The Never-ending Battle Between The Lower Self and Higher Self
I often think about why we, humans, do certain things. Why some people skip school. Why we keep getting late for work. Why we cheat on our loved ones. Why we don’t do what we have to do. We continue to smoke, drink, do other stupid things even though we know that it’s not good for our health and life in general.
We are proud to call ourselves the overlords of the planet Earth. Yet, at the same time, we spend most of our time staring at our phones and eating junk food. Our brain, which is the thing that makes us better than our friendly neighbors: the animals, is the same reason we often do foolish things that we later regret.
Even though we can’t really explain why a mature man with a family and a thriving business would be so dull to throw away everything and escape to another country with a woman, 20 years younger than him. Why someone will troll other people online. Or why people will spend money which they don’t have and eventually go bankrupt. Yet, stories like these are not that uncommon.
In theory, we live in a peaceful world. But there is an ongoing battle within. A war between our Lower and our Higher Self.
The Higher Self
Or the evolved monkey.
We owe what we’ve accomplished as a race to our Higher Self.
The Higher Self is rational. Well-balanced. Mindful. Aware. Vigilant. A thoughtful creature which relies on logic and physical laws.4
It thinks before it acts. Makes long-term plans. Eats the right amount of food. It drinks as much as it needs. Enjoys a decent conversation with like-minded people.
It’s an organized creature which is ready to do the job without complaining about it. To evaluate the situation and make a decision after taking into account all the available options. Precise and focused. A clear thinker and a good communicator. It’s everything you want in a person.
The Higher Self is the voice that whispers “stop drinking” when you’re out with friends and the force that helps you get out of bed early, so you can work out.
The Lower Self
If the Higher Self is the light in the tunnel, then the Lower Self is the surrounding darkness.
It’s the master. The evil opponent, of whom even the greatest generals are afraid of.
The Lower Self never thinks of anything but itself. It’s the foundations of us, humans. The animal hidden deep inside. The envious feeling you’ll get when a friend wins the lottery. The desire to continue eating even after you’re full. The motive to pursue someone from the opposite sex even after he/she refused your offer a couple of times. The urge prompting you to check your phone every 5 minutes.
In most of the cases, it’s everything you don’t want to be. It acts before it thinks. It eats enormously big dishes. Drinks to faint. It despises people and does it’s best to prove itself to them. It’s always late. It’s insulting. Does not perform. It will argue with you to preserve its own truth. Aggresses. Postpones. It does not like to work and does not like to obey others.
It lives in chaos and strives to do as little as possible. It’s controlled by emotions.
It’s ignorant. Disorganized and impulsive. It’s everything you hate about yourself. Yet, it’s part of you. A large chunk to be honest.
Our Two Selves
In this very moment, there are two creatures living inside of us. The ones I just described:
The Lower Self: The animal-like creature which is deeply rooted in our system. Its main goal is to survive and feel good.
The Higher Self: The evolved creature. What we call human. It strives for progress and world peace. Its main purpose is to develop and to help the fellow humans, and not only.
In different moments of our lives, different beings take control. For instance, when our alarm goes on in the morning, the Lower Self will be the one to hit the snooze button and sleep for 10 more minutes even though we know that we should get up, now.
The Higher Self will be the one working restlessly on some sort of a project – taking notes and thinking about ways to make it better and faster. The Lower Self, on the other hand, will do it’s best to take control and steer you towards your favorite social media channel and make you post comments. Like stuff. Buy something new. Basically, the Lower Self will try to fuck you up and mess with your plans. The sad part is that it often succeeds.
Some people call it laziness. Others refer to it as an addictive sociopath. Third, as a bastard who runs on cocaine and can’t sustain a single relationship. The author of the book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield, calls it the Resistance.
It doesn’t quite matter how you will call it, the important part is how you can deal with it. But in order to do that, you first should understand why it’s inside of us.
Why Everyone Has A Lower Self
Surviving in the wilderness was hard. Especially for the early humans, the Homo sapiens.5 Back then, the main objective of the brain was to preserve the body and protect it from a fatal ending. Despite the obvious needs, like eating food and drinking water, there is one additional ingredient for surviving in the cold tundra or the hostile savanna: energy saving and automation.
The brain constantly creates patterns. We’re used of calling them habits. These memorized behaviors are favorable for the brain because they consume less energy. The simpler the task, the better. Less consumed energy while thinking means more power to fight beasts.
Since surviving was the core mission for each individual, this type of behavior was leading for thousands of years.
Basically, it’s in our DNA to be lazy and eat too much. The brain constantly prompts us to do less work and restlessly search for joy. These two are the fuel the body needs in order to feel alive and be capable of continuing the species.
Unfortunately for us, the modern men and women, this type of energy-saving nature is no longer perceived as something good. Your boss will surely be mad at you if you haven’t done your job. And he’ll definitely kick your ass out of the building if you explain to him that you haven’t done the task because your brain is saving energy for fighting beasts.
So, we owe overeating, drinking, skipping work, spending our salary just a few days after we’ve got it to our Reptilian brain. It’s the oldest part of the brain and the behavior patterns of the Reptilian brain aren’t pretty. It gets angry, fast. It’s territorial and aggressive. It would do anything for sex, and it cares way too much what other people think. It’s obsessive and compulsive and thinks in pictures, symbols, and shapes rather than words.6
Sounds bad, doesn’t it?
Let’s see if there is a way out:
Can You Slay You Lower Self and Make The Higher Self Dominating?
Technically speaking, you can’t. The Reptilian brain is part of the brain. It’s responsible for a lot of important things. For instance, it will make you act fast when a speeding car is headed in your direction. It will help you protect yourself if you’re attacked in a dark alley. More importantly, keep you breathing even when you’re sleeping.
Bottom line, you can’t go to a surgeon and pay him money to remove this part of the brain. You need it.
What you can do though, is amplify your Neocortex.7
It’s the newest part of the cerebral cortex. Or put simply: The new hardware. The expansion pack of the brain. It’s only found in higher-order mammals such as monkeys, dolphins, and humans.
The Neocortex plays an influential role in our sleep, memory, learning processes, imagination, creativity, and problem-solving skills.
It’s basically what makes us humans. It’s where the Higher Self lives.
The Neocortex is the overseer of the rest of the brain and can observe and temper the responses of the Reptilian. To our disappointment, the Neocortex brain needs to be consciously activated. And you do it (turn it on) every time you stop drinking. Refuse to take drugs. Don’t order a dessert when you’re full. Do your work on time. Drive responsibly. Plan your future.
In contrast to the reckless behavior I just mentioned, a life without using the Neocortex will look like this: Eating junk food all the time. Smoking. Drinking. Spending money like crazy. Having sex with different partners all the time and not giving a damn about tomorrow.
Back To Our Battle
Now, back to the battle between the Lower and the Higher Self. What we can do to make the Higher Self the main decision maker in our lives and avoid prison?8
Consume more art!
During my school years and later in college, the tasks that were occupying my time outside of work were anti-productive, to say the least. I was going out, drinking, a couple of times per week. I had 0 saved money aside. I was overweight. I played video games. I didn’t have a car and I was living with my parents till the age of 25. I was a total wreck.
Fortunately, I was able to cleanse this self-sabotaging behavior for only a few years.
I now eat healthily. Train regularly. Own my own apartment and have enough money in my bank to sleep well.
How did I do it?
Besides working my ass off, I think that reading books played an important role in my positive transformation.
As I mentioned earlier, the Neocortex, where the Higher Self lives, is responsible for mostly our imagination and creativity. Reading, as we all know, helps towards this direction. Just like going for a jog exercises your cardiovascular system, reading regularly improves memory function by giving your brain a good work out, more specifically the outer layer.
When you consume more art – observe paintings, listen to classical music, read books, have decent conversations with other people, paint pictures, create art yourself – you develop your brain. At least the part you want to improve.
By consuming more art I don’t mean playing video games or watching YouTube videos. Such type of endeavors are passive. You don’t really harness your brain while you do them. Reading on the other hand, is turning on your Neocortex brain.
The Lower Self is pure evil. Arrogant and at the same time seductive. You’ll never truly win the war with it. You will never win because the Reptile brain it’s the core of your brain. It’s the chief elder of the elders. The CEO of the brain.
You can look at the Higher Self is the rebel. A youngster who hates restrictions and feels disgusted everytime the Lower Self overeats. Someone who wants to break free from the norm and make a difference in the world. Create something. Become something more.
But in order to give the steering wheel to the motivated lad, you need to pump him up. The best way to do this is to expose him to the world. Diving into a good book opens up a whole world of knowledge. The more you read, the more things you will know. You’ll see problems from different perspectives and you’ll improve your problems solving skills.
Eventually, this simple act will help you slay your Lower Self.
The evolution of the brain started 50,000 years ago. This evolution is called Behavioral modernity and it's basically a set of cognitive traits that distinguish current Homo sapiens from the older models.
Source of the previous statement: link.
If you're looking for more information about the neocortex you can find such here.