How the Ego Generates Behavior

By George A. Boyd ©2021

Q: If the ego is a state of identity, how does it interface with actual behavior?

A: If you carefully analyze the structure of the ego’s identity and how this extends to actual behavior, you find the following layers, from the innermost to the outermost:

  1. Life narrative or story – Your ego is identified with your unique life experience, which spans from your first conscious memory to the present.
  2. Ownership – Your ego’s awareness of what it has or possesses. This includes both wealth and possessions.
  3. Ability – Your ego’s awareness of the skills it has practiced in its life. These are resources that the ego can draw upon, depending on what each situation requires.
  4. Esteem – Your ego’s assessment of how well it is doing in your life. In people who are depressed, esteem will be very low. In people who are narcissistic, esteem will be exaggerated.
  5. Support – Your ego’s assignment of people to zones of intimacy on your life, according to their importance to you. For example, your spouse or partner and your children might occupy the innermost ring; your close friends, the next ring; relatives and friends, the next ring; and co-workers and neighbors, the outer ring. Your rules for disclosure of what you deem sensitive or secret is based on which intimacy zone you have currently assigned them.
  6. Dreams and desires – This is what your ego tells other people what it wants be, to do, and to have. This is the ego’s reservoir of motivation that fuels your actions.
  7. Life organization – These are twelve areas in which you play different roles. [In my book, The Practical Applications of Meditation in Daily Life and Education, I suggest ways that you can inventory what you want to achieve in each of these areas of your life.]
  8. Roles – These are the major activities that you carry out in your life. For example, in the area of home, you might play the role of a homemaker. Your thinking, feeling, and behavior related to this role are integrated into this identity state. In the I Am statement Vipassana meditation, we teach in our Introduction to Meditation class to contemplate the ego, you tap into this level: you note the identity state in which you are currently operating, and what you are thinking and feeling while you are in this identity state. So, for example, if you were contemplating this I am statement for your role of homemaker, you might be thinking about what you need to clean in the house, what laundry needs to be done, and what supplies are getting low that you need to purchase the next time you go shopping; you might be feeling irritated with your teenaged son, who always leaves his bathroom in a mess—and you wind up having to clean it.
  9. Sub-roles – The ego groups each related activity associated with a major role under this main identity, and assigns these sub-roles unique I Am statements. For example, under homemaker, you might have the activity identification, “I am a dishwasher,” “I am a carpet cleaner,” or “I am a floor washer.”
  10. Direction of individual behavior – This is the egoic octave of volition. This carries out the individual behavior required to enact the activities of a sub-role—one action at a time. For your dishwasher sub-role, this might look like: pick up the white cup… clean it with the sponge… rinse it under the sink… place it on the fourth peg on the top shelf of the dishwashing machine… [And then you would repeat this behavioral chain for each item that needs to be washed in the dishwashing machine.]
  11. Translation of behavioral command into neurological interface – Similar to machine language in a computer, behavioral command is translated on the information ether into signals that produce the neural electrical cascade that generates physical action.
  12. Neurological response – with each behavioral command and its subsequent translation into “brain recognizable directions,” you would detect specific areas of the brain light up and neural signals are sent to the appropriate body parts to carry out the specific action. This is the aspect of behavior that we can measure with technology and testing.

Your desire or motivation for action at the egoic level springs from level 6. You adopt the role (level 8), and operate through sub-role (level 9) that contains the behavior you are aim to perform. The egoic octave of volition (level 10) translates this behavior into the individual actions that others can witness you do (level 12).

That’s how your identity can give rise to action: your actual observable behavior is predicated upon your desire. No desire; no action.

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