I have come to realize through my own coaching and my work with my clients, that most of my troubles have nothing to do with other people, but more to do with myself, and with how I am seeing and perceiving the world around me.
When I am in a negative state of mind, much of what I see and perceive comes from the lens of my Ego. I don’t want to get all Freudian on you, so when I talk about Ego, I am really just talking about that part of us that constantly is trying to protect us, and wants us to be the center of the universe.
I often have to remind myself that my ego is a part of me, but is not my authentic self. It wants me to be first. It wants me to be right. It wants me to be perfect. It wants me to be loved.
Unfortunately, I can’t always be first, right, perfect or loved, so when I let my ego take control, it can lead to a lot of discontent, both within myself and with other people.
I recently read a parenting book by a psychologist in the US named Dr. Shefali Tsabary, and although her work is mostly centered around how we are with our children, I would like to think that most of the work that she is encouraging around connecting with our children, starts first with how we connect with ourselves.
In the book, she talks about 5 ways that the ego gets in the way of connection.
THE EGO OF IMAGE
These are the times when we behave in ways that don’t align with our values, and rather than feel guilty about the behavior, we try to blame others because of how it reflects on us. We do this out of fear and to protect our sense of self-worth and our reputation.
Example: You are driving our car and it runs out of gas. You curse and blame your partner for not filling it up, even though you are the one that drives the car 99% of the time. You end up getting into a big fight with your partner when you finally get home.
THE EGO OF PERFECTION
When we fantasize about our own perfection, we lose sight of what it means to be human. One of the best ways to connect with ourselves is to acknowledge our flaws, so that we can release ourselves from the "should" of being perfect.
Example: You are invited to go paddle boarding with a group of people that you don’t know very well. You love paddle-boarding, but you don’t love your body. You decline the invitation for fear of being judged and deemed imperfect by the others, thus losing out on potential friendships and connection.
THE EGO OF STATUS
For me this connects directly with the first two, but is more about our rigid ideas of what it means to be successful. In order to connect with our dreams, we might have to let go of our ideals of success and accept what is.
Example: You have been dreaming about starting your own non-profit for years, but fear of failure holds you back, so instead you continue to work for your current non-profit despite the lack of enthusiasm you have for your work.
THE EGO OF CONFORMITY
We are all different people, and when we try to be other people, it doesn’t fit. We cannot live in the shadow of others, and feel connected with our true selves. We must be okay with not conforming to those around us. It leads to compare and despair. Be who you are and do what makes you happy, no matter what other people around you are doing. There is no need to conform.
Example: You are invited to a dinner party and despite being a vegan, you say nothing to the hostess about your dietary restrictions. You don’t want to “rock the boat.” As a result, you eat what is served, but go home feeling disgusted with yourself for going against your values.
THE EGO OF CONTROL
We instinctively try to hang on even tighter when we feel like we are losing control because it gives us a sense that we do in fact have control. It gives us a sense of power when we feel powerless. Unfortunately, when we do this with people around us it can backfire, and lead to our own feelings of anguish and resentment. We cannot change the behavior of others, we can only change our own.
Example: You have asked your neighbor numerous times to not mow his lawn at 7:00am on Saturday morning, but he continues to do it. Out of frustration, you start playing loud music on Friday evenings so he “knows how it feels,” and will finally listen to your request about Saturday mornings.
Now, it's your turn:
Think about any disconnects you have right now--with other people and with yourself.
Is your ego getting in the way?
To truly connect with ourselves and with others, we have to acknowledge our ego, but not let it over-run our behavior and emotions.
Courage. Compassion. Connection.
A while back I started listening to the book Nudge by Charles Thaler and Cass Sunstein. I found the entire book rather fascinating, although I didn’t manage to finish it before it expired and zoomed back to the library or someone else’s listening device.
There is one section in the book, where they talk about the concept of Anchoring and Adjusting. It is a term associated with economics and financial decisions, but I thought it also connected to our tendency to compare ourselves to others.
Anchoring and adjusting is essentially when you look at a price point, or a number of some kind and then make a guess or estimate based on that original number.
For example, if I asked you to estimate what the cost is of a new laptop, and you knew that your sister just bought a laptop for $500, then you would probably use the $500 price point as an anchor for your guess, and you would adjust and estimate somewhere close to that number.
When negotiating, this concept of anchoring and adjusting can be extremely important for the person who makes the first bid, because all subsequent bids will be based on that original anchor.
The problem with anchoring and adjusting, is that the anchor can often be the apple, while you are guessing about an orange. The anchor isn’t reliable, nor the adjustment accurate because we are often lacking important information.
So what does this have to do with you, personally?
Whether we realize it or not, we use anchors throughout our daily life.
Whenever we compare ourselves or our lives to someone else’s, or even to our own experiences, we are using anchors. The other person acts as the anchor and we adjust our thinking and feelings based on what we see or perceive.
Just as Thaler and Sunstein talk about the inaccuracy of using anchoring and adjusting in the world of economics, it is also inaccurate in the world of life.
When we set about comparing ourselves to others, we can often end up in despair. We don’t measure up. We haven’t achieved the same amount of success, wealth, happiness, beauty, etc.
The problem is that we often do this comparison without all the information. We use an anchor and adjust, but without the proper background.
Social media does not help with this phenomenon.
What people post online is just a snippet of their reality, but we often look at those posts as an anchor, and then compare our own achievements, success, happiness, and life to those posts, asking ourselves “Do I measure up?”
If the answer is “No,” then what do you do?"
Brené Brown talks about how “comparison is the thief of happiness’ and the work of Thaler and Sunstein backs up her claim. When we set an anchor and adjust to that anchor, we are left with an inaccurate assessment, thinking, and feelings.
Anchors weigh us down, rather than buoy us up.
I wonder, who or what are you using for anchors in your life? How is it working?
I encourage you to look to others for inspiration, but don’t use them as an anchor for your own happiness. It will just weigh you down.
It's Your Life. Live It Boldly.