Practical Applications of Mimetic Desire
It's time to dive deep into certain mental models
I have a personal problem with mental models. They can be a great tool to enhance and improve one’s decision-making ability, but they’ve been bastardized into bite-sized, easily-shareable, motivational pieces to make the author look smart.
Over the last two years, there is more utility in tweeting about mental models & their tweet-sized definition over actually putting them into practice. Maybe it was always like this, but as someone who played a role in introducing them to many, it saddens me.
Mimetic Desire as an idea or a mental model can suffer sometimes from this same situation. It often seems that for every person exploring the idea and bettering their lives, there are a dozen who never go past the neat & tweet-sized definition.
I intend to fix this and to add my grain of sand by writing about its practical applications.
For an introductory and comprehensive understanding of Mimetic Desire, I wrote about it in my blog a couple of years ago, but I think that Luke Burgis’ newsletter is way, way superior. Luke’s is one of the newsletters I recommended in my last email, so make sure to check it out here.
Okay, so you read about Mimetic Desire and you now know that what we want stems from what others want, rather than from other rational motivations.
Well, there are two practical implications I have been considering for a few years now, which I think are where the real benefit of understanding Mimetic Desire comes to play:
Understanding yourself, your needs, desires and motivations, so you can make better decisions
Understanding others, their needs, desires and motivations, so you can influence over them
Making better decisions is the ultimate goal of bettering ourselves, in my opinion. Understanding how our desires work is a crucial aspect of setting the right goals, making the right decisions and allocating our time in the best manner.
When I initially found out about Mimetic Desire, the first experience that came to mind was when I wanted to study medicine only because the rest of the smart people wanted to. I based two years of my teenage life devoted to studying and trying to enter medicine.
My identity was around being the smart kid and competing against the other smart kids. So I naturally wanted what the other smart kids wanted.
Failing to enter medicine was a very good thing that happened to me, even if I only understood a few years later.
What would have happened had I entered? How long would I have lasted? Would I have doubled down until I couldn’t handle it anymore? Would I have had a middle life crisis at 40?
Just think about the opportunity cost of achieving such poor goal. A goal which was majorly influenced by what others wanted, and not so much about what I myself wanted.
There are many instances in life where we find ourselves devoting time, effort, attention and money into goals we never really pause for a moment to think about. Goals which are kind of “there” and we fight for, but never analyze deep enough.
Interiorizing Mimetic Desire leads to having those “aha!” moments where you come to terms that your initial assumptions were wrong and it’s time to correct course.
Mimetic Desire is one of those tools which help the individual become more self-aware. It provides for a great lens to go over your life and analyze many moments in it.
To make sense.
Understanding that many of our choices in the past were made based on wrong assumptions can help us identify those wrong reasons when they become present in decisions made in the future.
I can’t think of many mental models which can truly change your life 180 degrees like Mimetic Desire can. But it fits nicely into a Twitter thread, lumped in with subpar ideas which are orders of magnitude less relevant to your life. So it gets overlooked.
And this is just half of the equation.
Once you develop more self-awareness and a better understanding of yourself, your needs and your desires… it becomes quite easy to read others. At the end of the day, whether we like to admit it or not, we are more alike than we are different.
I would say that understanding the effect of Mimetic Desire in others is even more overlooked than the idea of understanding its effect on ourselves.
Just pause for a moment and think about it: there is this idea which does a good job explaining that most of what we want is because others want it, why not use said information to influence others?
At the end of the day, we are creatures moved by incentives, and what we desire plays an important role in what incentivizes us.
Before I continue, influencing others has a negative connotation sometimes, as it is seen that you will use other people for your own goals and to their detriment. This is very far from the truth and ignores a positive influence on others.
A positive influence which can be seen in playing win-win games, inspiring others to be better, leadership, mentoring, etc.
Learning influence is a must for everyone. If you ever want to become a CEO, a leader, someone inspiring, etc. you need to learn how to influence people.
If you also want to be able to defend yourself against others trying to influence over you, understanding the mechanics is a must.
That being said, we all fall for mimetic desire, and we really compete fiercely over the same things. When we become more self-aware about this, we get a good view of the main desire others want too.
Desire is a very powerful incentive, and there will be many instances where you can recognize someone who desires something that we aren’t interested in, but we can help them achieve it.
There are many instances where we can turn a zero-sum game into a win-win game, only by understanding what others desire and how if we both help each other, we can both achieve our goals.
Speaking of which, playing win-win games is another mental model which often is overlooked, considering how life changing it can be.
Even if not for cooperation, there are many desires we all seek due to others seeking them that we can use to our advantage. Many fall for the idiocy of playing status games, so it may be a good move to let or help others “win”.
As mentioned above, we are creatures moved by incentives, and we aren’t so different from each other. We might be able to detach from the learnt need of status and hierarchy, but others aren’t.
Learning what incentivizes others is a really good way to hold influence over them, both positive and negative.
In short, there are many mental models out there, but not all of them are equally important. It has become very popular to just present ideas and their tweet-sized definitions to appear smart, and not so popular to actually ensure people understand said ideas.
Mimetic Desire is often overlook for how good of an idea it is. An idea which does a very good job at explaining how many of our needs and wants are mimicked from others. This development of self-awareness can lead to a larger influence in oneself and over others.
Truly analyzing what we want will lead to a better decision-making and time allocation. A better understanding of ours and others’ incentives is a sure way to become more self-aware and a better leader of others.
Avoid allocating time, effort and capital to pursuits which don’t hold once you realize the only reason you want them is because others want them.
PS: the inspiration behind this email and its focus on influence stems from reading Vizier (affiliate link), written by @DentesLeo. A very interesting read on influence and power, with actual original content and understanding by the author.