As discussed in , an ideal is an essential aspect of self-development, and helps to draw us out of our immature, self-centered perspective. But what is the mechanism by which this ego-transcendence occurs? This can be explained by way of an example.
Imagine that you attend a gym every day, where you work out intensely. After each workout, you make your way to the refrigerator and take a bottle of your favorite sports drink. As you approach the fridge you imagine the cool, sweet liquid slaking your thirst, electrolytes making their way into your system. However, one day you discover that your favorite drink contains artificial additives that have been banned in numerous countries abroad because of their health concerns. You resolve to stop taking the drink and to find a better alternative.
The next day you work out again, then approach the fridge at the end. Once again you see your favorite drink. Now ask yourself, what reaction occurs within and how is it different to previous days? There may be an initial craving for the drink, as the memory of it jumps quickly back into your mind. But that craving is immediately tempered by the recollection of the potential harm that the drink may be doing, and your resolve to choose a healthier option. Under normal circumstances, to deny yourself the drink would be disappointing. But by maintaining the conviction to find a healthier alternative, we feel we are gaining something good rather than denying ourselves an enjoyment. We feel no frustration or agitation.
This is exactly how an ideal works. From the ego spring a number of self-centered desires and cravings. As discussed , ego and uncontrolled egocentric desires are the barrier to our own subjective well-being and harmonious relationships with others. Understanding the potential harm of being ego-centered, we set an ideal: the firm resolve to choose something healthier for ourselves in life.
Self-development does not require self-denial of the things we enjoy. We simply explore ideas and options for action that may prove to be in our own best interests, and the interests of others. Making healthier choices leads us to a healthier life – physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. And making these choices brings the mature satisfaction of establishing autonomy, the capacity to remain uninfluenced by the ego's demands. For a practical example of setting and using an ideal, see here.