Techniques and Practices of Voluntary Discomfort

I thought I would articulate in a post some of the techniques and habits I use to embrace the important Stoic concept of "voluntary discomfort."

If you recall from our other discussions of various aspects of Stoicism: voluntary discomfort is a tool of enjoyment, as counterintuitive as that may sound. The idea is simple: if you (temporarily) give up a pleasure, or (temporarily) deny yourself a comfortable experience, you'll appreciate and enjoy that experience far more--and far more profoundly--when you resume it.

Short-circuiting hedonic adaptation
We humans adapt quickly to pleasures and comforts. Honestly, it's rather disturbing to see how things that once gave us immense pleasure rapidly become expected, required, even "needed." Worse, our minds quickly redraw a pleasure baseline from any new pleasure or comfort, which means in order to experience the same level of pleasure or comfort in the future, we constantly need more. We can see easily how this drives various insane societal behaviors such as consumerism, the constant pursuit of the new, status-signaling and Veblen-esque conspicuous consumption.

If you think about it, the Stoic practice of voluntary discomfort is essentially a lifehack for short circuiting hedonic adaptation. A two-thousand year old hack!

So, here are a few examples of how I "do" voluntary discomfort, ranging from the seemingly silly to the significant. I'd be grateful if readers would share their ideas in the comments… I'm always on the lookout for new ways to apply this incredibly useful Stoic tool.

Going without my usual near-daily glass of wine for a few days in a row:
Once again, we very quickly adapt, hedonically speaking, to any situation. I've discovered that when I consume alcohol daily, I deaden the very pleasure I chase.

Intermittent fasting/delaying a meal:
I wrote briefly about this concept in my post Waiting Until We Are Hungry Before We Eat. Few things heighten the satisfaction of a meal like genuine hunger.

Taking a cold shower:
Nothing--and I mean nothing--better enhances your appreciation of a nice hot shower the next day. When I wake up and realize "Hey! I don't have to take a cold shower today!!" it's the start of a very good day.

30-day trials of giving up something pleasurable or comfort-inducing:
I've given up chocolate, alcohol, sugar and junk food on various 30-day trials over the years. These are both tests of will (that I derive pleasure from, interestingly) and they deepen my appreciation of the thing I give up.

Turning off the air conditioning on a hot day/Leaving the heat off on a cold day:
On a really hot day, have you ever left the AC off until you can hardly stand it, and then turned it on late in the day? This is a silly--yet not silly--example, but it just shows how a comfort briefly withheld becomes a comfort we stop taking for granted.

Days/weeks of spending very little money:
Here at Casual Kitchen, we generally make a point of reducing our spending during the summers. We cook simple, low-cost food at home, we avoid meals out, and we try to do less.

Other possible examples:
Eating the same meal several days in a row
Wearing uncomfortable clothing
Walking instead of driving
Waking up early/not sleeping in
Going a period of time without social media

Readers, I'm always looking for new ideas to exercise voluntary discomfort--what ideas can you share?

READ NEXT: Two People, Fifteen Days, Thirty Meals. Thirty-Five Bucks!

1 comment:

Amber said...

My husband and I moved to Sweden two years ago for what was supposed to be about two years. We sold most of our stuff and have been living in sublet apartments (having to move every six months to a year). Some of these apartments are well outfitted and others not, so there's a big shift in what we can enjoy and what becomes more work. For instance, we moved a month ago into a smaller, older place. We have no dishwasher, and the recycling is a good quarter mile away. Even when it's a downgrade (like this time), I'm struck by how quickly we adjust to the "new normal". Few Americans would happily give up their dishwasher, but it's really not so bad when you don't have any other choice.

Anyway, you could probably come up with a thousand new ways to hedonically reset if you thought about having to move into a smaller, less functional home. When we move back into a modern place, I'm sure we'll be thrilled at all the amazing amenities.