It’s Wednesday morning and I’m bouncing joyfully along the sleek tiled floors of the Mall of Africa on my way to having a haircut.
I walk past a shop that smells absolutely delectable.
It’s called Cinnabon.
You might know that I have this chronic fatigue thing and I can’t eat wheat and sugar and a gazillion other things, so beautiful, warm cinnamon buns – or whatever else they sell, I didn’t look – as delightful as they might seem, are the worst thing in the world for me.
Short-term, I want the pleasure of eating them, long-term they are a train smash.
I’m sure that you know the story well.
You want something now but the cost of having it lurks in the recesses of your troubled mind.
It is perhaps one of the greatest challenges we all face as human beings.
Managing our addiction to pleasure.
The Marshmallow Experiment
In my opinion, the greatest psychology experiment ever performed, was done at Stanford University in 1972. It’s called the marshmallow experiment.
They got a bunch of four-year-old kids in a room with a one-way mirror and gave each kid a marshmallow and then they said to the kids, “If you wait 15 minutes and you don’t eat this one, you can have two more.”
Two thirds of the kids couldn’t bear to wait the 15 minutes. It’s a test of sitting with delayed gratification rather than immediate gratification.
14 years later they looked at the kids again and the ones who had waited the 15 minutes had better Self-Esteem, lower body-mass index, more friends and were much happier.
I spoke to a personal trainer awhile back and I asked him how many of his clients are able to work on their own without his supervision. He said 10%. Which is saying that 90% of people cannot tolerate the discomfort of exercising alone, in return for the benefits of long-term health.
What we’d rather do is something that is pleasurable for us.
When it comes to short term pain in return for long term gain…we fail, most of the time.
Whether it is smoking, drinking, chocolate, cinnamon buns, (in the food realm its fat, sugar and salt basically) Facebook and social media trawling, television and general addiction to our fantasies of what is going to make our lives happier, we are all, to some degree, addicts of pleasure, resisting short term pain.
If you live your life long-term, not enchanted by immediate and transient pleasure, you are going to have a better life, you’ll be happier and have greater Self-Esteem.
Pleasure feels good. We are wired for it. But if it is controlling us rather than we controlling it, we are on a spiral into hell.
The primary reason that I think pleasure has such a hold over us is that we don’t have many alternatives to its seduction.
I know and work with many people who love their work and while they’re being fulfilled doing it, they are not being seduced by pleasure.
There are also others who are fulfilled in their relationships but the problem is that this fulfilment in work and with other people does not cover the entire spectrum of their lives and so in between these moments of fulfilment what can they turn to?
Many people exert willpower and control over this desire for pleasure. This can work for months and even years but ultimately willpower isn’t a resting place, it isn’t a great substitute for pleasure, it is simply a place of white-knuckle mind control, which is why 95% of people who go on diet, go back to the weight that they were before the diet. Once the willpower relaxes, pleasure takes the front seat.
I want to recommend that you can get a little more sophisticated than using willpower.
Simply notice the intensity of the need for the pleasure now and then contrast this with the wanting of the long-term gratification for better health or fitness or fewer complications in one’s life, whatever the benefits of delaying the gratification are.
This can take one or two minutes to do properly, yet we don’t want to take the time to do it. I often say when sitting with friends who’ve just eaten the desert which I have declined, “How long has the pleasure of that desert lasted?” And of course the answer is, “I’ve forgotten about it!” That way, I see through the lie, the illusion of pleasure.
It’s an empty, screaming monster that has no substance, no truth to it.
So simply asking yourself the question, “If I eat this wonderful thing now, or smoke the cigarette now, or watch another mindless TV programme now… How long will that pleasure last?”
Then the really important bit is to feel deeply the answer to this question. If you don’t go deep, if you just leave it superficial it’s not going to make an impact.
I’m absolutely not saying, “Never indulge in pleasure.” After all, we are designed to experience pleasure. It only becomes a problem when it’s running our lives!
One of the reasons that we find this process so difficult is that human beings, like everything else are double sided and so we are both creative and destructive.
In the moments when the pleasure takes hold of us we are lost in the arms of our own destructiveness and that force is very, very powerful.
Creation And Destruction
The universe, the world and our lives are about creation and destruction.
At the most basic level, we move from the creation of birth to the destruction of death.
We love people and we hate them.
We approve of ourselves and we reject ourselves.
We get sick and we heal.
We build cities that enable people to live more comfortably and that also make them mentally and physically ill.
We eat healthily and we eat garbage.
We build buildings and create technology that exploit and destroy the earth and yet they create amazing possibilities for human expression, development and fulfillment.
Social media promotes gratifying interaction between people and it creates pain and suffering between people.
While we are putting energy into creating new work, we are likely to neglect our relationships.
Pleasure Doesn’t Gratify The Soul
Dr. John Demartini has a wonderful expression, “Nothing in the senses will satisfy the soul.”
The more you can expand and deepen and connect with your Soul or Spirit or with God, or Pure Consciousnes, whatever you want to call it, the less likely you are to be seduced by pleasure. For most people it is difficult to pay attention to their Soul. They can’t find it or feel it or connect with it, it lacks substance, and so they drop trying to connect with it.
There is no question that to do this requires delayed gratification.
Connecting with a fabulous piece of chocolate cake is easy and the path of greatest ease often leads to the greatest destruction.
To deepen your capacity to connect with your Soul is likely to have a significant influence on your ability to not be seduced by pleasure.
Of course the popular ‘7 easy steps’, or ‘7 hot tips’, or ‘7 secrets revealed’ to doing this are just baloney. It takes work – and so we often turn to the next gratifying pleasurable experience instead.
If you would like a face to face or Skype consultation to discuss any issues evoked by this blog, mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org