curb your ego

I get in the way of my happiness

How I get in the way of my happiness may not be what you think. You may be thinking I refuse to accept things that would make me happy or don’t allow myself to ask for what I need. Both of which I have done in the past, and still do more than I would like to admit. No, the other way I keep myself from joy is focusing on my ego, my needs, my perspective, without allowing myself to see and be in the bigger picture. When I focus on my ego – my little insignificant self, my perspectives, my assumptions, my expectations, my intellect, my public image, ad nauseum – instead of being more secure and happy, I am less.

Years ago, I wrote a post about how taking on a different persona when playing Wii made it easier to take risks and not to take failures so personally. Since then, I have been receiving lesson after lesson about how surrendering myself, my ego, brings more happiness. My new favorite book, The Art of Living, explores this topic. Here are my thoughts on finding joy by releasing one’s ego through living in the moment with humility and equality.

curb your ego
Photo by Orkun Azap on Unsplash

Live in the Moment

We humans tend to live in the present through the filter of our past. Using our past experiences and perceptions, we create a story about what is happening currently. We are not in the present moment. We are in our minds playing out a story about the present moment. The story we create is not the truth about this specific situation. Just because a red car cut us off in the past, does not mean every red car is going to cut us off.

We feel more secure when things are known and predictable. We don’t do well in the unknown and therefore we create certainty by assuming that things will be like they were before. It is a story we create in our minds to understand and make things concrete. We would rather believe a lie than to sit in uncertain unknowing. We want to believe this manufactured truth, because we think we will find peace in the certainty. We don’t.

When we try to define a situation or predict the future based on the past, we miss the reality of this very moment. The past can inform and instruct us, but when we assume that things will be exactly like they were before, we are creating expectations which usually fall short. Instead, if we can be in each moment, experiencing everything fresh and new, we can see the reality of the situation without bias from our previous experience.

Live with Humility

Humility is usually thought of as making one’s self lower than, less than. Humility is actually defined as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” It is arrogant to believe that our firm, ridged views are 100% correct and infallible. We think that being certain in what we know will give as safety and security. I have found the opposite to be true. When I can release my strong beliefs and approach the world with wonder and openness, I feel calm and at peace. Certainty is a rigidity which takes away our power and strength.

If I swear that the sky is green, if my parents believed the sky is green, if their parents believed, I would fight and dispel anyone with contrary beliefs. I need everyone and every fact to align with my thinking to feel safe. Instead, if I thought the sky was green, but had an open mind I could then analyze any new opinions and thoughts, discerning if they were valid. My self-worth would not be victimized and traumatized by new information. I would not need agreement from others to feel ok.

Many philosophies talk about the “I don’t know” mind. Even if you are well-versed in a subject, instead of assuming you know what is right or what is going to be said/done, be open to the reality of the moment. You may have predicted it correctly. You may not have. But holding on to arrogance that you know exactly how things will be, or how they should be, causes stress. Give yourself a reality check. How much of what you knew five years ago is still the hard-core truth of today? Things change and shift. Nothing is set in stone. Be open to receive and discern new information.

Live with Equality

The ego also takes us out of happiness by telling us we are better than, or less than, others. My husband and I listened to a great podcast the other night that showed how a sense of entitlement seems to be invading our society. Humble your ego. Level the playing field. You are not above – or below – anyone else. Stop judging others by self-created differences. Stop putting others down to raise yourself up. Everyone is equal. Nothing raises us above another – not age, race, gender, education, finances, celebrity. We are all one.

To release your ego and find true peace, live in the moment without the taint of previous experience, act with humility and an “I don’t know” mind, and accept everyone, including yourself as equal.

happy face

I’d like to be happy. How about you?

For much of my life I have battled depression. Some of the depression is due to a loss or a challenge. Much of my book and coaching centers around changing thoughts and behaviors to minimize the impact of “for cause” depression, sadness, anger, and anxiety. I have found the best approach for this type of issue is to reframe how we see that situation. Most of the time we are blowing things out of proportion, wanting to change what can’t be changed (lacking acceptance), or seeing things not as they are but as colored by our past experiences. Talking through the dishonest beliefs we have about difficult situations can often provide relief.

The depression I am trying to work through now, the one that has visited me throughout my life, is the depression which seems to appear out of nowhere and for no reason. Cognitive behavioral therapy, the basis of much of what I do, does not work with this type of depression because there is nothing to talk about. The depression is not based in a specific issue or life event. The depression is more chemical or emotional. It is not due to external circumstances. What I am learning is because this type of depression is not grounded in the mind, the cures are not either. 

What I have found best to deal with this type of depression is to get out of my mind through meditation, exercise, connection, and service. I use meditation to stop the mental-monkey-chatter and hamster-wheel-of-anxiety. I turn to exercise to get out of my mind and into my body. Depression thrives in isolation because being alone allows the mind to continuously play the negative tape without end. Reaching out and connecting with others is a powerful tool to keep depression from expanding. A branch of connection is actively trying to serve others. Providing compassionate assistance to others, helps me get out of myself and my self-pity.

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

In my search to find help for depression, I stumbled on a group that is focusing on happiness. Until the last fifteen or so years, much psychologic research was focus on illness and negative experience (anger, sadness, clinical diagnoses).* The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley (GGSC) is researching happiness; defining it, quantifying it, and providing scientifically-based tools to help us learn to be happier.

Although some of us may think that either we are born happy or not, happiness is a learned trait. Three factors affect our happiness: our genes (50%), our environment or circumstances (10%), and how we approach things (40%).* We may not be able to change our genetics, but we do have control over much of our circumstances and all of how we approach things. I agree with the GGSC that we all have the power to affect our level of happiness.

I signed up for the Science of Happiness course being offered through GGSC. In my upcoming posts, I am sure you will see some of what I learn. Due to more loneliness, the rise of narcissism, and the increase in inequality, depression is becoming more prevalent in the United States.* We can do something for ourselves and for those around us. I encourage you to learn more at GGSC’s website and if you want some help and support in your own life, please reach out. We all deserve to be happy and joyful.

*from GGSC

What are you choosing to experience?

Many of my friends are very into the Law of Attraction. The basic concept is that you receive what you focus on; that your thoughts become real life things. I have many thoughts on this subject and have shared some below.

You Create Your World with Your Focus

I touched on this a bit in my book, basically your life is determined by where you choose to focus. Whether it is because of how the energies of the universe work or due to your reticular activating system, I have seen a correlation between our thoughts/focus and what we receive in our life. It may be something harmless like focusing on the Chicago Cubs instead of the White Sox, or it can cause anxiety when we choose to only see the horror of the news and not the good that is happening as well.

You Can’t Get What You Don’t Define

Many people are unhappy. And many people don’t define what makes them happy. These people focus on what is making them unhappy and therefore they see/receive more of it. The first step to creating the life of your dreams is to define what an ideal life looks like. Focus on the feelings and the experiences you do want. What would make you happy, content, satisfied? What does the good life look like to you?

Don’t Focus on the Outcome

One of the problems I have with other discussions about Law of Attraction is the focus on receiving concrete physical world items.   The way the concept is presented is that the ultimate goal is to have stuff. I don’t know about you, but my goal in life is not to have stuff. Things are great, don’t get me wrong, but it is the experience of the things, not the thing itself that makes us happy. Instead of focusing on the new house, car, or job you want, focus on how you would feel if you had it. Then, even if you don’t receive the thing, you are still experiencing the feeling which is what we really want.

Photo by IIONA VIRGIN on Unsplash

This or Something Better

I have to admit, I don’t always know what is best for me. This is another reason I don’t focus on the outcome. If I achieved the dream I had when I was a little girl, to become a movie star, I would be very unhappy today in the role. Imagine an introvert being constantly in the limelight and spending time with the falseness that is Hollywood. Yuck. Not my dream now. When I focus on something I want to bring into my life, I always say, “this or something better.” It is my loophole. If I am thinking of something that won’t make me happy in the long-run or if what I am asking for is less than I should receive, this or something better leaves space for the powers that be to bring to me what I really want and need.

Release the How

When I talk to people about what they really want in life, they often put restrictions on how they can receive it. When I retire I’ll have the time to do X, when the kids are off to college then I am free to do Y, once I meet Oprah my book will become a best seller. The amazing things that happened in my life never happened in a way I imagined. I had absolutely no clue as to how they would happen, but since I was focusing on what I wanted when an opportunity came up that was in alignment with my dream, I took action.

Show Up

This is not Uber Eats where you place your order and it comes to you. You need to make a little effort and move in the direction of your dreams. Sitting in your room and wishing for a million dollars is not going to make it appear (probably). You have to go out and buy that lottery ticket or start that business you always dreamed of. Imagine, pray, and then act.

Have Gratitude

Be grateful for where you are now. Be grateful for the baby step which takes you closer to your dream. Be grateful every step of the way. One of the ways we are unhappy and we stifle what could be, is by not being happy about where we are. Love and appreciate what is great in your life right now, and dream of this or something better.

We only get one try at this life. Why not make the most of it by choosing to make it the life you want to experience and enjoy?

No Rules. Just Right.

I lived the first half of my life by the rules. I studied hard in school. I focused on work and advancing my career. I followed social norms and protocols. I did the best I could to do everything “right.”  Then somewhere along the line, I realized there are no rules.

My husband and I often jokingly say, “I don’t make the rules,” when we expect the other to do something they don’t want to or when we request something to our benefit. “I don’t make the rules” means this is just how things are, ignore that it is completely and utterly in my favor. Just because it is a benefit to me doesn’t mean that I created the rule. But don’t we all create our own rules?

Some people create rules that benefit themselves. Other drivers should give them the right of way. They should get the next promotion because they have “put in their time.” Everyone should treat me fairly because I strive to treat them fairly.

Some people create rules because they expect struggle. Nothing ever goes my way. I never have enough money. People are going to hurt me. Whether beneficial or worrisome, we are still creating our own expectations. We are creating rules for life. But in reality, there are no rules.

la felicidad - to happiness sign
Photo by Cesira Alvarado on Unsplash

I think I first started to awaken to this as I got out into the world. The ways of life I learned in childhood were not absolute. Not everyone believed in the same religion. Not everyone grew up in a Suburb of Chicago with Midwest manners and extreme weather. Not everyone had the same career goals or the same description of success. This concept really gelled with me as I changed careers. I spent my early years focused on theatre. The goal was to make it to Broadway, or at least to get enough steady work to eat while fulfilling the passion to create. Then I landed a position at a company that created amusement park attractions. Suddenly there were new influential players, new definitions of success, a new language, and new viewpoints. I then moved to direct marketing and then to product marketing in four vastly different industries. Each time there were new rules, new expectations, new languages and culture, new definitions of success, and new assumptions of how to act.

Through all this I finally learned and began to accept that there are no hard, fast rules. No labels. No shoulds. At first it was a bit terrifying, as if the ground I was standing upon was no longer there. Then it was freeing. I now had the power to create life as I desired. Have you had this mid-life “unraveling” as Brené Brown calls it? Have you stopped to look at the rules you have agreed to? Have you explored if they are working for you – or not? Have you looked into new ways to live?

Take a step back. Write down the beliefs you have about what life and work are all about. Define what success looks like. Define your expectations for daily life. Then toss out what does not serve you. Start writing new rules. What do you want to see and create in life? Don’t be swayed by what was, what is currently, or what others believe. What do you want? Then take baby steps toward accepting and moving toward your own set of rules.