Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn't work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming. – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Who is sitting in the driver's seat of your life – you or your ego? I want to share with you five signs that suggest your ego is controlling more of your life than you may realize.
You are always looking for more things in your life – a bigger house, a bigger car and that ever elusive promotion. You are constantly craving for external recognition, approval, love and financial success. You believe that your possessions define who you are. Dreaming – shall I say fantasizing – about your goals occupies such a large part of your life that you forget to live in the present. Once you accomplish one goal you temporarily feel fulfilled but all too soon that fulfillment dissipates and you once again hop on the hamster wheel in pursuit of yet another goal! There is nothing wrong with having goals, but when you are focused on achieving them in order to fill an emptiness within you, then you have surrendered control of your happiness to your ego.
How much do you derive your sense of self from what you have?
You are always waiting for something to fulfill you
You constantly find yourself waiting for something to arrive, or wishing you were elsewhere. You say to yourself that having more money, that hot girlfriend, or achieving this or that goal will fulfill you and yet, somehow, it never does. Have you watched a dog chase his tail before? Your ego is playing with you, fulfillment doesn't come in the attainment of goals, things or people.
Just think of time in the past when you accomplished something that you thought would bring you happiness and fulfillment. Did it really bring lasting fulfillment? How long did the feeling last – a day, an hour or just a few minutes?
People often compare life to a journey, as if you were riding on a cruise ship steaming toward a magical island of happiness. As a passenger you try to get upgraded from 3rd class to 2nd class and then to 1st class. You work hard subverting your own personal desires to befriend the captain, the crew and others in order to gain external recognition. You want to be liked by others and to be treated as an important guest so that you may be the first passengers off the boat onto the island of happiness.
Yet in life, just as with this cruise, you will never arrive at this magical island. While you were constantly waiting for the exciting future to come – it never arrived. Suddenly – often too late – one realizes there is no future but only the here and NOW. We have already arrived at the island. While you were busy looking ahead you failed to realize that all of the ingredients necessary for happiness could be found there in front of you. Our ego's appetite for more often robs us of the present and – if gone unchecked – our lives.
What are you waiting for in life? Do you really need to wait?
You are always comparing yourself to others
You are constantly comparing yourself to others as if your value depended on how well you were doing compared to others.You are secretly jealous of your friends because they are more "successful" than you. You feel guilty allowing yourself the experience of great pleasures when some of your friends are not as "successful" as you. You hide information from others and feel that life is an unending competition. If I tell Ken about this scholarship or that job – will he take it from me? You feel threatened when there is zero need to feel so. Your ego is so powerful that you are ready to trade your integrity in order to "win" the "competition."
Do you experience anger, jealousy or feel diminished in any way when someone around you has more than you? What does this say about you?
You feel superior to others
Your ego likes to create a duality where you are right and others are wrong.
Your ego doesn't want to acknowledge that you too are partially responsible for the events that happen to you in life. To a certain extent, all of us have this feeling of superiority and if you don't look closely you may not even notice it creeping into your consciousness.
Be careful because when you try to get rid of the ego it often returns again and again, in different forms. Here are two examples from my personal life that demonstrate how tricky the ego can be:
- I realized that it is the nature of the ego to always look for more and more in life and so I acknowledged that this pattern of thinking would lead me to a dead-end. I cared less and less about materialistic things and I started believing that not being materialistic demonstrated a higher level of consciousness. Once again my ego was tricking me into feeling another sense of superiority.
- I started practicing meditation and contemplation daily and reading books about enlightenment. And, again, my ego tricked me into believing that my new found spirituality made me superior to others. The ego is relentless!
Are you aware of the ways in which your ego tricks you into feeling superior to others? It might make you feel good briefly but it also makes you suffer each time you feel inferior to others.
You are fully attached to your story
If your entire identity comes from your thoughts, you are a prisoner to your personal story. You believe that your limiting thoughts are the reality and that your past experience defines who you are as a human being. Well, in reality thoughts come and go, and do not reflect true reality. There is no rule that says you should believe those limiting thoughts.
As a result of your past story, you may believe that you are not good enough, or confident enough, or simply not worthy, but your past doesn't exist anymore and thus cannot define the essence of who you really are as a human being. It is only when you artificially go into your past – using your thoughts – that they start defining you.
Try to progressively detach yourself from your past and from any limiting thoughts that cross your mind. Remember that your ego likes stories but stories are not who you are and, as Eckhart Tolle warns us, "your story might not be that great."
In reality, unless we are enlightened, to a certain extent we are all controlled by our ego. Our ego, by constantly wanting more and more, might motivate us to achieve more in life but can it bring lasting happiness?
Thomas Leonard, considered by many to be the father of life coaching, said that the "Ego is good" whereas Buddhists perceive the self (the ego) as the cause of all suffering. Our ability to think is a great gift that separates us from animals, but it can also be a great hindrance when limiting beliefs cause us great damage. Thoughts create our "story" which creates a false identity. Do you believe that your thoughts are the essence of who you really are?
Descartes wrote: "I think therefore I am" but if I shut off my mind and stop thinking, who am I then? Eckhart Tolle wrote "If there were nothing but thought in you, you wouldn't even know you are thinking. You would be like a dreamer who doesn't know he is dreaming." Have you ever stopped thinking for a while – through meditation perhaps – and asked yourself "who am I?" You are definitely more than your "not-so-great story."
We must always contend with the ego but it certainly helps to know what it looks like when trying to battle it!