Self mastery in ten points

The independent Finnish think tank Tänk introduces a new perspective on welfare: self mastery needs to be raised from everyday language into a key concept in public debate.

Self mastery is seen as a process that comprises of introspection, planning and the ability to reach set goals. In brief, self mastery refers to one’s ability, based on introspection, to set and reach personally significant goals.

The study is based on the perception that for a variety of reasons, individuals do not engage in their preferred activities or organize their lives in a personally satisfactory manner despite the ever-expanding universe of life choices available.

The study is based on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach. Tänk, the independent Finnish think tank, has further developed the concept of self mastery and added it to the capabilities framework in order to improve the theory’s applicability to developed countries, such as Finland.

The study, “Self Mastery in Finland in 2012”, is based on a survey conducted amongst a random sample of 1002 respondents. The aim of the study was to examine whether Finns lead their lives in a personally fulfilling manner.

The central findings are:
- Social networks support the proactive life process
- A self mastery approach, together with a secured economic situation and social networks, improves the attainment of personal goals.
- The attainment of personal goals is closely linked to individual experiences of welfare.

The lack of personal proactivity in people’s lives is further aggravated by social and structural problems. A proactive life approach does not mean that individuals alone are responsible for their situations – but the process of its adoption can be supported by policy choices. What if policies aimed at promoting the equality in individuals’ ability to proactively manage their own lives?

Policies that support a proactive life approach encourage citizens’ personal, conscious and informed choices and the optimization of individual resources and capabilities. Introducing the behavioural ‘nudge’ approach and regular, systematic measurement of proactivity levels into policy-making could further support this. Could existing policies be assessed on how well they support citizens’ proactivity towards their own choices?

The theoretical framework and results introduced in the “Self Mastery in Finland in 2012” have not reached their final form and Tänk intends to continue studying the subject. While self mastery and the proactive life approach alone cannot solve the problems of social and economic marginalization, we aim to push for a new way of thinking about welfare and welfare policy.

We wish to push for the introduction of institutions that provide behavioural insight and support individuals’ self mastery over their lives and choices in the Finnish context.