If you notice your ego influencing you in a situation, simply acknowledging that your ego is involved will improve your decision-making and your life.
What is the ego?
Everyone has an ego. There are many definitions of the ego, but to put it simply, it's your sense of personal identity or feelings of self-importance. It helps you to identify your 'uniqueness', to stand up for yourself and to put plans into action.
It is, however, incredibly important that you notice how your ego impacts your decisions as it can be a negative influence. If you can think of a time when you've done or said something that had negative consequences, this was your misguided ego at play.
Having an awareness of your ego plays a large part in improving your relationships with others, as well as your ability to manage others and yourself. I have found that becoming more aware of my ego has made me happier.
How the ego works
Your ego’s job is to feel important. Its survival depends on it. Unfortunately, this translates to your ego needing to fight and defend itself. It seems counterintuitive, but the ego needs negative situations to arise so it can have something to do, something to worry about, or something to change. So if you're happy, and everything is perfect, your ego will already be looking for an issue to cling to or a drama to create.
The ego does not live in the present. While it is a fact that only the present moment exists, and the past and future exist only in the mind, your ego wants you to be thinking about the past and future. This means thinking about things that have gone wrong in the past, or things that may go wrong in the future. As a rule, every single time you take something personally, this is the work of your ego.
This means if you think back to when someone was rude to you and you feel offended - or you feel superior to them as a result - it’s your ego talking. If you worry about an event coming up, it’s your ego talking. If you receive some feedback you don’t like, regardless of whether it was just or unjust, it’s your ego talking.
How the ego can cause harm
Your ego takes you away from the present moment. Imagine living your whole life thinking about the past and the future, and then realising at the end that all you ever had was the present moment - but you were too stuck in your head to fully engage your senses and enjoy the world around you. Here’s how you can identify when your ego kicks in (I have done all of these things):
- Have you ever disliked someone succeeding?
- Do you compare yourself to others?
- Do you look for attention?
- Do see yourself as better, cleverer, or nicer than others?
- Do you like talking about people’s imperfections?
- Have you ever noticed that you’re ‘virtue signalling’ (showing off how moral you are)?
- Have you ever looked down on someone for not trying as hard as you?
There is nothing wrong with having an ego - there is nothing wrong with feeling important - but the ego needs to be regulated. The problems arise when it affects your decision making, your mood, or it turns you into a victim, an underdog, or it makes you feel superior to others in order to justify your behaviour. These things make you miserable. Your ego will fight this fact though, it wants to look at the past and the future to find trouble so it can defend itself. It wants to fight. It doesn’t want you to be at peace. Your ego needs an enemy - a situation or a problem to feel bigger or better than. This stops you from enjoying your life and accepting things as they are. You can, however, learn to accept how things are by simply noticing when your ego is interfering and gently bringing it back into line.
You are not your mind
Most people fully identify themselves with the voice in their head. Have you ever considered the idea that this is not you, but just one part?
You are not your mind.
Over time, you can redefine who you think you are, and how you see others. This will help you make better decisions. This is the difference between “I’m stupid” and “Sometimes, I make stupid decisions.” The distinction between these two viewpoints is massive. And with others, for example: “He is a lazy person” and ‘He is not very engaged’ are very different. This is essential in management. Good managers believe that everyone is a potential winner and that some are just disguised as losers. Bad managers look down on people.
When you get upset, or sad, or angry, or worry, or fear the future, this is not you. It’s just your ego - just your mind. Our society idolises the mind, without an awareness of its imperfections and traps. If you respond badly (on instinct) to someone’s advice, or to a particular situation you’re in, remember that it's not 'you' with the problem, but your ego. If you make this small but crucial separation you will be a lot happier, and more level-headed. Your ego is just a part of you. Your mind is just a part of you. Your subconscious makes decisions before you know it. You don’t have to think about feeling, breathing, the beating of your heart or the digestion of your food, your presence in the universe, and your sense of smell, touch, taste, sound. These are all you too. You are a lot more than your ego - than your mind.
You are not an island
In western culture, a child might ask how they came into the world. In eastern culture, a child may ask how they came out of the world. This highlights the problem we have with how we see ourselves in the world. You are NOT just a brain in a skull in a bag of skin that will be gone in a few decades. You are part of an intricately connected universe that only exists because of all its parts. The atoms that make up the neurons that allow your brain to think were once in a star and will one day be in a star again. Your mind is a small part of the universe that has become self-aware. This is a beautiful quote from author Eckhart Tolle:
You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself. What an amazing miracle.
I once locked myself in a cupboard for 3 hours, just after learning about meditation. The time flew by, and I was happy and relaxed when I finally released myself.
There are many types of meditation and even though I plan to try more, I have found these three types really useful:
I stop everything I’m doing and spend 1-minute listing things that I’m grateful for. I’m not hungry. I slept well. Someone smiled at me at the shop. I love those close to me and they love me. I get to see the sky every day. I have central heating. I love my job etc.
Being in the now
I sit or lie still and count my breaths - I focus on that instead of my thoughts. Sometimes I focus on the sounds around me or I really focus on my senses. If my mind wanders I don’t fight it, I just notice it and start counting my breaths again.
When something bad happens… I stop.
I ask myself, will being upset or annoyed help me? If the answer is no, I don’t worry. This took a few months of practice, but it really works. If you stub your toe or spill a drink on yourself, you can’t stop the event or the sensation. But you can tell yourself that being upset about it does not help you. Don’t fight your emotions though, fighting is the work of the ego. There’s nothing wrong with being annoyed, just remind yourself that it won’t improve your day!
There are several books which look at the ego. Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’ and Ryan Holiday’s ‘Ego is the enemy’ are notable books that deal with the subject in an interesting way, and reading them has allowed me to write this. Think about searching Alan Watts on YouTube too, a philosopher from the 50s and 60s who shared an eastern philosophy in western lectures...
“I'll tell you what hermits realize. If you go off into a far, far forest and get very quiet, you'll come to understand that you're connected with everything.”
― Alan Watts