That bitter taste

It’s easy: what feels good in the short run feels bad in the long run. And what feels bad in the short run will probably feel good in the long run. Now, don’t go treating this like an absolute maxim—you’ll find plenty exceptions. But for my circumstances, I find this wickedly true.

Anytime you attempt to optimize for short term gain, you are borrowing from the future. The life equivalent of technical debt. And anytime you optimize for long term gain, you are likely going to have to forego some “valuable” present chunk of time to perform some dull, painfully boring task.

But, this alignment of mental principles seems crucial to present-day sapien life. Our minds are tricked into satisfying present wants and desires at all costs. The future is only a conception after all. It is an advanced mode of being for one to forego present satisfaction for future satisfaction. Very, very advanced.

I tend to go about my days in ways that optimize present satisfaction. And the end result is like eating McDonalds on an empty stomach: you feel worse than you did before. Hungrier even.

What if instead we went about our days more sinisterly? More darkly. Yes, ascetically. What if instead of going about everyday looking for any source of excitement and pleasure, we sought out the demons of every day, to size them up and realize we are stronger?

There’s a documentary series on Netflix called Dark Tourist, about a seemingly growing phenomenon of tourists who travel to areas associated with death, violence, and destruction. The initial impression would seem to be: why subject yourself to dark experiences? Would you not risk developing a dark disposition as a result? Quite the opposite. The end result seems very clearly to be: because it makes you grateful. And because you realize…there is nothing quite as scary as you. You are the scariest thing on this planet. Everything else pales in comparison to the monster lurking in your head.

The idea of foregoing short term pleasure for long term gain isn’t new by any means. Fasting, sexual discipline, and a strict to nonexistent consumption of depressants and stimulants is the stuff religions are made of. For our modern day selves, we want to work around a “religious” sort of zealousy, because it’s too adherent. It’s too inflexible, and tends to forget why it exists in the first place.

Instead, we’re looking only for a small software update. A slightly modified mental model:

Tasks with low pleasure yields often yield high pleasure. And tasks with high pleasure yields often yield low pleasure. So: for real pleasure, seek displeasure.

And not absolutely either. Definitely not absolutely. Behind subtlety is a nuclear arsenal’s worth of energy.

Just, instead of filling your days with moments of pleasure as a way of filling your life (which seems to only accomplish the opposite), fill your day with…nothing. Said another way: remove your short term pleasure quota. And rely instead on the sort of dull “organicness” of life for slow nourishment. Instead of that Hershey’s milk chocolate taste we sometimes yearn for, seek the bitter dark chocolate taste that life slowly exudes. You need only acquire that taste, before it becomes uniquely delicious to you.

Those boring, painful things you don’t want to do, but you know you probably ought to do? Your reluctance to embrace their bitterness is what’s holding you back from true pleasure.

Embrace short term temporary pain for long term meaningful pleasure.

Short term pleasure seeking is a woefully outdated mental model, which if one is not cognizant to upgrade, may cause one to suffer living the life of a hundred thousand year old brute in the calm and easy existence of a city brute. When pleasure is as saturated and immediately available as it is today, the only way to receive real pleasure becomes…the avoidance of it. It’s really wicked, but really true.

Optimize for pain, not pleasure. Invert your mental model: when you are feeling pain from performing a non-pleasurable task, this is a good thing. I repeat: this is a good thing. When you are feeling pleasure from the consumption of an immediate good, this is probably a bad thing.

Invest in pain.

You'll only receive email when they publish something new.

More from Mo
All posts