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Fighting the Ego and Seeing the Bigger Picture

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Note: I'm no fitness expert--that's Coach Nicole--so please don't use this blog post as a way to diagnose or treat any injury, pain or tweak you're feeling. Listen to your body, and consult a professional if you sense anything is amiss.

Our bodies are complex systems, and even when we feel healthy and happy, they're not operating at 100% capacity or efficiency. No body is perfect, and sometimes identifying the source of a flaw can be difficult.

When you're active, aches and pains are not uncommon. I don't mean injuries; I mean some soreness or achiness. (More: Smart Ways to Soothe Sore Muscles) I don't "no pain, no gain"; I don't subscribe to that myth. (Learn to spot the signs of overtraining.) I mean the discomfort that sometimes accompanies exercise: the burn in your muscles, the stiffness in your joints, and all the other tweaks and twinges you feel in your body.

Before I started working out regularly, I don't remember having many injuries or much soreness, aside from my weak low back. In the last year, however, I've noticed an increasing number of aches and pains. I often pose this question to my yoga teacher: Is it because I'm more active, or is it because I am more aware of my body and notice even minor changes?

What's causing these ailments? Most of the time, the problem isn't my body--it's my ego. I stop listening to my body and let my ego take over.

"You can push harder--and even harder still. You can hold longer. You can run farther. You can go faster."

I do.

Then, I pay.

Maybe it's a knee that's tender, a back that's knotted up, or an elbow that feels overstretched.

What's the fix?

I listen. I rest. I ignore the ego. I listen to my body.

I know, this is something we've blogged about quite a few times in the past, but it bears repeating! Read these to learn more:
Habits of Fit People: Listen to Your Body
When Your Body Speaks, Do You Listen?
4 Lessons Learned from Listening to My Body
Every tweak and twinge that has turned into something more serious could have been prevented if I had just ignored my ego and looked at the bigger picture.

Would I rather do less today and tomorrow or push through and risk being sidelined for a week? Would I rather hold back in a pose and feel no discomfort or push through and end up injured?

The ego is what tells us to add another two miles to our runs every day this week, even though we know we shouldn't increase mileage more than 10% a week.
It's what tells us to mimic the woman next to us in yoga class, rather than modifying a posture based on our own body's limitations and capabilities.

And it's what tells us that we've failed if we don't do more, better, faster, longer, stronger NOW!

There's a fine line between motivating yourself and letting the ego take over. That line is different for every person in every situation, but the more time we spend listening to our bodies, the more time we spend learning about healthy living, and the less time we spend worrying about what everyone else thinks, the better off we'll be.

Rest, ice, compression, doing less--those all help me get back on the mat and working to my fullest potential. I remind myself that taking care of my body doesn't just happen during a workout or a yoga practice, it happens after, with recovery, rest, nutrition and sleep.

Listen to your body. Ignore your ego.

More self-care tips:
Ouch! Avoiding the Aches and Pains
11 Exercises that Help Decrease Knee Pain
Bouncing Back after an Injury
4 Easy Ways to Avoid Injury in the Weight Room
5 Reasons I've Never Had a Running Injury

Do you fight with your ego during workouts?

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I wish I had read this earlier today! I'm currently sitting here with a hip injury all because I didn't listen to my body. I knew it was worn out from stress and lack of sleep and that I should've taken it easy during my workout. Now I'm sitting here, praying it's nothing serious, so that I can fix it and get back out there! So yeah... Great article! Report
Bravo--you have said it well! I find that, if I exercise with my daughters, I always try to push harder than I should; and they are good enough to recognize this and remind me to take it easy! Report
If I listened to my body every time it complained, I'm afraid I wouldn't do anything! By pushing ON the discomfort in order to push past it, I've learned a great deal about how and when to stretch my body's limits. Of course, it has taken me nearly 65 years to learn this. Report
The ego can be so very pernicious...I try to rein it in with my mind...so I try to be aware of the body's signals. Is it pain - or - is it discomfort?

Pain...means I need to modify an element of intensity, duration or weight.
Discomfort...means I am "on target" with my challenge Report
I like this advice. I have a bad knee. After many frustrating tries to get an exercise program started only to have my knee give me grief, I figured that it was better to take it easy. One of the things that has worked for me has been making adjustments when I use a treadmill. Rather than sprint or race, I raise the incline and walk just a bit faster than a normal walk. With this slower, steady pace, an hour of walking is not too much. Report
As a distance runner who may or may not be dealing with a recurrence of a stress fracture, I'm having a hard time controlling my ego. Every time the pain disappears, the ego says all is well. Then of course the pain returns.This blog was very timely for me, as I've been waffling over going out for my 11 mile run on Sunday. Hopefully I'll be able to shut the ego down until I see my Dr Thursday for a real diagnosis and path forward. Report
I appreciate this blog. As an all or nothing person, I have fallen into the ditch on both sides of the road (no exercise vs too much). There is the balance that I am learning of staying in the middle. It is important to move and just as important to listen to our body when it's telling us to not overdo. Report
Sometimes I have to fight with my ego during my workouts. :/ Report
Thank you for the post. I have recently started taking yoga once a week at the university rec center. Very new to me. Each week there are new poses, new challenges. I need to listen to your advice (and the advice of the yoga instructor) and take it slow ad steady and listen to my body. At my last lesson, I over did something and my back really "talked" to me. Scared me a bit. The pain/soreness was gone by the morning, but what if I had really injured myself? How unfortunate it would be to be laid up for a few days. Or have to not exercise for a few weeks. Report
Thank you so much!!! It is so hard to ignore the ego and I haven't exercised in ages as a result of listening to it. Now I know what it is and will tell it where to go next time it pushes me to go further than I know I should. Report
I am competitive (understatement). I have a hard time not rising to a challenge, or ever admitting that what our trainer asks is too hard. I walked a 3x4 inch patch of skin off the bottom and side of my foot yesterday, because I was too stubborn to quit the 1 1/2 miles on the treadmill (a post test for a fitness program I was in). Now I have to TLC it until the raw area heals up. Why didn't I stop when it started to hurt or got worse. Stubbornness = ego. Report
Yeppir! This is what I am still learning, after seven years of gym membership working with a very conscientious exercise physiologist who is always trying to rein me in. I am nearing 70 and probably do not want to admit age has limited me. So, I push beyond. He tries to create exercise programs that challenge me without hurting me, but I push.

I am getting better at it. This week my tenosynovitis is acting up, and my shoulder has another twinge of bursitis. AND I am taking the physiologist's advice and sitting it out.

Who knew I could be this smart?

It is not easy. But I can do it. Report
I can relate to this in so many ways. I am always pushing myself to do more, be better. I have suffered for it too. I have got better over time in listening to my body.
But It's an almost constant battle I have with myself. My ego definitely gets in the way. I hate to give in. I feel I can over come the aches and pains. This is something I have to work on. On the other hand I feel some people quit at the first sign of a sore muscle. or ache. There is a difference between aches, soreness and real pain. Report
Really great post Stepfanie! And from the comments so far, also timely . I have to admit, though that I'm surprised so many people have gone too far in Yoga poses. I started with Yoga many years ago and that's where I learned to "listen to my body." Yoga is a practice that teaches us to ignore the ego. I guess there are teachers out there who don't emphasize that enough for their students, which is a shame because Yoga is a good way to learn how to strengthen the areas of your body that need it like knees if you want to run or play tennis, etc. Pilates is another good tool to strengthen our core, but I would recommend checking the credentials of your teacher. I have seen some gyms offering classes with a personal trainer who has not undergone training in Pilates. Stott, The Body College and Pilates Method Alliance are great programs that graduate teachers who know how to help without having you strain anything! Report
I have definitely pushed myself too far in a workout and realized I need to listen to my body more. This is why I can't use the "I've never regretted a workout" quote to pump me up. Because I have absolutely regretted workouts before, back when I wasn't listening to my body enough! Report
Almost TWO YEARS (and almost 20 lbs regained) later I am still suffering the effects of pushing myself too hard. I have recurring bursitis in both hips which my doctor said was probably a result of not properly stretching after my feeble attempts to be a runner (although I still bask in the glow of the one and only time I ran, slowly, two miles without stopping to walk). Report
This is SSSSSSSSSSOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO me!!!! Thank you for posting this! I sure do need to start listening. No, not listening. I HEAR my body, but I just ignore it! Now I have bursitis in my shoulder from trying to go heavier on the weights to build muscle and I DON'T WANT TO STOP to let it heal because of my ego!!!! Boy, I needed this slap in the face to bring me back to reality! Thank you!!!! Report
Boy is THIS screaming at me! LOL. Sunday, I got a ride to the Hall where I worship. It's about a mile and a half from my house one way. That's not a far distance for some but for me, it's a hike! Well my ride wasn't going home right away so, instead of asking for a ride from someone else (which they gladly would do) I decided; well, it's a nice day and even though I'm new to the distance (only made it half-way TWO summers ago!) AND ON A WALKER I thought--GO FOR IT. So I did. I did pretty good till I got about three blocks from home. THEN the pain. I have spastic Cerebral Palsy and when I get tired my muscles get ACTIVE. Wondering about the cars? Yes people stopped and I waved em all off! But reading your blog, I think I'll stick to short jaunts and realize I have nothing to prove! Thanks again. HUGS Laurie Report
Interesting perspective....Instead of feeling like a wimp when limited by an ache or pain and pushing through it, treat yourself kindly....this would definitely require a change of thinking on my part. Thanks. Report
Each Saturday morning I take a 60 minute circuit training class at the gym. Most often I do all of the more challenging modifications. Saturday was the first time I did a lower impact modification and I was not alone. Our instructor wanted us to run in place as fast as we could and when she said "Drop!" We were do to a burpee. The modification was just to run in place as fast as possible. There were at least three other people who did not do the more challenging move. I chose to do the lower impact modification because I knew the next morning I was planning to run. I listened to my body In an effort to save my knees from some unneeded stress. Report
Thanks for this blog! We all need to remember to listen to our bodies. There was a day a few weeks ago when I set out to do a 3-5 mile walk (at home DVD), and I changed my mind during the first mile because my body said no. Sometimes it's very hard to feel proud of a shorter workout, but I think it's just as important. Be proud of all of your good choices, even if it means a shorter or lighter workout! Report
je suis vraiment d accord! a chaque cours que je donne , je repete: un yoga qui fait mal est un yoga mal fait!
je suis certaine qu' en respectant notre corps, celui-ci nous remercie et petit a petit, il nous surprend! le plus difficile est de faire taire l ego!
merci pour cet article. Report
I've had to learn the hard way that the only person I am to compare to is MYSELF. Just because so & so can do such & such doesn't mean that I can do the same. -- I've also had to learn the hard way what my limitations are and what it means to push appropriately.

(When looking for a personal trainer, I've had a difficult time finding one that is truly willing to help me grow and develop stronger and better. it means I need a good listener about what MY goals are. But good news! They are out there if you persevere!) Report
ahhh, the ego. We want to do so much, get in better shape, get stronger, and are constantly pushing our bodies. This is a good thing most of the time. We have to do it to get the results we want but there is that little voice that we do have to listen to. Does it hurt more that it should? It is always a fine balance. Report
This really makes alot of sense. I struggle constantly with wanting to push myself as I long for my end goal. Thanks for the info.
Oh do I struggle with my ego! My ego says you have only worked out 45 minutes! You need to go another 15 minutes! My ego says, you can't go without working today even though you have worked out 6 days already this week! My ego says you have to be your best no matter what! I am so thankful for this blog! Report
I really REALLY needed this. I'm working on recovery from Achilles tendon surgery, which happened because of my ego and because I was pushing myself, and it ruptured. Then, the minute I could walk unassisted, I rushed back into the gym, and now I've got tendonitis plaguing one of my support tendons. Too much, too fast. That's the litany I'm getting from my doctor and physical therapist. I have to keep reminding myself it's a gift to be walking, don't throw it away trying to run. It's just SO frustrating to be sedentary, when I've been sitting on my butt against my will all winter. Report
Jack LaLanne always said that getting started with exercise was a matter of the mind, over the lazy body. Report
Well said. This is something that I too struggle with. Report
I tend to spend a lot of time reading and researching. Knees, for example, can be best strengthened with certain kinds of exercises - exactly what a physical therapist would be doing if I overdid things and had to recover from a serious injury. So instead of pushing past discomfort to pain and causing an injury, I support and strengthen slowly until I can do things even better than if I'd tried to push. Report
Wow thanks for the advice! I'll have to keep this in mind when I work out! Report
I'm paying for it right now! Started a much harder strength routine, along with pushing myself more and more with my jogging on the treadmill. I wasn't in pain from any of it, but really worn out. Now I've been forced to stop everything for the last week because of a pulled muscle in my lower back. I knew I needed to go easier on myself but my ego did get in the way. It isn't as if anyone else even knows what I'm doing. I'm not competing with anyone except myself. It's purely ego! Report
Oh my goodness thank you SO much for this blog.

My workouts take place super early in the morning (5 am!) so usually I am too groggy to figure out what and how I'm feeling. It's usually not until I start running that realizations like "Wow, my hams are tight!" come to me, and by that time, I'm usually too stubborn to stop.

If I do skip a workout, how do I deal with the guilt? I've only skipped regular workout in the past couple of months - I woke up way too tired to even breathe one morning and just rolled over back to sleep. Later that day, I didn't have that calm feeling I get from an a.m. workout and started to get antsy, at which point the guilt set did in. Report
This is very timely for me too! I intended to go the gym after work last night despite feeling very stiff and having achy muscles and low energy. I ended up not going and felt bad about it but I feel so much better today after having a rest and going to bed early. I'm all for pushing yourself but you have to listen to your body. Report
I got burned on the Yoga postures. Since I was one of the most inflexible people in the class, the instructor "encouraged" me to practice at home. Well, I ended up tearing the cartilage around my hip bone. Turns out I have a very small hip capsule, and per a PT and sports clinic doctor was told I will never attain the flexibility of most other people in that particular area of my body (assessed after 6 months of intensive PT after my surgery to repair the torn cartilage). Report
This is being added to my favorites. I struggle with arhritis and fibromyalgia, There are days when I push myself to workout so the pain is less. Is it ego or motivation. Not sure but I do know that sitting still does not help my pain level. Perhaps I can do lower intensity when the pain is high. Thanks for sharing..... Report
Thank you for this! I am forever competing with my workout buddy and he's a guy first of all, secondly, we are strong it totally different areas. He tries to tell me it's not a competition, but it's a bit tough when I look over & see that he's kicking my butt in speed, distance, or weight (depending on what we're doing at the time). I need to ignore my ego before I get hurt. I guess I just have to swallow my pride & accept that this girl can't be as fast or strong as her guy gym buddy. Darn competitiveness! :P Report
It's hard telling the difference. I have too many of those days that I "feel" too sore to work out today. My knee hurts so don't walk. So instead, I AM pushing through. But then is it ego? or just motivation? This is a tough one for me Report
I struggle with this all to often. I want to do all that I can to better my health physically that I ignore the pain and fatigue because I feel that is just an excuse. I hate that my body seems to take longer to recover as I get older. When I do work myself to the limit I also tend to feel ill, which again keeps me away from the gym. I will keep reading and learning how I can benefit my body instead of dragging it down. Report
I kept ignoring my body and playing through the arm pain even though my physician and physical therapist told me I had to stop playing tennis. I think the reason why comes from what were taught back in high school by the coach - play through it. I ended up doing more damage to my arm and had two surgeries taking me away from tennis for almost a year. I'm back now, and actually listened to by body yesterday by stopping what I was doing because it hurt. Thanks for the blog. Report
For me it isn't ego; it's exercise as an outlet for stress. Plus, I think I'm addicted to exercise - especially in water - because while you're doing it, it feels so good. I have made it one of my personal goals to pay attention to pain levels and to use moderation because of this. You are right that rest is part of your exercise plan. Rest doesn't mean that you should spend your day off sitting. It means that you do a short easy workout. Report
I love love this post, last sunday i did some jumping jacks and on monday i was so sore i could barely lift my hands on monday and all I just kept hearing from people was "do more it would go" but i knew within me that the logical thing was to rest and i did and thankfully now my muscles have fully recovered. Report
I've definitely tried to do yoga to the level of those around me in the studio, before having to mentally check myself and remind myself that this type of competition basically goes against what yoga stands for...

With running, though, I've always been extremely conservative, ever since a stress fracture in high school sidelined me for half a season of cross country. Since then, I make my training schedules very long (at least three months, if not longer), so I can very gradually add mileage and even slack off here and there without any detrimental effects on my body. It's so important to listen to your body! Report
Great blog for sure. I too learned "the hard way" while trying to convince myself that I could be a "runner". After attempting the C25K program I had increasing pain in my knee...I just soldiered through it telling myself that it would get better. It didn't and the knee blew out and I spent the next 7 months in rehab. The lessons learned here? Not everyone can be a runner no matter how much you want it and listen to your body. Pain is NOT normal.....ever....some muscle soreness and discomfort sure, but not pain. Pain is your bodies way of telling you to knock it off! Report
Oh yes...I learned the hard way! Put myself out of action for a month after pulling a muscle in my neck. I still haven't started up. Am I scared to? Ues, I think I am, but I will take your advice....and start up again, listening to my body. Thanks for that. :) Report
I just added this to my favorites! Report
This is a timely subject! I forced myself to do a very tough workout yesterday even though I knew my body needed a rest. I am paying for it today with achy joints and a general blah feeling! I need to listen to my body instead of my pride next time. Report
This is added to my "favorites"! Thank you for bringing this issue to light, Stepfanie.
I struggle with finding the balance with ego and my body's varying/various health issues (hypothyroid, fibromyalgia, & osteoarthritis among others) versus traditional advice. The "yoga way" with listening to your body is much better and developing that listening skill is very important, because I have learned that I DO PAY later if I try to advance my fitness level according to "traditional" or "conventional" advice. Report
Thanks for this! Makes me think of myself. My knee is quite often sore, yet I continue to do the step class because I feel I need the cardio (which I do - lol), and I keep telling myself that if I strengthen the muscles in my legs, my knee will have better support. So, I continue and sometimes suffer. I too need to ignore my ego! Report
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