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Pleasure Can Become Punishment

Whenever you get an impression of some pleasure, as with any impression, guard yourself from being carried away by it, let it await your action, give yourself a pause. After that, bring to mind both times, first when you have enjoyed the pleasure and later when you will regret it and hate yourself. Then compare to those the joy and satisfaction you’d feel for abstaining altogether. However, if a seemingly appropriate time arises to act on it, don’t be overcome by its comfort, pleasantness, and allure—but against all of this, how much better the consciousness of conquering it.
—Epictetus, Enchiridion, 34

Self-control is a difficult thing, no question. Which is why a popular trick from dieting might be helpful. Some diets allow a “cheat day”—one day per week in which dieters can eat anything and everything they want. Indeed, they’re encouraged to write a list during the week of all the foods they craved so they can enjoy them all at once as a treat (the thinking being that if you’re eating healthy six out of seven days, you’re still ahead).

At first, this sounds like a dream, but anyone who has actually done this knows the truth: each cheat day you eat yourself sick and hate yourself afterward. Soon enough, you’re willingly abstaining from cheating at all. Because you don’t need it, and you definitely don’t want it. It’s not unlike a parent catching her child with cigarettes and forcing him to smoke the whole pack.

It’s important to connect the so-called temptation with its actual effects. Once you understand that indulging might actually be worse than resisting, the urge begins to lose its appeal. In this way, self-control becomes the real pleasure, and the temptation becomes the regret.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

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