Your ego is your sense of self. It’s formed from the continued and consistent experience you feel that’s separate from the outside, physical world.
It’s like your psyche’s ID card.
Toxic egotism happens when your identity is conflated with a sense of superiority.
You’ve met these people. I’ll give you an example. I knew a guy who had a brutal, cutting sense of humor. He was funny and clever. But he enjoyed tearing everyone down around him to make himself feel better.
The moment anyone made even a slight joke his way—giving it back to him—he went nuclear and had no sense of humor about it.
This attitude has not served him well in life. His career stagnated, and he hasn’t been promoted. His relationships sputter along.
Learning how to kill your ego can serve you in a big way—in and out of the office. Here are 5 tips to keep yourself in check:
1. Avoid being the 360 expert
Why does the man with the inflated ego feel the need to be the master of every subject?
Why does he refuse to accept criticism or apologize? Each and every time something goes wrong, he finds a way to blame everyone else.
It’s because his identity has become wrapped up in being all-knowing. This is a defense mechanism, a form of fragility lurking beneath the surface.
This person often becomes subject to the Backfire Effect. You’ve seen it when a person is caught lying (or in the wrong), and it’s obvious. They double down and start believing their own lie or mistake.
We’re at risk of this when our sense of self is challenged. You might draw your value from a bucket of important things: parenting, your career, being a good member of the community.
When you’re criticized on one of those fronts, that’s when you’re at risk of going nuclear. Our reactiveness to these things is good in the sense that it shows we care. We should take pride in the things that we value being good at.
Yet that defensiveness can hurt us from growing and ruin our day in the process.
This is where “strong beliefs, loosely held” becomes a valuable life tool. You can have strong opinions or beliefs. But only as long as you vow to change them should contrary evidence be presented.
The “loosely held” portion is an ego check. It’s a demonstration of maturity.
2. Remember: you’re a work in progress
Bruce Lee once wrote, “To understand and live now, there must be a dying to everything of yesterday. Die continually to every newly gained experience and be in a state in the choiceless awareness of what is.”
He meant that we must constantly let our identity die and evolve. This can only be done if we are willing to surrender and, in turn, be given wisdom.
He worked deeply on managing his ego and being a consummate learner. He became a master of his craft because of his healthy sense of self.
3. Let your mind change
Have you ever seen someone get strangely stubborn over the oddest things? There’s a reason. Stubbornness and ego are close friends.
It was demonstrated in an experiment years ago. A group of German scientists found that your brain often draws a conclusion before “you” actually get there.
Your preconceptions create a fog that leads to hasty, erroneous conclusions.
The intense defensiveness you feel is because your brain spotted the more accurate answer before your ego could get to it.
One trick is to adopt an alter ego, also called the Batman Effect. It helps you deal with information that might upset your self-perception.
By pretending to be someone else for that moment, you can view reality more objectively. It’s why people who speak a second language can often make better decisions when thinking through them in that second language.
The act of thinking through a decision in their weaker language creates separation from their own ego.
So before you react to harsh feedback by throwing your drink in someone’s face, ask yourself if it’s you that’s mad, or your ego.
4. Take a meditative approach
One way to kill your ego is to understand it from a zen perspective.
Think of the entire universe as expressing itself through your human experience. You’re the ocean crashing into the shore. The cherries hanging from the tree. The car as it drives along a cliff highway.
There’s a oneness that can be achieved by understanding we’re all here for a finite time. Killing your ego allows you to truly be free and grow.
Imagine if nothing could offend you. Imagine you could learn from any feedback and instantly implement it without it derailing your day.
As a writer, I’m constantly challenged by commenters. They leave cutting criticisms. And at this point, so many comments later — the trolls don’t bother me.
The ones that hurt are the criticisms that are accurate. I feel them deep down and want to reject them because they speak to my own deficiencies.
Learning to embrace those criticisms has helped me grow immensely.
Because in my world, it’s easy to get caught up in your own echo chamber. I see writers constantly blocking users who offer any criticism while upvoting and replying to all the positive feedback. It’s fun to live inside a loop of your own praise.
However, at some point, you’re hamstringing yourself.
5. Leverage empathy to kill your toxic ego
Remember that your coworkers also have similar fears and anxieties that are haunting them. Understand and speak to those fears, and you position yourself to be more trusted and relied upon.
As your career grows, it’s easy to let toxic egotism get to your head. You’re getting better, developing skills, and landing new job titles. It can all be intoxicating and provide immense affirmation to the little voice inside you that whispers about how awesome you are.
The healthiest place is where you optimistically see the world for what it truly is—not some filtered, appetizing version that appeals only to a sense of self-importance.
With a healthy ego, you believe in yourself, understand others, and treat feedback as transformative and valuable rather than rejecting it as poison.