Be Humble… Effect of Ego on Training

I have learned quite a bit from the interviews that I have been conducting for my podcast. One of the reoccurring themes that has come up is that in order to learn, you need to be able to keep your ego in check. I tend to agree with their stance, however, I also feel like there is a positive side to the ego. I don’t know if it is possible to get rid of all ego. Most successful people that I know, no matter the venue of their success, have displayed a range of egotism that both allows them to learn and also have the self belief to succeed. I have come to believe that there are two types of ego, the negative and the Positive.

Negative Ego

The negative ego are those thoughts that tend to say that labels us as “better than”. It is the part of us that seeks to make separation between us and others. It’s the part that clings to things outside of ourself and makes them a part of our identity. Most often, the negative ego tends to manifest itself in one of the following ways:

  1. Playing the Victim – abdicating responsibility for the consequences of your actions.  If you are the victim you don’t have to admit you did something wrong  and can lay the responsibility on the lap of somebody else.
  2. Defending your “turf” – You aggressively attack any person, thing, or idea that does not correspond with your line of thinking, despite the validity of those other people, things, or ideas.  You put up the walls and protect your own little kingdom.
  3. Being easily offended – Every suggestion, question, etc… is seen as an attack, no matter how nicely approached.  You put your self perception over the progress that can be attained by exploring the suggestion.

For those with a large, unchecked negative ego, it is difficult to learn.  These individuals don’t like to be wrong and make mistakes.  With schutzhund or any other dog training, mistakes will most certainly be made.  Those with ego refuse to acknowledge their actions as being wrong.  This leads to the blaming others (training director, helper, dog, etc…) for the lack of progress.

Let’s face it, nobody likes to be around that person with an out of control ego.  They always want to turn the attention towards themselves.  At schutzhund club, they want to constantly talk about their dog and issues instead of helping others or sitting back and watching and learning.  Eventually, you dread speaking with them because you know exactly what is going to be discussed.  I am not suggesting that someone seeking advice and asking questions is being ego-centric.  You just have to make sure that you are doing it in a way that is not constant and distracting from other’s ability to learn and train.

Positive Ego

The positive ego is the one that allows us to overcome obstacles that may be outside our reach otherwise.  It is that belief that we are better than we really are that allows us to reach for and achieve more.  It is the thoughts that allow us to have a firm grasp on the reality of the situation, but strive for more.

For a beginner, the positive ego may sound something like:

“Despite being new to the sport, I am smart and capable enough to, with help from my club and mentors,  learn these complicated new techniques to a point that I can title my dog.”

Some of the highest performers in life have a very big ego, but it is the “positive” ego that gives them the belief in theirselves.  It allows them to overachieve and out-do what their skills and experience would otherwise dictate.  It seems that without ego nothing exceptional could ever happen.

Finding the Balance

As with anything in life, the real key to the whole thing is finding the balance that works in your life.  You can either use your ego to separate yourself from others and stymie your growth as a trainer, or use it to overcome obstacles that you otherwise couldn’t based solely on your skill and knowledge.

Everybody struggles with their negative ego to a point.  It is important to find techniques for dealing with this.  Some techniques that I have found helpful include:

  1. Notice the Negative Ego – Acknowledging the fact that it is infiltrating your thoughts is the half the battle. Start consciously being aware of when your negative ego is spinning tales of the facts.
  2. Focus on the Facts – Ask yourself “What is actually happening right now?”. Stick as close to the objective facts as you possibly can. From there, you can come up with a solution or course of action that can steer you away from the negative and towards the positive.

Ego is a difficult thing.  It requires a brutally honest look at yourself and the situation. I find it to be much like one of my favorite quotes by the great philosopher, Mike Tyson, just substitute ego for fear:

Fear is your best friend or your worst enemy. It’s like fire. If you can control it, it can cook for you; it can heat your house. If you can’t control it, it will burn everything around you and destroy you.

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