Don’t Play Whackamo With Your Ego

We all have ego challenges. Our anthem often seems to be “I did it my way”. But this egocentric striving works against productive collaboration. It stifles the generation of new ideas and thought leadership. It divides us from each other. My way as the only way is the highway to the “othering” of those around me.

But trying to make the ego disappear just makes it stronger. So here is a roadmap for the management of this pesky part of our person.

Step One. Awareness

The worst thing I can do when my ego rears its ugly head and tell me I am the center of the universe is to deny its presence or try and push it out of my life. That denial strategy becomes like the arcade game of Whackamo where one hits mechanical moles with a mallet as they pop up from their holes. The more you knock them down the more they pop up. A better way of managing the ego is to say to it, “I see you. There you go again!”

Step Two. Compassion

When I judge myself for my small-minded ego responses the worse I feel. But when I laugh with (not at) the ego the more likely I set myself on course towards an authentic soulful response. I am not good at self-compassion because the ego tells me “You will give others an advantage over you”. My usual response to this ego voice is “tell me something I don’t know“.

Step Three. Choose The Opposite 

Some folks really rattle my ego cage. There is a leader that I know that has a huge ego, needs to be in control, and becomes a drill sergeant and bully when people stand in the way. My typical ego response is to joust with this person and push back hard. Surely there has to be a better way than conflict to manage such relationships?

I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza comes to the realization that nothing he does in his life works out for him. All his decisions seem to be the wrong ones. So he comes up with the stunt that from now on he will “Do the opposite”. There is often wisdom in comedy. So when I feel the ego cramping my style by suggesting mindless responses like “Fight back”, I ask myself “How can I demonstrate kindness towards this person?” In so doing this person becomes my teacher and not my nemesis.

Stage Four. Look for the true essence in myself and others

Often love, our energizing force, lies deep within us in the shadow of the ego. Any introspective venture starts with the question “Why?” Like the song of Mary in Jesus Christ Superstar I confess at times “I don’t know how to love you”. To even begin to fathom why our loving nature is constricted we need to go inward.

I need to take my needs, struggles, and ego out of the mix before I can even begin to express my loving self. I also need to be aware of what inhibits love like the struggle with its impermanence, arm wrestling with my ego, and fear that makes me believe that there is scarcity in the world resulting in my losing out in some way or another.

Now it would seem simple to say to myself “Choose to be your loving self and the other more negative stuff will melt away”.Easier said than done. At times you just don’t will yourself into loving. However one must be aware of our internal barriers that keep us from loving. 

The chief path to love is to see the value within each individual that connects us to them. Seeing their inner Buddha, Christ, or essence makes even the most gnarly character lovable. What’s there not to love about that? And then the final step is to access that inner essence in ourselves in quiet meditation and to respond to our crazy world from that place.

Often when I reach the end of all my resources and all my practice seems to fail me I come to the point of surrender where I confess “I can’t”. It is in that moment that I receive the gift of grace.

Surrender is a path to the soul-self.

About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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