The Science of Sport, Training and Performance

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday

Ego is the Enemy discusses the impact that poor ego management can have on people and why ego is holding us back more often than not. So, what is ego after all?

An unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centred ambition.

Ryan Holiday

The book is divided into three main parts, which correspond to the phases of life we will be in at different points of our journeys and where the ego can do more harm than good. These are:

  • Aspire – the big audacious goals we strive to achieve.
  • Success – hitting our goals, achieving great things, receiving praise.
  • Failure – no longer ‘winning’, falling from grace, dealing with struggles.


The biggest obstacle to your aspirations is yourself. Your ego, to be exact. It is easy to get caught up on what you are looking to – but have yet to – achieve, and build a reputation on your «future accomplishments». Never forget to put in the work. The main points raised by the author in this part were:

  • Work is not measured in words. Work is measured in hours of dedication.
  • Do it for the right reasons. Find your purpose and dedicate your time to something bigger than yourself.
  • Become a student. Let your ego be in someone else’s hands. In the hands of someone that knows more than you do. You cannot get better if you are convinced you are the best. Learn to receive feedback.
  • Don’t be passionate. Passion masks a weakness. Its breathlessness, impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for purpose and perseverance.
  • Follow the canvas strategy. Help yourself by helping others. Say little, do much. Find canvases for other people to paint on.
  • Restrain yourself. Our own path, whatever we aspire to achieve, will in many ways be defined by the amount of nonsense we are willing do deal with. Those who have subdued their ego understand that it doesn’t degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.
  • Live in the present. Get out of your own head, having doubt is normal and that should not deter us from achieving our best work.
  • Early pride is dangerous. Don’t be excessively proud of what you have accomplished. This will prevent from progressing and moving forward in your journey. Pride blunts the number 1 instrument we need in order to succeed: our mind
  • Work, work, work. It isn’t about brilliance. It is about continual effort. Work is finding yourself alone at the track when the weather kept everyone else indoors. Be ambitious, but patient. Innovative without being brash. Brave without being dangerous. Put in the work.


Ego is fuelled by big achievements and successes, the short-term satisfaction that it brings. Having sobriety and clarity of purpose, as well as the ability to remain open-minded are ultimately the great stabilisers. They balance out the ego and pride that comes with achievement and recognition. Can you handle success? The main points of this part of the book were:

  • Always stay a student. With accomplishment comes a growing pressure to pretend that we know more than we do. To pretend we already know everything. Don’t let this prevent you from learning and trying new things.
  • Don’t tell yourself a story. To accept the title and story isn’t a harmless personal gratification. These narratives don’t change the past, but they do have the power to negatively impact our future.
  • Remember what’s important to you. During the climb, it is easy to get lost in the process. Don’t waste precious time doing things you don’t like to prove yourself to people you don’t respect.
  • Learn to trust. Don’t be proud, entitled and paranoid. Don’t be afraid of relying on others, of asking for help.
  • Manage yourself. You can only be successful at managing others if you first learn how to manage yourself. Know who you are, your strengths and your weaknesses. Think ‘big picture’. Set priorities. Delegate.
  • Beware the disease of me. Don’t become fancy. Don’t think you are bigger and better than, that your problems are more important than. The irony of success is that it can makes us someone we never wanted to be in the first place, when we were just starting out.
  • Crave perspective. The world doesn’t revolve around you. In the grand scheme of things, each one of us is very insignificant. Don’t think for a second that you’re special.
  • Maintain your sobriety. Be patient and humble. Don’t become addicted to the culture of more. Don’t let that be your drug.


Failure isn’t something that can be avoided. It is bound to happen at some point in our lives to each and every single one of us. Don’t fear failure. See it as an opportunity to learn. Here are the main takeaways from the third and final part of the book:

  • Alive time or dead time? Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we do not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice. Don’t let stubbornness make a bad situation worse.
  • The effort is enough. You are not guaranteed success just because you have put in the work. You will work hard and get nowhere. This does not make it meaningless. The less attached we are to outcomes the better.
  • Face failure head on. From the ruin will come opportunity for great progress and improvement.
  • Draw the line. Learning to let go is a skill. Failing is temporary and transitory. Also, remember that failure isn’t a statement about your value as a human being. The same way that you are not going to be successful every time, you are not going to keep on failing forever.
  • Set your own standards. Measure yourself against your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of. Winning is not enough. You can get lucky and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.
  • Always love. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by negative feelings and emotions. Don’t shift blame to others. Stay accountable. We don’t do much else when we’re busy getting revenge or investigating the wrongs that have supposedly been done to us.


People learn from their failures. Seldom do they learn anything from success.

Harold Geneen

Self-awareness is the away out and through.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to do great things. But no less impressive an accomplishment: being better people, being happier people, being balanced people, being content people, being humble and selfless people.


  • Be humble in your aspirations.
  • Be gracious in your successes.
  • Be resilient in your failures.


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Bernardo Norte

BSc, Applied Sport Science