“How do you battle with ego?” was a question I was asked recently by a delegate. This immediately raised two further questions for me. Should we be battling with ego or working with it; and whose ego are we talking about, theirs or ours?
The response I got to the latter question was ‘Theirs of course’. It’s interesting how we tend to notice ego in others more. How much easier it is to think it is the other person’s ego that is at fault rather than our own! Status and ego can rule even when it is totally illogical. This led me to design the virtual workshop ‘Working with Ego’. In researching and delivering this, I discovered there is still a great deal of uncertainty and misunderstanding as to what ego is.
It is an intangible which can be difficult to put into words and as it is too often used in a negative context, it can be deemed as a bad thing. ‘He has such a big ego!’
The dictionary definition is:
- The word comes from the Latin for ‘I’
- It is a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance or the view that a person has of him/herself.
- Psychologically, it is the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
I liken ego to a spirited horse, which is a wonder of nature that can be useful or can bite you in the bum! You can work with it like a horse whisperer (they actually listen to horses to understand their needs, not whisper to them!) or you can battle to try and break its will. You may in that case get compliance for a time but not a fully trusting relationship with it.
“It’s difficult to have fun or to achieve concentration when your ego is engaged in what it thinks is a life and death struggle”W Timothy Gallwey: The Inner Game of Tennis
Ego is a normal thinking process within human beings, which is generated by thought and feelings and yet it is an illusion. You are not your ego, so you do not need to get lost in it or believe it, but it is important to be aware of it, understand it and work with it. If you fight it, you are likely to get into self-conflict.
“Thinking fragments reality”Eckhart Tolle
Impact of Ego – Friend or Foe?
Ego can lead to either an over-inflated or under-valued sense of self. The ideal is a balanced judgement of self; based on sound evidence. Depending on where the balance of your ego lies, it can have a positive or negative impact. Delegates identified these as:
- Can build self-confidence which is based on factual reality.
- Works with our emotional intelligence.
- A useful tool when used wisely and objectively with self-awareness.
- It can help us see the good and wisdom in us.
- Helps us drive forward and achieve more.
- Learning to navigate your own and other people’s egos is a valuable interpersonal skill
- When out of balance, it can become a negative force on our self-esteem and that of others.
- Sometimes an inflated ego is used to mask lack of talent.
- An overpowering ego can suppress others.
- Can manifest itself as a need to always win, be right or in control.
- When challenged, ego can fight back or diminish our self-esteem.
- It resents change especially if it feels threatened by it.
- Low self-esteem egos can hide or undermine hidden talent.
‘She eventually found her mojo, in a shadow beneath her ego. It had cowered there, waiting, and quietly observing the decline of its servant’Part of poem by Julia Calleja, Live Well Dorset
Balance of Judgement and Ego
Ego, which is intangible, is a difficult thing to measure, but it does impact on our judgement. You can measure certain aspects of this very accurately (as well as many other criteria) with the on-line assessment Judgement Index. Below is an example of results from a small section of the report for 2 different people. The nearer the score is to 0, the greater the balance of judgement in that aspect. A negative figure is under valuing and a positive number is over valuing certain aspects of self.
Person 1 has a very balanced value in terms of their personal self-esteem, concept of their role in life and meaningfulness of work, plus their self-image and what they expect to achieve. Their ego is likely to be in a positive place.
In contrast, the second person’s ego is likely to be feeling very unbalanced and threatened as they very much undervalue themselves, are seriously unhappy with their current role in life or work; and with low motivation are greatly under-valuing what they can achieve. This person has some important development needs to get them back on track.
Our Two Selves
Do you ever find you are talking to yourself? For this conversation to take place, there must be two participants – you and yourself. It is suggested that we have two selves, our ego and our higher self or innate wisdom. You may find yourself having opposing opinions between these two selves.
A simple example of this is when I am playing tennis. If I play instinctively, I play far better than if I think about the shot. When the ego starts talking ‘you need to win, you should do this, that was rubbish, etc’ I tense up and play poorly. I am learning to clear my mind of thought and trust myself. This can apply equally in other aspects such as public speaking and tasks in the workplace. When you free your mind of ego, then the mind can focus on the job at hand and get into flow for true performance.
There are times when your ego is not balanced and then you need to meditate, let go of unhelpful thoughts, and accept ego for the illusion it is. I recommend choosing the peace and wisdom of higher self rather than confrontation or conforming to ego; but beware ego will try to defend its position.
“The ego mind wants to take responsibility for making things ‘better’. It wants the credit for playing an important role in things. It also worries and suffers a lot when things don’t go its way”W Timothy Gallwey
Like the spirited horse, we need to listen, be aware of and understand our ego, what its needs are and its vulnerabilities. What might make it feel threatened? If we can empathise with it and respect it, then it is more likely to work for us rather than against us. It can become our servant rather than our master. In fact, horses are another way to measure our ego as they will immediately and honestly feed back to us a lot about ourselves.
“Always let your conscience be your guide”Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio
Other People’s Ego
If we react to another person’s ego, we need to ask ourselves what is happening with our own ego first. What is it about their behaviour that is upsetting our ego? There is a balance to be achieved which requires being in the right objective mind set and being present in the now. This is an inside out process, which requires good self-awareness, understanding and being non-judgemental. Just as we use empathy and emotional intelligence with our own ego, we need to do the same with others. They may not be conscious of the impact their ego is having on them or you.
- Ego is a natural process which is part of being human.
- It is an illusion of thought – You are not your ego.
- You can accept it for what it is and work with it rather than fight it. If threatened, ego will fight back.
- Listen to your higher self that lies within – trust it and let it guide you.
I recommend that you take the time to consider and learn about what your ego is saying to you. Is it acting from a good place or is it hindering you? Could it be taking you for a ride away from the direction you want to go?
As you digest this information, you may hear a voice in your head telling you that this is a load of rubbish and that you do not need to change. Be aware that’s your ego talking. The choice is yours whether you listen to it or not.