Ego – Is that a dirty word?

Since the beginning of time, at least a month or two now, ego has been the brunt of a lot of bad press. But here’s an interesting fact… “you can’t live without it.”

So many people get the idea that their ego is an enemy and in the same breath say “I want to love myself.” …. did they realise it was the ego saying that they want to love themselves?

Without ego you are a blob. A bunch of hairy bones, some ageing skin, a few muscles if you are lucky and eat paleo, and a bit of noise. Without ego you are enlightened and inactive. Ego stimulates desire to care.

So why has ego got a bad wrap?

Well, because ego can get in the way of “inner peace.” It’s the best piece of marketing drivel ever written. Inner peace. Nobody’s got it, because nobody knows what it is. We only know when we haven’t got it. And we haven’t got it when our bad “ego” kicks into high gear. So, ego cops the blame for all inner war.

We don’t know inner peace but we do know inner war. So, just like a war in the outer world, we send in the troops or negotiators to create a peace treaty, which usually creates a temporary aberration that the hate between two opposing forces will be forever forgotten, we send in the troops in our head, the Inner UN peace keeping force, and nail the ego to the fence.

Your ego is your identity. It’s built from memories, stories, ideas, education, experiences in other words a complex pallet of colours ranging from left brain logic (or what we think is logic) to right brain feelings (or what we think are feelings). This pallet of colours is most unreliable because it’s composed of all manner of imagined and learnt collected information that basically gets sorted in a way the reinforces what we felt from the age of three.

But it’s all we’ve got.

The alternatives to ego include:

  1. Trust someone else’s ego (not wise but often called marriage)
  2. Doubt your ego (leaves you between a rock and a hard thing)
  3. Kill your ego (see vegetable)

However there are some ways to make your ego work for you and not against you:

1. Expand it.

Treat your ego like a part of your spiritual domain. A contracted ego is like a mad dog backed up against a wall. It’s going to bite. Your imagined stress, the perceptions you have about your world, life, work, people, relationships can put you in a fight/flight state of mind which, in essence feeds the dark side of your ego. Do this often enough and the dark side of your ego gets, like any muscle, stronger until it starts to function 24/7 with or without stress. This is often the case for people who’ve been in difficulty (read here therapy) too long. My guess is one month to six weeks carrying a serious worry embeds the dark side of the ego into the primary consciousness. So if your therapy or business issue has lasted more than 4-6 weeks, change your therapist or get a business consultant – or someone like me who does both to cause a major and rapid intervention.

2. Test it.

Your ego is the source of all gratitude in your life. If you feel thankful then you are in the high side of your ego, if you feel unthankful then you are heading for, or in, the dark side. Thankful is not a forgiveness nor an attempt to change anything or anyone. Thankful, which has been at the heart of Buddhist teaching for 3,000 years (Oprah makes out she just invented it) – is the acid test for the ego. If you can’t smile at it, your ego has left the building, gone crazy, is making war, causing trouble, in the poop, attracting calamity, disaster and humbling circumstances. If you can’t smile at a situation, you are heading for the eye of the storm. This is the essence of the inner radar, or whatever they are calling it now. That’s why, managing the ego is crucial. It’s not a wild animal and it can be tamed, and by taming it, you get a guidance system for trouble avoidance. If not, it leads you to essential lessons that you can’t live without.

3. Accept it.

Neuro-plasticity is the modern name for yoga. Those who have a button on any religion other than their own, like big words like Neurolinguistic programming, in order to avoid the admission that there might be a piece of another religion that’s a bit, teeny weeny bit, valuable and missing from their own religion. So, whatever label works for you – it doesn’t matter, what matters is that you come to see that your ego, identity and therefore judgements and thoughts on self and other are completely fabricated and therefore can be changed in a blink. There are thousands of process that claim to change your mind, from hypnotherapy to medications and all sorts of psychologies. Most just try to change you to another ego that the practitioner thinks is better than yours. Maybe they are right. I’ve never met a more messed up community of people in the world of my travels than therapists and psychologists, so I wouldn’t want to swap my ego for theirs and pay for it. Either way, you have an ego, get over it but don’t typecast or label yourself with a Myer Brigg or DISC personality test. Make your ego as adaptable as a chameleon. This way, more gratitude, better compass.

4. Listen to it.

Car horns, dogs barking, people farting. Noise…. but this noise is nothing compared to the noise in some people’s head. I’ve spent my whole life listening to the noise in my own and other people’s head and it’s often about the volume of a grand final crowd at the MCG. This noise is bad management. So, before you manage your bowels, manage your crowd. This is how:

  • Destination – Have a single point of focus for your entire life of thinking, breathing and acting… call this a purpose greater than yourself. The emphasis here is “single” point of focus … meaning only one thing, and more importantly, “greater than self” meaning it’s not focussed on how you feel.
  • Divide – All areas of life are interconnected but as a big lump called life its overwhelming to manage. Divide your life into seven areas of focus (spiritual, mental, social, career, health, financial, familial). Create a vision for each area and then balance each area. This means seven visions and a series of daily routines that keep your ego away from “fight/flight.” Know that if you don’t maintain balance (daily habits) in each area independently to the others, your ego is going to take you on a dangerous wild goose chase and “you’ll be back.” Best process is to create visions for each area, then a formula for balance in each area.
  • Organise – Arrange #2 into a sequence of priorities… the fancy name for this is “values” but all it means is that a) there has to be a pecking order in any group of nature’s animals, including your visions. b) all are important, but for you, in your unique ego mind, some are more important than others. c) if you don’t order them yourself, a war will break out in your head and you’ll have conflicting time management, life management, thought management issues.
  • Link – Go back and then link #3 your visions and balance maintenance – daily habits  to your single point of focus. That organises your actions in line with your intentions. Misalignment between your visions and your purpose is fodder for the dark side of your ego and you may end up depleted, exhausted and working on substitutes.
  • Avoid substitutes.... This is the last step. Getting some sort of order in your daily life is a profound gift but there are some dead ends to be aware of in ego management. I call these “early warning signs” and they relate to the four substitutes. Simply it goes like this: having a purpose to your life, linking your visions to your purpose, creating daily routines and habits triggers life forces, and it’s called, inspiration. Energy comes though you not from you. But when all the above goes pear shaped, then energy comes from you, and how the heck do you get enough energy to fuel that state of mind, that everything comes from you? You use substitutes – food (includes grog and drugs), greed, sex and spirituality. In the right amount those are good for life, the feed the ego and keep you engaged, but when used as substitutes, they create a whole sequence of social and person issues that make Mt Everest look like a pimple on a pumpkin. Best not to go there.

Summary

Without ego you are lost. With ego you can get lost. Ego is not set in stone. Use it or lose it. Work out how to become friends with your ego, expand it to avoid stagnation, test it with gratitude, organise it with visions and daily routines, and be very very aware of excess use of substitutes that reveal when the lunatics have taken over the asylum. So, ego, is that a dirty word: definitely, maybe, absolutely positively, maybe sometimes but not always.