Ego Thoughts: They’re Tempting and Harmful

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Ego Is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What are ego thoughts? How can entertaining great thoughts about yourself and your future compromise your chances of making it a reality?

Ego thoughts are tempting to entertain because it feels good to fantasize about receiving a long-awaited reward or a coveted title. But when these thoughts monopolize your time, they prevent you from thinking productively about your goals. 

Keep reading for more about ego thoughts and how they can compromise your chances of achieving success.

What Are Ego Thoughts?

Ego can prompt, leading us to spend more time thinking about what we will do with success than on how we will achieve it. It feels better to entertain ego thoughts about yourself than to think about the doubts you might have about your career path, or about the work you need to do to achieve success.

Ego thoughts can paralyze you in three ways:

  • They shift your focus from your task to your “greatness.” When you’re convinced of your own greatness, you’re more concerned with defending that image than completing your task. For example, the Civil War General George McClellan—widely acknowledged to be possibly the worst general in the Union army—was so inflated with unearned confidence that he spent all his time making grandiose plans and defending his lack of victories to his superiors. He focused on trying to convince the world of his legacy and neglected to actually earn his legacy by winning battles.
  • They stop you from taking actual action out of a fear that your plan must be perfect. When you have an inflated sense of self-importance, you might be reluctant to embark on a course of action that doesn’t live up to the standards you envision for yourself. For example, a recent Harvard grad might find herself unable to decide on a career path, as no path seems to live up to her inflated sense of her own potential. Her hesitation and wavering might cause her to miss out on valuable job opportunities.  
  • They erect a barrier between you and reality. Again, General McClellan provides an example: Convinced of his own superiority, he ignored facts (grossly misjudging the size of his enemy’s army) and was consumed by imagined threats (such as nonexistent conspiracies from his allies). His inability to see reality instead of an imagined world in which his greatness saved the day led to resounding defeats by Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. 

Don’t Be Prideful

Ego leads to pride, and pride interferes with your perception of reality. Pride inflates accomplishments, so that you feel like you’re winning when you’re in fact only temporarily ahead.

Successful people are those who learn to control their pride. For example, industrial tycoon John D. Rockefeller made a habit of reminding himself every night that just because he was off to a good start didn’t mean he was truly successful. He would challenge himself to not lose balance and to not be a fool, lest he lose his head—and then his fortune. 

Ego Thoughts: They’re Tempting and Harmful

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Ryan Holiday's "Ego Is the Enemy" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Ego Is the Enemy summary :

  • How to resist your emotions so you can keep thinking clearly
  • Why your passion may be preventing you from achieving your goals
  • How to apply the philosophy of Stoicism for success as a leader

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.