“We are all born free and spend a lifetime becoming slaves to our own false truths.” ~Atticus
Understand: Your ego is not your enemy. It’s more like a clumsy anchor with too many feelings attached to it. It’s like a whiney, woe-is-me mass of sentimentality constantly tripping over itself. If you are the horse, then your Ego is the cart that you keep ramming into wondering why you can’t get anywhere.
Still, it’s not the enemy. It’s one of the most vital aspects of yourself. The problem is that you are probably its bitch, instead of the other way around. You are its tool, and it leverages you against yourself all the time. It slaps you around. And the crazy thing is that you allow it to. Hell, you probably welcome it. This is because you believe (rather than think) that it knows what you want. It doesn’t. It’s nothing, more than your sense of self-importance. It doesn’t know what you want. It only knows how to keep you safe, comfortable, and secure. It only understands self-preservation.
So the secret to turning the tables on your insecure, uninitiated, tiny ego is to practice self-improvement over self-importance. Practice self-empowerment rather than self-preservation. Self-importance leads to impotence. Self-improvement, on the other hand, leads to liberation and the rise of an initiated, self-actualized ego that’s ready to take on all comers and prepared to overcome itself.
Practice getting out of your own way:
“Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself.” ~Rumi
Step one in turning the tables on your ego: get over yourself. Understand that you are a fallible, imperfect, prone to mistakes naked-ape fumbling through the toddler-phase of its species’ evolution. You are a tiny speck of dust in an unfathomably enormous universe that will exist none-seconds compared to the ancient eternity of the cosmos.
That should humble you. But your ego probably won’t allow it to. It’s too damn scary. Too mortal. Too real. So your ego is probably spoon-feeding you a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance to prevent it from getting overwhelmed. Hence the vital importance of practicing getting out of your own way.
Humility is the cornerstone of self-improvement. Humility is the searing pain of seeing the light upon exiting Plato’s Cave. It’s collapsing into a pile of existential angst in the Desert of the Real after transcending the Matrix. Humility is the ultimate psychological leveling mechanism. It puts the ego in check so that you can finally be authentic with yourself.
The beauty of practicing getting out of your own way is that eventually your ego gets used to driving in the back seat. It starts to learn how not to take itself too seriously. It begins to see how everything is connected to everything else. It becomes a vital tool in your arsenal, used to flexibly leverage reality into an understandable construct. In short: it becomes interdependent rather than codependent.
We practice getting out of our own way so that we are humble enough to realize that we’re, paraphrasing Palahniuk, the same decaying organic matter as everything else, but that we’re also unique and fragile snowflakes. And the only way to become more than just a unique and fragile snowflake is to make self-improvement primary to self-preservation.
We must sow a little painful humility if we are to reap the rewards of self-empowerment.
Stop acting like the world owes you something:
“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.” ~Soren Kierkegaard
Here’s the thing, down and dirty: You don’t deserve a damn thing! Someone told you deserve this or that at some point during your ego’s fragile development and you’ve used it as a prop ever since.
You don’t deserve love. You don’t deserve to be happy. You don’t deserve a job. Hell, you could even earn those things through blood, sweat, and tears, and you would still not “deserve” them. Why? Because the world simply doesn’t work that way. There are probabilities involved. There’s luck involved. There’s vicissitude and unexpected change to consider. And the mother of them all: you simply cannot control other people, unless you become a tyrant.
Only tyrants think the world owes them something.
Your ego is a little bitchy tyrant inside you. And until you have the courage to flip the tables on it, your ego will continue to tyrannize you and everyone around you. It will continue tricking you into thinking you deserve the world. When really you don’t deserve a goddamn thing.
There’s daring, there’s courage, there’s proactive self-improvement, but there is no “deserve.” Toss that hindering sentiment out the window. Defenestrate it along with the outdated notion that “things happen for a reason.”
The beauty of practicing letting go of your sense of entitlement is that eventually you realize that everything is connected to everything else. You see how you are the world, and the world is you. You don’t need anything because it’s already a part of you. Your ego goes from being a self-entitled tyrant to a self-overcoming liberator.
Make mistakes of ambition rather than mistakes of sloth:
“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” ~Niccolo Machiavelli
When you are your ego’s bitch, you suffer unnecessarily. Your tiny comfort zone is a prison, and metal doesn’t stretch. Bars are not flexible. Sure, inside your prison everything is safe, secure, and comfortable, but it’s all just empty platitudes and sentimental delusions that you keep telling yourself to prevent your prison from turning into a rubber room. But at least a rubber room is flexible.
That’s why the wise have always advised going a little crazy from time to time in order to shake things up and shock the Self into awakening. As Tony Schwartz said, “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity, and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
A mistake of sloth is remaining fortified in the prison of your comfort zone. It’s allowing your ego to continue making you its bitch by bolting the horizon and blocking the door. It’s ignoring all calls to adventure. It’s turning a deaf ear to “a language older than words.” Meanwhile, Rumi is in your soul like a Persian Yoda pleading, “Why do you stay in prison, when the door is wide open?” But when your Ego is boss, self-preservation is your master. You’re in the grips of cognitive dissonance and you can’t see past your need for comfort, security, and safety.
A mistake of ambition, on the other hand, is a leap of courage. It’s a strategic risk based upon passion, perseverance, and love. It’s saying, “Fuck my ego! I’m giving this a shot.” Which gets you out of your own way by launching you past comfort, security, and safety and into some much-needed adventure. It’s heeding the call, listening to the pulse that connects all things, and then acting with deep resolve on a calculated gamble.
The alternative is unnecessary suffering in the prison that your ego has erected. Either way there is suffering, but at least in the suffering that comes from making mistakes of ambition, you are free. As Ajahn Chah said, “There are two kinds of suffering. There is the suffering you run away from, which follows you everywhere. And there is the suffering you face directly, and so become free.”
Create a less shitty life through cyclic self-overcoming:
“In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have taken for granted.” ~Bertrand Russell
So yeah, adventure hurts. The unknown is scary, and unexpected things can happen. Hell, you could even die. Making mistakes of ambition is no walk in the park. Things could go wrong. But so what! There are greater pains. There are worse ways to go down. Like making mistakes of sloth. Growth is painful. Change is even more painful. But remaining stuck in a shitty life of aggrandized ego-fellating is arguably the worst pain of all.
This is where the art of self-overcoming comes in. Self-overcoming is bitch-slapping your ego out of the way, taking the reins of your life into your hands, and proactively going about improving upon who you were yesterday. It’s taking Nietzsche’s idea of the Overman and running with it. It’s a personalized Fibonacci sequence, where your own development is predicated upon an individualized progressive evolution that will ultimately contribute to the evolution of the species.
Self-overcoming is realizing that the human condition is fragile and fallible. And that’s okay. That’s precisely why self-overcoming is necessary. It’s a vehicle that compels us to become robust and wise despite our inherently fragile and fallible natures. The ego wants to keep you safe in your fragile and fallible comfort zone. Self-overcoming tears down the comfort zone and teaches the ego how to become a flexible tool of self-improvement rather than a rigid tool of self-preservation. We’ll still be fragile and fallible, but we’ll also be robust and wise.
Self-overcoming is the daily act of letting your ego know who’s boss. You are! And no amount of comfortable coos and warming sentiments are going to lull you back to sleep. You’re awake. Your comfort zone has been stretched and has gained the flexibility to stretch even further. The tables have been turned. In the poker game of Self, you’ve called your ego’s bluff and now you’re holding all the cards. Your self-preservation has taken a back seat to your self-improvement. There’s an initiation at hand. Your ego is now ready to become a mighty tool for your self-actualization.
About the Author:
Gary Z McGee, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide-awake view of the modern world.
This article (How to Make Your Ego Your Bitch) was originally created and published by The Mind Unleashed and is re-printed here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Gary Z McGee and themindunleashed.com. It may be re-posted freely with proper attribution, author bio, and this statement of copyright.