Author Robert Greene writes in his book The Laws of Human Nature that each of us has “a higher and a lower self.”
We can feel the higher self when we finish what we start, when we think of others before ourselves, or when instead of merely reacting to events we step back and strategize about the best step forward.
The lower self is the more primitive part of our nature. We can sense it when, for example, we take everything personally, when we want to escape reality through some addictive pleasure, and when we waste time.
Although we’re most often floating between the two selves, if we look closely, we have to admit that the lower self is the stronger one.
As Greene notes, it takes awareness and effort to bring out the higher self: “If nothing impels us to do otherwise, we naturally become indolent, crave quick pleasures, turn inward, and brood over petty matters.”
Greene suggests that the key to making the struggle between the two selves more even is to cultivate what he calls the “inner authority.” The inner authority serves as the voice of our higher self. We can hear it at times, but it’s often faint.
Our job is to increase its volume.
When we listen, this is what it tells us:
“You have a responsibility to contribute to the culture and times you live in. Right now, you are living off the fruits of millions of people in the past who have made your life incomparably easier through their struggles and inventions. You have benefitted from an education that embodies the wisdom of thousands of years of experience.”=
Greene points out that it’s easy to take this all for granted, but that’s the view of spoiled children.
Instead, we should recognize that the world needs constant improvement and renewal:
“You are not here merely to gratify your impulses and consume what others have made but to make and contribute as well, to serve a higher purpose.”
For Greene, you can serve that higher purpose by embracing what makes you different.
The key is to know yourself thoroughly: your tastes and inclinations, the fields that naturally attract you, and then work every day to improve those skills that reflect who you are.
When we move through life with this sense of a higher purpose, we’re on a mission. We are realizing our life’s work.
“Even death can lose its sting. What we have accomplished will outlive us, and we do not have that debilitating feeling of having wasted our potential.”