Sometimes when I look at the stars twinkling coldly in the night sky, my heart swells with thoughts of how small and insignificant they are. - Unknown
People have different views on the ego, the concept itself, its origin and nature, and its role in our lives. Everyone agrees that ego is harmful in the longer run and we should drop it. Just get rid of it.
I’m more interested in the practical application though. Why exactly is it harmful, in practical terms? And how can we get rid of it?
Starting with the second question, because it’ll be quick and easy. We can’t get rid of the ego. Not overnight, not even within months or years. We can’t get rid of the whole ego or parts of it. We can’t get rid of the alter ego and then sub-parts of the ego, or whatever some people call them.
Instead, the only way to ‘get rid’ of the ego is to learn to recognise its voice and learn to ignore it. Again and again, in all situations. Until its voice becomes so quiet and insignificant that we almost don’t hear it. Until the ego becomes silent – why bother if no one is listening?
If you saw the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ with the wonderful Russell Crowe as a talented mathematician John Nash, you understand what I’m talking about. John Nash developed paranoid schizophrenia and endured delusional episodes which dramatically affected his life, but eventually got his life back by learning to ignore his hallucinations. One way for him to know hallucination from reality was to do a reality check by asking other people: is this person real? or is it just a voice in my head?
To me, our ego is very much like paranoid schizophrenia, of course not as severe and dramatic, but much more subtle which makes it more difficult to recognise. Yet the question ‘is this real?’ still applies to the ego.
Ego is just like dust in the eyes… Without clearing the dust, we can’t see anything clearly, so clear the ego and see the world. - Unknown
What’s an ego?
I don’t know. Yet, I know when the ego is talking.
When we burn bridges with loved ones because of our pride, only to realise much later that those people were indeed the Loved Ones. And too late to fix things.
We make life changing decisions based on arrogance and know-it-all attitude disregarding the tiny voice of common sense.
We think we are the chosen ones and treat others like shit, then deal with losses of partners, jobs, friends and so on.
We allow our kids to have another sweet (one too many) because we want to think we are loving parents, but in fact we don’t want to say ‘no’ and deal with begging kids.
We allow kids (unreasonably) more computer time explaining this away by various important factors, when in reality we want to spend time without the kids around.
We give things to charity because we want other people to see our generosity, but we don’t spend money on a small romantic gift for our partner once a quarter, or even worse – on our own development.
We buy presents for people – presents that WE think the person needs, not what the person actually wants. Because we know better, don’t we.
We choose partners and jobs against someone’s advice only to prove a point. Some people take it many steps further and live for years trying to prove a point to someone. Only to realise one day that no one was actually looking and they forgot what they were trying to prove and why.
And so on.
Like I said, the voice of the ego is subtle and confusing. Many people confuse self-dignity with pride, self-confidence with arrogance, independence of thought with reckless decision-making, self-love with selfishness, balanced approach to life with indifference.
Often the only way to tell if we’re driven by the ego is to ask ourselves about motivation. Is it pride and a desire to prove a point to someone? Are we forcing ourselves to look better – look generous, kind, accepted, loved – only, again, to prove that we’re good enough? As if someone cares.
Common sense doesn’t operate with concepts like that, because they simply don’t make sense, understandably. It doesn’t make sense to spend decades in an unhappy marriage, pretending you’re happy, only to prove a point to your ex-partner, your current partner, your family or anyone else, even yourself. Believe me, your ex-partner doesn’t care. It doesn’t make sense to behave like an asshole in the job, because guess what – people will find a way to get rid of you. Yet, I’ve seen people do these things over and over again, ignoring common sense. Why? Because their ego was too loud.
Big egos are big shields for lots of empty space. - Unknown
The ego is there for a reason. Let’s say it’s the voice of our rational mind trying to protect us from disappointment, stress, regret, loss, the ‘oops’ moments and other bleak moments in life. Why do we need protection at all? Well, we sense (consciously or unconsciously) that we have our own weaknesses, unhealthy thought patterns, learnt unreasonable behaviours, biases and so on. So, all the ego is doing is trying to hide our fear. Fear to come across as ridiculous, unloved, rejected, unsuccessful, fearful, stupid.
So, if you’re still not convinced that you’ll be better off ignoring the voice of your ego, here’s more.
1. Get real
The ego doesn’t allow us to see the reality as is. Of course, we all see the reality based on our own perspectives, so strictly speaking we probably can’t see the reality as is, but the ego makes this even worse. Our ego focuses our mind on our fears – not to resolve them but to cherish and nurture our fears. We apply our own fears onto other people and situations. People driven by common sense run away quickly and people who stay are the ones who fit well with our fearful ego-inflated personalities.
Starting with the second question, because it’s quick and easy: we can't get rid of the ego. Definitely not overnight, or not even within months or years. We can’t get rid of the whole ego or parts of it. We can’t get rid of the alter ego and then sub-parts of the ego, or whatever some people call them.
2. Grow up
The ego tells us that we’re better off staying in our comfort zone, because who knows what may happen if we decide to go for a change. We’ll look ridiculous, we’ll fail, people will judge us and so on. Common sense tells us that millions of people change hobbies, partners, jobs, countries, religions to live a much more fulfilled life. Not because these people are smarter, luckier, richer or whatever else. But simply because these people are more courageous and don’t listen to their fearful egos.
3. Stop manipulation
Pride, arrogance, the desire to prove a point, looking for approval and so on – these all make us an easy prey to all sorts of manipulation. From minor or not so minor manipulators at work and in the family, through to serious manipulation by media and marketing campaigns, and society. Common sense can’t be manipulated into anything, but the ego can be. It’s just finding out what exactly triggers you.
4. Become responsible for your life
You’ll probably agree that fearful people (aka cowards) can’t be as successful, motivated, happy and fulfilled as courageous people. Interestingly, the perception of ‘success and happiness’ is very personal and based on how we perceive ourselves. It doesn’t matter how rich, pretty or smart we are (or perceived by other people), we don’t feel happy if we feel insecure and fearful inside. So, at the end of the day the feeling of success and fulfillment is a deeply personal internal feeling, and we should take full responsibility for getting there.
5. Stop worrying about what other people think
What will other people think? The question that doesn’t make sense whatsoever. I always reply to this with ‘What other people?’ and ‘Why are they important?’. The responses to these make even less sense. As long as you don’t break others’ boundaries, please do whatever you feel motivated to do and don’t worry about others. What they think about you is their choice, perspective and responsibility.
When ego is lost, limit is lost. You become infinite, kind, beautiful. - Unknown