How to Reframe Situations to Short Circuit Your Ego
It is human nature to want to uphold our own ego. Unfortunately, many people end up mistaking their ego for their self-esteem or belief of their own personal worth, and as a result, they will engage in activities that may be more harmful to their mental well being or development than helpful. I wanted to discuss steps that I use to keep my own ego in check that you may find useful. The technique I used is something I call reframing. While it isn’t novel by any means, I’ve found the 6 steps involved to be a good way to short-circuit my own ego, which means I won’t end up making a fool out of myself by doing something I incorrectly think would help my self-esteem or image.
The Idea of Reframing
To understand why reframing truly works, we must first understand what abundance and a scarcity mentalities are. The prime difference between a scarcity and abundance mentality is that scarcity believes happiness and achievement is a zero sum game while abundance believes in thinking win-win, where everybody can share happiness and synergize.
What does this mean in practice? Take the example of two people, where one has better social skills than the other and ends up having a better social life (we’ll call this person B) and the other has anxiety and difficulty speaking to others (we’ll call this person A). With a scarcity mentality, person A would likely feel jealous of person B. Not only will this jealousy eat at them, but it may drive them to do things to person B in order to decrease their social standing, such as spreading rumours about person B or insulting them. Person A believes that in order to make new friends, you have to take away from others. Person A is playing a zero-sum game, and contrary to what they intend, their tactics will end up failing and giving them a bad name.
Now suppose person A has an abundance mentality. Instead of thinking of person B as an enemy, person A appreciates person B’s warm and outgoing personality and decides to befriend them. A then decides to learn from B in how to become more outgoing and be a better listener, and as a result, A makes even more friends. At the end of the day, everybody wins, and there is no zero-sum game played.
Situations like the one above are surprisingly common, but it isn’t the only example of scarcity vs abundance mindset. If you find yourself in a scarcity mindset, reframing is a tool that will take you to an abundance mindset that not only will get you closer to your goals, but will also make you happier in general and benefit others. Typically, negative thoughts resulting from a scarcity mindset rely on a lack of knowledge or some assumptions made about a situation. These assumptions are usually fabricated to protect one’s ego. It’s good to reframe when you see yourself being negative and slipping into a scarcity mindset, and it’ll result in allowing you to find out how you can make the most of any situation.
Here’s how to reframe any situation:
- Recognize the negative thoughts you are having and hold them in your mind.
- Identify the zero-sum game that the negative thoughts are in regards to
- Invalidate this zero-sum game by realizing that you can think win-win and get even greater results
- Accept that you may not be the best at something or that you cannot control something
- Will yourself to learn from the situation so that you can improve either on that skill that you are not proficient at or your own character in enduring difficult situations
- Appreciate the chance to improve and begin taking action to make the most of the situation.
These steps may seem a bit cryptic right now, so I’ll discuss them in the context of short-circuiting the ego and provide some examples in the next section.
Reframing to Not Allow Your Ego to Ruin You
Typically, ego gets in the way when you are attempting to do something so that you can prove that you either meet up to a fabricated reputation or are better than somebody at something. I’ll cover these two cases independently.
These are situations that arise when you are doing something primarily so that others will view you in a good light. Examples of these situations could include trying to handle a weight that’s too heavy at the gym or taking a course you’re probably not ready for to show that you’re smart. While these situations aren’t always bad on the surface, they could lead to bad results. In the example of lifting too heavy of a weight, your form could break down and you end up injuring yourself. In the example of taking too tough of a course, you may finish the course not having understood the material that well and receiving a sub-optimal grade. Here’s how to avoid these kinds of situations by stopping the ego:
- Recognize that the reason you are doing the activity is primarily because you want to create a reputation that may or may not be true
- Identify the zero-sum game as you trying to uphold some image that will not last if you don’t meet “expectations”
- Realize that taking things slowly and doing things that are appropriate for your current skill level will end up benefiting you in the long term (and you’ll likely avoid a negative outcome). If the task isn’t skill based, then realize that upholding an image will likely be damaging to long term happiness.
- Accept that the task you’re attempting to undertake is currently too difficult and will require some time before you will be ready to approach it again. For non-skill based tasks, accept that it is better to do what you enjoy or will improve you than what is expected of you by others.
- Identify the steps you’ll need to take before you’re ready to undertake the reputation-building task and convince yourself that accomplishing those first will be much more beneficial in the long run. If the task isn’t skill based, then identify what will actually be more beneficial.
- Appreciate the chance to improve yourself and take your journey in mastering the skill slowly, or appreciate that you value your own image of yourself more than the image the public holds of you.
Let’s take the example of somebody attempting to take too tough of a math course and apply the 6 steps here:
- Recognize that you’re taking a tough course to impress your friends
- Realize that playing the game of impressing friends constantly is zero-sum because you’ll need to constantly be doing things for that purpose, which can harm your mental health
- Realize that spending time on pre-reqs builds a better foundation as a mathematician
- Accept that the course you’re taking is just too difficult for you at the moment and that the pre-reqs are required
- Read the syllabus for the course you want to take and make it a goal to focus on foundation skills in the pre-req course
- Appreciate that you’re playing the long term game in improvement since mathematics requires years of practice to truly become good at
Hopefully this example clarifies how to use the 6 steps.
I won’t explain how competition in a negative frame is involved with the ego since it should be fairly obvious. The 6 steps applied here are:
- Recognize that you’ve negative feelings towards somebody
- Realize that the zero-sum game you’re playing can be replaced through a win-win situation that makes everybody happy
- Accept that thinking win-win will be a better way of improving yourself and will end up helping everybody
- Accept that the reason you are envious of the other person is that you want to have what they have
- Decide that instead of having animosity towards the person, you can learn from them by being friendly and positive
- Appreciate that your new view of that person will not only improve your skills and situation, but may also make you a friend and will likely be a win-win scenario.
The example I’ll take is the person A, person B situation with person A having the scarcity mindset regarding social circles and skills. Here are the 6 steps applied by A:
- Recognize negative feelings towards B due to jealousy of B’s social skills.
- Realize that social circles and friendships aren’t a zero-sum game but thrive on synergy
- Accept that attempting to synergize is 10x better and will end up making A more friends than playing the zero-sum game
- Accept that the reason A is envious of B is that A isn’t outgoing and is shy
- Decide that instead of disliking B and being envious, A can become friends with B and learn how to be less shy and anxious
- Appreciate that the new situation between A and B will lead to everybody being happier and will actually be effective in helping A learn how to make good friends.
Once again, these steps should make it clear how to reframe situations of negative competition.
I was at the gym the other day doing a squat workout. Having achieved a new personal record by hitting a new rep count with 315, I was pretty damn proud of myself. Once I finished unloading my weights off the rack, I noticed a kid, probably a year or so younger than myself, walk up to the squat rack. After stretching and warming up, he loaded up 425 lbs and squatted that weight for multiple reps, a much higher weight than I could do. In that moment, I felt my ego get bruised a little and I started to have negative thoughts in my head that included “he’s heavier than me so I’m still lifting more weight per pound of body weight, making me more impressive”. However, I noticed these thoughts fairly quickly and reframed the situation so that I could appreciate the younger kid’s strength. Just to top this all off, I went over to the kid and congratulated him, making it a point to say that his squat was far above mine. Even though I acknowledged that he’s a stronger powerlifter than I am, I ended up feeling more positive and even made a friend out of him.
Reframing has been one of the best techniques I use to remain positive when situations get difficult. The story above is a prime example of my being able to turn a scenario upside down so that instead of having it end with myself taking a loss, I make a win. I hope this article did a good job explaining how I do it, and perhaps reframing can help others make the best of situations.
If you have questions/comments on the article or just want to chat, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.