Zoe Meditations on Ego, Controlling Emotions, & Romance

Welcome to Zoe Meditations, where every week, I will summarize a few ideas that will help you live greater, love better and laugh more. (P.s. I’ve recently created an Ebook with a similar theme, for more info click here). Collected from various modern day philosophers, I believe that applying these ideas into your day to day life will make you a better person

This week, I’m going to share about the danger of ego, how to be generous without being exploited, practicing objectivity, controlling our emotions, the danger of romance, and the benefit of solitude.

Let’s dive in…

Ego vs. Self Confidence: What is ego? According to stoic author Ryan Holiday, Ego is “not confidence — which is properly defined as evidence of our strengths and abilities. Ego is something different, something less earned, a kind of unhealthy belief in our own importance. The idea that we have unlimited strengths and no weaknesses. It’s the voice whispering in our ear that we’re better than other people, that our needs matter more, that the rules don’t apply to someone as exceptional as we are. It’s the sense that we are special and therefore need this success or that piece of recognition to prove it (or rather, we deserve it because well, because). It’s the belief that everyone else is watching us, that we’re destined for greatness.”

It’s a dangerous parasite that lives inside our mind, telling us that we are entitled to… because we are who we are.

We must be on guard. We must be constantly pushing it away before it pushes our more cherished assets and insights away.

When it rear its ugly head, remind yourself with this phrase the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius used on himself, “Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.”

The Otherish Giver: I think most of us wanted to be more generous toward others, but in doing so, faces a terrible dilemma:

We’ve seen how some people give their time and energy without regard for their own needs, and they pay a price for it. Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism, which is defined by researcher Barbara Oakley as “an unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one’s own needs,” such that in the process of trying to help others, givers end up harming themselves.

On the other hand, we’ve also seen selfish people who only cared about their own needs, languishing and miserable in their own selfishness. 

What then shall we do with our altruistic desires and the threat of burning out?

According to psychologist Adam Grant in his book Give and Take the solution is to become an otherish giver. According to Grant, otherish givers care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests. They help with no strings attached; they’re just careful not to overextend themselves along the way. Here’s how you can be more of an otherish givers:

a) Instead of giving more in the same way, over and over, expand your contributions to a different group of people. Giving more can be exhausting if it’s in the same domain; hence, vary your giving efforts.
b) According to Grant, one hundred seems to be a magic number when it comes to giving. This is the 100-hour rule of volunteering. It appears to be the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining. A hundred hours a year breaks down to just two hours a week.
c) Otherish givers also recognize the importance of protecting their own well-being. When they’re on the brink of burnout, otherish givers seek help, which enables them to marshal the advice, assistance, and resources necessary to maintain their motivation and energy. So when you feel you are on the brink of burning out, reach out. 

Practice objectivity: According to Ryan Holiday, the phrase ‘this happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first- ‘This happened’- is objective. The second- ‘it is bad’ -is subjective.

In our own lives, how many problems seem to come from applying judgement to things we don’t control, as though there were a way they were supposed to be? How often do we see what we think is there or should be there, instead of what actually is there?

A useful exercise to practice your objectivity muscle is to make use of the power of contempt. The ancient stoics philosopher used contempt as an agent to lay things bare and ‘to strip away the legend that encrusts them.’ 

For instance, the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius liked to describe glamorous or expensive things without their euphemisms- roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. The aim was to see these things as they really are, without any of the ornamentation.

Objectivity means removing ‘you’-the subjective part- from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice? Their problems are crystal clear to us, the solutions obvious.

Take your situation and pretend it is not happening to you. Pretend it is not important, that it doesn’t matter. How much easier would it be for you to know what to do?

Control your emotions: When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules, and make mistakes. But there’s an antidote to this.

Uncertainty and fear are relieved by authority. Training is authority. It’s a release valve. With enough exposure, you can adapt out those perfectly ordinary, even innate, fears that are bred mostly from unfamiliarity. So expose yourself to your fears and see how you came up. Usually, you will find that it’s not as bad as you think.

Another way to defeat panic or any negative emotions is by using logic and that means asking yourself uplifting questions that get you to the root cause of the problem

Every time panic, worry, and fear sets in ask yourself, “What am I choosing to see right now?”, “What am I choosing to not see right now?” “What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?”

Because here’s the ugly truth: getting upset doesn’t give you any options nor solutions.

Of course, no one said you can’t feel sad, disappointed, or even angry. If you need to take a moment to cry yourself out, by all means, go ahead. But once you are done with it do something about your problems or whatever it is worrying you. Take action. 

Romance is like alcohol: Author Mark Manson said, “Romance is like alcohol. Make sure you are using it and it’s not using you. Moderation is key. Sometimes you need to inject a little of it to add some zest back into your love life. Sometimes you need it to grease the wheels of a stale, old relationship. Sometimes you need it to help celebrate life’s important moments more intensely. But be sure to never lose yourself in it.”

At its core, romance is a form of emotion and like any other emotions, romance are actually neutral. 

Emotions can hurt us, and they can help us. They can make us better people and they can make us worse people. They can be used for good and for evil. They are a supplement to who we are, they do not define who we are.

And once I understood this, I understood what love really was and what it could be. Some greater thing, unaffected by the day-to-day gusts of my internal weathervane or emotions. Something so sturdy that it didn’t even matter if it sometimes felt bad.

I understood that I can make my emotions work for me, that they are the servant and I am their master, not the other way around. That they are not commandments as much as powerful recommendations. That just because I feel it, does not mean that it must be so.

Practice solitude: In this noisy world, it is essential that we find solitude so that we can learn what it has to teach us, so that we can find the quiet to listen to our inner voice, and so that we may find the space to truly focus and create.

One amazing way to practice is a simple meditation session once a day. Meditation doesn’t have to be mystical or complicated: at heart , it’s simply sitting and doing nothing else for at least a few minutes.

Here are some basic tips: 

  1. Sit for just two minutes. This will seem ridiculously easy, to just meditate for two minutes. That’s perfect. Start with just two minutes a day for a week. If that goes well, increase by another two minutes and do that for a week. If all goes well, by increasing just a little at a time, you’ll be meditating for 10 minutes a day in the 2nd month, which is amazing! But start small first.
  2. Do it first thing each morning. It’s easy to say, “I’ll meditate every day,” but then forget to do it. Instead, set a reminder for every morning when you get up, and put a note that says “meditate” somewhere where you’ll see it.
  3. Count your breaths. Now that you’re settled in, turn your attention to your breath. Just place the attention on your breath as it comes in, and follow it through your nose all the way down to your lungs. Try counting “one” as you take in the first breath, then “two” as you breathe out. Repeat this to the count of 10, then start again at one.
  4. Come back when you wander. Your mind will wander. This is an almost absolute certainty. There’s no problem with that. When you notice your mind wandering, smile, and simply gently return to your breath. Count “one” again, and start over. You might feel a little frustration, but it’s perfectly OK to not stay focused, we all do it. This is the practice, and you won’t be good at it for a little while.

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I'm a happiness blogger who writes about philosophy for living strong, loving unconditionally and laughing more.

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