What Are We Measuring?
From the way we dress to the content we put on Social Media, our Ego often runs the show. To pursue Mastery of any sort, a high level of discomfort is required, usually in spite of the Ego’s desire for pedestal-worthy achievement. I’ve had a slow and steady awakening over the past few years, allowing me to begin to see just how much my Ego is in control (Cliff Notes: Work in progress 😉).
Let’s start with a Golfing example, (hang in there non-Golfers):
Across the globe, the Golf community utilities Handicap systems to rate the quality of a persons Play. Basically you are given a number of Strokes (generally between 0 and 36) to minus off your Score (aka Gross Score), that creates your ‘Nett’ Score e.g. a Person has a Handicap of 10, they take 80 shots, which is their ‘Gross’ Score - their Handicap = their Nett Score, 70.
In essence, the systems can be used as a gauge of progress. The lower a persons Handicap is the better they are, right?
Similarly, take a look at Weight Lifting (another passion of mine). It should come as no surprise, that as you add Weight to your lift the stronger you are, right? The guy who Deadlifts 300lbs/136kg is obviously stronger than the guy who lifts 250lbs/113kg?
However, what if the person lifting 300lbs/136kg has terrible form, is slopping through the reps, and is about 2 pounds from destroying their spine? What if the person lifting 250lbs/113kg has perfect form, a flat back, and is “owning” that 250lbs/113kg? Now the situation is a little less cut-and-dry.
For some of us, a fun but “not a big deal” hobby becomes serious eventually. The low-level OCD in me (a better expressn might be ATD - Attention To Detail 😉) makes me pursue any interest with great intention, perhaps you understand that feeling. Nearly every hobby I’ve ever embraced has quickly evolved to full-tilt obsession. I want Mastery.
What the Ego wants is crowning achievements, not slow, quantifiable signs of progress and unfortunately, we are willing to cheat the system to appease the Ego monster.
In the Golfing world, “Bandit” is the term used to describe Golfers who appear to Play Competitions utilising a Higher than appropriate Handicap for their ability in order to Win. This Golfer might subconsciously gravitate towards Courses/Competitions that are less challenging. In doing so, the chance to Learn a vast array of Skills in a less comfortable Environment is potentially by passed.
The Ego wants glory, the Ego wants to look good. The Ego can’t fathom failure.
Ironically, by pursuing “Mastery” in the form of higher achievements on paper, we might be side stepping true Mastery.
Reframing for Mastery
A year or so ago I battled with this dilemma myself (apologies Golfers but it’s the non Golfers turn for an example 😉). I had a goal to Deadlift a certain amount of Weight by the end of the year.
Picking a Weight as a Goal is the first red flag of the Ego: I wasn’t interested in good Form/Technique, I just wanted the Weight. I picked a number that I thought was doable, but I struggled. I was missing the opportunity to improve my Form i.e. using different lifting styles, hold types, body angles etc. Instead I was thrashing and flailing on a single Technique to check a box that somehow signifies I’m now a better Lifter. I was trading long-term progress for a short-term victory — just what the Ego desires. Can you relate Golfers?
Let’s not get it twisted: lifting heavier is a sign of progression. It’s immensely important to struggle, and it’s equally important to have Goals that push you beyond your comfort zone. Having a long-term project is a key element of Learning, but it must be balanced and supported by a hefty base of previous experience.
In the end, I called time on that objective and traded it for a pursuit of Mastery. Instead of striving for the big projects that would take Months of effort, I took on the opportunity to push myself for short-term, Daily Wins, a concept I learnt from Karl Morris of The Mindfactor. I still looked for ways to embrace discomfort, but I wanted a wider breadth of experience not achievable by pursuing a single ‘Weight’. In essence, I wanted to ‘own the Weight’ before throwing on the next plate.
Will the time come again to beat my head against the wall on a single project? Yes, of course. The stories of those who can achieve the seemingly impossible are alluring, but let’s not forget all the small victories that have led up to those crowning achievements.
The Ego and Money
For the American audience, we’ve all heard the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” (or is it Kardashians now 😉?). It’s the idea that the folks down the street (The Joneses) have the latest model car, a well manicured lawn, and a well-maintained home. Our house, with a filthy old car, a moderate but understandable amount of weeds in the garden, and chipping paint, looks comparatively much worse.
So what do we do? We have a subconscious desire to portray an image like the Joneses. What we may not realise though is that the Joneses are far more likely to carry debt and the constant stress of projecting an image of excellence and prestige (plus there’s no practical value to any of it).
Ego: Comparisons and Happiness
I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. I’ve found myself looking up prices on hardwood flooring, marble counter tops and other vanity items. Everyone in the estate has it, so we at least need to compete, right? What if we want to sell our house? Will we suffer on the value of our home because we don’t have these “essentials?”
The problem is, I don’t really see much value in those items. Others might, and that’s ok. I’m more of a functional guy e.g. Does the table work as a table? Great, I’ll take it.
There’s a very real drive to fit in. As this study by Neuroscientists Michael Lindner and Klaus Fliessbach at the University of Bonn in Germany points out (Read a Summary of their Study Here), our brains actually show different pleasure and pain responses when faced with the successes or failures of our peers. When we perform well and our peers don’t, we’re happy. Conversely, we are upset when we fail and others succeed.
I think we can all relate this to our Golfing Performance, after all, that’s exactly how the Winner is determined - comparison of your Score against your Peers. However, instead of setting the Score and Winning as the Primary Objective (letting the Ego Monster Drive things), why not set a Personal Goal for the day of what you want to Learn from the Experience - something you have direct control over (the way of a Master 😉)? From my experience those that do the latter aren’t that far away from the Winners circle when the dust settles.
So, I guess I’m doing my part in keeping at least some people happy. Let me explain:
We do what we can to Master this crazy Game. In doing so, these practices enable us the opportunity to pursue Golfing freedom; to enjoy their time on the Course without allowing their Score to ruin the experience. That makes me happy.
However, a Peer might see Mrs. X as someone who could use some improvement and that’s OK. I just believe a Coaches default setting should be to guide a Player on a Journey to Mastery that’s driven by Enjoyment and Fun vs a Pursuit of Excellence driven by Ego.
Keep that Monster in Check Folks 😉! Thanks for reading!
Oliver C. Morton
The Leading Edge Golf Company