How a Stoic Deals with Discomfort
“Sickness is a problem for the body, not the mind, unless the mind decides it is a problem” - Epictetus
It's coming, you have to train on the hottest days, deprive yourself of sleep to understand the feeling when it's time. It's the feeling many soldiers have when they sign up to fight for freedoms or justice. Most of you listening I imagine are not in actual combat but many of the stoics believed that life was like war. You must prepare for the worst. Many of us will encounter discomfort and pain throughout our lifetimes, it is a part of being human. Why do we run from what is destined? It's fate for us to deteriorate slowly and sometimes painfully. That statement sounds scary but to a stoic such as yourself, you should know it as reality. You should know that it's coming. But do you accept it? Or will you avoid it?
Voluntary discomfort: I’m sure many of you have heard of it, but it's a best practice for every sage. It's a practice that primes your mind and body for the worst outcomes is daily steps and exercises. Taking that road back home that you know adds 20 extra minutes to your trip is a form of voluntary discomfort. Holding off just a bit longer before you eat, pressuring yourself to wake up early on the weekends, going to bed earlier than usual. These are all things that in the long run train your mind into knowing what discomfort is and in moments where something does not wrong…a dead battery on a busy street in the middle of summer. It's time, but something different, because you know what discomfort feels like, you have purposefully put yourself through it and know how to mentally handle it.
Now what about physical pains? To the modern sage, taking an ice cold shower for 30 seconds, then 1 minutes, then your entire shower. What about walking to your favorite restaurant instead of driving, how about in summer? Winter? Does working out bring discomfort? Here's an odd one, wearing unflattering clothing…This one was very popular among many great stoics.
Eating spicy foods, then spicier. How about depriving yourself of delicious foods? These are choices you make everyday that prepare you for real discomforts. Why? Because the first step of dealing with pain and discomfort is knowing what your mind goes through.
Like many modern people you will likely never encounter the gritty difficulty that our ancestors lived through, we have modern problems now. Like achy back from sitting at your home office desk for too long. But you know what discomfort it is, so in your mind you know to slow your mind, know that it is a pain of the body, not of the mind. Now how do you fix it? Stretching, yes, maybe. Massage? As you figure it out you have replaced the worry of pain and the disruption of mood and turned it into problem solving. AS we grow older you notice that pains only get worse and as we learn to deal with discomfort by volunteering for it, even the thought of life threatening pains becomes a process you know is inevitable and can live through it knowing it is a pain of the body but not of the mind. You can pass knowing your character has remained intact and have lived a life away from the worry of pain and instead understand how to find the resolve to live through it.