4 min read

The Democracy of the Self

In general, believing that you are the collective sum of your actions makes logical sense, but I think this begins to break down when we consider our moral values. What if our intended actions cast a vote for our desired self and contend with our values?
The Democracy of the Self

Happy 2022 Everyone! Cheers to an approximate revolution around the sun and to the first blog post of the new year! With new year's resolutions in full swing, I wanted to discuss a habit forming concept; the democracy of self.

With the new year here many of us are obliged to revisit the notable “New Year's Resolutions”. This time of year sparks motivations to live healthier, wake up early, and finally do that thing we planned last year. The new year in an arbitrary time to establish new habits, of course, since January 1st is as good as a time as June 11th, but we’ve established this time as the prime opportunity to rinse away undesired behavior and start anew.

Just look at the Google search trend for the term “workout” in the last 5 years. At the start of every year there is a spike in the search result, followed by a gradual tapering until the following December-January. (The third highlighted era (in March 2020) corresponds with the first lock down period, where everyone was stuck at home either trying to get fit or making sourdough bread.)

Google Search trend for the term "workout" in the last 5 years.

As for myself, I’ll gladly use this opportunity to set the write one blog post every week goal. Because goals should be manageable and measurable, I’ll start with one post every ten days by allotting two weekday blocks and the weekends and then, increment from there. I’ve set this goal by questioning: who do I want to be? I want to be a better writer.

Framing this goal as a means towards a desired identity is the premise of the Democracy of the Self. As James Clear says, the author of Atomic Habits (the productivity bible):

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your identity.
This is why habits are crucial. They cast repeated votes for being a type of person.

What’s essential about this paradigm is that individual actions, regardless of intensity, are singular votes. If your goal is be physically healthier, an additional daily walk or a 5 mile run are each votes for the type of person you aspire to be. The objective should be to set habits (and by virtue, ourselves) to cast as many votes as possible. And because quotes are fun, this is why Bruce Lee says “long term consistency trumps short term intensity”. The lower intensity, yet frequent walk will better build the activity habit and cast more votes over the course of time.

I like using The Democracy of the Self as a reminder that when establishing new habits or working towards goals, there will be periods of inactivity. The Democracy of the Self allows for inevitable shortcomings within the entire span of our progress. My identify as a writer is not contingent on a poorly written post or a missed week. It’s established by the words I’ve written and will write.

However, here at Open Thought we welcome nuance, and even this habit forming framework requires some. In general, believing that you are the collective sum of your actions makes logical sense, but I think this begins to break down when we consider our moral values. What if our intended actions cast a vote for our desired self and contend with our values?

I mention this after watching a Kurzgesagt video titled Is Meat Really that Bad? (you will have to watch the video to get that answer). In the video, it’s mentioned that free range animals experience less animal cruelty compared to their caged and artificially plumped counterparts. Unfortunately, rearing free range animals incur environmental costs as they require more land and energy (food and water). The cruel truth is that agricultural industry is so efficient that the more an animal suffers, the more the environment benefits.  Thus, when deciding between free range or non-free range meats we’re faced to vote which we value more; animal cruelty or climate change.

The simple way out of this dilemma would be to refrain from consuming meat entirely, but for many, that lifestyle is either unrealistic or undesirable. So now imagine one wishes to eat more nutritiously, and thus deems eggs (being rich in vitamins, fats and proteins) as a reasonable staple. Considering the environmental implications, the Democracy of the Self has one deciding between health and the climate.

Of course, you may see this example as overly complicated. You may want to order free range eggs and pat yourself on the back (I certainly do), and simultaneously combat climate change via other life decisions. After all, global problems require collective solutions, so how impactful is your egg choice really. Yet, I still think this manner of thinking is necessary in revealing nuance.

The Democracy of the Self loses it’s rigidity when actions cast multiple, often contending votes. Waking up early may give you time for a sunrise morning workout, but it may be at the cost of nightly social plans or quality sleep. This not only pertains to votes for your own identity, it also applies to votes for the world. Your egg choice not only indirectly determines which you value more, it in turn determines your impact on the world. Regardless of the goal you set, or the decisions you make, there’s always a degree of sacrifice-and that I believe should be harped on as much as your desired identity.

Happy 2022 Everyone! I wish you all many nuanced votes in the months to come!

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