus on efforts rather than outcomes, and cutting your losses instead of falling into the “sunk cost fallacy”.
Resist Feeling Hatred
Holiday warns that blaming and anger are ways that ego can hinder recovery from failure. When we fail, our ego wants to blame someone else, but this only prolongs our suffering. Hatred accomplishes the opposite of what we hope – it exposes our bad side and makes people lose sympathy. Love, on the other hand, is transformational.
Even if we feel it’s undeserved, loving someone who has wronged us allows us to gain perspective and understand the forces at play. This way, we avoid placing blame and can emerge from failure as a stronger person.