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How to dissolve your ego—and why you should
Ever want to move forward but find you're in your own way?
- Many of us are held back by the idea of ourselves that our egos have built and will do anything to maintain.
- Oftentimes this manifests as a fear of failure, an inability to start on new projects, or the evasion of responsibility.
- Here we have five suggestions on how to keep your ego in check.
Even for those who aren't self-absorbed, egos can get in the way more often than we'd like. Having a sense of self isn't bad, but we can become so invested in the idea of who we are that we refuse to take necessary steps forward that would challenge that idea.
Every time we don't do something important for fear of what others will think of us, rest on our laurels rather than start on our next big project, or refuse to acknowledge that we might have failed and need to do better next time is a case of our ego holding us back from being the best version of ourselves we can be.
Luckily, this problem is nothing new. People have been dealing with it for the better part of human existence and have come up with a variety of solutions. Here, we'll consider five of them and why experts have turned their attention to each one at some point or another.
Ryan Holiday: Ego is the Enemy
Ryan Holiday is a marketing executive, writer, and speaker with important insights into how ego can trip you up.
In his book, "Ego is the Enemy," Holiday discusses the dangers of getting too caught up in the stories we tell ourselves about how fantastic we are and the adverse side effects of this. Using his own life for an example, he describes how he realized that he was so dedicated to his work that if he didn't slow down, he was going to work himself into an early grave. This was a result of buying into the story he had been telling himself about himself. He also watched more than a few people fall apart because they didn't have the same realization.
His book offers a variety of ideas on how to deal with this problem from sources as diverse as stoic philosophy and the advice of UFC fighters. His most practical suggestion might be the "equal, plus, minus" concept.
In this system, a person should have a friend who is their equal, better, and lessor in their field. When you're working on starting a project, turn to your equals to stay motivated and to remind you that you're all in the same boat. When coming off a success, turn to your better, who could be an accomplished mentor, to keep your ego from growing too much. Lastly, when you've failed, have somebody who you're a mentor to around to explain the failing; that'll help you realize that failure is just part of the process.
These three kinds of people can help you keep your ego in check and help you get over the pitfalls that prevent you from starting your projects, admitting failure, or moving forward after a win.
Buddhist Thought and "Non-Self"
The Buddhist notion of Anatta means "non-self" and refers to the idea that there is no permanent, unchanging substance that we can call the "self." We tend to point at a variety of things, namely our form, thoughts, sensory experience, perceptions, and consciousness, and say that one or more of these things as they currently exist is the "self." Buddhism is here to tell you that they aren't.
As with everything else, Buddhism suggests that suffering arises when we try to hold on to impermanent things. In this case, your idea of an enduring "self." By understanding the true nature of the self, that there isn't something enduring there at all, we can come to realize that many of the things that our ego tells us are fundamental parts of ourselves, how we look, think, act, see the world, or feel about things this moment aren't actually "us."
By getting that idea out of our heads, we can allow ourselves to make the changes, take risks, and accept the things that ego usually wouldn't allow us to. Many a Buddhist monk would also suggest that it would enable you to move down the path towards enlightenment.
Meditation's endless benefits are, and have been, promoted by a variety of religions and ideologies in a myriad of forms. We're going to focus on mindfulness meditation here, but know that other kinds of meditation can claim these benefits.
Mindfulness meditation takes a few pages from Buddhism's playbook but goes in a separate direction. The goal is to bring one's attention to the present moment while sitting. This is often done by counting the breath or focusing attention on a particular area on the body. Done correctly, it allows one to enter into a state of "nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is," as described by psychologist Dr. Scott Bishop.
By helping us to turn off that part of our brain that worries about the past, future, and the endless list of threats to our sense of self, mindfulness meditation trains us to focus on what is rather than what our ego often tells us is. By doing so, we gain the ability to get past our ego defenses. This notion is supported by studies that demonstrate that people who practice mindfulness have a healthier and more coherent sense of self.
Before we begin, please remember that you shouldn't go running to the neighborhood dealer just because some website mentioned how drugs can do something interesting.
Ever since Timothy Leary and company got their hands on the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the 1960s, the goal of achieving Ego Death has been a commonly discussed topic in psychedelic literature. The idea is to use drugs to alter your consciousness to a point where your mind no longer differentiates itself from the rest of the world around it.
Psychonauts describe this effect as quite dramatic and unlike typical consciousness experiences. One I spoke to described it as an intense rocket launch into the serine void of space. Another described it as a blowing out of a candle with perfect stillness afterward. The condition allows for the individual to view their mental processes, including ego defenses and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, from a detached state.
As recorded by several researchers, the experience can be cathartic and lead to great personal insights under the right conditions. As Sam Harris mentions in his video, drugs do have the benefit of always producing an effect, and the experience can lead to legitimate insights. Those who research psychedelic drugs believe that this effect is caused by the drugs' creation of new connections between parts of the brain that don't regularly interact with one another.
It is also worth noting that John Lennon blamed the intensification of his personal problems and a bout of depression on trying to follow Leary's instructions. Writer Hunter S. Thompson, who had more acid in him than a car battery, thought that Leary was peddling nonsense.
Tim Ferriss' list of fears
An investor and author with some ideas related to stoic philosophy, Mr. Ferriss has some suggestions for overcoming fear that can easily be applied to getting your ego out of your way.
Fear setting requires that you take a piece of paper with three columns and write what risk you want to take at the top. In the first column, you write very specific bad things that could happen if you take the risk. In the next column, you write ways to minimize those risks. In the last, you write ways to rebound from each listed risk.
This system can be applied to notions of ourselves just as easily as it can be applied to our fear of going broke. If you don't start painting because you are afraid of what the critics will say, list it on this chart. Concerned that people will laugh at you if you change your style? Include it. Even just using it as intended can be enough to battle your ego. How many times have you been afraid of being seen as a failure so much that you don't try something?
Now, ask yourself what your ego defenses are protecting and see if you can get around those walls.
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Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.