This is a short note from my Roam Research second brain. Here’s a free guide where I introduce you to Roam & Building A Second Brain. 

Metadata of Note

Type: 🍃 Leaf [Nomenclature present here.]

Source: 🌰 Wanting by Luke Burgis

Tags: #mimeticdesires #psychology #selfcontrol

Date: May 24th, 2022


Mimetic Theory is a concept developed by the late 20th-century French philosopher (and polymath) René Girard. Girard developed the idea when he was teaching French literature in the 1950s and began noticing certain similarities in the characters of great fiction novels. They needed the other characters in the story to show them what was worth wanting. They didn’t develop desires spontaneously, but rather by interacting with the other characters.

Girard coined the term mimetic desires to describe this phenomenon. It is the idea that we borrow our desires from those around us. Our desires are not individual, but rather collective. Jon wants to buy a Tesla probably not because he realized after soul-searching and logical reasoning that spending $50,000 would improve his life commensurately. Rather, he wants it badly because all of his friends have one and he sees a divide in social status.


To read a longer introduction to mimetic theory, check out this article I published.


The following tactics to overcome mimetic desires were taken from reading Wanting by Luke Burgis, a brilliant introduction to mimetic desires and mimetic theory in general. I’ve also added my own thoughts under each of the tactics below.


1. Name your models

Naming anything in general helps. Giving a name to our emotions (especially when we practice Emotional Granularity) and assigning frameworks to situations/problems we face helps us make sense of them. Similarly, list down your models who you think are affecting your decisions w.r.t your career, politics, what you buy, what you eat, etc.

And know that while there are models you look up to who influence you, there are also models who influence us, even if we don’t look up to them, or acknowledge that we do. To know who these are, think seriously about the people you least want to succeed.


2. Find sources of wisdom that withstand mimesis

“Experts” play a prominent role in our society, and in how we consume information. But what makes an expert, an expert? This is easier to determine for the hard sciences such as physics, math, and engineering. Harder to determine for the soft sciences, such as writing, literature, art, and social sciences as experts have a higher probability of being chosen mimetically here. So it’s on us to do the work to curate what we consume.

My thoughts

I want to ensure that I don’t come across as an expert on anything — because I am not, yet. Maybe a few years or a decade down the line I will become an expert in writing non-fiction/building communities, but this makes me want to be conscious of not giving off that message anywhere.


3. Create boundaries with unhealthy models

We all have people in our lives who exert a greater influence on us than we’d care to admit. We care what they think about us. We feel unhappy watching them succeed. And we need to know what they’re up to. The healthy thing to do is put up a metaphorical barrier between this unhealthy model and ourselves. As [[Luke Burgis]] writes, “Don’t ask about them. Unfollow them. Check on them less.”

My thoughts

  • Interestingly, I’ve been practicing this well for the past two years. There are certain people whose work I admire but don’t admit. Watching them succeed does make me feel behind. I know this is unhealthy, so I make it a point to stay out of their circles and don’t let them into mine.
  • Another way to combat unhealthy models is to do what Rajesh does in a seamless way: treat their success as your own and look at things from a lens of abundance and from a lens of more good added to the world.


4. Use imitation to drive innovation

Generally, “imitation” is thought to be the opposite of innovation (or at least, not similar). However, there’s plenty of evidence out there to show that starting from imitation is a great path. Also, when we adopt imitation as a path to innovation, we can free ourselves from the burden of trying to start from scratch or be completely original. But, innovation for the sake of it will soon lead to mimetic rivalry, as people will try hard to be different, thus building “shock-value” without substance.

My thoughts

  • A good case study is the one shared in the book, of how Lamborigini built his car after using a Ferrari and figuring out ways to improve it.
  • This is also what Elan pointed out to me when we spoke about 🍃 How To Get Over Jealousy & Comparison


5. Start positive flywheels of desire

Desire is a path-dependent process. The actions we take today will affect what we want tomorrow, just as what we did yesterday affects what we want today. But we can be conscious of our “flywheels” of desire and orchestrate them to get us to what we want. (Side note: The Flywheel Effect happens when small wins for a business build on each other over time and eventually gain so much momentum that growth almost seems to happen by itself). We do this by starting with a core desire and then mapping out a system of desire to bring that core desire to fulfillment. Each sentence should have the word “want” or “desire.”

My thoughts

  • I’m a little confused on this point… am I supposed to start with the core desire as a first step and then map out future steps to get back to the first step again? Or start with something else that will eventually lead to the core desire happening? I think it’s the first, but not sure.
  • My desire: I want to write and publish my [[Second Book]] so that
    • I can help people who want to escape the mode of autopilot they’re stuck in so that
    • More people want to take control of their lives and minimize regrets from early on in life so that
    • More % of the world’s population (and next-generation) lead happier, content lives that they want so that
    • I fulfill my desire to create a positive impact through my work on the world so that
    • I improve my desire for more well-being (financially, psychologically, physiologically) so that
    • I have the freedom to write the books I want.


6. Establish a hierarchy of values

Establish values help guide us like north stars in the decisions we make. And they become useful only if we rank them in a hierarchy. This will help us make decisions, especially when the options at hand are in conflict with one another (e.g. spending time by yourself learning the guitar vs going out with friends on the same night. If your value of personal growth is greater than forming friendships, then you would prioritize the former).

“Remember that conflict is caused by sameness, not by difference. When all values are the same, nothing is being valued at all.”

My thoughts

There is a connection between this and The Life Garden Framework. TLG gives you a lens through which you can look at your life holistically and think of projects in all areas of life. Writing down your values will help you prioritize a few projects over the rest, and also help in making micro-decisions every day. For e.g. by nurturing a core value of #compassion, I am able to make minor decisions in how I speak, act, and behave every day.