Ryan Holiday believes that in order to attain lasting success, you need to learn to embrace humility.
This advice may seem to fly in the face of many success stories, which suggest that being self-centered and cocky are the main ingredients to achieving fame and fortune. But Holiday’s new book, Ego Is the Enemy, explains why your own arrogance may be the biggest roadblock to ultimate success.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Holiday, who, when not advising bestselling authors like Timothy Ferriss and Tony Robbins, is writing his own books and working as a media strategist, marketer, entrepreneur and editor-at-large for the New York Observer.
Related: Ego: Is Bigger Actually Better?
Here are Ryan Holiday’s top five hacks to keep your ego in check and allow your true mettle to shine through:
1. Don’t confuse real confidence for ego.
“There is a clear distinction between real confidence and ego,” Holiday said. It’s important to believe in yourself and have confidence in who you are. But true confidence is based on an objective look at your strengths and abilities.
Taking stock of your competency is different from being arrogant or cocky. “When you let your ego take over, you are accepting dangerous delusions that can cause you to act with reckless abandon,” Holiday said. “Ego is stolen, but confidence is earned.”
He went on to explain that “confidence is based on objective assessment of your capabilities and is earned through hard work. Ego, on the other hand, just deludes us that we are the greatest thing in the world.”
2. Kick your ego-driven sabotage to the curb.
It’s true that many successful people have flourished despite having inflated egos, Holiday said. Take the case of famous egotist Steve Jobs, whose need to control those around him made for stormy relationships. Imagine what Jobs and other egotists could have accomplished had they not been held back by their own egos.
“Was it their ego that drove their success or was it their inherent talent, hustle, dedication to the craft and hard work?” Holiday asked. “And could they have been more successful if it wasn’t for their ego?”
Still think you need to be self-centered to achieve? “Consider all of the reserved yet successful people who are quietly achieving their goals without the need to show off or perform for others,” Holiday said. “What is also hidden from view are all the people who have flamed out because of their own ego-driven sabotage.”
3. A bloated ego kills your learning.
According to Holiday, “There is a laundry list of pitfalls that ego can lead to: entitlement, self-absorption, overconfidence, complacency, pride, greed and paranoia. The best way to counteract this is to remain a perpetual student.”
Constantly challenging yourself to learn new things will keep you humble and remind you of how much you have yet to master. “I think one of the worst manifestations of ego is when it tells us that we know more than we do,” Holiday said.
One of his favorite quotes is from Epictetus -- “It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows.”
“But this is exactly what ego does,” Holiday said. “It tells us that we are already the best; that we have it all figured out. This is the moment when you essentially kill your learning progress in its tracks.”
4. Throw away your artificial stories.
Holiday explained that our obsession with social media has turned us all into performance artists who create false self-images.
“We use social media ostensibly as a tool to share our stories and to bring us closer together, but really the opposite often happens,” he said. “Social media is forcing us to create artificial stories about ourselves that we know aren’t true.”
We’ve all seen it in our own social media newsfeeds. Friends or family who we know are going through a difficult time post only happy, carefree pictures depicting a perfect life. Many of us lie about the reality of life when things aren’t going well.
“The net effect is both separating us from our own actual experiences and separating us from the other people,” Holiday said. “Increasingly, the real world is left on the cutting-room floor. What is left is artifice and even deceit. And the results are perpetual envy and inferiority.”
5. Use the canvas strategy and advance by advancing others.
One of the best pieces of advice Holiday was given when he started his career was to “find canvases for other people to paint on.” Holiday explained this means recognizing that you still have much to learn when you are just beginning your career. Instead of fumbling around to find the answers yourself, work to help another person who is already on their way, and learn from them as they continue to grow.
“I call this the Canvas Strategy, and it is a different mindset than just making other people look good -- an approach that tends to imply a lot of ass kissing,” Holiday said. “Instead, it’s about finding the direction someone already intended to head and helping them get there, freeing them up to focus on their strengths.”
According to Holiday, it’s a simple but counterintuitive approach -- advance by advancing others. This is why mastering the ego is critical, because the strategy, by definition, requires you to forget about getting credit and recognition, at least in the short term.