It is a general principle of life that for all things, there are two sides of the same coin – pleasure and pain. Everything is a delicate dance between these two extremes, good and bad, pleasure and pain, light and dark. And even each extreme contains the seed of its opposite. This is the essence of the tao.
Relax all day and enjoy the pleasure of watching movies or playing video games, and then get hit later with the pain of depression or self loathing, feeling like you wasted the entire day later. Endure the pain of working through the day, and enjoy a leisurely guilt free evening later.
Endure the pain of going for a run every morning and enjoy the pleasure of higher energy levels throughout the day and the feeling of accomplishment. Enjoy the pleasure of sleeping in and living a sedentary lifestyle, feel the pain of bad health and weakness.
Pleasure and pain. Always present.
If these two things are always constant, How do we balance them? We could indulge in pleasure first and tackle the pain later. This is the essence of procrastination. Avoiding the pain of a task to bask in present pleasure or delusion. Until the pain of not getting it done is too much and now we are forced to deal with it. Or we can do the opposite, paying the pain upfront to reap the pleasure later. Sure, this can also backfire, deferring reward so much that you never get it, or you get it when you can’t enjoy it.
Balance as with all things.
Another thing to understand is that the more you let something accumulate, the greater force or impact it has when you do release it. So if you avoid paying the pain now, it accumulates over time and becomes an even bigger pain. If you pay it early, it is still painful sure, but it is relatively smaller.
The reverse is also true. the longer you delay gratification, the bigger the payoff. Think of saving or investing or studying. It is the same premise. The more you save or invest without tapping into the account, the more money you accumulate to use down the line. Endure pain today, endure it long enough, and maximise your pleasure down the line.
Of course, the alternative is tempting. Why wait. You could die tomorrow. Or who is to say, that tomorrow will be better than today. As with all things, there is always the risk. The trick is managing it.
This principle of pleasure and pain is important because everything we do as humans is predicated by deep instinctual reactions to those extreme poles. We are constantly trying to maximise our pleasure and minimise our pain.
But life itself is a mix of both, we cannot hope to have all pleasure and no pain. It is impossible because life by its nature is full of challenges. And those challenges are the gift.
In a video interview with Tom Bilyeu, Mark Manson speaks about talks about this fact, expressing that we should not seek to have no problems at all, that is impossible, what we should strive after is gaining better problems.
Problems exist at every level of life, and for good reason. It is these problems that inspire us to act, that move life forward. Without challenges, we would wither away. The rich have problems, just as the poor do, just different ones. With every choice, and at every level there are challenges. You just have to choose what problems you are willing to deal with.
Because getting what you want is about tackling the challenges and problems surrounding that which you want. If you want to excel at your career, you have to tackle the problem of developing yourself, of improving your skills, of networking and being more seen and heard.
If you want to make more money, you have to tackle the problem of creating or proving something useful, of learning to sell it, of getting paid for it. Problems everywhere. If you want to gain better health, you have to tackle the problem of working out and eating correctly, and there are many problems to be tackled around that.
If life is full of challenges no matter our station and circumstance, then it is better in general to live with a predisposition to the pain, with a bias to taking action, responsibility and tackling problems. And the longer we lived this way, the easier it would get.
If you woke up everyday looking for the price to pay, looking for the pain to endure, you would get better at tackling and managing the pain . Over time, you would begin to even derive a perverse joy from the strain of pain. Pulling out the seed of pleasure from your pain.
All things have pleasure and pain, even pain, even pleasure.
It is in this way that we become skilled in the art of living. We learn to pay in pain, we learn to do it upfront, to maximise our gains and pleasure down the line.