DOKITA Editorial Board Member
Albert Einstein once said, “the real worth of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has received freedom from the self.”
The self is both our most significant friend and our fiercest foe; it causes major personal and social issues, and we will not be able to bring out the best in ourselves until we understand how it does so. Knowledge is a powerful tool.
SELF AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
According to Mark Leary, self is referred to as the mental apparatus that enables humans (and a few other species of animals) to think actively about themselves.1
The capacity to introspect or consider oneself has five significant implications that justifies the majority of behavioral discrepancies between humans and other species, as well as a broad range of individual and societal issues.
- The ability to plan: having a self helps one to construct analogue-I2 art, as Juliana Jaynes put it. Analogue-I2 is a representation in the mind of a person, a reasoning or picture of the person that he/she can think about, control, or move around in their heads. Humans often envision themselves in situations as if they were in the middle of a movie depicting what would occur. They will be able to intensify their efforts as a result of this.
- Decision-making and self-control: We process information and make decisions using two cognitive systems: one is aware and regulated, requiring a self to think about what to do, and the other is non-conscious and automatic, requiring no conscious thinking.3 Most human action, according to John Bargh, a leading researcher in non-conscious processes, is automatic. You may be unaware that you are breathing or blinking your eyes on occasion. According to Bargh, we don’t have enough cognitive capacity to think about what we do, so most of our actions happen automatically. The self’s primary role now is to have a way to circumvent automatic inclinations, i.e. self-control, so that instead of being influenced by them, one can choose to be influenced by them.
- Self-conceptualisation and evaluation: having a self helps us to generalize oneself (abstract idea of oneself)5, and our actions are driven by our assumptions about the type of individual we are—our characteristics and abilities. Since assessment is based on abstract principles, we experience positive feelings when our self-evaluation is positive, and negative feelings when it is not.
- Introspection: Humans can reflect on their own ideas, emotions, and behavior. The fact that we have a self adds a dimension of exposition to our clear understanding of the universe and its interactions. Rather than merely perceiving and responding to the environment, we should reflect on what we see and experience. Overthinking life can hinder our ability to interpret information correctly, and second-guessing our decisions can reduce our happiness.6 The ability to envision the world through the others’eyes, including the aptness to visualize the way others view and judge oneself.7
We can see that these aspects of the self have many advantages to humans. To be able to prepare, self-evaluate, monitor reactions, self-reflect, and take others’ perspectives not only helps people navigate their lives more efficiently but they are also responsible for much of what we consider as human “progress.” Government, Philosophy, Education, Science and Health care would be impossible if humans can not consciously self-examine themselves.
Self-reflection, which makes us beautifully human and underpins the civilisation’s best features, often causes chaos by promoting selfishness, misery, troubled relationships, disastrous decisions, and risky actions in ourselves and others.8 Many of life’s most daunting obstacles are triggered, directly or indirectly, by one’s own actions.8 Understanding how the self sabotages our happiness is also inextricably related to studying how one can become more cool-headed, loving, concerned, tolerant, and happy.
- Quieting the self
Most people continually focus on themselves as they recall, rehash, lament, stress, plan, and ruminate.8 Their daily lives are followed by the self’s persistent pattern. This internal monologue prevents them from engaging in real-world tasks, retains negative feelings (such as worry), and triggers a number of issues, including sleeplessness, test anxiety and powerlessness. Since nearly everyone’s mind works this way, a good number of people accept compulsive thoughts as natural. They are unaware of how unnecessary and dangerous it is.8
On the contrary, much of the time, it is ineffective. Consider how many times you’ve replayed distressing past experiences in your mind— confrontation with someone else, a mortifying encounter, some blunder, or a traumatizing incident. How many times did recounting the event really assist you in comprehending or managing it? Moreover, in those exceptional situations where self-examination proved to be beneficial, was all of your ruminating fruitful, or did you over-analyze and agonize? I’m not saying it is wrong to focus on the antecedent or make plans for the subsequent events; in reality, it is crucial.8 So, how do we silence the self, you may wonder? MEDITATION is the most effective method.8
- Promote ego-skepticism
Everyone is egocentric by nature, fundamentally, and unmistakably. No one can see the world from a different viewpoint than their own, and no one can completely resist the temptation to see the world through the prism of their own self-interest. A good number of people are more self-centered than is necessary to maintain their health, and their self-centeredness often causes damage to others. And when we recognize that our perspectives can be tainted by our egoistic outlook, we have a difficult time distinguishing between the real events and our perceptions.8
One alternative is cultivating a sound mind of ego-skepticism, recognizing that one’s perceptions are seldom right and to question one’s own explanations of events. We will begin to see how idiosyncratic our outlook on the world must be once we understand how special we are.8
Many people fear that going too far with ego-skepticism may result in paralysis or a total loss of self. However, if we behave based on our best decisions, while acknowledging that our opinions and the facts they base on are error-prone, we will be adapted to get along perfectly without having to insist on being always right.8
- Egotism and ego-defensiveness are reduced.
People have egocentric and egotistic views. People have a propensity to misrepresent reality in order to make themselves appear better. As a result, to defend our ego from threats, we become defensive, unpleasant, and sometimes violent. Battles between egos are the source of a much conflict. To minimize egotism, we must first understand that the ego is nothing more than a mental concept or picture we have of ourselves, and that the defensive reactions are attempts to defend a picture or self-thought that is not really us, which is not a good use of emotional energy, believe it or not.8
The second strategy is to cultivate a continuous mentality of self-compassion. It entails embracing the fact that no one is flawless and that mistakes, defeats, and losses are unavoidable. As tough times occur, self-compassion means treating oneself with kindness, recognizing and overcoming your flaws unaccompanied by being hard on yourself.8 Self-compassion does not mean that one is not at all remorseful for their mistakes. It also does not mean that people should just embrace their flaws and not try to fix them.8 We may feel regret for what we have done wrong (at least to some extent), and we may strive to better ourselves. Nevertheless, we should treat our shortcomings, errors, and transgressions with humility rather than defensiveness or self-hatred.8
- Improving self-discipline
Self-discipline is often portrayed as exerting extraordinary labour to suppress astounding desires or forcing oneself to act in ways that one does not want to.8 An unmotivated student attempting to learn will expend all of his or her willpower just to read. However, there is a less time-consuming alternative. Many of the impulses that must be fought with self-discipline are fueled by self-talk.8
Self-discipline can be developed in advance by practicing self-quieting, cultivating ego-skepticism, and lowering ego-defensiveness, rather than attempting to exert willpower when things have gotten out of hand.8
We also envy pets because they are untouched by the problems that torment most humans.8 We will not be wise or make progress in society if we do not have a self. So, what is the way forward? Please switch to a mentality where you can use yourself when appropriate but are not a slave to its self-centered, selfish and pompous whims. By combining the four solutions, you can enter the non-egoic state, in which the person’s self becomes relatively calm, gentle, attentive, and happy.8
We can see that the self is the root of most personal and social ills now that we have discussed the advantages of self and how it can also be a curse. It is vital to allow these benefits override the curse by fostering non-egoic ways of living and applying the solutions to bring out the best in the self. In doing so, our personal and social well-being can be assured.
- M. R. Leary and J. P. Tangney, The Self as an Organizing Construct in the Behavioral Sciences, in Handbook of Self and Identity, ed. M. R. Leary and J. P. Tangney, 3–14 (New York: Guilford, 2003).
- J. Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton-Miffl in, 1976).
- S. Epstein, Integration of the Cognitive and the Psychodynamic Unconscious,American Psychologist 49 (1994): 709–24.
- J. A. Bargh, The Automaticity of Everyday Life, in Advances in Social Cognition, ed. R. S. Wyer, 10: 1–61 (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997); Bargh and Chartrand, The Unbearable Automaticity.
- S. Epstein, The Self-Concept Revisited: Or a Theory of a Theory, American Psychologist 28 (1973): 404–16; H. Markus and E. Wurf, The Dynamic Self-Concept: A Social Psychological Perspective, Annual Review of Psychology 38 (1987) 299–337.
- T. D. Wilson and K. J. Klaaren, Expectation Whirls Me Round: The Role of in Affective Experience Affective Expectations, in Emotion and Social Behavior, ed. M. S. Clark, 1–31 (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1992); T. D. Wilson, D. J. Lisle, K. Kraft, and C. G. Wetzel, Preferences as Expectation-Driven Influences: Effects of Affective Expectations on Affective Experience, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (1989): 519–30.
- N. Humphrey, Nature’s Psychologists, in Consciousness and the Physical World, ed. B. D. Josephson and V. S. Ramachandran, 57–75 (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980); N. Humphrey, Consciousness: A Just-so Story, New Scientist, August 19, 1982, 474–77; N. Humphrey, The Inner Eye (London: Faber & Faber, 1986).
- Mark R. Leary Bringing out the best in the self In: The Curse of the Self (New York Oxford University Press, 2004) p.185-198