You probably know this quote:
It reflects the view that evolution shaped us as the best possible machines.
We are a remarkable species, but the idea we’re as good as it gets is patently false. And ego is the perfect example of how our mind can work against us.
The goal of this post is to show you how our “default ego” is holding back and and how to change it in a way that will support us instead.
- What’s wrong with our default ego
- How to change our ego
- Picking the best, new antifragile ego
What’s Wrong With Our Ego
I will defined ego as that ensemble of feelings of either pain or pleasure that we derive from who we are, how we behave and what we achieve. It’s composed of identity, projected identity, behavior and the connected feelings.
Our default ego is built to project a positive image of ourselves to the people around us.
It doesn’t matter if that projection is fake, it make us unhappy or if doesn’t help us reach our goals. Our ego is built to make us look good. To others first, and to ourselves second.
Here are some typical identities our ego is built upon:
|Be Right||Be Wrong||-Seek confirmation, not truth|
-Don’t risk anything different, go with the crowd
-Focus on winning, not on best solution
|Be Good||Be Bad||-Look for praise, not truth|
-Do what you know, not anything new
-Make up lies of how good you are, never actually try
|Be Accepted||Be Rejected||-Don’t meet anyone new: it’s risky|
-Say what people agree with, not your real opinions
You will realize our default ego is not about long term growth, happiness, life enjoyment or achievement. It’s mostly about faking, short term thinking and, of course, sacrificing our unique contributions to please the crowd.
Our default ego sacrifices our true self and our most honest expressions to seek positive confirmation and people’s approval. It also makes us less confident, because a major trait of confidence is that of acting accordingly to our identity.
Identity Drives Behavior
Our identities, who we are, drives our behavior. Our identity can drive our behavior when we don’t feel like doing something.
It’s because we humans have a tendency to seek consistency within ourselves. When our actions are not aligned with our identity we feel discomfort (called cognitive dissonance). The tendency to keep our internal identities, values and actions in balance is called, as described by Cialdini, is the commitment and consistency principle.
Sometimes our “real” identity can be different from who we think we are. Some personality issues can arise from it (check Reaction Formation in Ramachandran). But for simplicity we will not deal with it here.
Low Self Esteem: Gap Between Identity & Behavior
Self esteem is our evaluation of our own worth. When we live up and uphold our standards and values no matter what, then we feel worthy. Our self esteem goes up and we are proud of ourselves.
For most of us, we rarely do and say as our identities tell us though. That means that for most of us, our behavior is very much out of whack with who we really are.
It’s because identities are deeper, which makes them a bit more impermeable to external influences -albeit not fully impermeable-.
But our actions instead are strongly influenced by environment and social conditioning, which leads to a disconnect between identity and our actions. Basically, in an effort to look good, we want to project a different identity with our words and actions so that people around will like us, accept us and welcome us.
The problem is that a disconnect between our identity and our actions leads to low self esteem. It’s because we’re not being true to ourselves and we feel like we’re not really in control of our lives.
Do you know what’s the number one regret of dying people? The biggest regret of dying people is that they’d had the courage to live to their true self!
The first step towards a high self esteem and happy life then is to heed your identity a bit more and a bit less what people want you do say and do. Like Tim Grover said, to get what you really want, you first must be who you really are.
How To Have High Self Esteem
When our behavior is in sync with our identity, we have much higher self esteem. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet. This is not a post to tell you to “be yourself”. Scratch that cr*p.
This post wants to take you to a whole new level.
Indeed the very highest self esteem is when our behavior matches our ideal identity.
You probably know the feeling. It happens when you manage to follow through with actions on what your ideal self would love to do. For example:
- You disagreed but were fearful of saying it publicly. But you do it anyway
- Confronting your neighbor wasn’t easy, but you did and you’re proud of yourself
- She had a boyfriend, but you asked anyway and you’re glad about it
When we manage to progressively move towards the person whom want to be not only we get a natural high self esteem, but we reach what Tom Bylieu refers to as “framework happiness”. Framework happiness is the constant joy derived from becoming who you want to be.
The goal of this post then is to remove the most unhelpful bits of your current self-identity and replace them with your ideal identity.
Let’s see first how to eliminate your current limiting identities:
How To Change Self Identity
1. Create Disturbance
First of all, you need to challenge your current identity and limiting beliefs. Do you see yourself as guy who is poor socially? No wonder you avoid social situations! Think of all the times you were not poor socially. Think of all the times you enjoyed social situations.
The idea is that you want to draw on so many experiences that you naturally and rationally start doubting your beliefs. Maybe there was a time you had a good conversation. Or maybe there’s someone who likes you. Think about those daily
If you can’t think of anything, imagine it.
2. Discover What Caused Your Identity
If you can go back to childhood and understand why you adopted a certain identity, that can more easily help you to let go of that identity.
3. Link Pain & Pleasure
Link pain to your old identity and link pleasure to your new identity. Think of the consequences your current identity is bringing you. Think of what you’re missing because of your limiting belief. No friends, no partner, no fun.. That sucks.
Now start imagining yourself as a popular man. How good would that feel. With a growth mindset and an antifragile ego that’s fully within your reach.
Commit to drop the old identity and embrace the new one.
4. Change Physiology
Associate a new physiology to the new identity. The new you moves and speaks differently. Stand straight, shoulders rolled back in and head held high.
Your new physiology will help break away from the past and serve as a cue for your new mindset as well.
5. Say It Out Loud
Repeat to yourself who’s the new you. A social man who enjoys people. Say it to everyone so you will have peer pressure to keep you no course as well (Awaken The Giant Within).
6. Change Your Environment
As we’ve seen the environment plays a big role on your ego pyramid. Cut out bad influences and make friends with people behaving more like the man you want to be.
7. Change Your Actions
This is the most important step.
Daryl Bem in 1972 first proposed a radical idea at the time: identity doesn’t just drive actions, but it’s (also) the other way around: actions drive identity!
It’s because our brain looks at our behaviors and then infers that if we behave a certain way, then it must because we are a certain way (also read Incognito by Eagleman).
You can then first develop the habits of the man you want to be, which with repetition will solidify your identity.
Eventually, you will not need to force yourself, because what you do is just… Who you are.
8. The Daily Mental Grind
Especially in the beginning you will tend to slip back to your old mental habits. It’s important you stay vigilant and every time you catch thinking or saying anything not in line with your new identity, change it immediately.
Your New Antifragile Ego
Some people suggest you should destroy your ego. That’s wrong. A high self esteem is useful. Pride is useful. You should use your ego to propel you forward. An antifragile ego will do just that.
Antifragile is a concept Nassima Taleb came up with in the homonymos book. Antifragile doesn’t mean strong, because strong is still defined by its breaking point. Antifragile means the more you attack it, the stronger it gets.
Wouldn’t it be great if the more you fail the stronger you get? It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Here are a few ideas of antifragile identities you can adopt:
- I’m a learner
This is the basic quality of growth mindset. I’m not good, I’m not skilled. I’m an eternal learner.
There’s no glory in being good, the glory is in advancing . I love finding out my shortcomings because they show how much better I can still get.
- I’m for going for it and doing my best no matter the situation
Winning is great. But that’s not what I take pride on. I take pride in preparing myself better than anyone else and going for it. As Don Miguel suggests in The Four Agreements my only task is doing my best no matter the situation. When I go for it and fail, I’m proud of myself.
- I am proud of my love for the struggle
Some guys are talented. Good for them. Me, I love to work hard. It allows me to show to myself what a gritty, tenacious and dogged mofo I am. Like Coyle says in The Talent Code, to get good you have to love being bad. And I’ll outlast any of those talented motha**ckas.
Go ahead and stop “when you’re done”. I love the struggle independently of the result, so I’ll only stop when I die.
- I’m proud of using my worst moments as fuel
I cherish the memories of people rejecting me, putting me down, firing me or tell me off. When I’m tired and beat, they give me strength to go the last mile.
- I’m proud of putting truth first
I could care less who says the right thing or who proposes the best solution. I take pride in going behind it full energy and full speed if that helps us moving towards our goal.
Like Ray Dalio said, I love reality even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts, because it tells me I found something important.
- I enjoy social interactions, even whey they bomb
I enjoy social interactions. Especially when they get difficult because it means I’m pushing my limits and I’m learning.
How To Pick Self-Identities
Here are some primers to help you choose your new identities:
I am in big disagreement with proponents of “only results matter” such as Extreme Ownership. You can’t control all the variables dictating the result, which means your self esteem would depend on external factors. Not good: you want to be the master of your world. Better rewarding the process instead.
That’s what Ray Dalio refers to when he says “look at the swing more than the hit”.
Success is not guaranteed, the struggle is. So reward the struggle, not the result.
Antifragile identities are great especially when you’re facing long odds because they turn failures on their head.
Example: I relied on antifragile training martial arts. I was the guy left unpicked and I went home bruised and battered. I wouldn’t have endured with a default ego. But my ego was built on being the guy who sucks and shows up anyway. So I felt great any time I showed up and that got me over the hump.
Pick Something You Love
It’s great to select identities of the person you want to be. When you pick identities that make you behave like your favorite hero it’s easy to follow through because you’re intrinsically motivated.
Pick Something Not Too Far From Current Identity/Behavior
Sometimes you need a revolution. But when you have the choice, it will make your job easier to pick an identity not too dissimilar with your current self.
For example, if you want to get fit and you’ve never watched sports in your life, there’s no need to pick a “sport buff” identity. Say instead you’re the kind of person who eats healthy and exercise daily. It’s a much smaller and easier step but brings the same results.
Your New Identity: Assignment
Think about who you would like to be and write it down. Then think about your goals and what identity would help you reach them (for example: being accurate, staying with a task till its done etc. etc.).
Then select the top 5 and start with them. Practice and live them for a few months until they become who you are. Then go down the list.
Changing identity is easier than it sounds. It’s because when you know how it will help you, you will be motivated and you will find pleasure in the process -that’s the beginning of your framework happiness-.
Antifragile Ego: Summary
Identity drives behavior. When identity and behavior are in sync, it means we are living to our true self and we have a healthy, high self esteem.
The highest self esteem is when our behavior matches fully with our ideal identity -the person we would really love to be-.
Finally, we can and we should change our identity in a way that we like and that best helps us reach our goals. When we pick the perfect identities, our all ego will naturally drive us towards ours goals and our ideal selves.
When you live and act towards the person we want to be, you will move towards your goal while living in a joyful state,
This is the seconds installment of the Social Mastery Guide.