Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
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.
- Psychedelics and the religious experience - Big Think ›
- Study Shows How LSD Mimics Infant's Mind as Ego Dissolves - Big ... ›
- How VR can dissolve your ego and unlock your empathy ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to go ice fishing on Europa<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="GLGsRX7e" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4790eb8f0515e036b24c4195299df28"> <div id="botr_GLGsRX7e_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/GLGsRX7e-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/GLGsRX7e-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Water Vapor Above Europa’s Surface Deteced for First Time<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9c4abc8473e1b89170cc8941beeb1f2d"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/WQ-E1lnSOzc?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Answering the question of who you are is not an easy task. Let's unpack what culture, philosophy, and neuroscience have to say.
- Who am I? It's a question that humans have grappled with since the dawn of time, and most of us are no closer to an answer.
- Trying to pin down what makes you you depends on which school of thought you prescribe to. Some argue that the self is an illusion, while others believe that finding one's "true self" is about sincerity and authenticity.
- In this video, author Gish Jen, Harvard professor Michael Puett, psychotherapist Mark Epstein, and neuroscientist Sam Harris discuss three layers of the self, looking through the lens of culture, philosophy, and neuroscience.