We all have an ego. I’m not referring to Freud’s ego, but the ego of pride. And sometimes pride-craving egos are very unpleasant to be around.
Pride-seeking egos are actually a valuable part of human nature. Its purpose is to maximize one’s social status, which is why they become so competitive. Higher social status increases opportunities for attracting mates, friends, and employers, all of which provide survival advantages for ourselves and our families. At the same time, competitive egos contribute to the miseries of self-conscious social comparisons, rivalries, arrogance, and narcissism. Therein lies the quandary of our egos – they’re both extremely valuable and personally obnoxious.
Even though we all have egos, most of us do our best to keep them discreet in the interest of not offending others. But hiding an ego is not the same as taming one, and even well concealed egos exert undesirable influences on our personalities and our relationships.
One of the greatest difficulties created by a big ego is that it can interfere with the expressions of the heart. Egos are selfish, competitive, and divisive by nature, while hearts are caring, collaborative, and unifying by nature. Egos favor me while hearts favor we. Egos take while hearts share. Egos hog credit while hearts offer praise and gratitude. Egos crave the pride of superiority while hearts thrive on intimate connection. These are big differences that have profound impacts on our lives.
Taming your ego does not mean getting rid of it. The goal is to help your ego and heart coexist peacefully and in the optimal balance. Fortunately, as we age and the hormones of our reproductive years ebb, the balance between our egos and hearts shifts in a more heart-ward direction. After competing for reproductive advantages in our youth, our hearts begin taking over for the sake of nurturing our families.
Marriage and reproduction aside (they’re not for everyone), taming the ego to become more subservient to the heart leads to a more peaceful and harmonious life. We evolve from the ego turbulence of adolescence to the maturity of middle age. But you don’t need to wait for age to mellow your ego. You can accelerate the transition by learning how to tame your ego now. Here’s how.
Step One – Respect your ego. Maybe you’ve never embraced your ego, or once did and then didn’t. Either way, the best way to tame your ego begins with offering it your understanding and respect. Think of your ego as a dedicated servant whose mission is to make you be the best person you can be. It’s like a powerful dog bred to hunt for you and protect you, but you’ve got to train it to not bark or bite your loved ones or pee indoors. And just like training a dog, it needs to be done with kindness. So respect your ego and appreciate its loyal service to you.
Step Two – Transform the relationship between your ego and your heart from a tug-of-war into a partnership. You don’t want them to be rivals competing for dominance in your psyche, but to instead become teammates for the shared goal of improving your life. All they need to do for this to happen is make a deal.
Step Three – Make a deal. Whenever you have a sensation of success, allow the glow of that energy to be shared between your ego and your heart in the following way. After offering your ego a modest serving of pride, reinterpret your success from “Look at how great I am!” to “I am so fortunate.” Feeling fortunate will shift your feeling from pride to gratitude, and in doing so will move you away from your ego to your heart. No matter how talented and successful you are, you can always interpret your good fortunes as things that have been bestowed upon you rather than entirely created by you. This means reapportioning the credit for your successes with others. If you’re a person of faith, you can be thankful to your deity or higher spiritual power. If not, you can give credit to your family, friends, teachers, coaches, or other partners that contributed to your successes. It doesn’t matter where you direct your gratitude, just that the gratitude of your heart eclipses the pride of your ego.
Step four – Practice expressing admiration, praise, and appreciation to others. Everybody loves to be admired, praised, and appreciated, so give the people what they want. Doing so will make them feel good about themselves and about you. These simple expressions shift the vibes in any interaction from ego tension to heart warmth, making everyone more comfortable in the process. Even dropping small doses of these expressions into a conversation, email, or text message will have an impact on you and the lucky recipient.
Speaking of lucky recipients of admiration, praise, and gratitude…
Remember that the evolution from ego-pride to warm-heartedness requires a partnership between your ego and your heart. So every now and then have your heart say to your ego, I noticed that you didn’t hog the credit just now, but instead allowed me to feel grateful for our good fortune. Nice going. I’m grateful to you for allowing me to share admiration, praise, and gratitude to others. You’ve helped me to feel better. Who’s a good ego?! Who’s a good ego?!
Practice these steps daily for a month and you’ll find your spirits rising and your relationships warming. And that will be something you can both feel proud of and grateful for.