Making the self suffer is a cornerstone of many successful philosophies:
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.
I probably don’t like you. You’re welcome.* (*: Not sarcastic.)
My fourth-grade classroom restricted its students to bringing identical Valentine’s Day cards for everyone or no cards at all. I found this a problem, as most of my classmates were bland blobs, while a vocal minority were… [people I didn’t like].
Only this year—at age 25—did I finally realize I can choose my friends. Four of my friendships ended this year, and I’m glad they did.
An ex ended our friendship—my first official ending—in July, followed by an old poker buddy in August. I ended one in October—my first initiation—and a different ex ended our friendship on Monday. Every one of these has been a wonderful change, with benefits extending far beyond free time.
It’s common knowledge—and I find it experientially true—that you “can’t please all the people all the time.” Apply that to relationships: Some people won’t like you. Turn that around: You won’t like some people.
Ending a friendship is therefore an act of integrity. It forwards your values. It makes manifest your soul.
You prioritize your family. You care about your friends. Most people choose a partner to prefer over all others. Having preferences is Good. It’s the foundation of consciousness.
All my friends have former, now-dead friendships. Most drift apart instead of going out with a bang, but both seem to happen surprisingly often. People grow and change. Friendships die. We can still love what was.
You can hate some people and everything they stand for. You can love with abandon those you prefer. You can express your soul. If someone doesn’t like you, good for them.
Why do I consistently wait until the last minute to complete work? (I recently completed my largest project of all time. I had over a month to complete what amounted to 44 hours of work, yet I still crunched through 38 hours in the final two days, staying up until 5:30 am and evolving into a giddy, manic machine).
- Being in time-crunch is thrilling and I enjoy a good rush.
- It makes work take less time, and I don’t like work. (Since I don’t have time to lollygag or double-back, I don’t lollygag or double back).
- “That’s a problem for future-Julian, and what has that guy ever done for me?”
- I’m a lazy fuck… who does what he promises. (I would never do it, but that’s not an option so I come as close as possible.)
- The system works so I have no incentive to change it.
- You never know when the teacher will change the assignment last minute. Did I say “teacher”? I meant “customer”. They’re shockingly similar.
Starting at puberty, it becomes socially unacceptable to exchange touch with anyone but romantic partners. This is bad. Touch is calming. It’s connecting. It’s fundamental to proper growth and development. Touch should happen more.
On a road trip with a friend, I hadn’t touched another person in a week. That’s a long fucking time. A week without touch is a cruel punishment that I wouldn’t subject on any animal. It’s not even a sexual thing – I just wanted physical contact. I asked if I could lie on my buddy’s lap. He said sure, so I did. Our conversation continued. I felt human. It was great.
Why does our society suppress touch? I understand the moratorium across gender and the requirements that touch be consensual. But why is it weird (or labeled “gay”) for guys hanging out to touch each other? We’re primates. Primates touch. Even gorillas – the biggest and strongest among us – pick nits out of each other’s fur.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t like it. I also can’t see a good reason against it, so I’m going to touch more.
(Context: I haven’t eaten food in the last 72 hours.)
Fasting isn’t difficult, but it is trying:
- It’s trying to get something to eat and then not.
- It’s trying and failing to fill the void inside you that food usually patches over.
- It’s trying to slow down and succeeding and enjoying that success.
- It’s trying to speak French with the Uber driver from Ethiopia and not minding the embarrassment when he sticks to English.
- It’s dancing with the devil and winning for a step or two.
- It’s trying to wrench up gunk from within your soul but, digging deep, not even finding a soul.
- It’s trying to find God in the man with the megaphone and instead just achieving an intense, god-like focus.
- It’s molding yourself like a wet ball of clay.
- It’s trying to define a self while also trying to change it.
- It’s trying—and succeeding—to sleep peacefully, because nothing else matters when you’re hungry.
I’m on a decade-long journey to improve my breathing. Eight years ago I began meditating; two years ago I had my septum un-deviated. Both made my list of top-10 life decisions.
In dance lessons today, I noticed a clear difference between dancing with my mouth open and dancing with it closed.
- Open, I was calm, relaxed, focused, and accepting.
- Closed, I was jittery, jumpy, and quick to anger.
In short, I learned worse when I could breathe worse.
Medicine is the only industry I know where we avoid optimization. Doctors don’t understand, “I want to improve my daytime breathing.” If they don’t see a clear problem, they refuse to improve. Perhaps it’s their promise to “do no harm,” which doesn’t recognize some large upsides are worth the risk of harm.
More than just doctors, most people think about medicine this way. In every conversation (save one) where I’ve mentioned my desire for surgery, my co-loquitur has responded as though I’m nuts: “Why would you undergo surgery if your life is fine?” Even a 0.001% improvement to a person’s daytime breathing would be transformative. My life is fine. It could be better. And sure, as I tell them, “using a CPAP is annoying.” I just exaggerate how annoying it is.
If I’m lucky, surgery to rotate my jaw forward a few 5 millimeters will be done by February or March. If I’m unlucky, it could take a year more, perhaps even longer, because orthodontists are confusing, deceptive, and opaque… and because I may have chosen the wrong one. Until my cut date, I remain a mouth-breather.
When my jaw is fixed, it’s not as though my whole life will be fixed. It is, however, that my whole life will be improved. I’ll have a new jaw, a better jaw, a million-dollar jaw. I’ll dance with my mouth closed and cry tears of joy.