Pain, Suffering And Avoidance

How to enjoy pain and suffering


5/22/20235 min read

painting of man
painting of man

Ten years ago, I stumbled upon the concept of self-imposed hardship from the great Tim Ferriss. He attributed this idea to stoicism and made it a regular practice in his own life.

The premise is simple: by deliberately seeking discomfort, we can foster personal growth and cultivate a deeper appreciation for what we already have.

Now, I must admit that initially, the idea of intentionally pursuing activities that bring me the most discomfort didn't sound too appealing.

During a period of extreme motivation after reading Ferriss's "4-Hour Workweek," I decided to lie down in bus stops as per his recommended exercises. Surprisingly, it wasn't as uncomfortable as I expected.

However, I drew the line at approaching strangers in the mall for their phone numbers since I had a girlfriend (to be wife) at the time.

Ah, excuses…

The truth is stepping outside my comfort zone was not my cup of tea (especially with facing people). I had done hundreds of cold calls before but face-to-face approach was an entirely different story. I avoided it out of fear.

By default, I tend to avoid pain like the plague. While I don’t shy away from regular workout, I have difficulty doing the most crucial aspect of getting a good physique.

Controlling my diet. It’s too much work and needs too much discipline.

I've never truly mastered any skill because I always gave up when the going got tough. It just didn't make sense to me to work so hard if it only brought pain.

However, my perspective shifted recently when I discovered the importance of pain for personal growth. Mark Manson, in his book "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k," enlightened me with the idea that pursuing negative experiences is often the gateway to positive ones.

And you know what? It actually aligns with science.

Pursue Negative Experience

brown and black cheetah on green grass field during daytime
brown and black cheetah on green grass field during daytime

Dr. Andrew Huberman explained how extreme stressors like cold and hot exposure can trigger the release of dopamine in our bodies, keeping us motivated for hours.

Even exercise, perceived as a stressor, causes the release of dopamine because our bodies interpret it as a sign of danger.

Huberman also emphasized the significance of enjoying the process rather than fixating on rewards to maintain motivation.

When we indulge too much in rewards, our dopamine levels plummet below baseline, requiring time to recover.

So, embracing the process becomes the key to keeping dopamine levels elevated—a holy grail indeed.

I vividly recall Dr. Rhonda Patrick discussing how vegetables release anti-feedants to discourage animals from eating them during her interview with Joe Rogan.

Surprisingly, these anti-feedants are beneficial to us, helping to build our immune system. It reminded me of how certain quantities of bacteria and germs can strengthen us.

It's like nature's way of saying, "Hey, a little challenge will make you stronger!"

Dr. David Sinclair also shed light on the benefits of fasting, which triggers autophagy and contributes to longevity.

He further emphasized the importance of having a shorter eating window to balance sugar levels.

These insights made me realize that sometimes embracing discomfort, like skipping a meal, can yield significant health benefits.

Remember those movies where characters ingest small amounts of poison and ultimately become immune?

While it may sound like a fairy tale, it turns out there are real-life daredevils out there who have actually started ingesting snake venom to build up resistance to some of the most poisonous snake bites. Talk about taking "venomous" self-improvement to a whole new level!

In the book "Hustle," the authors delve into how exercising puts our muscles through microtraumas.

And you know what happens next? Our bodies respond by renovating and bolstering the traumatized muscle tissue. It's like giving our muscles a renovation and upgrade.

The right level of exercise leads to gains in strength, endurance, energy, and vitality. The authors also discuss how learning a new language, despite being intensely frustrating, builds neural fortitude and benefits our neurological health and recovery.

Their message, however, is not simply "whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger," but rather "the dose makes the poison."

Work It Or Lose It

I also had an epiphany of “what’s hurt and not used will get worse”.

I had been avoiding the pain of running due to persistent discomfort in my left ankle. But instead of improving, the pain only intensified, and I found myself in a worsening state.

Frustrated, I finally said, "Screw it," and decided to give running another shot. Surprisingly, after a few runs, the pain gradually subsided. It was as if by confronting the discomfort head-on, my body responded positively.

This reminded me of people with chronic lower back pain. Often, the best course of action is not to avoid exercise altogether but rather to strengthen the muscles surrounding the lower back.

By providing support and stability, these muscles can alleviate the pain and promote healing. It's a powerful testament to the idea that sometimes, facing our pain and working through it can lead to remarkable improvements.

In a nutshell, it seems that embracing small doses of pain regularly can be highly beneficial.

Seeking out discomfort, but in manageable increments, becomes the secret to a meaningful life. It's through overcoming obstacles, learning new things, and achieving personal milestones, no matter how modest, that we find true happiness and fulfillment.

It's not about the grandeur of the accomplishment; it's about completing what holds meaning for us.

person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairs
person wearing orange and gray Nike shoes walking on gray concrete stairs

Consequences Of Avoiding Pain

Let's face it—pain and suffering are unavoidable aspects of life.

In my days of avoiding pain, I sought temporary pleasures through activities like pornography, reading fanfiction, and playing video games.

Yet, in those moments of awakening, I experienced depression, disgust, and self-loathing.

It became a vicious cycle of indulgence, followed by suffering, and then back to self-indulgence for avoidance—trapped in a never-ending loop.

It's as if I had stumbled into my own personal hell with no escape in sight.

I made a conscious effort to steer clear of failure, but despite my attempts, I found myself plagued by a sense of inadequacy.

By avoiding the challenges that require hard work, I unknowingly burdened myself with the arduous task of maintaining meaningful personal connections due to my negative mindset.

In my quest to shield myself from the potential pain that can accompany relationships, I now find myself with very few, leaving me yearning for more.

And that's when it hit me: if pain and suffering are inevitable, I'd much rather choose my suffering consciously.

Choose Your Suffering

I want to suffer for the things that will bring long-term happiness. I want to endure hardships that my future self, ten years from now, will look back on with gratitude and appreciation.

I want to suffer for the things that will earn the adoration and respect of my children. I want to suffer for the things that will bring true meaning to my life.

So, I'm making a conscious decision now. I choose to suffer through late nights spent building this website. I choose to endure the discomfort of recording and listening to my poor command of language, knowing that improvement will come with time.

I choose to face the additional effort required to plan and cook healthier meals, understanding the long-term energy benefits and fewer food coma episodes.

I choose to embrace the extra challenges that come with being a better person, husband, and father.

This is my conscious choice—to embrace the discomfort and endure the pain for the sake of personal growth, fulfillment, and meaning. And I invite you to join me if you can.

Choose what you're willing to suffer for. Choose the endeavors that hold true meaning for you.

The power to choose is liberating.

With love, let's embark on this journey together.