I had the weirdest experience a few weeks ago. I was listening to a smart, accomplished person talk about his latest projects when a wild thought ran across my mind. “Wow, this is so incredible! Why can’t I be like this guy?”.
I tried to ignore the thought and come back to the conversation. However, I was soon flooded by more and more. “See, this is what people do when they’re not procrastinating like myself”. “I’ll never be that awesome no matter how I try”. “I’m so pathetic. I could be solving real problems but somehow always end up overwhelmed and not doing anything”.
I found myself sitting there, listening about how teenagers from remote villages can be taught to code while doing research for NASA, which are two of my favorite topics combined. Yet somehow was completely unable to focus on what was said. The more effort I put to silence the notorious chatter in my head, the worse results it gave. “Look at you. You could learn so much from this conversation if you weren’t so fucking self-absorbed”. “No wonder you never achieve anything. You’re too busy thinking about yourself all the time”. “You’re a terrible person. Will you ever focus on something actually worth it for a change?”.
It was too much to contain this crazy chatter just in my head. Before I knew it, I ended up talking about myself, my procrastination, and my other problems–even though I never meant to! I hoped to learn everything I could about NASA, AI, and teaching kids. Somehow the sole presence of this calm, peaceful, and accomplished person sent my monkey mind in a frenzy. The harder I tried to calm it down, the wilder it would get.
I left that conversation quite upset with myself. I tried to make sense of what I did, until I realised. It’s all been a wild ego trip, under many disguises. All these different voices in my head arguing and fighting each other are in fact one and the same.
Comparing myself to others and feeling less is ego craving for significance.
Criticising myself and feeling upset is ego craving for acceptance.
Blaming myself and feeling unworthy is ego craving for forgiveness.
Complaining that I am self-focused is ego craving to be a “good person” and in fact quite a self-focused thing to do.
Is there a way out of this mess? I remember seeing somewhere that “beating yourself up for something you did is self-focused and counterproductive. Instead, ask yourself what’s the most useful thing I could do now?”. That seems like a good enough place to start. Just seeing through this wild ego game is the first step towards transcending it.