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SShhh Is your Ego Too Loud?

Interview with Professor Heidi Wayment

Do you ever find yourself clamoring for attention or recognition of your ideas from others? It’s natural to want to be seen and heard and valued for what we can offer, but are there times when a quiet ego might serve you better?

“Your ego is important – you want to have drive, to have initiative, to have goals,” explained Professor Heidi Wayment from the Northern Arizona University when I interviewed her recently. “But it doesn’t have to dominate or be the loudest thing in the room.”

Chances are your noisy ego gets triggered when you’re facing situations that stir fear, uncertainty, or dissatisfaction in the workplace. Or when you feel like you’re being backed into a corner and need to loudly defend your space, by pushing your views, opinions or wishes. Heidi advises that while this response is normal, it’s not necessarily helpful as it can lead to disregarding others’ viewpoints and perspectives, being too quick to make assumptions, and jumping to the wrong conclusions about others. 

How can you quieten your natural noisy ego response?

Heidi explains that learning to quieten your ego doesn’t mean you need to squash it or become a doormat that others can walk over. It’s about balancing your own needs, values, and goals with your interdependence and interconnection with others. It’s having the quiet strength to ask for what you need in a way that is good for you and good for others.  

Heidi has found four interrelated characteristics of a quiet ego:

  • Detached awareness – the ability to be non-judgmental of yourself and others, not only in the present moment through a mindfulness approach, but afterward through by reflecting on your behavior or the way you’ve perceived things. 
  • Belonging – no-one is an island all the time, and you are interconnected and interdependent on others. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that what you do affects others, and what others do affects you. Self-serving biases can be ubiquitous and seem natural, but they are not necessarily helpful.
  • Compassion – recognizing that multiple perspectives exist rather than believing that you are the owner of the only perspective or the right way of interpreting a situation.
  • Development – having a growth mindset to being willing and able to learn from your mistakes, and to incorporate the growth that occurs from events either in or out of your control. Rather than having a goal for perfectionism, it’s about being motivated to want to learn for your own benefit and the benefit of others.

Quietening your ego by adopting these four values can help you show more understanding and compassion not only towards others but also towards yourself. Studies also suggest that it can decrease your stress levels and increase your self-control, resilience, and wellbeing in challenging situations.

“We know that the noisy ego keeps coming up especially in stressful situations, so the goal is to be more aware and try to dial it down at the time or later,” explained Heidi. “After all, quietening your ego is not a permanent fix but something that you may need to do over and over again.”

What can you do to quieten your ego?

Heidi shares three easy practices to adjust the volume on your ego when you need to.

  • Practice self-compassion – treating yourself with the same kindness that you might give to others has been found to be linked with a quiet ego. Along with this is understanding that suffering is just part of the human condition. Knowing that what you’re experiencing, others are also experiencing can help reduce your psychological distance and feel more interconnected with others.
  • Create cues to quieten your ego – It might be a card with the ABCD of a quiet ego – awareness, belonging, compassion, and development – representing the four. Or with words or images that are personally meaningful to you. For example, it might be a photo that really reminds you of how you’re connected to others, and others to you.
  • Put yourself in perspective – learn from the Stoic practice of regularly reviewing your life. It may be of an interaction, a thought, or a belief with the idea of looking at it again objectively to disentangle what your needs were in the moment from the bigger picture. You might do this just after the event, at the end of every day, or your life to date.

Rather than thinking that stoicism means being without or above emotion, it can give you perspective about past events and provide awareness of what you might expect in future situations. In this way you’re less likely to be surprised, you can have a better idea of what you can and can’t control and be less reactive and calmer in your responses. You can also put yourself in perspective by practicing mindfulness, doing volunteer work, and spending time in nature.

What cues would help you remember the four characteristics of a quiet ego?

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