In my first two blog posts about Ego, I shared the definition and purpose of your Ego and how to notice when it’s taken over the driver’s seat of your life. In November, I conducted a great one-day event for leaders called “Learning to Lead Ego.” The biggest question from that day was, “What do I do when my Ego has been triggered?” This post is dedicated to answering that question.
A quick recap: Our Ego is housed in the threat-detection center of our brain called the Amygdala. When we are in an unpredictable environment, or trying something new, it’s inevitable that this part of our brain will be activated, or “triggered.” In the second post of this series, “Your Ego is Not Your Amigo,” I challenged readers to simply start noticing when their Ego is “talking” to them and what it says. You’ll hear your Ego’s voice most obviously when you’re thinking about trying something new, or in a situation that is stressful.
By the mere act of noticing what your Ego is saying, you’ve just kicked it out of the driver’s seat. When you’re aware of your Ego’s voice, you shift your brain processing from your Amygdala, the lower-functioning part of your brain, to your Frontal Lobe, the higher-functioning part of your brain. The Frontal Lobe is responsible for complex problem solving, impulse control, language and humor. When you simply become aware of your Ego’s voice you’ve elevated your consciousness, and that’s the single most important tool you need to learn how to lead your Ego.
I work with every single one of my clients to develop their ability to be more present in every situation they encounter. I work on this with myself, too. A present leader has more data available to them. They notice who’s in the room, pick up on unspoken dynamics and tend to get “hunches” about a direction the conversation needs to go in, or how to overcome an obstacle. How many times have you attended a meeting without being very present? When you aren’t present you’ve essentially invited your Ego to take the wheel and take you for a ride.
Your Ego’s responses are not very sophisticated; the Ego is like a child that hasn’t learned about life yet. Its responses are emotional and fearful in nature. On the other hand, your Frontal Lobe responses are more like an adult’s, processed by someone who has had a lot of life experience and uses that experience to make effective decisions, including how and when to take risks.
Learning to work with your Ego doesn’t mean you ignore it, control it or dominate it. You simply lead it like a parent does their child. You listen, have compassion for it and hold strong boundaries. You don’t let it take over with its tantrums or fear. You help guide it and show it how to be with complexity and uncertainty.
The act of presence is the first, most foundational piece in solving the Ego puzzle. Your awareness alone will set up the environment you need to lead your Ego and others more powerfully.
Experiment: Notice what helps you stay present. Start with your basic biology. It’s harder to stay present when you have low blood sugar, dehydrated, tired or are lethargic from lack of movement. Then look at your calendar. It’s harder to stay present when you don’t have a moment to breathe or think between meetings. Is it possible you could shift your calendar just a bit to create space for you to come back into presence throughout the day? It doesn’t take long. Even just a few moments of presence can set you up to produce consistent and compelling results.