EGO Reduction: The change nobody wants to make (least of all me)

Jetsons300x230Recently a good friend posted a great video on my Facebook wall. It showed a concept of a personal aircraft and it was soooo cool.

Here’s the deal: I’m pretty sure I’d kill myself in such a machine, regardless of any high-tech safety features it might afford (and it’s doubtful that I could even afford to buy it, anyway.)

Small aircraft are inherently dangerous to fly, because there are too many variables to simplify the process. It’s especially difficult to fly at night or in crappy weather conditions.

The old adage with small aircraft goes something like this: “If you think you GOTTA travel to your destination and you DEPEND on your little plane to get there … your days are numbered.”

JFK, Jr., who was killed along with his wife and his sister-in-law, was toast because he HAD to be at Martha’s Vineyard for an event, so he flew in instrument-only flying conditions. The guy had some experience flying, but he was only certified to fly with visual flight rules. Since he was flying the plane with only visual cues from the horizon, he depended on pristine flying conditions. But the fog, the water, and the high cloud ceiling obscured any way for him to ascertain his orientation, and soon . . . up became down, and his plane entered a death spiral. The rest is history.

(It’s hard to believe that was over sixteen years ago. I’m getting old.)

EGO1-311x311It’s always been my dream to own a small plane. I still hold on to the hope that the world will be like the Jetsons someday. (I still want my flying car! They promised us flying cars!!) But I know myself: I’m overconfident and I’m a stickler for schedules. Unless I got really, really lucky, eventually sometime I would spiral into a fiery crash.

That’s my point: I know that my ego is too big, and nothing I do on my own seems to change it. (Not quickly enough, at least.)

It’s frustrating! My ego has gotten me into trouble. I wish I could change it, but it doesn›t feel like I can. It›s just the way I›m wired. Or is it? Maybe we can re-wire our brains.

Isn’t that what CHANGE is?

The one situation that does reduce my ego is nothing I would choose for myself either—it’s when I make a mistake and I recognize I’m the only one to blame. Like a chastised puppy who recently peed on the living room rug, I wither with my tail between my legs.

I needed an especially hard bottom for me to realize that I had screwed up my life with alcohol and drugs. That’s just what I got—a hard bottom. I had to face a DUI charge and a charge for felony trespassing, all while I was pretending to be an ELCA minister. It isn›t something I would have chosen for myself. So, yes, my recovery pie has a nice humility crust and filling, all topped with a very bitter whipped cream.

EGO-Me500x500It’s times like these when I seem to refocus my life to think of myself less. My confidence is shaken, certainly, but I’m not paralyzed to act. I don’t know why, but on days when I realize that I have goofed up, my motivation to improve myself goes through the roof. It’s like I NEED to be humbled.

Soon enough though, I’m back to believing I can do anything. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Writers need a forward momentum to keep plugging away. I have improved my writing skills, only because I’m willing to make mistakes and allow others who know better (and who aren’t hacks) who tell me, “This is crap. Try again.”

Eventually, the old Adam (the tendency for my ego to run amuck) creeps back in. I don’t know exactly why or how this happens.

It’s not like one day I wake up and say to myself: “Holy crap, Dan . . . you’re the best that ever was! The rules don’t apply to you!” Sooner or later, I see that my work has gotten sloppy. I drive my car too fast. I start procrastinating at work and with time I should devote to my family. I do these things, because my ego is tapping a message to me like an 1860s telegraph messenger boy: it’s all about me. It’s all about me. It’s all about ME!

It’s more subtle than that, but you get the point.

Here are the signs of when I know my ego has gotten too big:

A) I begin craving success and recognition over anything else. Since indie writers must be on social media in today’s cutthroat publishing industry, this is a particular problem for me. It’s a conundrum. On one hand, you should rejoice in success and let others know that what you produce has value. On the other, I know it’s an issue for me when I look at every retweet and every ‘like.’ I try to connect those things with my identity, my self-worth.

B) I begin comparing myself to others. I look at stupid Amazon rankings of other books. I look how another writer I appreciate already has an agent. On the other side, I start to look down on others, comparing how I’m really better than they are.

C) I start to get defensive. What starts as defending an idea for an introduction for a book—one that simply doesn’t work— turns into me becoming defensive to my editor, my wife, or anyone else that might offer helpful critique.

I know I’m not the only one who has these problems with ego. Also, it’s not just for people in recovery, although we seem to have a problem with it more frequently than others.

EGO-Compare300x186Here’s what I’ve found seems to work with me. I forget to do these things though. (Maybe that’s why I’m writing this piece: it’s a good reminder.)

1) Know that what you feel on the inside and what you do on the outside don’t need to match. Here’s what I mean: I hate waiting in line. It doesn’t matter where. I’m pissed when I have to wait at a checkout line. Inside I›m mad, maybe even seething. Outside, I force a gentle smile and I make myself slow down. I breathe deeper, more intentionally. I don’t know why this works, but it does. Soon, I’m distracted with the task of appearing serene . . . and I eventually feel that way too. Remember that others judge us by our actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. Action is what matters. Strangely, the feeling inside follows the action on the outside.

2) Stop rehearsing a world that is favorable to you in your head. This works not only when bad things happen and I try to see all the possible outcomes over, and over . . . and over again. It also works in overactive, egocentric dreaming in where you have success, money and fame. For me, when I write for the sake of the writing itself and try to create a beautiful work for its own sake, instead of seeing big bucks and fame—I find that I’m more fulfilled and focus on myself much less. Here’s the surprising thing: other people know it when I’ve worked for the sake of the work itself and not as some perverse attempt to stroke my ego. (They can read that too. I found out the hard way, more often than I would like to admit.)

3) Adopt an attitude of non-judgment. This one’s the toughest nut to crack for me. What surprises me every time I take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is that I consistently end up a ‘P’ rather than a ‘J.’ I like to believe that I’m more decisive when I make a decision. Instead, it says that I like to explore options. The J types, I’ve come to find out, has less to do with judging people, places, and things than it does in the way a person sets out to make a decision. Non-judgment doesn’t mean that don’t have opinion about a situation. It’s that we allow the situation or the person we interact simply BE. Simply put, our EGO isn’t dependent upon external factors. And when our ego doesn’t need outside affirmation or positive judgment to bolster it, we allow real humility to work in our lives.

But, for today at least, I’ll try not to depend on what you think of me to judge who I am, but simply offer what little I have learned as a potential gift for you.

I hope you can continue to find change, because Transformation. Is. Real. Daniel


D. Maurer is a regular contributor to The Phoenix Spirit and the author of the Hazelden’s book Sobriety: A Graphic Novel. He can also make a mean latté and plays the bagpipes . . . but not at the same time. Dan lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

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