CrossFit Mentality: Starve The Ego, Feed The Soul

Written By Shona  |  CrossFit 

Enter a CrossFit gym, and you’ll be sure to step over a pile of unattended egos left at the door.

Nobody really wants to admit that they have one, especially not in CrossFit, where egos are particularly frowned upon. To be honest, it’s a topic that’s not really talked about enough when it comes to CrossFit mentality and mindset.

What image comes to mind when you think of someone with an ego? Here’s what I came across from a brief search online…

crossfit mentality and ego
If the above are the sorts of things you conjured up in your mind too, you’d be forgiven for being blissfully unaware of your own ego. Perhaps you think an ego is an issue reserved for bodybuilders who pose with bulging biceps in front of mirrors all day long. Afterall, you’re just a humble CrossFitter whose only competition is your former self… right? 

CrossFit Mentality: Put Your Ego Aside

Let’s be real… we all have an ego. It may not look like the images above, meaning that it’s much more unassuming. You try to shake it off at the door, as requested, but often the ego sneaks in with you and rears its ugly head at feeding time.

Here are a few telltale signs that I personally have let my own ego get in the way:

  • Not finishing a WOD within the time-cap because I Rx’ed when in reality, I should have scaled (that RX badge of honor on Wodify is just too enticing)
  • Grinding out a 5RM back squat with questionable form purely because it’s a weight I’ve hit in the past.
  • Checking–and rechecking–Wodify to see if anyone else in the gym has beat my score.
  • Doing way more snatches than my program states so that I have at least one ‘Instagrammable’ lift on video
  • Not completing a particular WOD because ‘I didn’t have the right equipment’ (and therefore felt I couldn’t be competitive enough).
CrossFit Mentality WOD

There’s a fine line between friendly competition and allowing our egos to lead the way. So what’s the difference?

A CrossFit Mentality Check-up

When you become obsessed with posting higher scores than someone else on the leaderboard, your focus is no longer on improving your own areas of weakness but on doing whatever it takes to get the best score. If the top spot means borderline reps and scrappy movements, you haven’t won at all.

How healthy the competition is can be measured in how much we let it affect us. Can you use it to keep your mental toughness going in a WOD, congratulate the other members of the class with sincerity afterwards and leave the gym feeling satisfied?

Or does it run a little bit deeper? Do jealousy and resentment start to manifest when other athletes improve at quicker rates? Do you leave the gym feeling deflated, and spend the rest of the day obsessing over how to beat your peers next time?

crossfit mentality and ego

You can choose to resent your training partner for achieving their first pull-up before you; or you can choose to let it inspire you to do the same. Healthy competitors place little importance on the outcome of one particular workout, and can keep their eye on the bigger picture.

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to be competitive. Having grown up with four siblings – for me – life was one big competition. Who could run faster, climb higher, spell better… and don’t get me started on a family game of Monopoly!

I think CrossFit breeds this nature in all of us. The very fact that we have daily leaderboards encourages us to strive for higher placings than our fellow athletes. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as it’s not at the expense of other, more important aspects of your training.

So, how can you get your CrossFit Ego in check?

I can’t sit here and lecture about not comparing yourself to others and expect you to agree with me. Or to not to sacrifice your form just to lift more than your training partner and expect you to listen. It’s taken me the best part of 3 years to come around to the idea, and even then, I’m not always that great at it.

But I have learned to set markers that aren’t solely based around how heavy, how fast, how much better than someone else…

And it takes extra helpings of humble pie to keep my mind focussed on these markers, and divert my attention away from what everyone else is doing in the gym.

Think about the following scenarios to help you decide whether you’d let your ego slow down your progress as an athlete:

  • Would you be prepared to take a big chunk off your 1RM deadlift if your back started rounding at 70%? Or would you plow through regardless, just to better your own previous PR?
  • Are you willing to repeat wall ball reps in which the ball doesn’t actually make it over the line? Or do you shrug it off because, well, everyone counts the dodgy ones, right?
  • Would you scale the weight in a WOD to ensure you finished it within the recommended timecap? Or do you use the RX weights even though you know you don’t have a hope in hell of finishing?

Here’s the issue; the things we do to impress people, often impress no one. Who’s impressed by speedy-but-sketchy wall balls and ugly deadlifts? Not me.

The very same thing can be said when it comes to social media and getting your ego in check. Are you posting exclusively PR’s - and nothing else - for the sole purpose of getting ‘likes’ and comments from impressed scrollers?

mentality crossfit ego and social media

I get it, the leaderboard (as well as social media) can become all-consuming. There’s so much importance placed on how heavy you can lift, how fast you can finish, how many reps you can do. It’s hard not to get sucked in; it takes a lot of mental toughness not to. There’s nothing wrong with leaderboards and PR’s per se, but using them as your only measure of success can be detrimental.

CrossFit Mentality and WOD’s

Consider this. How high on the leaderboard would you fare if your workouts were judged on quality?

Sure, perfection during a WOD is not the goal, there’s a time and a place to practice with the aim of perfect reps. That being said, they still need to count.

Pull-ups that don’t involve chin breaking the plane of the bar do not count.

Reps of double unders on which you trip do not count.

No one is going to ‘no rep’ you like they would in competition… but you still know. And your coach knows too.

Similarly, perfection is not generally expected when shooting for a new 1RM. But there has to be a cut off point at which you decide what’s more important; getting this bar from A to B by any means necessary, or making a lift that you can be sure is going to be beneficial to your training and transfer to other lifts.

CrossFit Mentality & Ego: Moving Forward

So here’s my challenge to you moving forward: focus on gains of quality, even if it means you temporarily have to take a step back. I guarantee you’ll soon be taking two steps forward as a result.

You can be just as proud of ‘technical PR’s’ as you are when adding weight to the bar - and what’s more, they are markers which aren’t directly comparable to anyone else.

We don’t have a leaderboard for quality, efficiency, flexibility, accountability or effort, so the only person you have to compare yourself to is you. You, yourself, as you are right now. Against the athlete you’ll be several weeks, months, years down the line. 

IF you’re interested more on the topic of ego, and competition, I highly recommend one of Coach Ben’s favorite books, Ego Is the Enemy. In it, Ryan Holiday talks about the unwarranted glory that we ascribe to successful people with egos. It’s a must-read for WODprep athletes.  

Comment below and let us know your thoughts, or what you might be struggling with when it comes to CrossFit mentality and ego. We’re here to help!

  • Just wanted to say this is an excellent article which I try to tell my athletes most days also. Technic before anything. It’s so hard to keep them (and myself at times) with our egos at the door just because we’d like to beat or add more load to a movement. I love WODprep videos, articles for years now. I try to translate this information on to my French members for the last 2 years. This info has made myself a better athlete, coach and just a better person just like CrossFit.

    • That’s awesome Michael – thanks for translating, we appreciate you helping share WODprep around the world 🙂

  • I have been thinking about this lately. Being a competitive person has helped me improve tremendously, but the thing I hate most about my version of competitiveness is that I struggle to be happy for other people’s success. There are so many supportive people in my gym who seem genuinely happy for other people when they get a new skill or PR, but I am not one of those people. I want to be and I want it to be sincere, but my ego gets in the way.

    • Refreshingly honest of you Clara! Acknowledging this and wanting to change is an important step though. Maybe think about why you can’t feel happy for others. Perhaps you’re worried others are going to overtake you? I think that’s perfectly natural to feel this way but I think that if you can’t celebrate the success of your gym friends, it could be that you’re placing too much important on the competitive aspect of CrossFit and not enough on the enjoyment and community aspect. CrossFit should enhance our lives; not cause us upset and resentment. The gym would be boring if we were the only ones who improved!

      • Well said Shona, I don’t know you, but your words were nicely placed 🙂 and I struggle with some of these same things, and have come to love Crossfit to because of the togetherness it creates. Thank you again fellow human!

  • This really is a great article. I’ve struggled with this exact ego/comparison issue just recently. I even went as far as to stop displaying my results publicly because I didn’t want people to be able to see how “lousy” they were. This ended up not only being poor sportsmanship with regards to the entire CrossFit philosophy, but it also negatively impacted my workouts and performance. I slowly came to realize that even though I felt I’d performed badly on some WODs, there were still other members who would ask my advice on the ones that I was “good” at. And that’s what it’s all about. Improving yourself and helping your fellow CrossFitters improve themselves by building each up. Your strengths are not necessarily other peoples strengths, so you can learn from each other. Besides, the fact that you are actually in the gym means you are already ahead of 95% of the population! Be proud of that and dump the ego. I know I feel way better for it.

    • Awesome to read this Vern, thanks for sharing. You’re so right, we beat ourselves up for not being the best in the gym yet forget that just training CrossFit is an accomplishment in itself! Enjoy the journey.

  • Such a welcomed perspective; thank you for writing this. My eyes needed to see this. Hopefully i’ll be able to keep this in the back of my mind the next time I work out next to someone. I jump so quickly into trying to keep up with everyone else, that I forget to pay attention to me. I’m definitely gonna tape this one to my heart.

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