The topic of humility has been coming up in my work a lot lately. It first came up while I was reading the book Assault on Lake Casitas, by Brad Alan Lewis. The book is the story of Lewis’ journey to the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games where he competed in the double scull. (It is a great read for any athlete that is working hard to reach the pinnacle of their athletic career. Lots on sport psychology and the mental aspects of elite performance!) In the book, Lewis was describing three rules he followed for racing, the second of which was the practice of humility.
For any athlete that finds himself wanting to push to the next level – there is a great lesson to be learned here. In order to win any game or race, especially at the elite level, there is going to be some ego involved. You have to believe that you are just as capable and just as deserving as any other athlete out there. You have to have some ego to be the best at your sport – to be able to look around and say “That’s right – I’m here to kick some ass. Who’s first?”
However, there is a difference between having a healthy ego and being egotistical. Once you cross the line to egotistical – it can be detrimental to your performance. There’s a continuum that has self-assured on one end and arrogance on the other. When you’re self-assured, you’re confident in yourself and confident in your ability regardless of the competition and what’s going on around you. When you’re arrogant, your “confidence” comes from exaggerating your importance and belittling others.
Working on humility helps you move towards the self-assured side on the continuum and a great way to work on humility is to stop passing judgement on others. We ALL do it. At some point you’ll find yourself talking shit about someone else in order to feel better about yourself or your own situation. We don’t consciously realize we’re doing it, but that’s exactly what we’re doing. One of the most AMAZING impacts of actively working on humility and having a deep respect for the people around you, is that it can actually help you improve your own performance. When you stop judging others, you stop judging yourself. When you stop focusing on them, you start focusing on you.
So it’s time to stop talking shit. Everyone is working their ass off to figure out their way in the world and you are not any more important than them. You are also not any less important than them. I find that when athletes work on their humility, they are working on their own confidence and self-worth as well. Let go of judging others, it will become easier to let go of judging yourself.
When you are self-assured you can have a healthy ego (which you need to excel in your sport) AND simultaneously have respect for the people around you. When you are self-assured, you don’t over-estimate or under-estimate your competitors – you have respect for them and respect for yourself.