Take good care of your ego

Many good teachers, friends, and colleagues make the mistake of attacking the ego. They see it as a low, bad part of each of us. They encourage us, maybe with their words and certainly with their attitude, to fight the ego and all its manifestations.

This is dangerous and unhelpful. Your ego–to the extent it really exists–is part of you. Any form of judgment, attack, battle, denial that you launch against your ego you actually launch against yourself. You really can’t separate one part of you from another. At some level, attacking the ego will feel bad and reinforce unhelpful behaviors.

A more constructive model, perhaps, is that of habitual thought. To see how this works, temporarily set aside the idea of an “ego.” Then explore a powerful facility we all share: habitual thought. This is the ability to create habits of behavior and thought that, once set, “run in the background” to use a convenient computer analogy. This facility lets us do complex things like walking and driving a car without thinking about it consciously. It also lets us build routines to navigate the emotional and intelletual complexities of life.

Problems happen when the routines that worked long ago stop working as we mature and grow in life. Examples: as a younger person, I formed the following habits of thought. Each one served me well at the time. And each one, left unexamined, can create unneeded friction on my road to greater happiness and success.

  • “In social situations, I’ll be outgoing and talkative.”
  • “I will be my strongest critic; this helps deaden the pain of others’ criticisms.”
  • “I avoid work that somehow feels tense.”

The solution to my no-longer-supportive routines and yours is not beating ourselves up for having them; they have served us well. We just need to replace them with more productive ones.

So, in your quest for success and happiness, care for yourself. Go calmly, assertively, and with great love for all of you.

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