Monday, June 13, 2011

Ego vs. Humility

Those of you who read my facebook posts know that I am a big fan of David Brooks, author of The Social Animal.  He has basically compiled research from social scientists all over the world to describe our ways of thinking, how we connect to others and other very interesting things about how the human works.  I also follow his blog on the New York Times page and it is always thoughtful.  Today's blog is about being in the moment on the golf course, but in a perspective that is based on his latest blog entry.  Here is a link to it if you want to read it:

As a coach, you naturally watch people all the time, especially successful people in their elements.  Watching Mariano Rivera close out a game or Yani Tseng winning a golf tournament is equally fascinating to me.  Over the years, I have noticed that "greats" in any field have a combination of confidence and humility.  Swagger seems to balance in the middle of these two traits.  Great athletes know their place in the world.

If this elephant represents your ego and Pooh and his friends represent your humility, you are in trouble on the golf course.

Here is an excerpt from Brooks latest blog about Mark Leary's research on the self.  It is an answer to how we react to events, whether we do it egotistically or non-egotistically.  It must have to do with the quality of a person’s self-awareness. People can think about themselves at various levels of abstraction, Leary emphasized. When you are living in the present, you have minimal thoughts about how you are being perceived. You are focused on the concrete circumstances of what you are doing, not on your reputation or worth. A person in this hypo-egoic state has a less individualized sense of self and will not overreact to ego threats. That person will react to events with equanimity. He will not overgeneralize—just because I am good at this one particular thing does not mean I am wonderful in all things.

The importance of this idea is crucial for young players, especially those who have been completely focused on one thing and only one thing.  It is very tough for young players to know who they are on and off the golf course.  If their ego is developed only through their sport, the importance of wins or of failures becomes too important and a threat to their ego.  That makes it very tough on the golf course to stay in the moment.  It is easy for young players to start picturing the trophies, the accolades, the newspaper articles and their buddies esteem when they are playing well.  On the other hand, when players feel failure, they are worried about what others think of them based on the high score they are shooting, they picture the number in the paper, they have imagined conversations with their parents and their mind spins with the consequences of the number.  All of these things happen in the quiet time between shots and serve to disrupt focus completely. 

There is no easy answer to a spinning mind or an egotistical player.  We have all been there at one time or another.  As Leary said, every event in life offers us a chance to choose how we respond.  None of us make the right choice all the time.  However, if young athletes consistently feel as though playing poorly is a threat to their ego, they will find golf very painful.

The question is, how do you move to the middle of the teeter totter and balance your confidence with your humility?  Many athletes are grounded in their faith and that allows them to see themselves as a part of a bigger picture and adds humility to their lives.  Others choose to give back to people who aren't as fortunate and that offers them a chance to see their place in the world.  Still others thrive on being a part of a team, a family or group and understand the importance of representing themselves in a way that suits the norm of the group.  (This doesn't work if that group is the Kardashians).  Whatever path is chosen, it is clear that we need to help young people know that a double bogey isn't a threat to their ego.  It is only a double bogey. 

Staying in the moment is a phrase used every weekend by winning athletes, earnest coaches and benevolent parents.  It seems easy to achieve and a simple choice to make, but one of the threats to being in the moment is the equally simple trait of humility.  To be in the moment, you must understand the level of importance of your play.  You must understand your importance as a person and what it is based upon.  You must understand that what you do reflects who you are, but just as a mirror reflects your image but isn't you!

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