Be aware of the trap of addiction to our ego

Most of us have a Facebook or Instagram account and make posting from time to time about our leisure activities, our achievement, our social gatherings or our important anniversaries.  It is rewarding to receive “likes” and positive comments from our friends when we made those postings.  In fact, these “likes” and positive comments activated the “reward system” in our brain and the release of dopamine to make us feel good.  We find the experience of checking in the red circle with numbers popping up in the app in our phones rewarding.  Because of this, we make more and more posting more regularly without knowing that we are craving for the “high” from more dopamine released in our brain. 

Another example is when we bought a new beautiful shirt and wore this to work.  We felt good whenever our colleagues bumped into us and praised us for the new shirt.  Similarly, our reward system was activated and more dopamine released in our brain.  As a result, we went shopping more often for beautiful shirts in order for us to increase the chance of being praised and activated our “reward system” in our brain. 

When the above two examples happened repeatedly in our lives, our views about ourselves developed gradually.  Our sense of self becomes fixed, such as, “I am beautiful”, “I am smart”, “I am superior than others”.  These views become more fixed as we engaged in these repeated activation of the “reward system” of the brain.  Our ego may be shaped through this lens of reward-based learning.  To an extreme, our sense of self becomes biased and we cannot see the reality that everyone in this world is similar in a sense that we all have strengths and weaknesses, bright sides and dark sides.  We become addicted to the ego-boosting behaviours and become subjectively biased about our “self”.  The positive reinforcement we got from our posting in Facebook or Instagram can make us get stuck into an addictive pattern.  We are lost and being unaware of our addiction to our ego.

The first thing we need to do is to be more mindful of our internal reactions when we received those “likes”, positive comments, or praises when we made posting in Facebook or Instagram, or when we wore a new shirt to work.  How do we feel at the moment when someone gave us a “likes” or praised us?  Do we feel excited and have a warm feeling internally?  Do we tend to check the “likes” or positive comments more often after we made a posting?  When we become more aware of our internal reactions towards our reward-seeking behaviours, we may consider stepping back and stopping to feed our ego.  Gradually, we learn to be more aware of our own biases about our sense of self and even to challenge our views about ourselves.  We also need to learn to point out strengths and weaknesses objectively about ourselves from time to time, so that we can take criticism graciously and also accept compliment with a humble heart.

Being mindful also means paying attention to the present moment experience without judgment and attachment.  We need to learn to observe our “high” while we receive praises and compliments as it is without attaching too much onto it.  By observing our “high” with mindful awareness, we become aware of our ego boost.  With effort, we need to detach from the ego boost and see ourselves in an objective manner, that is, to see ourselves more in the middle ground.  It is of paramount importance that we learn to recover fast from our ego attachment and move on without attaching too much.  It is also a way for us to prevent ourselves from overreacting in the face of some unexpected criticism that we take things too personally.  To be free, to some extent, is to have the freedom from not attaching too much from our ego.

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