Pleasure and Pain is a conscious and subconscious battle. We don’t like to experience pain, so our conscious and subconscious makes us avoid pain. If we do experience pain then we want the pain to be over as immediately as possible; but if the pain persists – the pleasure, when the pain is finally alleviated, will be greater. But how do we endure pain? How do we make it though to accomplish our goals? How do we condition ourselves to tolerate the pain?
When talking about self control and delayed gratification, one of the topics we must discuss is Freud’s Pleasure principle. Before we get into that principle, we must first clarify some ideas of Freud’s. Also, let me point out, I am not a Freudian, but I do find some of his ideas have merit, afterall he is the father of psychotherapy.
The id, ego and superego are three parts of the personality according to Freud’s models. The id is what we are going to be discussing today. You see, according to Freud, the id is the personality we have starting out – at birth: our driving force. The id is a smaller part of our personality, and it acts as our motivator. The id represents our basic urges, and since this is the primal personality – it is crucial to survival: You’re cold, the id makes you go warm by the fire. You are hungry, the id makes you eat.
So if you are going around satisfying your urges, and your urges are unmanageable; it is like having this little guy – the id – driving your personality bus all over the place and you are out of control. Don’t get me wrong, the id is important to our survival, but remember it is a smaller part of your personality, so don’t let it take control.
So back to Freud’s pleasure principle. Freud said that the id didn’t like to be in pain. Now the pain that Freud was speaking about was the pain of discomfort, such as: hunger, loneliness, thirst. When we feel this kind of pain, our id tries to take over and strives to relieve this discomfort.
Delayed gratification and self control are things that the id doesn’t like. It wants what it wants and it wants it now: sound familiar. If you have ever spent anytime in the company of an infant, you will totally understand the id. When a baby is hungry what does it do? The baby starts to cry. When a baby is tired, it will cry. When a baby is wet or dirty, crying will ensue.
So right now, I am changing my eating habits. I am not calling it a diet, because that is a four letter word that should be held in the same contempt as the “f” word. Anyway, when I started this change, my id went crazy, “What do you mean you are changing how and what you eat, I was fine with what we were eating, we were happy – I thought everything was going good. You bastard!” Truthfully I am in the early stages, and I know that – in time – it will settle down.
When we strive to push ourselves to be in more control, our id goes into panic mode. That is why when we diet (or whatever you want to call it), we always feel hungry. Our id is there saying, “I’m hungry right now.” If you are trying to quit smoking, your id will start giving you more nicotine fits. The id does not like to be in pain, it only likes pleasure. So how can we deal with – the id: this “tip of the iceberg” of our total personality?
Now is when we start to move towards Freud’s reality principle. Which states that we must wait and delay gratification until it is appropriate to do so. So my reality is that the container of Oreos that my daughter brought into the house is only about eight feet from my present location. My id wants the sugar and the carbs that it will provide, however, I have eliminated that from my new lifestyle. My id is not happy – to say the least – however eating the Oreos are not appropriate for my goals. So I must not pay attention to my id and ignore the fact that those damned Oreos are calling my name.
So like the spoiled little kid that the id is; we cannot be giving into it at every turn – even though there is discomfort. Since the id hangs out in our subconscious most of the time, we need to pay attention to that subconscious, and to its urges; we need to stop with the behaviours that enable the id to take control. If you know you will give in to urges by doing specific actions, stop doing those actions.
With the action of changing my eating habits, I know that standing in front of the refrigerator and scanning the shelves is how to not be successful in my change of diet, and it is a way to give into my id. When I was quitting smoking, if I went out to the smoke break area, I would want a cigarette, so I would stop hanging out with my friends in the smoking area. Sometimes changing just one behaviour will make it easier not to give into your id.
“But that causes pain Thom, you said you would tell us how to deal with that pain.” Dealing with the pain of denying oneself and having self control is difficult at best. There will be pain, and the pain can seem severe at times, however, nothing is permanent. Sometimes you will start to fantasize about what you are not getting. You start to think about that cookie, cigarette or whatever you are trying to have more control over. Moreover, keeping your mind on it, even in fantasies will only intensify the pain. However, if you can distract yourself, the pain will lose its intensity over time.
So you can control your basic urges. Remember that you don’t have to let your personality bus be driven by your id. By changing your behaviours and not thinking about them, you can control your pain, and delay your gratification. If you can distract yourself like the children did in the famous marshmallow experiment. You will be more successful in keeping your goals. Remember changing your lifestyle can be very hard – pain can be hard, but once you are in control; you will be even happier with yourself.