Be On Your Own Team
Will Bamberg | Updated
At first glance, “be on your own team” is a cute little phrase telling you to support yourself. Another interpretation might be that you should work with, not against yourself.
We’re on the right track, but there’s a deeper implication hiding here.
Supporting and working with yourself are examples of self-collaboration: teamwork with yourself. This ability reveals a fundamental yet elusive aspect of human nature: you are not a singular being, but rather a plural, dynamic multitude.
“Be on your own team”, first and foremost, says you are a team.
This idea unfolds into a wealth of insight about the experience of being human. You are a team, therefore you have different parts with different functions, needs, and priorities. You are a team, therefore you have a role to play in contributing to that team. And therefore the quality of your self-teamwork directly impacts the quality of your outcomes, from happiness to effectiveness.
Conceptualizing yourself as a team reveals power over your life you may not realize you possess. It turns your attention inward, centering your inner world as a primary driver of your experience. It gives you a framework for making sense of your mind, enabling you to more effectively self-regulate and direct your behavior.
This mindset is the difference between whipping yourself forward with criticism and encouraging yourself to keep going. Between raking yourself over impossible standards and setting reasonable expectations. Our lives are packed with tiny decisions—what to think about, what to focus on, how to interpret events—that snowball into entirely different versions of reality.
“Be on your own team” says the way you conceptualize yourself directly impacts your experience of life. Not only are you a team, but it’s your job to lead that team. You’re responsible for nurturing your internal environment. “Be on your own team” urges you to actively invest in your relationship with yourself.
2. Life Is a Collaborative Effort With Yourself
A Planet of Plural People
“you”, reading this essay, are not all of You, the human being. This is the foundational insight of Be On Your Own Team. While you’re an individual person, you’re not singular or homogeneous. You contain a myriad of overlapping sides, aspects, and incarnations. You are the product of all of your sub-selves.
Basic self-discipline illustrates this. Think of “making yourself” do something, like take out the trash. There’s clearly a distinction between the part of you giving orders and the part of you resisting—the disciplining self and the self that’s disciplined. You don’t have absolute control over yourself because “you” aren’t the only one at the table.
For another example, try to answer the question “who am I?” It’s difficult to reduce yourself to discrete words, because you’re not static or uniform. You can describe facets of yourself, but no definition can capture you entirely. It’s intuitively clear that you contain multitudes.
Plurality is essential context for making sense of life. It explains much of our struggles with behavior. It’s the reason we’re complicated, contradicting creatures, and why reconciling our wants and needs is difficult. “Being your best self” means balancing the collective of selves within you.
Yet this perspective can be hard to come by. Why? For starters, it’s difficult to talk about. We don’t have great vocabulary for describing the experience of our minds (which might be why the subject isn’t widely discussed). Second, as individuals, in the absence of another model it’s intuitive to think of our minds in singular terms.
Another reason is our misleading concept of “mind and body”. The domains of “mental” and “physical” overlap far more than the stark division language implies. Heightened emotion activates your nervous system. Stress can produce physical symptoms, and pain can trigger mental health conditions. You’re not a mind operating a body, but a mindbody: an ecosystem of interconnected parts all working together.
Enter “you”: Your Conscious Self
You see the world through the eyes of one particular "you": your Conscious Self. This is your experiencing self, your active awareness that perceives reality. Although it’s your default viewpoint, consciousness is just one layer of your larger being. Distinguishing its sphere of influence is crucial to practicing good self-teamwork.
Broadly, your Conscious Self is the “captain of the ship”. It’s your primary operating system that directs your attention and actions. It uses tools like reason and memory to better guide your behavior. Your Conscious Self is responsible for keeping you safe, healthy, and happy.
But guiding yourself is as much about cultivating your internal world as it is about navigating external life. What do you think about? What do you try for? How do you interpret what happens to you? As the part of you with the capacity for self-reflection and meta-awareness, your Conscious Self is responsible for navigating these waters.
One duty of the Conscious Self is self-alignment. All actions, from basic tasks to complex projects, require you to direct your energy toward them. Your Conscious Self makes this happen, acting as both Drill Sergeant and Cheerleader. This process takes effort, which is the reason “self-discipline” exists in the first place! Your ability to work toward something is a direct function of your ability to self-collaborate.
The Sea of “Mind”
While “mindbody” better captures the nature of being human, “mind” is still a useful term for talking about the experience of living as a mindbody. Let’s loosely define “mind” as the domain of awareness, encompassing everything you can attend to.
Your mind contains great depth. Its surface is the realm of the mindstate: waves of sensations, thoughts, and impulses. Currents of feeling and desire extend down into your unconscious, the domain of your Inner Self.
You, Conscious Self, have the most influence at your mind’s surface. You can attend to a particular thought, resist a temptation, or spur yourself to action. Going deeper, you can tap into emotion or expand your awareness into your “body”. By contrast, you can’t directly access the deepest depths of your mind. Here, awareness must be built obliquely, through intuition and exploration.
You cultivate the contents of your mind by directing your attention. You perceive only what’s within your spotlight of awareness. What you focus on, you see more of; what you ignore falls right out of mind. Attention drives what you think, feel, and do.
Your mindstate is the net product of every part of your mindbody, from your hormones to your subconscious. While your Conscious Self experiences this mindstate, it isn’t the source of it. Mindstate is the weather of consciousness, dynamic and transient.
Consciousness isn’t autonomous, but is intertwined with the rest of You. Mindstates like fatigue and stress don’t just impact your cognitive sharpness, they can completely change your behavior. For instance: whether you rage at a bad driver or give them the benefit of the doubt. We like to assume our minds are Ideal Reasoning Machines, but they’re far messier.
Since mindstate drives your reality, mediating it is vital to wellness. Responsibility for "mindstate management" (self-regulation) falls to your Conscious Self. This entails awareness of what your state is and why it is that way, and active intervention to change your state.
A simple example of this process is hunger. You realize you’re hungry by noticing the sensation of hunger pangs in your body. Or, you notice your mood and cognition are impaired and infer that you need food. Then you decide to eat, returning you toward equilibrium. Note how non-trivial this can be even for such a basic need!
Self-observation—diverting attention inward—produces awareness. Signals from your mindbody prompt you to update your mental model of yourself. By asking questions, you can tease out the root of your mindstate. Are you “hangry”? Afraid? Avoiding something? Awareness creates the space for response: you act to change your circumstances.
Editing Your Internal Narrative
Your subconscious is constantly generating the story of your reality. This narrative is part of the reducing valve of cognition, efficiently filtering your perceptions into a comprehensible form. Internal narrative determines how you assign meaning, making it a powerful driver of your reality. Managing your mindstate often involves editing this story in real time.
Because your internal narrative is reductive, it’s not always trustworthy. Take a common thought I have when I screw up or don’t meet my own expectations: Gah, I’m such an idiot! Much easier to latch onto than: I took too much on my plate this week, stayed up late last night, and made a mistake today. The simplest explanation is not necessarily accurate.
As Conscious Self, you can use your inner voice to rewrite your narrative. Observing a story creates space to evaluate it: Wait, is that true? Then, you can substitute a different story with more context: Really, this week went south because I overbooked myself. Let’s remember that. You don’t have to accept every thought you have at face value.
3. Self-Collaboration With Other Selves
You contain more sub-selves within you than just your Conscious Self. These parts have distinct priorities and real agency—they affect your mindstate and behavior. Effective self-collaboration requires understanding how these selves fit together.
Wrangling Your Monkey Mind
We’ve mentioned self-discipline, but only from the side of the Conscious Self. How can we think about the part of us in opposition, that resists alignment? While the sources of resistance can vary, in the moment we’re usually struggling against one specific part of ourselves: our Monkey Mind.
Your Monkey Mind is an agent of gratification, the personification of your animal instincts. It’s the voice that avoids discomfort and craves pleasure: click click click. Snack snack snack. More more more. Behavior is a dance between your Conscious Self charting an aspirational course, and your Monkey Mind jumping at every passing impulse.
As Conscious Self, it’s your job to keep the Monkey in check. While the Monkey can’t be reasoned with, it can be contained using tactics like proactivity, picking your battles, and cultivating habits. Energy management is key here. Since using willpower to resist the Monkey costs energy, it’s easier for the Monkey to seize the reins when you’re fatigued.
The Kaleidoscope of Self
Although the deepest parts of your mind resist observation, you can paint a picture of their many layers: identity, personality, cultural conditioning, etc. Understanding individual pieces of your “Inner Self” creates understanding of the whole mosaic.
I suggest we think in terms of a “Kaleidoscope of Self”: a many-sided collection of aspects. Many aspects are identities we adopt, like student, athlete, or leader. Some arise from our intrinsic nature, while others are placed upon us by social and cultural expectations. We feel pressure to act consistently with our identities—whether or not we’ve intentionally chosen them.
Other aspects are deeper-rooted constructs of psyche. Take your Taskmaster, pushing you to work hard. Or your People-Pleaser, focused on the needs of others. Your Inner Critic, your Social Butterfly, your Dreamer, your Inner Child. These entities are rooted in real parts of your Self! Conceptualizing them, almost as characters within you, enables you to relate to them.
Your Kaleidoscope of Self is never manifest entirely: you express different aspects as your context changes. As Conscious Self, your role is to balance the medley of parts within you. Each has unique needs, and serves you in its own way. Desires of parts can conflict, pulling you in different directions. It’s up to you to notice when this is the case and mediate.
Past and Future Selves
You contain not only depth, but also breadth: the length of your life. However, that lifespan isn’t continuous, but cyclical: waking and sleeping, working and resting. You’re always resetting to a blank slate version of yourself. Mindstates don’t persist automatically—each night, the hard-earned wisdom of the day evaporates, and you have to find your way anew the next day.
As Conscious Self, you live in the perpetual present, experiencing each moment with the relentless march of time. Behind you stretches an infinite stream of Past Selves. Your life today is the product of their struggles and joys. In front of you await countless unborn Future Selves. Your actions define their circumstances.
Accomplishing anything requires collaboration between Past, Present, and Future. If you can’t finish something in one sitting, you must pass the ball forward. You hope that when Tomorrow Self and Next Day Self and so on arrive, they continue what you started. There is a relationship of trust here, expectations about what Future You will do—but more on that later.
Since we can’t expect to remember mindstates, valuable knowledge must be communicated to Future Selves. This is implicit in our behavior: we make plans, set goals, and write notes. We know intuitively that Future Selves will be fresh incarnations of ourselves, so we create waypoints to guide them.
You collaborate with Future Selves by proactively setting the conditions for their needs to be met. Getting enough sleep, buying groceries in advance, and capturing thoughts are all examples of this process. You can’t escape the present, but you can stretch beyond it by anticipating your Future Selves and influencing their present.
4. Intermission: Frameworks and Real Life
This is not a scientific explanation of how minds work. Rather, this is an exploration of concepts that can help you subjectively understand your own mind. Tools that make it easier to “think about thinking” and relate to yourself. I’m aiming for useful truthiness, not factual correctness.
So while I stand by these ideas, they aren't literally true. For example, “Conscious Self” is a somewhat personified concept of “consciousness”. I think it’s a helpful frame, but it certainly deviates from a neuroscientist’s explanation. Similarly, “Inner Self” gestures toward something like “the essence of Who You Are”. This is a useful pointer even if it oversimplifies identity.
Nor are these ideas complete! I’m sure there are many other valid frameworks for breaking down your “mind”. They probably cover nuances I’ve missed entirely.
I also suspect there’s great variance in the experience of consciousness. Not everyone has an internal monologue, implying some people have more verbal minds than others. Surely the subjective experience of living varies similarly in other dimensions.
But however you slice it, there are multitudes within you. My framework is just one stab at describing the topology of mind. The point is that you have an inner world to explore, not that any specific framework is correct.
This brings us back to the “be” in “be on your own team”. The truth is, actively embracing your plurality is an uphill battle. Some aspects of human nature stack the deck against us.
Sliding Into Singularity
We humans have blinders for the External Now. We’re constantly updating our narrative with the situation around us. While this serves us in many ways (e.g. avoiding danger), it biases our thinking toward the present. When we’re too zoomed in on what’s—literally—in front of us, we spare no attention to consider context or look inward for meaning.
Our bias for the present makes us bad at evaluating ourselves. Self-evaluation requires considering the passage of time: how are you compared to yesterday, to last week? Without reference points, the present gives at best an incomplete picture. But scanning your memory requires precious effort, so it doesn’t always happen.
Thus, without active reflection you evaluate yourself primarily in reaction to your current state. As your subconscious is generating the next one-liner for your narrative, it runs with the most readily available information: your mindstate. Context and nuance are cognitively expensive, so they’re neglected. You think of yourself in simple absolutes which fit right in with your mindstate, but hold questionable accuracy.
In practice, you fixate on the “what”: you’re late for work. You’re too carried away handling “what” to consider “why”: where did things go wrong? Was it an accident? Were your expectations reasonable? So your subconscious fills in “why” with a catch-all: you’re lazy, you’re irresponsible. The real story is never that simple, but your mind will always find the simplest viable narrative—which, unfortunately, is often some version of “because you suck”.
While these tendencies are fundamental parts of being human, they end up creating needless pain. They trap us in narrow focus, fixating on our current thread of experience. We lose sight of our plurality and become consumed by the weather of the moment.
5. Singularity Creates Suffering
Singular mindstates create suffering in everyday life by concealing your inner world. Losing sight of the distinction between your Conscious Self and the larger You misaligns your expectations, skewing your decision-making.
You over-identify with your present mindstate
The hallmark of singular mindstates is the inability to separate your Self from your state. You think a bad mood defines you instead of understanding that it’s temporary. This limits your ability to self-regulate: you can’t see what’s really driving your state, so you’re helpless to improve it. You’re unable to weather bad spells or pull yourself out of mental funks.
For example, consider an afternoon slump. You’re tired and dehydrated, so everything starts to become tinted with a film of “ugh”. But give yourself water and rest, and you feel better. Life looks completely different! That valley of negative headspace was real but transient, it didn’t represent the whole of your life.
You lose power over your internal narrative
Over-identifying with your mindstate puts you at the mercy of your internal narrative. Without knowing your narrative is a story, you’re unable to question it. It becomes absolute, leaving your self-conception and beliefs to be determined by whatever reductive explanations your subconscious generates. You have a bad day, think ahh I’m such a piece of shit, and you believe it!
Your self-esteem is bound to the rollercoaster of life’s ups and downs
Without the ability to question your narrative, the present moment dominates your self-conception. You fail a test, so you’re a failure. You have a good night with friends, you’re on top of the world. You wake up late, you’re completely unreliable. This emotional whiplash is draining: any bump in the road can throw your whole mood down the toilet.
You expect the impossible from yourself at all times
Blinders for the present mean you’re always burdened with Existential Responsibility. Every moment you feel like you could be Figuring It All Out. Worse, you think you should somehow be capable of it. You’re always falling short because you’re expecting the wrong things from your Conscious Self.
Your sense of Self is minimized
Singular mindstates flatten your sense of Self. They conceal all parts of you not manifest in your current environment. You forget your intrinsic richness, confining your spirit to a shallow, caricatured version of yourself. This harms your ability to shift contexts or recognize unmet needs.
You sacrifice future wellbeing for immediate rewards
With blinders for the present, you make badly asymmetric bargains: trades of major discomfort later for minor instant gratification now. You lose sight of the existence of Future You—so why shouldn’t you overindulge, stay up, procrastinate just a little longer? When fixated on Now, any cheap “improvement” to the moment feels justifiable, no matter the cost.
You enter a vicious cycle of Expectation Debt
Without understanding that Future Selves are just later Present Selves, you write yourself checks you can’t cash. “I’ll make it all up this weekend”. “I’ll work out double next week”. No you won’t! This is a sneaky form of instant gratification: you relieve yourself of responsibility by assigning it to Future You. This can easily spiral out of control: Future You escapes your impossible expectations by assigning them to their Future Self, and so on.
You misdiagnose internal conflict as existential character flaws
Many struggles with behavior are the result of internal conflict. You aspire to exercise, but your Taskmaster says you need to get to your to-do list. But you’re also hungry from skipping breakfast. You end up doing nothing but scroll on your phone and feel like complete garbage.
But what really happened here? You struggled to prioritize competing desires. You were low on energy, and your Monkey Mind took the opportunity to seize some instant internet gratification, further draining you of dopamine.
Not understanding why you’re failing can be far more painful than failing itself: Why can’t I just do X? Is there something wrong with me? Without seeing that you’re being pulled in multiple directions, or how your Monkey Mind took the reins, you have no target for your frustration but You as a whole.
You neglect rarely-expressed parts of yourself
Because you express different sides as your context changes, frequently worn sub-selves can dominate others. For example, when you rely day-in-day-out on your Taskmaster to handle work, there may rarely be space for your Playful Self to emerge. I hypothesize that these unmet needs are a common root cause of burnout.
6. The Benefits of Seeing Yourself As a Team
Seeing yourself as a team makes you acknowledge the limits of your Conscious Self. This reins in your expectations, forcing you to relinquish the hubris of believing you could possibly do everything, if only you were better. Life is not an exercise in pure willpower.
Knowing how your Conscious Self fits into your team enables you to make progress. You see that a huge part of your job is awareness: looking around, asking questions, stress-testing your internal narrative. You understand that much of long-term happiness is about how well you monitor and manage yourself, putting one foot in front of the other here in the present.
Understanding your plurality makes you more resilient by buffering your immediate mindstate from your broader self-conception. It gives you the leverage to snap from being lost in a Bad Place to knowing you’re in a Bad Place. This film of awareness provides stability, helping you to pick yourself back up when you fall.
Enabling Behavior Change
Plurality transforms brute force struggles of willpower into behavioral puzzles with moving parts. Seeing the interplay of different parts within you gives you options. You can choose to prioritize. You can work on upstream conditions. You can set new expectations for what progress looks like.
Collective self-conception helps you separate the factors involved in behavior. Identifying your Monkey Mind allows you to observe it without getting lost in moralizing. Of course you want to overindulge—you’re an animal hardwired to seek dopamine after all!
Isolating the Monkey sheds light on the rest of the picture. How did the Monkey take control—bad energy management? Conflicting desires? Poor planning by your Past Self? Getting to the root causes of your outcomes shows you where you need to make changes.
Humanizing Past and Future Selves is also useful for making long-term progress. Past Selves can teach you lessons and show you patterns. Maybe late afternoon is a bad time for work because it’s a natural energy lull for you. Maybe your Sunday night routine needs more attention because it sets the tone for your whole week.
Anticipating Future Selves gives you incentives to make different choices. Knowing you’ll play the hand you deal yourself helps you to delay gratification and be mindful of excess expectation debt. Putting the present moment in its larger context changes your point of view.
Morale is another duty of your Conscious Self. Your self-talk sets the tone of your inner world. You can bring yourself down with criticism or lift yourself up with encouragement. You can treat yourself viciously or with compassion. It’s not easy, but you do have the ability to alter the mood of your mind.
Externalizing Past Selves helps you to let go of attachment to mistakes. Rather than punishing yourself by fixating on how you’ve let yourself down, you can focus on the fact that this is a new moment, a blank slate to show up for yourself in. Sometimes you’re just cleaning up the mess left by the other guy.
Visibility into your mind creates footholds into your life. It’s hard to be optimistic when you’re banging your head against a mental wall. If you can at least see that you’re tussling with your Monkey Mind or that your parts are in conflict, you can be constructive: We haven’t made time to be outside all week, so after one more episode of TV we’re going for a walk.
Imagining your Kaleidoscope of Self gives you concepts to work with. Abstract ideas like your *need to be free*, *control fixation on productivity*, and *fear of uncertainty* are hard to keep straight. Characterizing your parts lets you simulate them in your mind’s eye. This frees up mental resources to concentrate on the interplay between them, which often contains the most valuable insights.
Embracing plurality enables you to grow as a human. It liberates you from the pressure to conform to a single idea of who you are. It encourages you to welcome all sides of yourself, not just the versions of you you’re externally rewarded for expressing. Knowing that you contain multitudes naturally draws you to explore yourself further.
Gratitude and Service
Viewing Past Selves as teammates gives you targets for gratitude. You can appreciate the little things, like that Past You did you a big favor by emptying the dishwasher. More broadly, you can recognize everything your Past Selves did to get you to where you are today.
On the flip side, it’s often easier to do something for Future Selves than for your Present Self. You can frame little things like going to bed on time or proactively packing a lunch as favors for Future You. Acting in service to your larger Self can be a lifeline out of your internal struggle to self-manage through discomfort.
This kind of practice puts you into a positive feedback loop of appreciating what your Past Self has done for you, and paying it forward for the benefit of Future You! Staying mindful of life's breadth gives you waypoints that help you guide yourself forward.
7. “Be On Your Own Team”: Window Into Different Mindstates
Though I’ve tried to articulate useful concepts, “integrate this system and use it to solve your problems” is not the message I’m trying to convey. The language is only a map for making sense of your subjective experience.
“Be on your own team” gestures at a way of relating to yourself. Viewing yourself as a team means seeing yourself as greater than the sum of your parts, embracing your complexity and contradiction. But it’s one thing to buy into these ideas in theory—it’s another to actually find this mindset in practice.
Losing your way is a constant of life. No groove lasts forever. Brain fog, attention sinks, and dark days are inevitable. When you stumble, how do you pick yourself back up? How can you recover a bad day, or at least set yourself up for a better tomorrow?
The problem is not figuring out what to do. You usually know that intuitively, or can figure it out if you actually ask the question. The real challenge is getting yourself to do it. Snapping into a different mindstate and making a change.
In states of singularity, we don’t see clearly. We can’t take our own advice. When we’re stuck in a funk, spiral, or loop, we become unmoored from ourselves. We’re too fixated on a single narrative thread to see its place in the larger tapestry of our experience.
The true power of “be on your own team” is as a compass that helps you navigate your mind. Earnestly asking “What do we need right now?” changes your frame. It expands your field of view, forcing you to consider the larger picture. This awareness gives you the agency to alter your circumstances.
In moments of struggle, “be on your own team” reminds you of your position as Conscious Self. It helps you step back from your mindstate, knowing that it’s temporary. It lets you meet yourself where you are, however you are. It reminds you that this too shall pass.
You are the one constant throughout your life. Invest in your relationship with yourself! Explore your nooks and crannies, your little traits and tendencies. Nurture yourself with care and compassion. Look out for yourself—ultimately, you’re the only one who can.
Be on your own team.