Podcast Transcriptions

Pursue What Matters

Episode 249: Cultivating a Quiet Ego

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Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Do you have a quiet ego or a noisy ego? We all know people whose ego walks into the room before they do. A quiet ego, on the other hand is self assured, but always makes room for others. Join me today as we learn more about cultivating a quiet ego.

Dr. Melissa Smith 0:18
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith, welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. So ego everyone’s got one. And ego gets a bad rap. Because we see a lot of really big egos we see sometimes narcissistic characteristics. But ego is not necessarily a problem. The thing about ego is we want to keep it in check. And so there is some research coming out about the concept of a quiet ego. And I just really love that term. And I think it can be a really helpful one for us as we look in the mirror as we develop more curiosity and self awareness. And so that’s what we’re going to focus on today. And hopefully, you’ll find something that’s useful for you. Of course, every week with the podcast, my goal is to help you pursue what matters by strengthening your confidence to lead in one of three areas. So leading with clarity, leading with curiosity, and leading a community, and really having good awareness. And keeping your ego in check is useful in all three of these areas, right? If we have an unbounded ego, it’s really easy to lose clarity and a sense of purpose and focus in our lives. It’s also really important to have curiosity because that is what helps us to have self awareness and to really keep ourselves in check. And then of course, it’s so important when we’re leading and building a community. Because what we know is, people don’t want to be led by narcissist, people don’t want to be led by people with super loud, noisy egos. Because it doesn’t leave much room for other people. And of course, when it comes to leading a community, building a team working as a team, whether at work or home, collaboration is the name of the game like we need one another.

Dr. Melissa Smith 2:28
And so let’s jump in to this to this topic with our first point, which is looking really at the self as a resource, versus looking at the self as an enemy. And so that’s kind of my question for you, do you see your ego as a resource or as your enemy. So according to Barry Scott Kaufman, he’s a great researcher and author of several books. But the one in particular that this research comes from is known as transcend, he’s he points out that the self can be our greatest resource, but it can also be our darkest enemy. So it’s important to pay attention to that, that ego isn’t necessarily the enemy, but we really do need to have good awareness about it, and be able to keep it in check. And so, you know, the sense of self really is important for our integration as humans. So fundamentally human capacities for self awareness, self reflection, and self control are essential for reaching our goals. So having an integrated sense of self is pretty darn important. Sometimes when we don’t have an integrated sense of self, you know, we see that as psychosis, we see that as, you know, kind of debilitating mental health concerns. So ego is not the enemy. Ego is not a problem. We need a healthy sense of self.

Dr. Melissa Smith 3:53
But here’s the other side of that coin, right? It’s it’s there’s a double edged sword here, the self has a perpetual desire to be seen in a positive light. So as humans, this is part of, you know, we’re wired for connection. And so, you know, we we can really, really skew things to be seen in a positive light. And sometimes that means we’re not very genuine. Sometimes that means that that we’re dishonest. Sometimes that means that we tell people what they want to hear, and then talk about them behind their back, right. So the self or the ego will do anything to disavow responsibility for any negative outcome associated with it. Because the self or the ego is first and foremost about self preservation. And so if there is anything that is perceived to be a threat to the self, the ego goes right in to protection mode and defense mode. And so you know, that ego can really make us quite defensive because we’re really trying to maintain our sense of self and maintaining a sense of self is not a problem, but we go too far. We see have, you know any kind of critical feedback or a concern as a threat to the self a threat to the ego. And so our responses outside, our response includes a lot of defensiveness or blaming. And so we really want to keep that in check. And the other thing is that the self can engender.

Dr. Melissa Smith 5:20
So this comes from Kaufman from his book. The self engenders a self zoo of self defense mechanisms, meaning we develop all sorts of defense mechanisms to try and preserve our sense of self. And, you know, I kind of highlighted this term preserved, but like we’re aiming up the wrong target. So we see threats, where we don’t, there aren’t really threats, and so we can kind of have these outsized responses. So so the first point is that our sense of self is important as part of being human is part of what keeps us integrated and mentally healthy. But there is you know, that there’s a double edged sword to that, because that self really, we we really like to be seen in a positive light. And so that can lead us to getting defensive or engaging other specific defense mechanisms that really get in the way of, of connection and communication and collaboration. So next, we want to look at the second point, which is really zeroing in on this idea of the ego. So the ego, like I said, at the beginning is something as humans we all have, it is essential to being human to being human, it involves our sense of self. So what we just talked about, it can serve to protect us.

Dr. Melissa Smith 6:46
So the ego can be very helpful at times, however, it can become outsized and end up hurting us rather than helping us. And you know, when we think about someone who would describe as ego maniacal, or narcissistic or grandiose, that’s usually what we’re talking about is their egos become outsized. And it’s not helpful, like it’s hurtful to other people, and hurtful to the self as well. And so when we think about the ego, it is the defensive strategies that the self uses to see itself in a positive light. And this can all be summed up as the ego. So the ego is kind of this collection of defense strategies that the self uses to maintain being seen in a positive light. And of course, we know that that doesn’t always work. And now let’s talk about the difference between a noisy ego and a quiet ego. So most of us can probably think of people we know who have noisy egos, I think about the people that annoy you or frustrate you, or, you know, maybe you feel worse about yourself when when you’re with these people. But a noisy ego spends so much time defending the self, as if the self were a real thing. And so they do, the noisy ego is when a person really is constantly asserting themselves or constantly getting defensive, or they’re very protective. And it can inhibit the very goals that they’re striving towards. So maybe they’re striving towards more collaboration, but they’re defensiveness really gets in the way. Whereas a quiet ego is very different. And this is a term developed by the researcher, Heidi Waymond.

Dr. Melissa Smith 8:35
So her team has been really coined the term quiet ego, and have done a lot of fun research on this topic. So when we think about a quiet ego, it’s really grounded in both Buddhist philosophy and humanistic psychology. So if you’re into mindfulness and Buddhism, you might recognize some of the components. But it’s also a term that’s backed by empirical research in positive psychology. And so it’s, it’s really a great concept to consider. And it focuses on balancing interests of the self and of others. So right like, part of having a healthy ego is that you have good boundaries between yourself and others, you don’t, you’re not always self sacrificing, because of course, that would be a problem for you. But it is really balancing the interests of the self and of others. And if we think about this description of a quiet ego this is, this is something that’s absolutely required for a successful relationship. So we think about marriage, we think about our most important relationships, this ability to balance the interests of yourself versus the interests of the one that you love. Boy, that’s the work that’s the work of meaningful relationships. Acquired ego also includes cultivating growth of the self and of others over time. So again, it’s that balancing it’s not abandoning your own dreams or your own goals, but it’s really looking at Yes. And, yes, I want to do this, and how do I make that work? How do we make it work in light of other obligations and other desires and interests. And when we can cultivate a quiet ego, it’s really based on self awareness, right? So I’m always talking about self awareness. And that’s really one of the foundations for quiet ego. It’s also based on interdependent identity. And again, this is a really crucial factor. When it comes to successful relationships, successful marriages, is more than independent versus dependent, we really need to take a interdependent view that we’re in this together, you know, and I think about that, like with my girlfriend, this this year, we will be married 30 years, which is kind of crazy. And I can, you know, so we married, I was pretty young, when we married we both were young, actually. But I can I can say like, with with probably every decision, but certainly big decisions in my life from the from the time that we’ve been together, they were never decisions just based on me. And what I wanted, or, you know, what I felt was important, like every decision has been in light of us. And what does this mean for us? What does this mean for our goals as a family? What does this mean for our relationship, and so being able to take that perspective of interdependence rather than independence or even dependence, and then the other factor that a quiet ego is based on is compassionate experience. So I love this idea.

Dr. Melissa Smith 11:43
So first of all, compassion, and being able to practice that with others. And the researchers share that, paradoxically, quieting the ego is so much more effective in cultivating well being growth, health, productivity, and a healthy self esteem, then, then it is to focus exclusively on self enhancement. When we focus on self enhancement, or making ourselves look better, we develop a very noisy ego, and we undermine our well being we undermine growth, health productivity. So it’s it’s paradox there. And it’s really very, very helpful to pay attention to. So now I want to talk about four components of the quiet ego. And this is some research by Heidi Wayman. And it’s, it’s included in the book transcend. So I highly recommend that book by Scott Barry Kaufman. The first component is detached awareness. And you might recognize that from Buddhist philosophy. I’ll talk more about each of these, but I want to list them first. The second one is inclusive identity. So we can see ourselves in light of others. Third is perspective taking, that’s really important. And then fourth is growth mindedness. So let’s unpack those a little bit more. So you can, you know, have a little more clarity on these four components. So the first component is detached awareness. So folks with a quiet ego are engaged, they have a non defensive form of attention to the present moment, they’re aware of both the positives and the negatives of a situation. And I think like, when I think about this description, I think about grounded like, they’re able to see things clearly, they’re not tossed about by whatever the stressors are. attached, attention is detached from more ego driven evaluations of the present moment. And they attempt above all else, and I think this is so important, to see reality as clearly as possible. And you know, that’s one of the worries that I have about our society is we, we don’t see reality clearly. And here’s the thing that really concerns me is we don’t seem to care about reality, like people just like create their own truth. And, you know, they, they create their own experience. And and it’s not true, right, right. Reality is a thing. And so this, this desire to see reality as clearly as possible, leads to better decision making. It requires openness and acceptance to whatever you might discover about yourself, or others in the present moment, while also letting the moment unfold as naturally as possible. And this is really such a key component of mindfulness. So this is really where we see that Buddhist philosophy coming in. There’s the ability to revisit thoughts and feelings that have already occurred, to examine them more objectively to bring in perspective and make appropriate adjustments.

Dr. Melissa Smith 14:49
So that’s what we think about when we think about the first component which is detached awareness. So now let’s look at inclusive identity which is the second component of a quiet ego. So this is a more integrative interpretation of the self and others, so they understand other perspectives in a way that allows them to identify with the experience of others. So we think about empathy, and we think about compassion. And this approach really breaks down barriers, and is a foundation for deeper understanding of our common humanity. And common humanity is one of the keys of self compassion and compassion for others. So they’re cooperative towards others rather than what rather than only focusing on what gets them ahead. Even in conflict, these people are capable of listening to the other perspective, and learning something from the other person. Now think about that when most of us are in conflict, our defenses go straight up. So this, this is a real skill to be able to listen and learn from another person, even in the heat of conflict, you see the other person first, rather than them as an opposing view, right, so we’re really this person first, we really can see that. And then the third component of a quiet ego is perspective taking. So it, you know, very simply, it’s been able to take another person’s view, it brings attention outside of the self. And I think that’s a really important function of this component, we get outside of our own head, we get outside of our own selfish desires and needs, and it really helps to increase empathy and compassion.

Dr. Melissa Smith 16:34
And then the fourth component of acquired ego is growth mindedness. That’s something we talk about a lot on the podcast. So it’s a mindset of personal growth. So think about growth, mindset, abundance mindset, there’s an interest in changing oneself over time. So this really does go hand in hand with self awareness and self leadership, we’re invested in growth, we’re invested in reaching our potential, we’re invested in becoming the best version of ourselves that we can. And so that invites self reflection and self awareness, it also leads to pro social behavior. So we play better on the playground with other people. And we can question the long term impact of actions in the moment. So this moment is, is not just you know, impulsive or reactive, but we make decisions for this moment, and for the road ahead, right. And so we are paying attention to the consequences of our actions, the impact of our decisions down the road. And these folks can view the present moment as part of an ongoing life journey, that this is the process of growth rather than, you know, the present moment as a threat to oneself. And so that can be, I think, a really helpful perspective to keep in mind. So those are the four components of a quiet ego.

Dr. Melissa Smith 18:02
And I just want to finish up with this last point, which is that a quiet ego is not the same as a silent ego. So a silent ego is when you squash the ego so much, that it loses its identity. And sometimes this can help with happen with controlling parents, sometimes we think about the role of shame, in really silencing the self. And that’s not what we’re talking about, with a quiet ego, if you remember, a quiet ego really is focused on balance and integration. So you have a voice, and you make room for other so really important distinction there. And this is from Heidi Waymond, the researcher who developed the term quiet ego, the volume of the ego is turned down so that it might listen to others, as well as the self in an effort to approach life more human humanely, and compassionately. So I think, again, that’s that that balance is really key in in what she shared there. So the goal of the quiet ego is to arrive at a less defensive and more integrated stance towards self and others. So you don’t lose your sense of self or deny your self esteem need, you still have goals, you still have that desires, and you’re able to cultivate a genuine identity that incorporates others, without losing yourself without filling the need for those narcissistic displays of superiority, right. So you don’t help anyone by making yourself smaller. And so that’s not what we’re talking about with a quiet ego. It makes room for you and others. And the research is really clear that the quiet ego, like having a quiet ego is an indication of healthy self esteem. It’s one that acknowledges your own limitations. It doesn’t need to resort to defensiveness whenever the ego is threatened. And yet you have a firm sense of self worth and mastery. And so I think this is a really great concept to pay attention to and recognizing those moments where it’s like Oh, what can I do to turn down the volume of that ego right when you notice, like maybe it’s getting a little noisy, and I think just even having some attention on that and paying attention to like this idea of a volume knob can can be useful in terms of just moderating yourself in situations and I think that’s helpful for each of us.

Dr. Melissa Smith 20:26
So head on over to my website to check out the show notes with the resources for this episode at www.drmelissasmith.com/249-quietego 

Again, that’s www.drmelissasmith.com/249-quietego. Of course, I’d love to connect with you on Instagram @dr.melissasmith I have lots more resources every day on the podcast type or on the on Instagram tied to the podcast. And if you feel so inclined, I would love it if you would give the podcast a five star review on Apple or Spotify. It helps people find the podcast and and hopefully it’s it can be helpful for more, more people. So in the meantime, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care

Transcribed by https://otter.ai