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Letting Go of That Ego Before It Gets Hold of You

Letting Go of That Ego Before It Gets Hold of You

I confess, sometimes that head swims in the clouds and I prance about quite happy and headless. Doesn’t even take much for the head to go loose, a little success, a few possessions, some consistent compliments, and there it flies away to glory, on its own trip to what mostly turns out to be disaster.

So much is written about boosting self confidence, but what happens when you go overboard, when you start valuing yourself a bit too much and the confidence goes into overdrive, giving way to that big ugly ego. That’s the thing about ego, it’s never small, and it’s never pretty. It eats away at every single aspect of our lives. The enemy you sleep with until, well, until no one really wants to sleep with you, or work with you, or have anything to do with you.

We don’t even realize when it happens, when we become that egoist who cannot bear to be wrong. Who always listens to the boss while going oh shut up in the head. Who waits days for that sorry to come from the partner (while pretty much dying inside). Who stops talking to friends altogether because they pointed out a mistake. Who doesn’t want to even associate with those bunch of not my class people and who contemplates murder if anyone cracks a joke at their expense.

How can you not be a person you don’t even realize you have become? How do you kill that ego before it kills who you really are? Well, here are a few tough ways (I wanted to write easy but that’s just lying!).

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Don’t just be honest with yourself, be brutal.

It’s like that out of body experience people talk about. Once in a while, float out, hover over yourself, and critically analyze the person you see (you know, the way you analyze that particularly irritating person in your team right before appraisal time). Pretend you are your colleague or spouse or friend and evaluate what this person is to them – the good, the bad, and the really ugly.

Be objective, use a sheet of paper if you have to (yes pretty silly, ensure you are alone while conducting such nerdy activities). A little objective analysis and you will see that ego dissipate. The by product is a clearer life path (and probably the need to get drunk depending on how ugly the ugly is).

Make fun of your own silliness.

You can’t be so awesome that you have no attribute worth laughing at (your friends from college could give you at least 10 in less than a minute). Every day, spend a few moments laughing at yourself (OK, make it once a week if the idea is too mortifying to begin with).

A little joke on something silly, a genuine joke, not one of those smartly crafted lines that are meant to sound like self deprecation but actually stink of self appreciation. So if you are stick thin and crack jokes on your apparently increasing weight which is invisible to the naked eye, please, for the love of God, just stop (before Karma comes calling, and by Karma i mean 20 pounds).

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The thing about genuinely laughing at yourself is that not only does it keep that ego away, it also makes you more endearing to others. Besides, it is the best kind of humor. If you are the butt of your own joke, no one can get offended!

Sometimes, when you realize you are wrong, say it out loud.

We all have those moments in arguments or discussions when we realize that we are completely and ridiculously wrong. We still continue supporting our point with all kinds of baloney. That’s not a bad thing, if we accept ALL the mistakes we actually make, we will come across as pushovers who are not to be taken seriously. Sometimes though, you can make an exception and just accept it.

“OK yes, I think you are right, my bad” – it’s a magical thing to say out loud. Helps your head float down to mother earth and makes the other person respect you more for your honesty. Saying it out loud helps you realize that you really are wrong, that you can be wrong, that you are not the most ‘right’ person in the history of human existence.

You may be going ‘Oh I’m not that person anyway’, but if you were to check with your spouse/friend/colleague whether you have been that person, the answer may be very surprising (and very irritating).

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Attempt things you know you are not good at.

Most of us don’t want to spend time doing such things. Remaining within the familiar helps us get a higher success rate which keeps our self esteem and social image intact. That can be a good policy to follow most of the time, but not always. If we never ever fail, our exaggerated sense of self will go on expanding. Of course it also means that we never learn new stuff which is downright boring.

So bake that cake and leave the windows open for when it burns. Take on a new project at work and accept the fact that you will not be awesome in the first month (by the second month kindly do get awesome, experimentation is fine but you need to keep that job). New things and new failures equal less ego and more growth.

Remember the person you have been.

If your past is spotted with times that you would rather forget, remember them. The algebra paper you flunked, that one time you tripped on stage, the first job interview you ruined or that first date when your fly was open the whole time. Don’t think of it often, but once in a while, think about the times when you were a lesser person than you are now. Remember that older version, so that the newer version remains balanced. Recollecting past errors not only keeps Mr. Ego in check, it also prevents you from repeating those mistakes.

To be honest, while I may be writing this piece, I’am no expert at managing my own ego (if you are a friend of mine, kindly stop that rigorous nod of agreement before your head falls off). It is extremely difficult to follow these deceptively simple rules, to remain grounded and true to who you are.

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Developing an ego is as easy as gaining weight and letting it go is as painful as shedding those extra pounds. Nonetheless, this is the diet for a healthy mind, needed for a happy soul. So while I realize I may have served up broccoli in the above few points, all I can say is ‘Eat Up, folks!’

Featured photo credit: Spirit Science & Metaphysic via spiritscienceandmetaphysics.com

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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