We all have an ego that’s made up of certain beliefs about our personality, talents, and abilities. Your ego – while a necessary part of your identity – can be a troublemaker. If left unchecked, it can cause you to act out in less-than-glowing ways.
When one of my coaching clients, Alex, was passed over for a promotion, she reckoned with a bruised ego. She felt like a failure, and in her embarrassment, withdrew at work. She stopped speaking in meetings, avoided co-workers, and quit taking on new responsibilities. In the end, she only hurt her chances of advancing in the company further.
It’s not possible to fully eliminate your ego, nor should you try to. The ego serves important purposes, and when used correctly, can help you build confidence in yourself. Learning to keep your ego in check can also transform your relationships for the better.
How do you Know if Your Ego is in Control?
Your ego is crafty. You don’t always know when it’s taken over. If you find yourself relating to the following points, it’s likely that your ego is at the wheel:
- You feel intense jealousy when others succeed.
- You have a persistent need to be right during arguments.
- You place a lot of emphasis on winning at all costs.
- You’re eager to jump in with your idea, but are slow to seek input from others.
Sound familiar? Follow these do’s and don’ts to keep your ego in check and balanced.
DO Acknowledge Your Ego for Helping You
The ego pops up to protect you from hurt or rejection, which are deep human fears that everyone wrestles with. The goal is to acknowledge feelings when they arise without letting your ego get defensive.
When you realize you’re getting caught up in negativity, thank your ego for doing its job by trying to protect you from pain. Then use the Name It and Reframe strategy to identify the stories of your ego and loosen their power over you.
With practice you’ll discover that all those “what ifs” (What if I had tried harder?) and “shoulds” (I should have won that client/game/argument) are natural –– and harmless.
DON’T Allow Your Ego to Give You Tunnel Vision
Your ego can create an echo chamber. You might think you’re right, but if you’re the only voice speaking, who’s to say? Your ego can lead you to discredit the opinions of other people on your team, or to tune out your partner during a discussion.
To build strong relationships, you have to nip this self-centeredness in the bud. That starts by appreciating others valid, valuable ideas. They say two heads are better than one for a reason, because a diversity of opinions and viewpoints actually leads to more creative solutions.
- Listen to your colleagues before chiming in during a meeting.
- Ask permission before giving advice.
- Improve your coaching skills so that you can help people arrive at their own solutions (rather than telling them what to do).
- Ban blaming, shaming language like “You always do that!”
- Show appreciation for your partner’s perspective. Words of affirmation like “That’s a great point” or “Thanks for sharing your feelings with me” help disagreements move along more productively.
- Take a time out if things get heated and you need to recenter yourself.
DO Look at the Upside of Letting Go
When your defenses are up, it precludes learning and personal growth. Paradoxically, the ego often appears most strongly in situations where we stand to learn the most, like getting feedback or trying (and failing) to develop a new habit.
Instead throwing walls up, consider what you stand to gain when you let yourself be vulnerable. How much could your relationship improve if you swallowed your pride and had a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off? What might be possible if you took the leap and followed your dreams?
Fear of the unknown is daunting, yes. But refusing to open yourself up to the possibilities life holds? That’s the biggest risk of all. Use your ego as a companion on the journey, but don’t be afraid to tell it to take a backseat if need be.