Reducing your need for affirmation frees time and energy

Egonomics: Supply, demand and competition for ego-strokes, affirmation, status, self-esteem.

Egonomical behavior: Getting your ego-strokes as efficiently as possible.

There wasn’t enough food to go around so someone proposed that everyone just stop being hungry.

Absurd, right?

The argument that we should drop our hunger for affirmation is equally absurd. We can’t. All of us need our sense that we’re OK or more than OK. Don’t even try to get over yourself. You won’t succeed. Not in this lifetime.

But can you get by on less affirmation? If you can it, would free you up for other pursuits, and there would be more strokes to go around to others who need them too.

About ego, Stevie Wonder sings, “Everybody’s got a thing, but some don’t know how to handle it.”

We all know folks who don’t know how to handle it. They’re insatiable. Like humming birds to nectar, they need an ego-stroke every 15 minutes. Some people get rich and famous to support their ego-stroke addiction. They spend extravagantly just to convince themselves of their high status. Some run big countries, or at least try. Many just run countries, communities and families into the ground. Feeding them ego-strokes is like feeding gorillas. It takes a lot to keep them in supply.

If there were an infinite supply of ego-strokes that wouldn’t be a problem. Just how big is the world’s supply? Is there enough to keep everyone?

So far, there hasn’t been. Since lots of people get their ego strokes from putting others down, there is a winner/loser competition for strokes. One person’s affirmation is another’s disaffirmation.

To counter such one-upsmanship, there’s the argument that we should all just stroke everyone. But that spreads the strokes pretty thin. There’s also the argument that we should spread it equally to all, but we can’t, since we delight in some people more than others.

Regardless of global supply of ego-strokes, how many do you really need to get by? Could you get by with less? In other words, how egonomical are you and could you be more egonomical?

Think of the time and energy you’d save. Think of the focus you’d gain if you didn’t have to go searching for more affirmation than you really need.

Here are some ideas for going on an ego-stroke diet. Not a fast–a diet:

  1. Stroked for what?: Inventory whose praise you care about and what it affirms in you. We can fall into the habit of seeking affirmations we no longer need or maybe never really needed. Don’t try to delight everyone, or just anyone. Try to delight the ones that stroke you for what you aim to cultivate in yourself. And if you don’t know what you aim to cultivate in yourself, start with that question.
  2. Stop wasting energy cultivating ego-strokes from opposing sources: You can’t delight everyone, but not just because there isn’t enough time. You can’t because delighting one disappoints another. Think of the child who needs to pleaseparents who disagree on fundamentals. That kid will do a lot of inefficient switch backing and is always disappointing someone. Notice when, like that kid you have split alliances. Noticing will prompt you to figure out what you really want to cultivate in yourself, and then lean toward the sources that affirm you for that, letting the other sources go if you can or taking their disappointment less to heart.
  3. Don’t turn your quest for ego-strokes into a moral crusade: Political correctness is a hot-button issue these days, a lot of people cultivating their sensitivity and damning those who fail to stroke them sufficiently. This trend manifests in other ways too, for example, people quick to diagnose narcissism in those who don’t show them the appreciation they think they deserve. Some of us really do deserve more sensitivity. Others get plenty. Either way, proudly crying “I deserve more!” is not the path to egonomical living. At least be attentive to the question of whether they’re being insensitive or you’re being hypersensitive. Don’t assume that because you can make a case that they’re being insensitive then that’s the egonomical way to interpret it.
  4. High- vs. low-maintenance ego-stroke communities: Some couples fall into saying a lot of “I love you’s.” They may not need them all. They just get in the habit. Some communities do too. Churches and spiritual groups are often cuddly to the point of coddling. It can feel nice; it can help heal vulnerable hearts, but it can also become a unegonomical walk on eggshells that is to polite for practicality. Gravitate toward the more egonomical communities if you can.
  5. Virtual strokes: Many of us wonder whether Facebook Likes are a kind of ego-porn, easy, virtual affirmation that fools us into thinking we’re great just for sharing some vagrant video. Maybe it is just ego-porn, but there’s benefit to cheap thrills too. There’s not enough time for everyone to get their 15 minutes of fame. Fifteen people of fame will have to do. It’s frugal to delude ourselves a bit, to be a legend in our own minds or to harvest more affirmation from someone’s gesture than the gesture took to make.

Life is short, and you can’t take those strokes with you. Find enough strokes to get by on and leave the rest for others who need them more.

Author’s Book

© Copyright 2015 Jeremy E. Sherman, Ph.D., All rights Reserved.
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