The Daily Stoic for today, February the 13rd: “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
While I think that most of our character treats are not innate, but a result of our environment and education, self-control is a different story.
It just seems that there are people with a strong willpower and a natural tendency to self-discipline.
Is Self-Control An Innate Thing?
I consider myself one of those people. Actually, I grew up being a very responsible, reliable kid. I followed the rules. It was my sister who used to get into trouble, to the point that my parents grounded her once for something I had done -sorry Nesi-. They just could not believe it was me.
I carried this self-control throughout my youth. I was an applied student, never got into drugs, or smoked. As a result, I was able to graduate in five years. Yeah, college was not a party for me, it was a fucking 5-years long nightmare.
My mother is probably an example of the contrary. She was a heavy smoker. It took her multiple attempts, and all kinds of help, decoys and even medication, to finally quit. Applying the required willpower to stop smoking was simply too hard for her.
Unfortunately, she didn’t manage to quit soon enough. Some years later, she went through a terrible cancer. Thankfully, she survived, and I can spend Christmas with her and tell her how much I love her, but smoking almost killed her.
The point is: I have been heavily influenced by her in many things, but self-control is not one of them. That’s what makes me think that, even though it’s something you can definitely acquire, there’s an innate aspect involved.
Pleasure Can Become Punishment
Nevertheless, nobody’s perfect. We all have our addictions -coffee in my case- and our small indulgences.
One year ago, I quit sugar. While I’ve always followed a healthy diet, I drank a lot of Coke, and enjoyed a piece of cake or muffin more often than I should.
Even though I made a lot of exercise, I had problems loosing weight. In a year, I have lost 10 kg, while eating the same food and doing the exact same exercise.
Throughout this year, I have learned that you cannot indulge yourself to a sugar-treat just once, like some diets suggest. That is something I also observed while my mother was trying to quit smoking: try one once, and you are in again.
In my case, the day after eating a piece of cake, I would feel guilty and try to compensate by doubling exercise or eating less. After some time, I realized that I could go without that muffin or dessert. It was more like the psychological inertia of having that with the coffee or after lunch that a real need or desire from me.
I think that’s when pleasure becomes a punishment, feeling the remorse of being weak just for something you didn’t even really wanted.
Today’s Daily Stoic, “Pleasure can become punishment”, discusses how self-control is essential to get rid of what makes us feel guilty afterwards.
Even though I think it’s an innate quality, it can definitely be improved with practice. Stoicism can really help you do that, in my opinion.