Lower vs Higher Self
Our mind is an interplay of base desires and noble goals. You can call it System 1 and System 2, basal ganglia and prefrontal cortex, or Lower and Higher Self. In the context of this article, the specific terms don't matter. The fact is, the tug of war between these two parts of us is ongoing. It never stops.
Some manage this well dichotomy well, others not so much. Let's explore what happens when one self or the other is in charge.
Lower Self in charge
It's been theorized that we spend about 50% of our time running on autopilot. Reacting to events, acting without getting the conscious mind involved, doing things just because felt like it. I think that number is inaccurate. I think some people can get up to 99% now. In my work (helping people procrastinate less), I see this often. I see people get sucked into the whirlwind of easy infinite distractions for large parts of their day.
Let's take the hypothetical Saturday. You wake up with nothing to do. You watch TikToks in bed for 2 hours. Then you have breakfast. Then put on a podcast on YouTube, while answering messages on WhatsApp, Instagram, or Discord. Then you go eat something. Then you take a nap. Then you go back to TikTok. Dinner.... 24/7 information consumption. No rest for the mind, too much rest for the body. Then go to sleep, and repeat. It's like drowning in a quagmire, resurfacing only to get a tiny bit of breath back—enough to keep drowning, so incredibly slowly. Stasis.
This makes me sad. The scary part is that this "lifestyle" is available to all of us in moments of weakness. Of course, some people have real jobs, and so they can't be plugged in 24/7, but even so, it's easy to fill any free time with online consumption. Get home, plop down on a couch, scroll Instagram, do Wordle, and watch Netflix. While some people manage to have a hobby or two, I've talked to many people who don't. They simply jump from one form of consumption to another.
If we want to get into the reason why, on a neurological level we don't have a mechanism for dopamine satiety. Quite literally, we have an insatiable appetite for information. This is a vital piece of information. That's why it's important to be careful what type of new information you consume.
But fear not, even though our appetite for new is infinite, we do have another sort of mechanism for stopping ourselves from consuming 24/7: we get fed up. We don't feel like we're progressing in life as fast as the people we see on social media. We're done. We want to change. Unfortunately, even this mechanism is dampened by the debilitating blanket of social media because we can escape even the feeling of being fed up. The Internetverse always embraces more consumers ready to escape endlessly.
But I'm not fleshing out this mode of "living" to depress you. No. I hope to inspire an acute level of awareness in your mind, dear reader. An awareness of when you slip into this subsistence mode because each of us can become susceptible to it. You see, I too have experienced this to some extent. I think there are periods in life where we're more drawn to easy escapes for whatever reason. But if we notice this pull towards Lower Self, we can hopefully reduce the frequency with which it occurs. I'm getting ahead, more on that later.
When our Lower Self is in charge, our Higher Self does not get much say in the daily actions. Our noble goals and life missions get put aside to watch the next cat video or eat half a dozen donuts. It's not a rational decision. It's a continuation of automatic actions, ad infinitum. And I fear this is getting easier and easier. I will not go so far to say that this is the death of deliberate action, but I'd say there's a definite decline of it, on a societal level, caused by the availability of new "fun" technologies and a gradual removal of all limits.
Yet, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We can change. We can learn (through experience) that it feels great when our Higher Self steers the ship. I sometimes forget that lesson. Maybe you do too, so the next part is a reminder for both of us, hey?
Higher Self in charge
It feels great to be on a mission. It feels great to follow-through on your own convictions and ideas, and make them happen. It feels good to approach the ideals you hold sacred.
The question is: how often do we feel all of that awesomeness? How often do we nudge our Higher Self to take control? How much of the supposed 50% of conscious action is as close to 100% deliberate as we can get, on a daily basis?
Think about today. If you were to estimate the percentages, what would they be? Take a moment to think.
I think it's so easy to let the Lower Self take control for too long that we should all watch out for a lack of deliberation in our daily behavior. But how does one do that, exactly?
Observation is a good first step.
- Under which circumstances does the Lower Self take charge?
- Under which circumstances does the Higher Self take charge?
Both good questions to pursue. I've pondered them for a while, so I'll share some of my answers.
The Lower Self likes screens. Endless scrolling. Recommended videos. Instant messages. Instant noodles. Instant anything. Infinite choices. All-you-can-eat buffet, all the time. Heavy lunch. Pizza. Irrelevant videos. Irrelevant news. Irrelevant posts.
Meanwhile, the Higher Self enjoys a casual walk through the woods or on a beach. A moment of silence in the morning. Writing a page of a journal or capturing a couple ideas on paper cards. Good conversation with someone you know well or someone you don't know at all. A book dense with ideas and layers of meaning. A movie without a superhero in it. A bit of hunger with a touch of caffeine or nicotine (sometimes more than a touch).
While letting your Lower Self go on Mr Hyde-like rampage from time to time may not be that unhealthy, letting it be in charge for over half your waking time probably is.
We all have different ways to let our creative Higher Self be in charge and use our time in ways we won't regret. I hope this piece nudges you towards your Higher Self in itself, and serves as an invitation to you to reflect on what Self is in charge and for how long in your daily life.