The Problem With Hubris

I recently had a setback in my health (hence the break between posts).  During this time, the word “hubris” came to mind.

Hubris:  From ancient Greek, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

Before getting sick, I felt invincible.  I was eating really well and working out hard.  Not to say eating really well and working out hard aren’t good for you, but mentally, I was getting to the point of arrogance and overestimation (“There’s no way I can get sick.”…“My body’s immune system is impenetrable.”).

 Hubris can affect all areas of your life.  How about these situations?

 “I can drive.  I only had a few drinks.  I feel fine.”

 “I’m in the best shape of my life.  I know it’s been years, but I don’t need a doctor.  Those are for people who are sick.”

 “My co-worker is hot.  One happy hour drink after work can’t hurt.  My husband/wife doesn’t have to know.”

 “Yeah, that $500 monthly car payment is really high, but damn, I’ve got to get that ride!”

 We’ve all suffered from hubris in our lives.  “I can handle it.” “What’s the worst that can happen?” We’ve all made these statements at some point including the most dangerous, “That only happens to other people.” There’s nothing wrong with being confident in one’s abilities, but hubris occurs when one’s confidence is mixed with ego and an overestimation of these abilities.

I’ve had to learn the (extremely) hard way during the course of my life.  Years ago, I tore an achilles tendon playing pick-up basketball.  The doctor did his magic and reattached the tendon with the warning to stay off the foot and take it easy.  After a few weeks, my bodybuilder ego could not take the muscle atrophy (you fitness freaks reading this, I know you can relate).  So what did I do?  I went out and bought an ankle brace (the kind that you lace-up and tie) and tied the area up tight.  I threw the boot on and immediately went back to working out.  These workouts included leg presses with a load of 45-pound plates.  At my next doctor visit, I immediately knew something wrong when he said (very un-doctor like), “What the hell did you do?”  I got the tendon infected to the point that he did not know if I would ever walk straight (let alone run) again.  For a 24-year-old kid, this was terrifying news.  In the end (thank God) everything worked out.  You would think this lesson on hubris would have been sufficient for a lifetime.  Nope.  I’ve made (and continue to make) these types of mistakes.


So how can we prevent hubris from throwing a monkey wrench into our lives?

Check Your Ego: Where I train, the tagline is “Check your ego at the door.”  It applies to all aspects of the school, whether you’re Crossfitting, doing Krav Maga, kickboxing, or training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ).  It’s good advice.  Often times, we let our ego override common sense and realistic thinking.  I’ve seen a lot of bodybuilders and “tough guys” tap in BJJ class after experiencing unnecessary pain – all because they thought they could out -muscle or “out-man” an opponent who was half their size.  When we put our ego in check, it allows us to operate with no expectations – and that opens up the ability to learn, grow, and most importantly, avoid dumb mistakes.

Keep It Real: You don’t have to be the Dave Chappelle “Keep it Real” type but if you know yourself, you’ve already won half the battle with hubris.

 Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.

Sun Tzu

When we do and say things that are consistent with who we really are, we “flow” and operate more efficiently than if we were just “playing a role.”  Being someone or something  we aren’t is exhausting.  And when we start acting out of character, we start missing the warning signs our mind and body are throwing at us.  The result?  A loss of contact with reality (see definition of hubris).

Get Honest Feedback: If you have close relationships with family and friends, consider yourself very fortunate.  These are individuals to whom you can go and who will: 1) help you put your ego in check; and 2) put you back in touch with reality.  When I’m struggling with a problem or if I think I’ve lost my perspective, I’ll usually ask my wife or good friends who are all willing to give me their opinion.  One caveat here.  If you’re going to solicit input, make sure it’s from someone you trust – not just anyone.  There are individuals who can just as easily use this opportunity to tear you down.  So pick your counselors wisely.

Finally, learn and apply your life lesson.  If you do happen to slip up because of hubris, and like any mistake in life, look at it as an opportunity to learn.  Allowing mistakes or adversity to pass through our lives without making any changes is a tremendous waste.  So the next time hubris gets the best of you, make the necessary course-correction by asking, “What can I learn from this?”


How has hubris affected your own life?