5 Tips for Losing Your Ego When All About You Are Keeping Theirs

Sometimes it can be difficult to set aside your own ego when a training partner is showing theirs in full-force. Here are five tips for dealing with those moments when you want to put your BJJ to use.

I’m a Judge Judy fan. Don’t mock. If you are on the side of the righteous, she will vindicate you. If you think you are on the side of the righteous but are mistaken, she will expose you. Sometimes loudly, always entertainingly, and all while rocking a dainty lace collar.

A common theme in the disputes she mediates involves divorced couples fighting over raising their children, specifically the money issues related to this, and the unfortunate subtext of how some parents will use their children to stick it to their exes. For instance, maybe Parent A is supposed to buy the child a sports uniform but refuses to. This means Parent B can either refuse to step up in order to stick it back or can remember that what’s really important is the welfare of the child and swallow the murderous impulses. The point is, sometimes it is difficult to act in the service of the greater good when you can’t count on everyone to do the same.

I was thinking about how this might apply to our athletic pursuits and realized that it does, a lot. In this case, the greater good is to be humble, and the baser instinct is to show off what we know – or what we think we know. Many of us have been in class or a training session with one or more people who don’t know as much as they think they do, but insist on “supplementing” what the instructor is trying to teach by correcting form, praising other students and the like. The fact that they likely don’t even know how much they don’t yet know doesn’t mitigate the annoyance factor.

So what is an imperfect but enlightenment-seeking person to do when confronted with one or more people who are bound and determined to show what they think they know? Some would recommend just letting them have an earful. But if you are not particularly high on the totem pole yourself, or if you suspect it won’t do any good (indeed, some of those Judge Judy unrighteous do not learn), read on for suggestions about how to lose your ego when it feels like all about you are keeping theirs:

Tip #1: Remember the Children

For parents, even ones who don’t get along, the greater good is the well being of the kids. For us as athletes and people, the greater good is focusing on our own capacity to improve even 0.0001% each day. It is not to make sure others know we are improving. If our example inspires another, that’s wonderful, though not by any means guaranteed. So, remind yourself of what’s important to you. Is teaching someone a lesson in humility more of a priority than focusing on your own progress? Especially given that you only have control over one of these?

Tip #2: Smile

ego, competition, teammates, sports psychology, communication, smileThis defuses so many charged emotions. In the words of the immortal swinger Glen from Raising Arizona, I’m crappin’ you negative when I say this. I first started making myself smile to combat the crippling anxiety I felt when I competed in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Realizing I was walking around frowning, I forced myself to smile as much as possible to see what if any effect it would have. And I swear it completely changed everything for the better: how I felt, how others interacted with me, perhaps even how I performed. I also smile when I train in the academy, to help keep the energy between myself and my partner positive and collaborative. In this case, smiling may help you feel less vengeful and more forgiving. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elvis Costello had been smiling when he wrote, “I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.”

Tip #3: Bite Your Tongue

Bite it through it, if necessary. Though you may be imagining les mots justes to eviscerate the uncomprehending “helper” and put him/her in his/her place, consider the implications before you do, especially if you are lower in rank or longevity. Is it better in that moment to force a confrontation and probably negatively affect your training, only to find out that your help is unwelcome? Or is it better to focus on your own agenda and trust that the issue will be resolved either karmically or by the instructor or advanced students?

Tip #4: Indulge Your Superiority Complex

Just a little. If it’s going to help you stay tranquil on the outside and refrain from pummeling the person in question, it may be okay to make the seemingly paradoxical choice to rejoice inwardly about how much less clueless and misguided you are. This is true as long as you remember that your turn as the clueless one could be lurking around the next corner, given that our journey toward humility never ends. Today Judge Judy might rule in your favor, but tomorrow she might find in favor of you being a hot mess. So enjoy savoring the fruits of virtue, but save room down the road for a meal of crow and a dessert of humble pie.

ego, competition, teammates, sports psychology, communication, screamTip #5: Rant

My mother is fond of saying, “When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.” She’s a wise woman. Sometimes the high road just ain’t gonna cut it. There are people in the world who might very well inspire the likes of Mother Teresa, Gandhi, the Buddha, and Jesus Christ themselves to say, “Dude, what is up with THAT guy?” In those cases, it might be time for a full-on rant – in private. Scream into a pillow, complain to a trustworthy confidante, perfect a less than flattering impersonation. Blowing off a little steam this way may keep you from exploding far more publicly and inappropriately. It’d be nice if we didn’t need to resort to this one, but like pulling the emergency brake on a subway, there are some legitimate times to use it.

So the next time someone in your class or at your gym just doesn’t get it, use the tips above to keep yourself on the straight and narrow. Have you had such an experience recently? How did you handle it? Post your observations to comments.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.