Having an ego is an inevitable part of being human. Egos drive us to succeed so they can be fed. A person with too little ego can easily become a doormat, while a person with too much ego is just seen as a douchebag. That said, our egos can be tricky little bastards. Each of us, at some point or another, has been a victim to the human ego doing whatever it can to sabotage risk-taking for us — and by extension personal improvement — for fear of failure or admitting that we’re not as special as everyone keeps insinuating. Not recognizing this tendency and failing to overcome it can be the difference between a person achieving or not achieving his or her goals in life.
4. We expect to master something on the first try
How many times have you attempted a new sport, video game, or hobby (like dong enhancement or nude modeling), only to get discouraged when our first attempt is inevitably unsuccessful? I’m guessing if you thought about it, the occurrence would be quite high. It’s understandable, after all. No one wants to be bad at anything they do, especially when we’re required to interact with people (though probably not the dong-enhancers among us, unless there’s some weird cult out there) and talk about our abilities and achievements, only to feel incredibly awkward when ours don’t live up to our own internal expectations. Everyone gives up on some tasks in their life because of a lack of ability, and most of us have done so on the first try. It’s human nature.
The problem with this type of thinking is that nobody ever has walked into a new skill already an expert. Eminem didn’t stumble into age 25 with a newfound rap skill and a penchant for selling millions of albums. He worked for years honing his ability to rap by free-styling in front of people, writing, recording, rewriting, and rerecording songs until he finally had one that was good enough to give him a little exposure, and even since then he has been working to perfect his craft. When we try something and are not immediately masters, we are in the company of literally everyone who has ever done anything. Nobody finds a skill that they can do blindfolded on the first try. Beginner’s luck is a myth and story-telling ex deus machina. No one picks up a guitar and riffs Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption solo on day one.
It has been said by Malcolm Gladwell and countless other self-help sites that true competency at any task requires 10,000 hours of practice. Unless you’re Superman with a time vortex, it’s impossible to reach that time limit on your first try. Mastering a skill takes time, effort, and dedication, but we can’t seem to get that down because..
3. We think working hard is for people who are less intelligent/able, which makes us lazy
How many times have you seen a successful person with things you envy and think to yourself, “Wow, if that idiot can make it here then I sure as hell shouldn’t have to work that hard!” This is similar to the point above, but it goes a little further. Having an ego is a good thing, as I’ve said before; not keeping your ego in check is what leads to the mentality of “practice makes perfect for everybody except me.” Each of us can sit and think about a person we know at work or school that continually rises through the ranks even though we think they can’t tie their own shoes, and explain away their accomplishments by dismissively saying “they got there because this is all they do.” Intelligence can only get you so far, but hard work is required to make use of our smarts.
This mindset allows us to convince ourselves that practice is for the weak, studying is for the ignorant, and effort is for the losers, and that we shouldn’t be cast in with this group of proletariat. Thinking this way only allows ourselves to be lazy with tasks we otherwise may have a real talent for. We work only as much as our egos make us think we have to, and often that’s not very much. Not working at a task means never improving at it, regardless of how talented you may be. Instead, we just decide to move on to the next task until we inevitably realize we’re required to work on that as well, and the vicious cycle ensues. Bouncing around from skill to skill makes us exposed to all but capable at none. Deep down we all realize this at some level, but are too afraid to admit it, because practicing means admitting that we are not as special as we think we are, and that’s embarrassing for us, which is why..
2. We become afraid of failure and embarrassment to the point we don’t take risks
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. I haven’t played basketball in three years (not even a pickup game), and typically refuse to do so because I know I suck at it. The same goes for chess, public speaking, and playing music. I have tried each of these and many other things a few times but never stuck with them because I (and my ego) don’t want to deal the anxiety and embarrassment of failure. Again, it’s normal human nature.
Failure sucks. Failure means being the worst at something other people are good at. Why face failure over and over again when we could just avoid it entirely and stick to things we don’t fail at? It’s the easiest way to maintain your idealized self image and protect it. Meeting women at a bar is harrowing enough, talking to them without the aid of alcohol and a fun atmosphere is unheard of for most guys. That’s why you get so many guys who go to bars but stand in the corner, wishing the girl would come talk to them. Talking to a girl, applying for a school, practicing a skill in front of a crowd, or any other risk can damage an ego if we fail.
We have to take risks. Great things aren’t accomplished by people who played it safe. Quentin Tarantino didn’t break movie records because he stayed with conventional cinema style or critiqued others’ work without presenting his own. Failure is a necessary part of growing up and developing a skill. Without failure, we wouldn’t know what we are competent at and what we need to improve. Even failing at a task you long to be good at can be a blessing in disguise. It can teach you areas that need practice while showing you skills you may not have known you had.
1. We become satisfied with being told how good we are without having done anything
All of these points stem from this: complacency. We become complacent with where we are because we convince ourselves that where we are is good enough. Having people tell us we’re smart/funny/cool/attractive/sexy/amazing in bed is enough validation for us, and why do something that could mess up that opinion? It’s accepting others’ recognition of our skill sets without requiring our own. Each person knows what it feels like to regret missing an opportunity. Maybe it’s applying to graduate school, maybe it’s meeting a potential boot-knocking buddy, maybe it’s a promotion at work, but each of those things required a certain amount of effort and risk that we convinced ourselves was too much for us to handle, or that the failure would be too embarrassing.
Psychological research has illustrated the fact that merely thinking of taking an action is enough to satisfy our need to do so, and this is an extension of that. Being reinforced by others of our capabilities is enough for us to maintain our idealized self image while mitigating any threats to it. Overcoming this mental block is difficult and requires us to step out of our comfort zones to achieve anything we want. It takes effort to be a math whiz, it takes risking rejection (oh that cruel motherfucker) to meet potential dates, and it takes sacrifice to be a great athlete. Each effort will come with failure, but the important thing is to understand that if we fail at a task, we are just as normal as everybody else that has tried anything, with the added benefit of knowing that we did indeed try.