Willpower and the Chronic Fear of Pain
There has been a subtle movement in my life over the last few months that began with the thought that I might be a lazy person. Even though I am plenty busy with writing, teaching, grading, parenting and husbanding, I tend to always be looking ahead to a time when I can do nothing. It was a cognitive practice I was not aware of until I saw something written in a tag line on a discussion forum.
I’m not lazy, I just like to relax before I get tired.
I had to laugh because of how true it is. I would far prefer to be relaxed than worn-out. My wife recently related to me a conversation that she had with a friend in which the friend described me as a relaxed person, “He walks like he’s relaxed, he talks like he’s relaxed – he’s good at relaxing.” I smiled with pride; how many people could be described as being good at relaxing?
In spite of this and as I mentioned earlier, I am actually a rather busy person. Like a water balloon squeezed tightly, personality traits like laziness try to escape and express themselves in other forms. In this case, my quantitatively inordinate attraction to comfort through laziness seems to have manifested itself in a qualitatively inordinate attraction to physical comforts. Comfortable socks to go with comfortable shoes, comfortable pillows an comforter to go with the comfortable (pillow-top) mattress, comfortable A/C on my comfortable sofa, drinking my comfort beverage while eating my comfort food.
Pain is anathema
I take a different approach to suffering than the quasi-Buddhism found in pop philosophy. Rather than eliminating desire and attachment and thus the suffering caused when they are unfulfilled, I just try to fulfill my desires for comfort and hold to my attachments. So far so good, it seems. Of course, I am only now realizing the slow pain that has developed in me over the years in spite of my best efforts to keep it at bay.
Someone recently explained to me an idea which holds that a lack of willpower is often just a fear of pain. Pain affects humans in a myriad of ways, but when it comes to non-destructive, self-inflicted pain, the following possibilities and examples come to mind:
|Direct Pain||Indirect Pain|
|Physical Pain||Working Out – causing pain in pursuit of something better||Fasting – removal of a good in pursuit of something better|
|Emotional Pain||Difficult honesty – loss of a good thing (peace) in pursuit of something better||Rosary – loss of other opportunity in pursuit of something better|
All of these things have some sort of pain associated with them and take varying levels of willpower to accomplish. As one grows in willpower, it becomes easier to accomplish each of these or even disassociate the pain from the action, as in the case of saying the Rosary. Naturally, one with little-to-no willpower will find himself not attaining or even pursuing anything better; only wishing for that which he cannot seem to have.
One one hand, this is all very fascinating intellectually and might even weigh enough for me to convince myself that my ability to express these things in writing is demonstration enough that change is not needed. On the other hand, I still have a too-strong tendency to avoid all pain at all costs. I guess that makes me pretty NERF.
I have known (and felt slightly perturbed) about my attachment to comfort; and my lack of overall willpower. I feel this added perspective on pain is a key that will, hopefully, unlock much of my self-arresting tendencies. During the last few days, I have seen my behavior though this lens, which has helped me to overcome the delaying of good things; Indirect/Physical pain of hitting snooze in the morning, Direct/Physical pain of pushing a workout to the physical limit, etc.
Sure, someone can spend their lives trying to avoid physical or emotional pain, but it is doubtful that they would be able to run forever. It is in moving beyond pain, even through the experience of pain, that we learn to sacrifice what we have for something better, be it inner peace, reputation or tickets to the gun show.