We Each Have an Ego Driver

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Woman thinking

Through my learning about vertical development and my own vertical development journey, I have come to see, learn, and appreciate that everyone has an “Ego Driver,” sometimes referred to as our “shadow self.”

In this article, I want to share some things that I have learned about our Ego Driver.

In the next article, I am going to ask you, “Do you know your Ego Driver?” because what I have learned is that the degree to which we have awakened to and inspected our Ego Driver is revealing of our current vertical altitude.

Here are some things that I have learned about our Ego Driver, which I believe will help you fully understand what an Ego Driver is:

Our Ego Driver is an aspect of ourselves that most people are not conscious of

We all have personal needs. Our Ego Driver is intensely focused on ensuring our needs are fulfilled.

In the course of our life’s journey, we encounter situations where our needs are not met or are threatened. These situations feed our Ego Driver, and our Ego Driver hooks into our internal operating system, where it significantly influences how we think and operate.

For example, we all have a need to be seen and respected. If I had two unruly older brothers that caused my mother a lot of stress, my Ego Driver may cause me to operate as a “people pleaser” to help me to be seen and respected by my parents.

If this is us, our actions of “people pleasing” feel natural and right to us. In engaging in these behaviors, we probably feel like we are self-directed and in control, and we don’t recognize that how we are operating is driven by our Ego Driver.

So, when we have a hard time sticking up for ourselves or exerting our own opinion, we see this as a personal flaw instead of a byproduct of our Ego Driver simply helping us to fulfill our needs of being seen and recognized.

Our Ego Driver is connected to our quick-thinking brain

We have a quick-thinking brain that utilizes our strongest neural connections. These strongest neural connections are the default way that we process information. When we react, we are relying upon our quick-thinking brain.

For example, when we see the letters S-E-X in a row, we immediately sound out that word, and our body immediately has certain feelings. Some people might have positive feelings, while others might have negative feelings. Again, our body engages in automatic reactions.

As another example, when we receive constructive criticism, our immediate reaction might be to get defensive. This is driven by our quick-thinking brain, which the Ego Driver is connected to. When we get defensive, that is evidence that our Ego Driver is stepping in to fulfill some sort of need (e.g., being respected, being valued, keeping a job).

We do have a slow-thinking brain. This brain requires intentionality. We have to turn it on.

For example, we might immediately get defensive when we receive constructive criticism, but we can intentionally bypass our quick-thinking brain (and Ego Driver), lower our defensiveness, and activate our slow-thinking brain to seek to learn and grow from the constructive criticism.

Woman thinking
Woman thinking

Our Ego Driver significantly impacts our encoding processes & mindsets

Being deeply concerned about fulfilling certain needs and connected to our quick-thinking brain, our Ego Driver recognizes that it can best make sure our needs are met by shaping how we encode our world, meaning how we see and interpret our world.

For example, if we have a need for looking good, being respected, and being valued, our Ego Driver may immediately and nonconsciously cause us to see and interpret learning zone challenges as being ripe for failure and a threat to us looking good, being respected, and being valued. Encoding these situations as dangerous, our Ego Driver works to prevent us from seeing these challenges as a viable direction to consider.

Our encoding processes are our mindsets. When you take my Personal Mindset Assessment, it will likely reveal that you have a less-than-optimal mindset. If that is the case, this is a signal that you have an Ego Driver that is particularly sensitive to certain needs, as follows:

  • Fixed mindset – Need to look good
  • Closed mindset – Need to be right
  • Prevention mindset – Need to avoid problems and stay safe
  • Achievement-focused promotion mindset – Need to advance, win, and be better than others
  • Inward mindset – Need to be seen and valued

I recently saw an Ego Driver at play when I heard a person at church essentially say, “I think that this ‘religious belief’ is more complex than we ascribe to it.” Immediately, there were others who reacted by defending the clarity and ‘white-and-black’ nature of the belief. It seemed clear to me that the “defenders” had an Ego Driver that was protecting a need that they have (e.g., maintaining an identity connected to their religion or religious beliefs).

The Ego Driver of one person is generally different than an Ego Driver of another person

Everyone’s Ego Driver is unique. It is based upon their own life’s experiences and the degree to which they have awakened to their Ego Driver. Stated differently, we all have our own unique “buttons” that are prone to get pushed in different situations.

Also, it is easier to see the Ego Driver in others than in ourselves.

Awakening to our Ego Driver is a critical part of the process of vertical development

Vertical development, or upgrading our own internal operating system, is complex and multifaceted. But, I am finding a strong correlation between (1) one’s awareness and ownership of one’s Ego Driver and (2) their vertical altitude.

I am not sure the direction of the relationship, but one or both of the following are true:

  • The more one awakens to their Ego Driver, the more they vertically develop
  • The more one vertically develops, the more they awaken to their Ego Driver

In fact, I have discovered a scale related to the degree to which one has awakened to their Ego Driver, and I will present that in my next article when I ask: “Do you know your Ego Driver?”

If you want to help leaders and employees in your organization awaken to their Ego Drivers, I would love to assist you in your efforts. Connect with me here.

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