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Control the ego in order to improve

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Control the ego in order to improve

Scott Miker

I am reading a book written by two Navy SEALs about leadership.  It is a very interesting look at extreme leadership.  Most people understand leadership in basic, business settings.  But the battlefield is much less forgiving of mistakes and requires a much more thorough understanding of how to lead. 

I enjoy reading about the lessons that they learned because they often apply to business as well as their military experience.  But I often find that society’s opinion of the military is incorrect. 

One of the principles that the authors discuss is ego.  They give some great insight about ego and how it can derail our efforts to succeed. 

In Extreme Ownership by Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the authors say, “Ego clouds and disrupts everything: the planning process, the ability to take good advice, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.  It can even stifle someone’s sense of self-preservation.  Often, the most difficult ego to deal with is your own.”

They go on to say, “Everyone has an ego.  Ego drives the most successful people in life – in the SEAL Teams, in the military, in the business world.  They want to win, to be the best.  That is good.  But when ego clouds our judgment and prevents us from seeing the world as it is, then ego becomes destructive.  When personal agendas become more important than the team and the overarching mission’s success, performance suffers and failure ensues.  Many of the disruptive issues that arise within any team can be attributed directly to a problem with ego.”

But it might help if we take a step back to better define the ego.  We have an ego element that is focused solely on us.  It can be self-destructive if it places too much value on the wrong things. 

Dr. Wayne Dyer would talk about the ego and said that the ego says six things.  The ego says:

  1. We are what we have
  2. We are what we do
  3. We are what others think of us
  4. We are separate from what we want in life
  5. We are separate from each other
  6. We are separate from God

To me this is a little broader than most of us are used to when discussing the ego but it is very helpful to start to see how the ego directs behavior.  Looking at these characteristics it is easy to see how they would disrupt the team and derail self-improvement efforts. 

In order to overcome the destructive aspects of the ego we first have to be able to identify it.  We have to realize when we are letting our ego cloud our thinking.  This isn’t easy but can be done with enough effort. 

We then have to find ways around the ego.  By knowing the ego we can start to evaluate the situation and put our ego aside, as difficult as it is.  We can find humility. 

One way that I have found to overcome the ego is to look to the difference between complacency and contentment.  Complacency is what tells us there is no hope so why even try.  I think of Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, just sort of going through the motions without any sense of improvement.

Contentment is much different.  Being content means that you don’t need anything more to be happy.  But it doesn’t mean you sit on the couch and give up.  It means you will always work to improve but you will remain happy and content while doing it. 

Focusing on improving but remaining content can help to stay humble.  It helps because we don’t require MORE in order to be happy and we are willing to do the work to improve when necessary.  Because staying humble helps to tame the ego to make sure it doesn’t cloud our judgment and disrupt our desire to improve.