My journey from realizing that my ego was getting in the way of my life purpose and my success, to making the small shifts and not so small actions to get on the right track was a decades long process. This aspect of my life continues to be a focus as I now mentor and share with others how to drop the ego and change your life.
Once I was able to identify my personal issues and work on them in a way that made sense for me, it was like exhaling after being under water for a dangerously long time.
Not all aspects of ego are bad. Sometimes when people study the Buddhist teachings, they begin to get the idea that “all ego is bad.” But I think there’s a misunderstanding there. Not all aspects of ego are bad. So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, as they say.
There is a mindfulness practice that will make an incredible difference in your life. The practice is around how to drop the ego and change your life — dropping my self-concern, my sense of being separate from everything else, and returning to wholeness with everything.
Ego isn’t a physical property but a perception of who you are – in other words, it’s a mindset. These 7 steps are designed to help you drop your ego by changing your thoughts and developing a healthier more balanced self-perception that allows you to blossom into your true greatness.
1. Recognize Your Insignificance in the Bigger Picture
The late journalist and speaker Christopher Hitchens described life as a party. Suddenly, you feel a tap on the shoulder and a voice says, “Party’s over…it’s time to go”, and the party goes on without you. Consider that very shortly on the continuum of time, you will be forgotten. Everything you’ve said, done or thought will be no more. Seasons will come and go, flowers will bloom and wither, and humanity will continue to evolve, and progress very well without you. It’s a very sobering thought. How does that make you feel?
This is the philosophy of insignificance. In a nutshell, it poses that your existence in the cosmic order is no more significant than that of an earthworm. Proponents of this philosophy assert that it’s not meant to be sad or pessimistic but rather, liberating, and empowering. You become liberated from shallow self-importance. You learn to enjoy life without anxiety around what will happen tomorrow. Here are some ways to apply this philosophy to quickly drop your ego.
• Reflect on your existence and purpose.
Once you realize your insignificance, you’re able to reflect better on your existence and purpose. If you’re religious and believe in an afterlife, you understand that that’s what really matters. Your purpose is to live a virtuous life, do good and show love and compassion for others.
There’s no room for ego in religion. If you’re not religious, your purpose is still very similar. You recognize your insignificance yet strive to live a moral and productive life, leave the world a better place and perhaps leave a tiny legacy of your existence. This type of reflection melts away ego and brings great humbleness and spiritual peace.
• Let nature humble you.
Nothing brings home your insignificance more than the beauty and majesty of nature. It fills your heart with awe and replaces ego with amazing humbleness and joy. Contemplate the vastness of the universe by stargazing on clear nights. It’s a therapeutic, uplifting experience that also brings home your insignificance in an infinite universe where we’re nothing more than tiny specs.
Experience the healing and humbling power of Mother Nature by hiking in the mountains or walking barefoot in a valley blooming with wildflowers. Engage in activities like camping, nature walks and swimming in the ocean to foster inner tranquility and joy – but more importantly, humility and gratitude.
The bottom line: Reflecting on your insignificance changes your whole perspective. It brings your life into balance and promotes a deeper understanding of yourself and your true purpose. You don’t necessarily need to embrace this philosophy of insignificance but do make this kind of reflection a regular practice to keep yourself grounded and humble. As your ego gradually drops, you’ll feel wonderfully liberated, uplifted, and empowered to find your true greatness.
2. Humble Yourself with Negative Visualization
The Stoics were ancient Greek philosophers who embraced a life of extreme frugality and deprivation to focus on developing the ‘great human virtues’ that are the ultimate purpose of life. These virtues included modesty, humility, patience, acceptance, temperance, and gratitude. When you humble yourself, your spirit rises up in celebration.
They came up with the unique practice of negative visualization to stay humble and grounded. Negative visualization is the opposite of positive visualization, which promotes positive, affirming thoughts. It involves imagining negative and disturbing scenarios to literally shock yourself into humbleness and total acceptance because the alternative could be so much worse. Negative visualization is practiced as follows:
– Ease into it with short 5-6 minutes of less intense scenarios. For example, suddenly getting fired, your partner leaving you or your car getting totaled. While these things aren’t completely devastating, they’re bad enough to make you uncomfortable as you play the scenario in your head.
– Scale up to more uncomfortable visualizations such as losing everything you own in a natural disaster, being displaced by a war or a loved one having a serious accident. These types of scenarios really get you squirming with discomfort and fear.
– Finally, try to take it to the ultimate extreme that ignites your most primal fears: the fatal illness of a loved one, your own fatal illness, the death of a loved one and finally, your own death.
The bottom line: Negative visualization isn’t for everyone. It’s an extremely unsettling and scary exercise because it forces us to reflect on things that we all avoid thinking about. And more importantly, how powerless we really are in the face of these disasters.
If you can make it through several visualizations, the realization will hit you that you’re not in control, you can’t predict the future and that life is extremely fragile. Your ego will crumble and your heart flood with gratitude for all the blessings you’re taking for granted. You begin to drop petty conflicts and grievances, become compassionate and forgiving and immensely humbled. All the abundance you have in your life isn’t due to your ego but to the grace of providence.
3. Read he Biographies of People who Changed the World
Gandhi changed history and liberated his country with his philosophy of non-violent opposition. Martin Luther King became the icon of the black liberation movement with his historical ‘I have a dream’ speech. Jesus of Nazareth split history into B.C. and A.D. and laid the foundation for western values based on the golden rule. These great men and others like them moved mountains with three shared qualities: complete humility and selflessness, unshakeable belief in their purpose, and unconditional love and compassion for their fellow man.
Tame your ego by reading about the great leaders, writers, artists, and inventors who changed the course of human history. Gain insight into their mindsets and motivation. You’ll find that invariably, all of them were never guided by ego. Likewise, you may also want to read briefly about people who left their mark on history but are anything but great. Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, are cases in point. Among these people, you’ll find that the common trait was ego. They were selfish megalomaniacs whose overinflated egos stripped them of all humanity. Naturally, these are extreme examples but still a valuable lesson in the dangers of an out-of-control ego.
The bottom line: The secret to personal greatness (whether you change the world or just leave a small legacy) lies in recognizing that your purpose lies outside the limited circle of your ego. Your actions ripple out and affect others in some way or another, and your ego often blinds you to that fact. It’s essential to pursue your personal success dreams because ultimately, we all want to fulfill our goals and dreams. But finding the balance between taking and giving, ego and selflessness is what earns you respect and trust and brings you fulfillment and joy.
4. Learn to Fail with Grace
One of the most negative impacts of ego is that it makes you refuse to admit failure. While most people accept failure as a frustrating but normal part of life, for you it’s not an option. When it does occur, you take it as a very personal attack against your ego. You blame others, feel victimized and rant and rave against the unfairness of it all. Naturally, the last thing you do is take responsibility for your part in it.
Your inability to admit defeat creates an inner struggle that puts you under immense mental stress. The distress and turmoil can keep you derailed and demotivated for much longer than you need to be. Killing your ego allows you to fail with grace. You’re able to confront what happened, find closure, and move on with the least amount of pain.
The next time you face a failure or setback, take the following steps to stop your ego from taking over.
• Acknowledge that you’ve failed. Just face the reality. Don’t make excuses. Look yourself in the eye (figuratively speaking) and admit that you’ve failed. Don’t blame and don’t rant, simply state to yourself, “Okay. I have to admit that I’ve failed this time.” This will become easier to do with practice as your ego deflates.
• Acknowledge your shortcomings. Identify the shortcoming or weakness that led to the failure, such as overconfidence or your refusal to listen to advice. Make a mental note to work on these weaknesses to avoid them in the future.
• Know that you don’t know everything. Understand that failure is a part of everyone’s life journey and that even the most insurmountable odds can be overcome with grit and determination. You’ll never be immune to failure because you don’t know everything and never will know everything.
• Take responsibility. Reflect on how you contributed to the failure and own up to it. Reflect on how this could’ve been avoided and make a mental note to be more mindful in the future.
• Learn to seek advice. Take action to start bouncing back and note the lessons learned. In the process, don’t hesitate to ask for help and advice from people who’ve been through similar experiences or have more expertise. Again, this may be difficult at first but firmly push your ego out of the way and remind yourself that you don’t know everything!
• Know that it made you stronger. Learn to see failure as a valuable learning curve that at the end of the day, makes you stronger and wiser. Some experts advise us to ’embrace’ failure but realistically, nobody can welcome it with open arms! It’s enough to chalk it up to experience and learn from our mistakes.
• Find closure and move on. Once you’ve created a plan of action for bouncing back, put your whole heart into it and don’t dwell on what happened. It’s over and done with. Put it behind you and move on to the brilliant successes awaiting you!
5. Admit That it’s Painful
Living with a big ego can be very lonely and depressing sometimes. Ego holds you back from honestly expressing your emotions to others and even acknowledging them to yourself. Your ego tells you that they’re a sign of weakness or that they may lead to rejection or ridicule.
As a result, you repress your emotions deep inside and pretend they don’t really bother you. But negative emotions don’t go away on their own. They continue to simmer and stew inside of you, consuming your peace of mind. They breed anger, resentment and bitterness and can take a big toll on your physical and mental well-being. This is a very painful and lonely place to be.
Learning to release your emotions transforms you in two ways. First, it gradually kills your ego and second, it relieves you of tremendous inner turmoil and anguish.
Develop the courage to admit when you’re in pain and learn to express your emotions in the following ways.
• You can’t win all the time. Losing or failing is extremely painful for people with big egos. Therefore, they can be fiercely competitive and unheeding of others, as they see everything as a win-lose situation. Naturally, losing isn’t an option.
Yet, you know that realistically, you can’t win every single time. Remind yourself of this constantly so that you’re mentally prepared. When you do lose, admit to yourself that it hurts but that the future holds endless possibilities for bigger wins and successes.
• Release your emotions often. Learning to express and release your emotions will be a struggle if you’ve been in the habit of repressing them. With consistent practice, however, it will get easier until finally, it becomes part of your nature. Start small and gradually scale up by practicing the following:
– Start a journal and record your emotions daily. Describe situations that made you nervous or embarrassed, people who made you angry, and situations that uplifted you or brought you joy.
– Engage in vigorous physical activity for 5-10 minutes to release repressed emotions. This could include a brisk walk or run, jumping rope, doing fast squats and lunges or even dancing.
– Do creative activities like drawing, playing music, painting, or doing crafts. Unleashing your creativity is very therapeutic and unleashes pent-up emotions in the process.
– Start expressing your emotions verbally to others by finding opportunities to thank them or give small compliments. Just make sure you’re sincere. You’ll gradually be able to build up to more serious confrontations where you express your anger or disappointment calmly and politely.
• Learn to apologize. Apologizing or admitting that you were wrong is difficult when your ego gets in the way. For you, apologizing is a sign of weakness or compromise, which goes completely against your ego. Sometimes, your failures or selfish decisions can negatively impact others and cause them pain. Being unable to apologize also causes you pain because ultimately, you’re not a bad person and don’t enjoy hurting others.
Force yourself to override your ego and apologize when you need to. Again, this will become easier with practice. When you experience the relief and peace of mind this brings you, it’ll become easier and easier. It’ll also earn you loads of respect and admiration.
The bottom line: Living with a big ego can be lonely and painful because oftentimes, your ego forces you to think and act against your nature. Learning to admit when you’re in pain and to express your emotions is therapeutic and empowering. Never allow your ego to tell you that it’s a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strong self-confidence and character!
6. Adopt the Beginner Mindset
A beginner’s mindset tames your ego by affirming that you don’t know everything – in fact, you know very little indeed! This is the mindset of lifelong learning and personal growth that’s both enriching and humbling, which we often find in highly successful people.
Lifelong learning involves learning and honing skills important for your career and social advancement as well as developing strong emotional intelligence. However, a real beginner mindset also involves putting yourself in a beginner’s shoes by learning new things that are totally foreign to you. The more you delve into new realms and master new things, the more meaningful and abundant your life will become – and the less room there will be in it for an inflated ego!
Here are some suggestions you may want to consider when growing your beginner mindset:
– Learn to read and write a challenging new language like Arabic or Japanese.
– Learn a skill unrelated to your specialization or profession. For example, if you’re an accountant, take a course in creative writing or graphic design.
– Master the art of cooking.
– Read a ‘how-to’ book on a random topic each month.
– Create a YouTube channel and try your hand at vlogging or creating short videos.
– Explore new hobbies.
– Learn how to create and self-publish an eBook.
– Learn how to play a musical instrument.
The bottom line: Lifelong learning is the hallmark of successful people who think big and dream big because they’ve shed their limiting egos. Studies have also found that people who embrace lifelong learning also lead happier and more fulfilling lives. Join their ranks by developing a beginner mindset, broadening your mind, and unleashing your unlimited potential.
7. Seek Constructive Criticism
When you’re controlled by your ego, accepting criticism, much less actively seeking it is totally unacceptable to you. You take criticism very personally and see it as a direct attack on your competence and intelligence. In extreme cases, people can get very angry and lash out at anyone daring to offer some well-intended guidance.
This mindset is particularly damaging to personal and professional relationships. It’s not hard to see how this can hinder your progress and even put you at risk of serious setbacks and failures. The bigger your ego, the more you’ll struggle to overcome this obstacle. As you practice the other 6 steps and gradually accept the fact that you don’t know everything, you’ll be able to open yourself to accepting honest criticism. As your ego deflates, you’ll even begin to actively seek constructive criticism and feedback and appreciate its value.
The main thing is to avoid negative, cynical people who criticize and tear you down simply for the sake of it. Always seek feedback from sources that empower you to move forward and make informed decisions rather than cripple you. Here are some suggestions to consider.
• Seek feedback and advice from trusted people in your inner circle. These are the close friends and family members who genuinely care about your welfare. As a result, they can be trusted to give you heartfelt advice and support. They also care enough to be totally honest with you and give you tough love when you need it. Who needs ego when you have such an empowering and encouraging support network? Drop the ego and change your life!
• Approach people with expertise. Seeking advice from experts and specialists can spare you the frustration of countless trials and errors – and God forbid – serious errors and setbacks.
• Find a mentor. If you’re lucky enough to find a mentor, you don’t need to look any further for constructive criticism. Your mentor will be there to walk you through hurdles, help you solve problems and be generous with advice because that’s what a mentor does! If you know someone who you think would be a good mentor for you, don’t be afraid to ask them. Most people will feel flattered and be more than happy to take you under their wing.
• Consult team members and coworkers. Asking for feedback and advice from tea members and coworkers can do wonders for your professional relationships. They’ll feel valued and appreciated and will also turn to you for advice when they need it. This creates an amazing work environment based on mutual respect, cooperation, and trust.
• Go to reputable online sources. There are dozens of specialized websites and community groups that are happy to offer free help and advice. Sometimes, a second opinion can be helpful when you’re stuck on something or want to sound out an idea. Some online resources also offer innovative digital solutions that can make your life a lot easier.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, sharing my stories through books, blog posts, speaking presentations, and mentoring. Come along with me, if you will and we’ll work together to drop the ego and change our lives.