The Salty Guide to Taming Your Runner’s Ego

running egoI’ll be the first to admit that I have a loud ego. If I put on some hardcore rap while I get warmed up for a tempo run, I feel like I’m ready to set the world record in the 10k. Add some caffeine to the mix and I’ve decided that I know the cure to cancer and I’m ready to assume duties as the first female president of the United States. For most of us, our egos are loud but we do a good job of taming them so that we can be fully functional adults in society.

All Freudian theories aside, the ego is all about our feelings of self-worth or self-importance. A so-called big ego is the result of an overabundance of self. To have a healthy ego involves taming the voice inside that wants to be seen, heard, and loved by all. It’s not a bad thing to want all of these things — that’s human. The challenge for us runners is that sometimes our egos are so loud that we lose insight into the consequences of listening to them when we’re better off telling them to hush. 

Blame It on Instagram

In 2012, we here at Salty Running covered the effect of social media on our runner lives. We were ahead of our time because this was before the big bang of the ego’s playground occurred: the rise of the Instagram running sensation. Instagram in particular has become a social media platform for many runners to share heavily filtered photos of a life well lived and run — or just sitting around at a café looking distinguished. Instagram is not necessarily the bad guy here. I’ll be the first to admit that my ego and I enjoy playing there.

To play and survive on social media, we need a balance of our egos with reality. If left unchecked, we can experience a host of issues, ranging from burnout to depression to the most severe, suicide. Often when people hear the word ego, they associate it with someone who brags on and on about themselves. But anyone can be exposed to the dangers of the ego as a result of internally over-focusing on the self. The longer we let our ego roam on the interwebs with little to no awareness, the more likely we are to encounter long-term challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is that what you see is not always what you get. Sure, there’s a fair share of “honesty” posts in which the user shares a vulnerable side of themself. But now it’s even become questionable as to whether or not the vulnerability is used to get more hits or is really just an honest person opening up to the entire world.

Instagram has been around long enough for many of us to realize that those on social media likely lead less glamorous lives than their profiles show. Just this awareness will go a long way in managing your relationship with social media. To have a healthy relationship with the platform starts with increasing our awareness of ourselves and the tendencies of our egos.

Call It What It Is

Running can relax us by releasing dopamine and endorphins. In addition to relaxation comes feelings of satisfaction and an increase in confidence. Great right? Well …

Left unchecked, this dump of feel-good stuff can be the precursor to innumerable “inspirational” posts about achieving big dreams. I’ll be the first to admit that after some workouts, I’m ready to create a plan for an Olympic Trials qualifier — and I haven’t even qualified for Boston yet!

There’s a fine line between aspiration and reality. Just because you’re feeling good after workouts does not guarantee you’ll achieve all of your goals. The reality is that it takes a lot of hard work both mentally and physically and if you put it all in, it comes without a guarantee of achievement. Sometimes when we start talking about all that work we’re doing on social media, we’ll add external pressure to ourselves, feelings that we’ll not just disappoint ourselves, but all our followers if we don’t achieve our goals. Instead of running straight to Insta after a successful workout, it might be better to use mindfulness to sit with the positive experience and actually enjoy the feeling of it. Calling it what it is — a good workout — instead of a sure sign of success will calm the ego while allowing you to reap all the benefits of your training.

Now this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever post about a good workout on social media. Instead, it means paying attention to the trends of your post-workout behavior. If most of your posts are shouting from the rooftops about how much you are running or how fast you are running, it may mean you are at more risk for a harder fall from reality or that your ego may become bruised at some point. Think of it as setting up an ego insurance plan instead.

Bad Stuff Happens

Instagram is known for showing only one’s #bestlife. And while there is some debate whether the average post of vulnerability on social media tends to be genuine or clickbait, for the most part it is helpful to share the bad stuff. Have you ever been the victim of a bad race after a glamorous Instagram-worthy training program? I have! The last thing I wanted to do was talk about it. I was embarrassed that I shared so much during training only to not even come close to meeting my goals.

One way to lessen the blow is to sit with the disappointment for a while before posting anything. People don’t use #latergram for nothing! Pay attention to the judging voice inside your head. Maybe it’s telling you if you don’t post something after a bad race everyone will laugh at you for not reaching your goal. Whatever stuff it’s telling you, that voice is merely a thought. You can wave to it, but decline its request and don’t allow it to stay awhile. You’ll likely find that these judgy thoughts will pass and you’ll eventually be able to take a more relaxed approach to posting about your race that models healthy social media behavior.

Mindful Social Media Use

Social media is part of life. Whether you’re a casual observer, frequent poster, or show up in phases, it’s helpful to approach the platform with some mindfulness. A deep breath before clicking on an app can go a long way. A deep breath is meant to center and ground you, particularly your ego.

You can also pay attention to how you feel as you scroll through your feeds. Do you feel compelled by another runner’s post? What emotion does it spark? Are you all over the place, clicking on one link before you realize you went down a hole of judgement or feel frazzled from all of the exploring? Recognizing these reactions instead of judging them can help to increase our mindfulness skills and quiet the sometimes destructive voice of the ego.

And if all else fails, simply state to yourself a loving-kindness mantra before logging on: May we all have better surfing experiences. May our egos be more tame. May we be at peace.

Do you have a healthy runner’s ego?

I write about mindfulness, mental health, and the professional sport of running with the occasional poking fun at the sport. When I am not running, I'm either helping people as a counselor or trying to make them laugh as an amateur open mic comedian.

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  1. I think I’m over the whole fake run/ FitSnap IG picture thing. I’m ready for this fad to pass. 🙄 Another pet peeve- people who are Instafamous who are relatively new to running giving horrible running advice to other new/ wannabe runners. Just stop! Tame that runners ego! Ok, rant over. 😊