Do you feel anxious, worried, or overwhelmed? There is so much going on in the world today, and we are all facing challenges we have never seen before.
In this ON Purpose episode, Jay Shetty explains the ego’s vast role in a person’s ability to deal with crushing setbacks. Jay shares his strategies to having a healthy view of the ego so you can make it work for you instead of against you.
Life Will Break Your Ego For You
You can only keep up the myth of your importance for so long. If you don’t break your own ego, life will break it for you.
Can you relate? Have you ever experienced a time that life took your ego down a notch or two? Jay Shetty shares a time when life his ego took a hit.
“When I decided to leave the ashram and no longer be a monk, one of my teachers said, ‘Jay, I think maybe this isn’t the right place for you anymore,’” Jay Shetty explained. “I was crushed. After I left the ashram, I moved back in with my parents and stood there in the kitchen, looking out the window, thinking, how can someone fail at being a monk? What am I going to do now? What will people say? What will people think? How will I respond to this? It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life because I left to be among people that said, ‘I told you so.’ Now I was proving them right.”
Leaving the ashram was tough to handle for Jay Shetty, but he acknowledges that it turned out to be one of the most influential and meaningful experiences in his life.
The pain you feel in the struggle is real, but if you can move through the pain and reframe how you look at it, it can positively impact your life.
Memoir vs. Journal
Facing challenges or struggles in your life is part of what helps shape you.
“When we tell our stories and share times we’ve had a significant learning experience or triumph in our lives, we create versions of ourselves that we share with other people,” Jay Shetty explains. “We’re sharing our memoir, not our journal.”
What is the difference between a memoir and a journal?
A journal is a great tool to help you recognize and process your feelings. Journaling can be a great way to wrap up a day. You can sit down and reflect on the events of the day by writing it all down in your journal. It can be immediate for you as well. If you are having a moment and need to express your feelings or work through something, journaling is a great way to do that.
A memoir, or autobiography, is a written reflection on the things that have happened and the path you’ve traveled in life.
“When you look back and see the unifying story, it makes sense of everything,” Jay Shetty explains. “That’s when you look back and you say, ‘That thing that was so hard and so terrible at the time turned out to be one of my most significant sources of strength and a catalyst for change in my life.’”
The Role Ego Plays In Life
Ego gets a lot of bad press for its tendency to make you focus almost exclusively on yourself, but it’s not always in a way that boosts self up. Ego can also be responsible for a lot of the criticism you place on yourself.
Either way, ego can narrow your vision to only think of yourself and how things will affect you.
“Ego is responsible for our victim mentality,” Jay Shetty explains. “Bad things do happen to people, but spending all of your time in a victim mindset keeps you from feeling empowered to do what you’re capable of and change the things that are in your power.”
Ego gets a bad rap as a significant source of negative, self-serving behavior. It is a force that you need to overcome.
“Killing your ego has become popular to talk about these days,” Jay Shetty shares. “It’s something pretty much all of us struggle with. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Ego is the enemy.’”
There’s a quote by Abraham Lincoln that says, “Do I not destroy my enemies by making them my friends?” In his book, Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty adopts this practice for the ego and talks about a monk tactic of making fear and anxiety your friend. Doing so makes these emotions work for you instead of against you.
The same principle can be applied to the ego. It can die a thousand deaths, and it will still return. What if you could befriend your ego and use it to help and support you?
Muslim poet, philosopher, and politician Mohammed Iqbal once said, “The ultimate aim of the ego is not to see something, but to be something.”
I love that quote,” Jay Shetty says. “It points out both the positive and negative aspects of the ego.”
Two Types of Self-Focus
An imbalance of ego can obscure your vision.
“What researchers called self-focused attention has been shown in hundreds of studies to have a strong correlation with something called negative affect, which can include feelings of anxiety and depression,” Jay Shetty explains. “If you feel a lot of anxiety or have periods of depression, that is when your vision and your perception of life is narrowed. Sometimes it feels like it’s impossible to see the good in yourself or other people. When we judge other people, it’s because we feel some kind of insecurity deep within ourselves.”
Even though ego creates self-focus, not all self-focus is bad. It’s important to take the time to notice what you are thinking and saying. You want to set goals for yourself and strive to be kinder, more connected, compassionate, and successful.
There are two kinds of self-focus. One directs us toward that harmful ego, and the other to the helpful ego. The harmful kind of self-focus is called rumination.
When you spend a lot of time focusing on yourself, worrying about what could go wrong or about what someone did or didn’t or do, those feelings and thoughts begin to run in a loop through your mind, leading to overthinking.
The helpful kind of self-focus is called mindful self-focus. Mindful self-focus occurs when you spend time developing self-awareness. Instead of judging yourself, you focus on seeing your strengths and weaknesses clearly without self-judgment.
The ego is largely responsible for both types of self-focus. It drives the questions and criticism we have about ourselves, as well as our motivation to do better.
“A healthy ego reminds us to care for ourselves,” Jay Shetty explains. “If we spend all of our time focusing on other people because deep inside we feel unworthy, we don’t focus enough on ourselves. We don’t stop to consider how we’re doing and what our basic needs, dreams, and goals are. Whereas rumination or overthinking and procrastination feels like humiliation, mindful self-focus feels like humility, and humility is that balance point of our egos.”
Humility vs. Humiliation
How do humility and humiliation differ?
“When we get our egos checked, it’s often because we’ve been humiliated,” says Jay Shetty. “We have been publicly embarrassed, have been dumped, lost our job or any number of things. But humiliation is also an ego imbalance. If we’re humiliated, we start feeling terrible about ourselves. We can get trapped in victim mode again and again, and we start to ruminate.”
“When our ego is truly balanced, we have humility,” continues Jay Shetty. “How we develop humility is not from a place of humiliation but from a place of self-esteem. When you have healthy self-esteem and your ego is balanced, you feel good about yourself and your abilities, but you don’t feel like you’re superior to others. That’s true humility.”
Three Techniques To Balance Your Ego
You don’t have to kill the ego to become humble. You just have to realize your real ego by liberating it from the false ego so you can be true to yourself. The question is, how?
Here are three things you can do to help find that balance point for your ego. Learn how you can use its powers for good to spend less time in self-criticism and more time in self-connection.
Naikan therapy is a Japanese method of self-reflection that’s part psychotherapy, part spiritual practice. This method was created by Ishin Yoshimoto, a businessman and devout Buddhist. Naikan therapy broadens your view of reality.
“As you list what you have received from another person, you become grounded in the simple reality of how you have been supported and cared for,” Jay Shetty explains. “Your heart and mind begin to open to the grace that underlies all life.”
When you find yourself ruminating, you can do your own version of Naikan therapy to stop the cycle, switch gears, and reflect on a time in your life when things came together to a resolution where you felt loved and supported.
When you reflect on experiences you have figured out and persevered in, you make it easier for your brain to feel those feelings. Acknowledge those opportunities and approach life with that kind of positive attitude, and you will start to see your life more clearly in the present time.
The second technique for balancing your ego is to practice mindful self-focus. Find a quiet moment to ask yourself what went well today, and what can you do better tomorrow? This is not about judgment. It’s about acknowledging we all do things, but there are things that we can do better.
The third technique for balancing your ego is to “keep giving the gift.”
“People often asked me if it’s harder now to keep my ego in check than it used to be when I was a monk,” Jay Shetty explains. “Of course I struggle. Sometimes I struggled as a monk too. That’s the nature of ego. We all have one, regardless of our circumstances. I handle it by leaning on one of the techniques I learned as a monk. Every time someone pays me a compliment, I think of that as a gift. The first thing I do is accept the gift and appreciate it. The second thing I do is pass that gift on to someone else.”
“An example is, if I’m recognized for an act of service, I receive the acknowledgment with gratitude, then I think of my monk teachers who taught me so many lessons about the value and importance of service, and I express gratitude to them,” Jay Shetty continues.
Nisargadatta Maharaj, an Indian philosopher, said, “Love tells me I’m everything. Wisdom tells me I am nothing. Between these two banks flows the river of my life.” When you can learn to use the power of your ego to support you, instead of hold you back, your life can flow like that river.