A beginner’s guide to... ego management
Ego: little word, big associations – and ones that aren’t wholly positive. (Kanye referring to his junk? Your insufferably, um, cocky ex?) But as World Ego Awareness Day approaches (on May 11th) it’s an opportune moment to look again at this muchmaligned part of our psyche.
‘In fact, the ego serves an important role,’ says Heidi A Wayment, Professor of Social Psychology at Northern Arizona University and foremost ego expert. She explains that it exists for our physical and mental protection. When it comes to the selfaggrandizing show-off traits we typically associate with it? That’s ‘excessive, imbalanced focus on the ego – which can be problematic.’
Professor Wayment breaks the ego down into two parts. First, there’s the ‘noisy ego’, characterized by excessive self-focus, sense of self-importance and clamoring for external validation. ‘A noisy ego can increase perceptions of threat, exacerbate defensiveness and create problems for the self and others,’ she explains. ‘The quiet ego counters the egotism of the noisy ego,’ she continues. ‘It isn’t a squashed, silenced or defeated ego, instead it comes from a place of non-defensive strength.’ Think of it a bit like a backbone: it’s strong and solid, but it doesn’t need spikes to ward off other backbones that might be a threat to it. It just stands firm.
So, how do you lean into your ego’s better side? Professor Wayment advises reflecting on yours and others’ actions and prioritizing values that promote balance and growth. In actionable terms?
Show up to conversations, both in the office and over brunch, and be open to divergent opinions. At your next networking event, approach every new interaction as if it were an opportunity – rather than a threat.
It’s not just about being a better human. Feeding your quiet ego brings noticeable psychological wins for you, too. Professor Wayman’s studies have shown that those with more of the aforementioned quiet ego traits cope better with big life changes, such as job losses, have decreased physiological markers of stress, and are more sharply focused during tasks. They work better with diverse groups and arrive at situations without defensiveness. (Read: they are present, good vibes types you actually want to be around.)
‘The quiet ego is likely to have a happy mind, and the happy mind is likely to have a quiet ego,’ says Professor Wayment.
A science-backed happiness-cultivating strategy that makes the world a kinder place?
We’re here for it.
Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyrfeelings