Toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress

If you had to choose between waiting for the storm to pass, or learning to dance in the rain, which would be more appealing to you?

If you interpret the riddle from a literal standpoint, it mostly depends on footwear.

If you’re wearing hiking sandals that have strong ground traction and washable waterproof leather, then dance away. Take the long way home from work and enjoy the wet adventure.

On the other hand, if you’re wearing diamond studded stiletto heels, maybe hold back fifteen minutes until the clouds clear up.

Now, if you interpret the riddle more figuratively, then your answer mostly depends on mindset.

Dancing in the rain can become a true spiritual practice. One that vaccinates you against future misfortune.

Seneca, the foremost stoic philosopher, called this voluntary discomfort. He wrote:

It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress. Fortune should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace a soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order to be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.

Seneca’s words sound like dancing in the rain to me.

Do you practice voluntary discomfort? Any controlled exposure to physical stresses or psychological cues which trigger stress responses?

It’s a powerful practice. Personally, doing hot yoga was my first foray into the world of controlled exposure. The combo of heat, humidity, long posture and ninety minutes of class time taught me how to suffer with grace.

It built my willingness to tolerate short term stress and discomfort, in exchange for a new foundation of discipline and tolerance. It felt as much like exposure therapy as it did exercise. Yoga built my resolution to refrain from the escape response.

For example, when things got a little too hot in the room, rather than grabbing my water and bolting out into the hallway to huff and puff, I just had to stand there and breathe. As our teachers would say, the only way it is through. Fast heart, slow lungs.

To some, this idea of voluntary discomfort might sound extreme.

Is it religious flagellation, where you remind yourself of your continued depravity in the eyes of god?  

Is it a modern form of renunciation, where you forego all forms of sensual pleasure to redeem your sins?

What about asceticism, where you sleep on a bed of nails to achieve spiritual atonement and purification?

That’s not the point at all. The goal here is not to punish yourself, but to simply quiet your appetites. To prepare for sudden tough situations in advance while it’s still easy.

Because the more you schedule and practice and accept discomfort deliberately, the less unplanned discomfort will throw you off course.

How could you train yourself to become someone who could do what others dreaded, and resist doing what others longed for?


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