Chapter 3: On Ego
Ego is something we love throwing around. Egotistical, big ego, egomaniac. Our egos have a bad reputation. Let’s be honest though, how many of us could actually define what the ego even is? Discussions like small vs big ego, or kill your ego, it’s all nonsense. People talk about the ego like it’s some person on the sideline of your brain shouting bad advice at you. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your ego is an integral part of your brain and it has some crucial functions. It is complex, weird & funky. It is also always present and influencing you.
So what is the ego? It seems to be multiple things. For one it is not the same as your consciousness. The ego is actually placed somewhere inbetween your conscious and your subconscious. Once we get talking about ego values and beliefs in the upcoming chapters, you’ll understand how exactly.
Your ego is many things. For one it is a combination of that awful friend that’s always egging you on to do stupid stuff & your mom telling you you’re number one. Ever seen one of those videoclips of a skinny drunk guy threatening a gorilla looking bouncer? That’s what happens when your ego runs wild. You do incredibly stupid stuff and you think you’ll get away with it. Ever paid attention to the glazy look that same guy has five seconds later when he’s sat on his ass by mr. Gorilla? That isn’t just physical pain he’s in. That’s the look of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance happens when egos gone wild meet reality. Cognitive dissonance is so important to us that it is going to get its own chapter later on.
So why even have an ego you may be thinking at this point? Wouldn’t it be logical that people without ego’s become successful whilst big egos eventually get killed off because they angered the wrong gorillas? Well, no. Like I said, your ego is complex. It’s also that friend that tells you, you can do it. The one that keeps you going when everything seems against you. It’s your dad telling you he believes in you when you’re getting close to giving up. Whenever you see anyone achieve a great feat despite all odds, you’re witnessing a massive ego in action. It takes a big ego to be brave enough to say the world is round when everyone else is saying it’s flat.
Your ego is a bit of a cowboy. Unfortunately it isn’t a very smart cowboy. If anything, it is mostly just stubborn and overconfident in its own capabilities. It might even take a good sitdown by a gorilla before it even opens up to the idea it might be wrong.
Your ego is placed inbetween your conscious and your subconscious. These three work together in a certain pattern. Nothing ever reaches your conscious without going through your subconscious first. Your conscious can’t see or hear anything. Light enters your eyes, subconscious systems transform it into an image. This image travels through the ego, and only then does it reach your conscious.
. On top of that, the information that does reaches your consciousness is distorted by the ego. This is a very difficult concept to explain
Fortunately it is very easy to demonstrate via an example: Imagine you’re sixteen again and you’re walking on the sidewalk. All of a sudden around the corner comes your crush. Your heart skips a beat. Those perfect eyes! That beautiful hair! Wait! Are those eyes looking at you? Is that pearly smile aimed towards you? That look, that.. TOOOOOOOT!!! Whoops, you just walked through a red light and almost got hit by that car you didn’t even notice consciously.
You get millions of inputs every second. Images, sound, smells, things you feel. You can’t focus on them all. If everything went through to your conscious unfiltered, it would break down. So instead, you get a heavily filtered version. Your subconscious gets all the inputs and makes a quantative filtering which it sends to the ego. The ego puts a qualitative jugmental filter and sends it through to your conscious. Your conscious then chooses what it wants to focus on and sends that feedback to your subconscious.
So for the example: Your eyes see hundreds of things at the same time. All the cars that are parked, the discount poster in the shop window, a bird flying in the background, you get the gist. On top of that you’re hearing and smelling things as well. You can’t focus on all these things so your subconscious picks out the things that seem most important. Your ego then places a judgment on the things your subconscious sends through. Your ego won’t be very invested into any of these things so they’ll be weak judgments. Your ego isn’t likely to care that much that laundry detergent is 20% off. Nor does it care that much about the grey sedan that’s parked just down the street.
Everything changes when your crush comes round the corner. Your subconscious puts it on the top of the pile of things it sends through. Your ego kicks straight into action. It will do two things. Not only will it judge your crush to be very beautifull, it will judge that your crush is very important to YOU.
See, the car, the poster or the bird hold very little value to you. Your ego has no interest in how these things relate to you whatsoever. Your crush on the other hand, well when you’re sixteen, your crush means everything to you. All the beliefs your ego holds about yourself will instantly be activated. Maybe your ego filter tells you: “There’s no way my crush would ever like me!”. Maybe it tells you:”We’d make the perfect couple! We have the same qualities and would be great together!”.
These things are all subjective judgments that depend on the values and beliefs your ego has. Objectively you’re just two teenage kids with a life filled with uncertainty ahead of you. If you were to have the same scenario twenty years later, it would play out completely differently. The way you see yourself has changed. The way you see your crush from 20 years back has changed. Your ego filter has changed. Maybe the changes will have been so great that this time you do become aware of the fact you’re approaching an intersection. Maybe this time you’ll even notice there’s a car coming.
Your ego filter holds all sorts of values and beliefs about yourself. Because of your ego, you will view everything and everyone in this world through the lense of how they relate to and affect you. The more important you perceive something to be for you, the more your ego filters are activated. This is why a random advertising poster doesn’t provoke much of an ego response from you. The crush that you are definitely, totally going to be spending the rest of your life with, will put your ego in overdrive.
So how does this ego filter get built up? Also: How can the same ego that is supposed to give you irrational self-confidence, now all of a sudden tell you: “you’re not good enough to be with your crush!”? Knowing the answers to these questions gives you the power to rebuild your ego into what you want it to be. They’re also a little complex so we’ll be spending five more chapters answering them (jippy!).
So how does your ego filter get built up? To answer that question we have to go even further back then when you were sixteen. We have to go all the way back to when you were born. As a baby your ego filter is still quite empty. It’s impossible to tell whether it is truly empty when you’re born, but it is definitely much more empty than when you’re an adult.
Now, we started off this chapter with the fact that ego and reality aren’t really best friends. Your ego is very, very stubborn and doesn’t like to take any advice from anyone. There is one exception though. There is a state in which your ego is actually sort of shut off and information can enter uncritically. This state is better known as hypnosis or trance.
Forget all the hollywood nonsense. Hypnosis isn’t about shutting down your conscious (you can be well aware of everything going on whilst in hypnosis). It is about shutting down your ego. This does two things. One, it makes it possible to make changes to the ego filter. Two, it makes it possible to get into direct contact with subconscious systems without having to pass through a very uncooperative ego first.
Your ego filter gets filled up in the first seven to twelve years of your life. Every time a little kid gets into a trance state, it will uncritically absorb whatever values or beliefs are presented. There are great implications to this. These years are crucial and for many will decide the outcome of the rest of their lives.
Kids go into trance ridiculously easily. There’s actually an automatic reflex in us that makes us go into trance when we look up. This reflex isn’t that strong anymore for adults. In little kids it is very powerful. They get big eyes and are completely mesmerized when they look up. Why? Well because that’s where mommy and daddy are.
Kids carefully study their parents’ behavior. Parents’ beliefs will be scrutinized by entranced kids and then copied. This is especially the case when these beliefs are aimed at them! Most parents don’t realize how big their influence over their children is. If both parents spend the entire day being lazy & hanging in front of the television, kids will literally imprint that being a lazy couch potato is the standard. Their ego filter will implement the belief in them that they are a lazy couch potato.
There is nothing worse than a parent shouting abusive language at their kids. If you scream at your kids that they are useless and stupid, this will get imprinted as a belief in their ego filter. A shouting parent is an instant trance trigger for small children. The parent has just rammed a “I am useless and stupid” belief into their kid’s ego that may end up being carried around for the rest of its life. You’d be disgusted to know what sort of things can come up during hypnotherapy. People struggling with severe anxiety issues their entire lives that just don’t make sense. Until you hypnotize them and find out what sort of awful nonsense was rammed into their ego filter when they were young.
But why would the ego filter ever allow such garbage in? Like I said, it’s not very smart. Your ego isn’t very good at judging which beliefs and values are good or bad. To make matters even more complex: Whether a belief is good or bad is often dependent on what situation you’re in.
Believing it’s good to be quiet is great when you need to observe, but awful when you’re trying to make friends in a loud social settings. This also somewhat explains the paradox of your ego. Why on one hand it causes irrational self-confidence while on the other hand it can cause you to believe you’re useless. It just sort of gets hacked when you’re a kid. Your ego seems to be somewhat schizofrenic. On one hand it has the natural tendency to be brash and overly confident. On the other hand it is filled with external beliefs it had little to no control over.
This leads to two extremely important and very interesting questions: Are your beliefs really yours? Are you your beliefs?