Danger and Play makes a good point about what we commonly call “ego” getting in the way of success, because it leads to an inaccurate read of cues.

He talks about how sparring not only builds up a guys confidence, but at the same time brings him back down to earth to realize that he’s nothing special. And it reminds him that it’s dangerous and a disadvantage to have an overinflated irrational self confidence:

In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the objective is to strangle your opponent to the point of unconsciousness or to use leverage to apply enough pressure to a joint that if your opponent does not surrender, his arm, leg, ankle, or neck will break.

Although BJJ is fundamentally a violent sport, guys who stick with it are some of the most laid back, chill guys around. You don’t find many bullies at the gym because training martial arts kills your ego.

The first thing new students are told is to “check your ego at the door.” Although the ego ostensibly exists to protect you from the cruel world, the ego itself is fragile. It is an egg-shell thin helmet.

Tell a guy he is fat, ugly, or a loser. He’ll seethe and rage. He’ll be furious at the indignity. How dare he talk to me like that?!

Most men live in a fantasy world. We are all stars. Any guy who doesn’t offer to suck my dick is a hater.

I’ve never met a guy who, despite having never been in a fight, isn’t quite sure that he could handle himself. I’ve never met a man who wasn’t certain that the Hooters waitress wasn’t totally into him and that he could totally get with her if he wanted to.

In the comments, Jack says:

It depends on what you mean by “ego”. I find that there is a superficial ego and a legitimate ego. A superficial ego is where a person wants to claim credit for things they have not earned. Legitimate ego is where a person has pride for legitimate accomplishments.

I think having a legitimate ego is essential to be a psychologically healthy human.

It does get confusing when talking about ego. It’s common for Buddhists to talk about working towards an understanding and embodiment of egolessness, however this causes more confusion than it cures. We actually need a strong ego before we can even begin to talk about dismantling it.

Think about teenagers and peer pressure. You need a strong ego to be able to to stand out from the crowd in disagreement.

Jack makes a good point about irrational versus rational self confidence. There is a useful trick of self hypnosis where you deny aspects of reality and shut down a part of your brain in order to get access to savant powers. You can make your hand numb, you can be suggestible to forget parts of your past, you can enhance your confidence. By denying realities and creating beliefs that are not grounded in empirical evidence, you can hack your system to short term advantage.

Doing that is useful when you have a WEAK ego. When you are not strong enough to handle the blow to your self esteem that knowing of real world facts would cause. I’m not down on self hypnosis. Self hypnosis is a powerful and useful tool. It’s just not as powerful and useful as an integrated mind, which should be a strategic goal of every capable man.

If you have a strong ego, you can handle all the troublesome real world data and sort it all into a meaningful, workable coherent whole. A complete map dealt with by a strong ego is not only more accurate, ultimately it is more useful. It takes a strong ego habituated to leaning into the hard edges of uncertainty and pain to navigate our world, when self-hypnosis is ready to jump in to lend a hand to smooth out the rough edges of experience for you. The pain is where is the action is at – the cold uncomfortable truths give a man long term power; over himself and over others.

So there are two ways to talk about ego. A weak ego needs to be strengthened so that you don’t rely on others opinions for your self worth, and so that minor setbacks don’t also set back your self worth or leave you scrambling for meaning wondering who you really are.

And once a person has a strong ego, we could talk about transcending ego. But I think it makes good practical sense to instead talk about strengthening ego even more, by starting to see through it’s illusions. When a man has the strength of ego that he can willingly dismantle his own inner contradictions, he has spine to face uncertainty without cowering for cover in his familiar cave, or running back to grab the skirt-hem of his familiar concepts. A man with a strong ego can dive off the cliff of knowing and hang suspended in a void of what-the-fuck-is-going-on, and then learn uncomfortable truths, and re-assemble his world view into a new coherent whole. It takes a strong ego to regularly adjust to new information; to be able to routinely pull the rug out from familiarity without panic and retreat.

Buddhists have all sorts of mental practices to increase a man’s tolerance for feeling groundless and insecure. Just as the military has their methods to inure you the pain of harming others, just as the PUAs have their methods to inure you to the social anxiety caused by the cold approach, the Buddhists are masters at facing existential anxieties. They might hang out with corpses while meditating on death, or notice how fleeting thoughts lack a true self for a center, or sit quietly facing boredom. These exercises strengthen the ego, so that you can afford to carry with you an accurate mental map without fear of being diminished.

Note: I might need to clarify that I’m not disagreeing with D&Ps premise that losing our ego-crutches makes us more capable. I chose a title that appears as a contradiction to his “To Win the Game, Become Egoless” only because if I present the ideas in unfamiliar ways, it is more likely that they will make a meaningful impact on the reader. It’s like learning a language – if you use the word “cat” in many different sentences and contexts, you’ll internalize the word and give it a hundred handles from which to recall it. If you understand egolessness as being related to letting go of irrationally self confident self hypnosis tricks, and understand that progressive stages of strengthening the ego is a way to talk about the exact same process of letting go of “fake ego”, then you’ll have a much deeper understanding than if you just nodded along with a common agreed upon understanding of not being over confident or hung up on self esteem issues. We too often nod along in agreement without any rearrangement of our internal contradictions.