Making the self suffer is a cornerstone of many successful philosophies:
- Catholic/Islamic self-flagellation, for one.
- Stoics putting themselves under difficulty, for another (like fasting and wearing uncomfortable clothes)
I was prompted to consider this strategy by Conan O’Brien on his podcast with Stephen Colbert. Both Catholics, they described intentionally putting themselves through strife. “I did hairshirt behavior,” Colbert says (34:37).
Conan (36:27): “This is pain… where any normal person would tell you, any therapist would say, ‘This suffering is unnecessary. You achieved nothing with this suffering.”… I put myself through a lot of torture. And here’s the crazy thing: what happens when you do that and then magical things start to happen for you? You can’t see me because it’s a podcast, but Stephen just pointed his finger at me as if to say, ‘You nailed it.’”
Stephen, a few lines later: “It works.”
Conan: “What I hate, I hate… I hate thait it fucking works.”
Stephen: “And the magical thinking magically thinks that magical thinking worked.”
Conan: “It’s the biggest fight I’ve had over the last five years with therapists and friends.” … “Therapists have said, ‘You don’t need the suffering.’ and I 80% believe them and I’m 20% like, ‘what the fuck do you know?'”
Is making yourself suffer a strategy for improving? Does it work? Comments greatly appreciated.