Through the martial arts, I learned a lot about ego – although I didn’t quite realize it.
I did stumble and abandon the martial arts for a bit there. I forgot some of those early lessons, but I’ve been re-learning them for the past year or two.
In this post, I’ll define what the ego is, how it can hinder our growth and what we can do about it.
The goal is not to point out how I may be better than you. I struggle like everyone else. I just want to point out some observations that help me.
What is the Ego?
The ego is essentially our identity.
And here is the distinction: Ego is how we see ourselves and not necessarily who we are.
It is an inward manifestation of our experiences of the world around us. Sometimes it may give us a sense of self-importance. It can also be the complete opposite as in the case of low self-esteem.
The ego is all about defining the self – which is necessary but can get out of hand if not managed.
I am. I need. I want. These are all ego talking. Now, it’s not necessarily bad. We just have to be aware of it.
It is inherently reactionary. It is a response to a stimulus. It’s that baggage we carry around that weighs us down.
Let’s say that something good happens to me. I’m sparring and I happen to overwhelm my opponent and essentially win a fight. I may see this as an indication that I am really awesome. If it happens enough times, I may think I’m unbeatable.
Now, if the opposite happens and I get beaten badly. I may see it as a personal flaw. Perhaps I’m no good. Which, to be honest, is something I’m more apt to do.
Either way, these thoughts, if not managed, can get out of hand.
How The Ego Stunts Our Growth
Having a pre-conceived idea of ourselves may lead to bigger issues which then can become real problems I’ve found. Below, I list some statements I’ve heard and even spoken (or thought) myself. You may or may not recognize them.
OVER-CONFIDENCE (too much ego)
“I don’t need to practice. I’m perfect”
“I already know it all. I don’t need to learn more.”
“I am different (or better) than other people.”
“I am what I do.” ie/ the president of some large company, a winner of this award or that trophy.
UNDER-CONFIDENCE (too little ego)
“I am broken. I am no good.”
“I am disabled. I can’t do this.”
“I’m not as good/strong/smart/funny as (insert name here).”
“I won’t do this. It will be too hard.”
In either case, we tend to pass judgments, create labels, or pre-define our feelings and behaviours based on past experiences. If I’m arrogant, I can be resistant to change because it simply isn’t necessary. If I am fearful of change because it is unknown and scary, I may resist changing (even though it’s for my own good) all the same.
The remedy for an over-active ego is simple, but it’s not easy to do. It’ll likely take our lifetimes to get right. But there are some things we can do.
Sensing Your Ego
Our egos just want us to be safe. Once we re-assure it that everything is OK, change becomes a lot easier.
Ego is reactionary. The antidote is self-awareness.
So, the best thing to do is wait for a reaction. Instead of immediately acting (unless it is urgent). Pause. Take a few deep breaths. What do you think about what is happening? What someone is saying? Now, how do you feel? What do you think/feel about your immediate reaction? Is it right for you to think/feel that way? If not, you can change it.
This is easier said than done. Sometimes we just get caught up in the heat of the moment. I know I do.
Silencing Your Ego
A slightly misleading title there. The ego is something that is ever-present. There’s no reason we should silence it. So, we have to be ever-present too.
That’s why meditation and prayer are so important. They inject some much-needed silence and calm into an otherwise hectic day. We all need to slow down and think about what we’re doing.
Prayer/Meditation doesn’t need to be a huge undertaking. I tend to only spend 5 minutes when I get up and 5 when I go to bed. It’s something you can practice anywhere and at anytime. I do it during my yoga practice, sometimes when I workout or while doing dishes. Remember it’s about quality and not quantity. Do as much as you feel is necessary.
Not a very long post, but I hope you find it helpful. All of our behaviours can be traced back to thoughts. If we can adjust the thought patterns, we can change the behaviour and the results we get.
Here’s a video which you may find useful too.
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