Goal Achievement & The Ego
Imagine two warriors in a fight to the death. Their goal is to win and survive. If they focus on winning and surviving, outcomes that occur in the future, they’re likely to die. However, if they focus on fighting well, a process that occurs in the present moment, they’re likely to survive and achieve their goal. Goal achievement, therefore, is an indirect process.
The ego over-values goal achievement and is never satisfied. The warriors’ task is to notice when the ego distracts their attention, stop the distraction, and redirect their attention to the task.
Understanding what we mean by “the ego” can be confusing. The Warrior’s Way® defines the ego as the identity we create about ourselves, based on our self-importance and our personal history.
The ego measures self-importance by what we’ve been able to achieve, our history. Thus, a history of achievements becomes very important to the ego. It builds its throne to stand upon so it can compare itself to others, looking down on what others have achieved. Or, it builds its throne with justifications about why it hasn’t been able to achieve goals.
Self-importance and personal history may seem benign, but they’re not.
To understand why, we look at their effect on attention. Being mentally powerful means we’re able to focus our attention in the moment on whatever task we’re doing. Therefore, anything that distracts our attention from the moment diminishes our mental power.
Achieving goals requires work. That work is done in the present moment. By overvaluing achievement, the ego shifts our attention into the future on what we can’t control.
Let’s say I’m climbing a challenging route, which means I’m doing work. Being in a stressful situation means I might fall, and therefore fail. My ego’s desire for success shifts my attention into the future, worrying about what others will think if I fail.
The ego’s self importance and achievements are external representations of who we are. How important are we in relation to others? Externally we all have different talents, skills, and achievements. If we focus on being more/less important than others and external aspects of us, then our attention is focused on supporting the ego’s desire for self-importance. Therefore, to dethrone the ego, we shift from external to internal representations.
Looked at from an internal perspective, we’re all human beings with equal desires to live meaningful lives. Instead of focusing on upholding an external identity, we focus on giving what is within us. Giving effort helps us do the work of fighting well. Achievements that occur in the future become less important than the effort we exert now.
Warriors in a fight to the death, achieve their goal of surviving indirectly. By dethroning the ego’s need to achieve, they’re able to focus their attention on doing the work of fighting well. They don’t need to feel more important than their opponent; they simply need to fight as well as they can.
Practice Tip: Defenselessness
Your ego gets defensive when others criticize you, because its identity is threatened. The ego has to defend its identity and it does this by lashing out at others. Doing this strengthens the ego.
Instead of reacting by defending yourself, practice defenselessness. Listen to criticism to determine if there is anything you can learn. By doing this you shift your attention from defending your ego identity toward learning…fighting well.