Today I want to talk about how to know when to follow the direction your mind is leading you and when not to. Put another way, how to tell the difference between true wisdom and the fearful voice of the ego. This is a great question, because the ego can be really convincing. What it’s telling you can make perfect logical sense in the moment. But often, making a logical choice doesn’t necessarily move you toward the life that will bring you the most joy.
For instance, it could make logical sense to stay at a job that pays the bills and offers great health benefits for you and your family. But if that job is a grind you are dreading every day, then you are robbing yourself and your family from the joyful life you could be having if you decided to go after your dreams instead. Hold up – I am not suggesting you quit and just drop everything and run toward your dreams. Getting out of a grind is not that simple; we can talk more about that in another post (and we will!). But I am saying this: dreading your life is not living your life.
The most common regret people have at the end of their life is that they wish they hadn’t been so afraid to live. The wish they hadn’t spent so much time worrying. Why? Because in hindsight they could see how they could have been spending all of those precious moments differently.
Now let’s get back to the question. In life decisions, how do you discern the difference between your inner wisdom and the ego?
When I talk about the voice in the head, I am talking about that voice that never shuts up. I refer to THAT as the voice of the ego. There is another voice perhaps more difficult to hear. Maybe you hear it often, or maybe not. It’s more like an inner knowing. Some call it the Holy Spirit, higher self, the Divine within. For today, let’s call it your inner wisdom.
I am going to share with you exactly how to know your inner wisdom when you hear it and offer an easy practice to help you get in touch with your inner wisdom more often.
At any given moment, you are either following the lead of your ego or you are following your inner wisdom. Always one or the other. They are mutually exclusive. They are in separate camps and they do not collaborate. In fact, they have very different goals. The ego’s goal is self-preservation; to protect you and to keep you safe at all costs. Your inner wisdom, on the other hand, knows you are already safe because you are being held by forces greater than yourself. Your inner wisdom’s goal is to lead you in the direction of the highest expression of yourself, which may mean growing beyond who you are in the current moment.
So just right there, if you were going to choose the guide for your life and this was all the information you were given, which would you choose? The guide trying to protect who you are right now at all costs? Or the guide trying to lead you to your soul’s greatest destiny?
If you had to think about this one, I think I know who you have already chosen. And if that is the case, you may want to consider this:
The ego’s instinct is to protect you at all cost. It perceives anything outside of your current routine as potential danger. So it will literally try to sabotage any change you want to make (big or small). And believe me, it has 1,001 tricks. Here is one you might recognize: “the spotlight effect” is when your mind shines a bright light on your doubts and fears, magnifying them until you abandon your attempt for change. And if that one doesn’t work it will move on to another trick. And it knows which ones tend to work on you, so it’s going to use them over and over until they stop working.
So how do you know if it is the ego's voice you are hearing in your head? The ego voice is loud, it’s judgmental, it judges you and everyone else. It’s calculated. It lies. It triggers feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, hatred, anger, animosity, insecurity, desperation, guilt, defensiveness, depression, paranoia and loneliness. Your natural response to the voice of the ego will be to tense up, contract, avoid, hide, procrastinate, break commitments, cancel, run away, gossip, cheat, ruthlessly compete, interrupt, be obnoxious, alienate, separate, and things along those lines. In the Christian tradition, you might liken it to the voice of Satan, tempting you to self-sabotaging behavior. In the Buddhist tradition you may refer to it as Mara. A Course in Miracles says the ego’s scope is suspicious at best and viscous at worst. Not necessarily a friend you would want to invite for dinner, or a profile you would respond to on a dating site. Nope. The thing is, the ego wears a mask so it’s not always easy to recognize. It pretends to be wisdom, but if you look closely you will be able to see through the disguise. It’s superficial. It’s not built on a solid foundation. It says things like, “if only I had _____________, then I would be happy.” "I'm not smart enough, pretty enough, educated enough, successful enough, worthy enough." And it’s wrong.
Now let’s contrast this with wisdom.
Wisdom’s voice can be quiet, often soft like a whisper, it only gets loud on occasion and when it does, it’s profound and life-changing, it’s compassionate, unwavering, unconditionally loving, gentle, kind, peaceful, patient, forgiving, open, generous, inclusive, it’s strong without being forceful, and it’s solid. Some liken it to the voice of God, the holy spirit, inner Buddha, divine within, inner knowing. Your natural response to this voice is inspiration, openness, relief, inclination to extend love or to be generous, to expand, to be kind, to let go, to be brave, to surrender your weapons, to forgive. Get my drift? Your inner wisdom inspires you to move toward, to be fearless, to have faith that all is going to be okay. It says things like “You are enough”, “You are perfect, just as you are”, “You cannot get it wrong”, “You CAN do it”, “You have what it takes”, “You are innocent, and so is everyone else”. And it's right!
The Course in Miracles says we are all special and none of us are special. Wisdom knows this to be true and relaxes into knowing that Everyone has their own unique gifts to offer so there is ultimately no competition. The ego would beg to argue.
Now I am not saying the ego is bad, nope. We all have one and it’s part of the human experience. In fact, it's really just a mental construct in the brain to help you make sense of the world. Judgement is a necessary thing, but needs to be kept in check. For instance, it’s important to have good judgment about your physical ability to jump across a creek or walk away from a dangerous situation. Healthy boundaries are a good thing, but in the extreme you block out love.
Here is the thing, if you let the ego in the driver’s seat, you are letting fear run your life. If you let wisdom drive, you are choosing love to lead instead. With wisdom in the front seat, you can put the ego in the back seat to throw out suggestions for wisdom to consider. I call this a healthy compromise. But there is only one driver of your show in any given moment, and you are the one that gets to choose. And it is a moment by moment choice that requires awareness. And if you don’t choose, the ego will choose for you, every single time. It’s the default.
And you are going to slip…over and over. And that is okay. You get to choose again and again and again.
So now, as promised, I am going to give you a simple tip for activating your inner wisdom. You may want to find a quiet place to do this, but really you can do it anywhere anytime to bring yourself back in touch with wisdom. Begin by taking some long deep breaths. Shallow breathing tends to keep you stuck in your ego. Deep breathing connects you with your heart. You may even choose to touch your heart. What we are trying to do here is get out of the head and into the heart. And then ask yourself, “What would love do here?” “Or what would the highest version of myself do here”. And then let the thoughts in your head settle (by not giving them your attention) as you focus on what love would do. And just wait for the answer. Wisdom WILL answer.
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