THE WAY OF THE SUPERIOR EGO (PART 2: UNHEALTHY EGO)
In our last post we talked about the difference between a healthy ego and an unhealthy ego, and how a healthy ego can propel you to happiness and freedom.
But how do you make the shift?
How do you take an unhealthy ego that makes you miserable and transform it into a healthy one that gives your life meaning?
What Does Your World Look Like?
The biggest difference between a healthy ego and an unhealthy one is both profound yet simple.
Your perspective determines how you see the world, and filters your emotions and experiences.
And best of all, changing it requires absolutely no change in your reality.
Viktor Frankl, a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War Two, lost his parents, brother, and wife to the Nazis. Yet despite four years in ghettos and camps, watching people die and suffer all around him, he kept a positive, upbeat attitude – an attitude that strengthened and inspired countless other prisoners.
Remember, objective circumstances may make your perspective more or less easy to maintain, but it does not determine how you must choose to view your world. You can always look at things in another, more resourceful way.
Viktor chose to view his world with possibility, even when it was more bleak than any of ours.
Viktor had a strong, positive mindset.
And when it comes to ego, mindset is key.
How Your Mindset Creates Either A Healthy Ego Or An Unhealthy Ego
The pursuit of more can be toxic. Greed, lust, envy, gluttony… many of the “Seven Deadly Sins” are all sins of the ego – sins of excess.
But why wouldn’t they be?
The ego always wants more.
To determine its healthiness you must address that, but two things:
1) What motivates you to pursue more.
2) How pursuing more makes you feel.
Does working 10 hours a day on that project that’s going to kick ass make you happy and fulfilled at the end of the day?
Then you’re engaging your healthy ego.
Does it feel forced, making you feel trapped and depressed?
Then that’s your unhealthy ego.
Are you getting girls numbers because you’re genuinely interested in them and enjoy pushing your limits?
Hello healthy ego.
Are you getting girls numbers because if you don’t you’ll be a pussy bitch coward?
Sorry, that’s your unhealthy ego.
In short, the difference between healthy ego and unhealthy ego isn’t the action, it’s your relation to the action.
And sadly, people with unhealthy egos relate to their actions in terrible, damaging ways.
Why People Relate To Their Actions Poorly
There is a deep problem that exists in everybody that has an unhealthy ego:
They haven’t learned to accept themselves.
They consider themselves flawed or deficient in some way and are filled with pain.
Most people with unhealthy egos are weak, and tend to just wallow in this pain. Their lives are stagnate. These are the people you definitely want to cut out of your life.
Yet some people with unhealthy egos are different. They are strong. While they too are filled with pain, they fight through their negative self-talk. They accomplish. But they accomplish not out of pleasure; out of desperation.
For instance, I know a guy who has currently slept with over 300 women. Yet for him that is not enough. His life’s goal is taking that number as high as it can go.
He is an incredibly smart guy who literally has the brains to create technology that would vastly improve society, yet he made driving up his laycount his full time job. Every day and night of the week he’s out meeting girls – testing new strategies, gathering data to score faster. It has consumed his life.
Why on earth would somebody spend their life doing that? Is it really because he just enjoys it?
To be fair, there’s no question to a degree he’s having fun. How could you not with all the partying?
But there’s also no question that he needs it to feel better about himself.
Sleeping with women isn’t simply something he likes doing. I’ve heard some of the stories. Most of the girls he isn’t even attracted to, and the sex is drunk and so unarousing that a lot of the time you’d have to be extremely generous to even call it sex.
But still, it’s something he derives massive validation from. Every notch is a dopamine spike.
And he needs it.
Overanalyzing, personalizing, showing off, panic attacks, manipulation, transactional relationships – these are the norm for him.
Because he doesn’t think he’s good enough.
He has a 100% unstable and unhealthy ego, no doubt. But, there is also no question that his ego is strong. A lot of guys feel like shit, but few have pushed themselves towards their goal to try and stop feeling like shit like him.
I bring up this story not to critique of him or his decisions (though they are horrible).
I bring it up to illustrate the futility of taking action towards something to get a good feeling without the right mindset. He has worked far harder on his game than most men, but despite all of that action he is still dissatisfied and emotionally unstable.
It doesn’t matter how much you accomplish. Without a healthy mindset you will always be left wanting.
Egoism and Neediness
That Pick Up guy was needy. It didn’t matter how many routines he had to cover it up, neediness permeated his being and mindset.
This teaches us a valuable lesson about the ego:
If you ever feel needy about something you are on your way to developing an unhealthy ego.
Yes, the ego will always want more.
But it should never need more.
That’s when it gets unhealthy.
Remember, in life, you don’t “need” to do anything. If you feel like you do, you have become outcome dependent – a trap the unhealthy side of the ego routinely sets. Do not fall for it, or else your ego will begin to be the one to use you, not the other way around.
So What’s The Alternative? How Do I Avoid An Unhealthy Ego?
One of the best movies of 2014 was Whiplash. It takes place at the most prestigious music school in America, and the plot is based around two characters, a brilliant, sadistic conductor and talented, ambitious kid.
I won’t give the movie away (it’s worth watching), but one of the most interesting things in the film is how at a certain point, even though the kid is becoming a master, he begins to hate his instrument – the drums – all because of how brutal and intense his training is.
What was once enjoyable and fun suddenly became a perverted form of torture.
Sounds like what it’s like laboring under an unhealthy ego, no?
All because the fun went away.
If You Are Not Having Fun, You Have Lost The Initiative
It is important to take your life and your actions seriously. When you play the game of life – play to win. When you aim to become a master – work to be the best.
But don’t forget to enjoy yourself.
If you’re doing something because you have to – particularly if your self-worth depends on it – you are being led by your unhealthy ego. If you’re doing it, however, because mastery is like a game and games are fun – well, that’s how you know your healthy ego is on full blast.
It’s no different than playing a board game. There’s no question when I’m playing I’m playing to win – my ego wants me to. Indeed, playing to win is what makes it fun to begin with!
But do I base my identity on my board game wins?
Of course not.
Which is why a tell-tale sign of an unhealthy ego is a sore loser.
Athletes with strong, healthy egos work their ass off to win games – and then when it’s all over embrace their opponent, win or lose, thanking them for the challenge.
Because challenges are fun, even when you lose – so long as you frame your loss properly.
You’ll need to if you’re ever going to achieve a greater quality of life.
What Is Framing, And How To Frame Differently
Framing is the key tool in your toolkit for changing the health of your ego and avoiding an unhealthy ego. Essentially, it’s your perspective – the filter that you use to look at situations in your world. Your frame is deeply predicated on your state, mindset, and assumptions.
This entire article should have already helped you frame your ego’s motivations differently, as awareness is one of the biggest keys to reframing.
Still, when you’re really emotionally charged, sometimes awareness just isn’t enough. So here are a few practical tips.
If you ever find yourself falling into an unhealthy ego state, ask yourself:
Why am I doing this? And why is it so important?
Your mind may come up with rationalizations for why you need to feel the way you do, but if you’re being totally honest with yourself – a difficult thing, I know – you will see that you can always choose differently.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should choose differently. A lot of times other choices have downsides that may be too unappealing.
But realizing you can choose differently reminds you that you are never trapped. The path you choose can – and is – chosen willingly.
And consequently, how you approach that path can be chosen willingly as well.
So, if you find yourself frustrated by your current state, or emotionally triggered, try this exercise:
Step out of your body for a second. Literally, imagine yourself as a spectator, looking at you and your previous state. Picture yourself there – with all your pressures, insecurities, and desperation – and observe. How does that person look? What is that person doing?
Watching yourself objectively may cause you to feel pity, amusement, empathy or something totally different. That’s good. What’s most important is that you’ll realize how the “you” you’re watching feels is no longer how you observing currently feels. You’ve been taken out of the emotionally charged situation. Now you can dispassionately observe you in your previous state, and assess how it was serving you.
Once you’ve done that, stop and turn inward again. But this time, instead of putting yourself back in your initial state, put yourself in a different, more resourceful state. What way could you think about things that you didn’t before? Brainstorm how to frame your situation to better address your needs, and experience what that feels like.
Yes, I know it all sounds strange. But I promise you if you actually do it, it will be difficult to go back to your previous negative state and perspective afterwords. It’s a phenomenal way to nudge you ego in a healthy direction.
The ego is an important tool for growth. Like a grappling hook that attaches you to things and pulls you closer to them, you will never move anywhere without it.
Yet your ego also needs discipline. If you allow it to grapple onto whatever it wants, it will become an unhealthy ego and you will quickly find yourself miserable and lost.
So learn how to control it. Use it to upgrade your life. Channel it to help you win.
And should it ever give you trouble, remember not to take it so seriously.
Life is, after all, just one big game 😉