How an Inflated Ego Can (Sometimes) Result in Success


Enzo Goebel, Editor-in-Chief

In an 8,000 seat tin box of an arena, an underdog hockey team composed of perennial rivals from Boston University and University of Minnesota faced off against the legendary Soviet Union and previous five-time world champions. It was 5 p.m., a night like any other—Feb. 22, 1980, to be exact. Then, in a shocking turn of events, the score was 4-3 with 10 minutes remaining in the third period. 

Sportscaster Al Michaels began what would become the legendary countdown: “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now!… 5 seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!” 

The game would be a major upset. The Americans would miraculously end up winning. But was that fated Winter Olympics really a miracle? I would argue that it was not nearly as much of a miracle as we believe. In fact, how these athletes overcame the pressure they faced and the mindset that they employed, though a miracle in its own right, played just as large, if not a larger role in their success.

As a student-athlete, I’ve long been fascinated by the power of the mind. I’m painfully aware when I’m performing at my worst, and blissfully unaware at my best. The more I think, the more I freeze, fumble the puck, or cause a turnover. But when I’m confident, I can take my game to a whole different level. Self-confidence is a practice that most of us fail to perfect when it comes to getting what we want in life, and occasionally the pursuit of it makes us come across as downright awful. But to me, having an inflated ego isn’t the hubris of Odysseus nor the demeanor of a superstar. In a society that teaches humility, sometimes it’s necessary to don a little blind faith in order to perform our best under stress.   

The ability to self-distance is a topic of interest for researchers like Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. His research suggests the ability to take on a character or alter ego allows us to disassociate from the emotional aspect and can increase willpower. Better known as the “Batman Effect,” it is an active cognitive strategy that lets us take on a character who is extremely successful at the task at hand. A study published in 2016 by the University of Minnesota had children aged 4 to 6 accomplish recurring tasks while taking on the persona of a role model. The kids who impersonated an exemplar character were more productive. 

When we envision ourselves as masters, we in turn become them. Rather than being an “egomaniac,” masters of their craft call upon the power of the mind to transcend what is believed to be humanly possible. It’s a skill you’ve likely used in your day to day life without knowledge, from taking a math test to playing video games or practicing a skill. 

Whether it’s historic team efforts like “The Miracle On Ice,” or Herculean individual performances of the likes of Bob Beamon’s 1968 long jump or Jesse Owens performance in the 1963 world Olympics—or feats beyond the world of sports—the world’s greatest performers face immeasurable pressure. Pressure that is often overlooked by the public, exemplified by when Simone Biles withdrew From All-Around Final competition in 2021 and even the 1994 World Cup final that left the walls of the Vatican inscribed with the ominous “God forgives everyone except Baggio” after the renowned footballer missed the penalty to lose the game. In part, what makes great competitors so incredible, is their uncanny ability to function under pressure that would split anyone else in two.

And yet, among the world’s greatest performers, there are those unfazed in the face of adversity, who shrug nonchalantly as much in defeat as in success. We love them and we hate them. These are your Tom Brady or Untucked Kyrie (Kyrie Irving). They seemingly hold the ability to tap into “the zone” through their alter egos, and in an instant master all doubt. 

So while you certainly shouldn’t be a jerk, whether it’s for a job interview or applying for college, when it’s your time to shine don’t settle for anything less. 


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