Rowing and conversations with the ego

One of my favorite movies is Guy Richie’s “Revolver”. It took me about 3 viewings to understand what the hell was going on but eventually I realized the movie is about a man who goes to war with his greatest enemy, his own Ego.

In the movie, his Ego is the voice he hears in his head, not in some crazy “kill everyone” way but in the same way we all have our own voice in our heads. In the movie, his big awakening moment was his realization that the voice in his head was not in fact “him” but his ego, pretending to be him. If that doesn’t make sense I definitely recommend watching the movie, but just in case you can’t be bothered, here’s a couple of quotes from the movie to get my point across.

“The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.”

“The greatest con, that he ever pulled… was making you believe… that he is you”

These lines are referring to the main characters ego. We all hear that voice in our heads and we do assume that this voice is “our” voice. This voice in our heads pretty much aligns with our own wants and needs as long as we stay in our comfort zone, but once you wonder out of your comfort zone, the ego doesn’t like this, and will try to convince you to go back to where you are comfortable.

You may be wondering, “what the hell has this got to do with rowing?” Another quote from the movie goes something along the lines of “wherever you don’t want to go is where you will find him”. In the movie, the main character is scared of tight spaces and so he purposely puts himself in a tight space to make it easier to hear and identify the fact that this voice he is hearing is not him.

For me, the best way I have found of hearing this voice is with rowing on the concept 2 rowing machine. Specifically, I have found the 2k row to be the best distance for this. The time and pace for the 2k just seems to work out best. Let me try and explain how this works for me.

I start out the row with a definite goal in mind, to get a PB. I would love to get under 7 minutes but I haven’t managed to make it yet. But this is my own goal, me, my want, my desire, my decision. And so I start the row, the first 500m usually goes down ok, but slowly, as I become tired and very uncomfortable, the conversation begins…

You’re not going to be able to do this, you’re only at 500m and you’re already tired.

“I CAN do this, I just need to keep on going, every time I hit 500m it always feels uncomfortable and I’ve got PB’s many times before”

As 1000m comes and goes…

You may as well just stop now, if you go all the way to the end you’re gonna feel sick and horrible and you won’t have the PB anyway, if you stop now you won’t have the PB but you’ll still feel good.”

“NO! If I stop now I’ll never know if I could have got the PB!”

And finally, the last hundred meters, the voice is loudest…

Just stop or you’re going to be sick, I can’t do this, i’m too tired, there’s just no way I can keep this going for these last 15 seconds”

And to be honest, at this point the other voice, the real me, the me that made the decision to get that PB, my voice is tiny. That voice that says, “Just keep going”.

For me, the voice that is telling me “I can’t do it”, and “I should stop”, that’s the ego. The voice that says, “keep going”, that’s me. I used the rowing machine to provoke this internal argument so I can isolate the ego from my own thoughts the same way the character in Revolver went into the tight space to isolate his. Once you can acknowledge that this inner voice exists and is not in fact “you”, you can at least attempt to overcome it when it pipes up when you are out of your comfort zone.

Before I end I wanted to give an example of when being aware of this has helped me. Fairly recently I decided to start coding Apps for mobile phones. I had the thought that at some point some years in the future I would like to be able to work for myself as a coder. So i’m studying and building my first app and I come across some problem that it doesn’t appear as though I can overcome, and this voice pipes up “I can’t even solve this one problem, how am I ever going to be able to work for myself doing this, I’m never going to be able to learn all this there’s too much to learn, I’m never going to be able to work for myself doing this.”

I found myself listening to these thoughts, and I said consciously to myself, “shut the f%$k up” I realized that this was not me saying these things. I had put myself out of my comfort zone and the ego had piped up. Maybe I won’t be able to work for myself, but at the very least I’m not just giving up because my ego doesn’t like to be out of its comfort zone.

So, go and find your ego. I’m not saying you’re gonna be able to get rid of that voice that says “you can’t do this” when things get uncomfortable, but at least you might recognize the fact that voice is not you.



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