By Jim Leonard
Pleasure tolerance is a topic that needs to be addressed by all personal growth methodologies. Pleasure tolerance means being able to accept life as pleasurable only up to some limit. It means not allowing your life to get too good. If life becomes pleasurable beyond that limit, subconscious mechanisms are activated that bring the level of pleasure back down to the acceptable level.
Everyone has a pleasure tolerance. Some people can tolerate more pleasure than others. I know people who have a very low tolerance to pleasure. They constantly make negative statements about themselves and their lives. They don’t laugh at jokes and they almost never do anything for fun. If I compliment them on something, they don’t accept the compliment. I know other people who have a very high tolerance to pleasure. They love their work. They always have plenty of money. They naturally take good care of their health. And they laugh and initiate fun wherever they go. The difference between people who enjoy their lives a lot and those who enjoy their lives only a little is not luck, education, or genes. The difference is their level of pleasure tolerance.
Inability to tolerate pleasure comes from many different sources. One source is the expectations you formed as a child about how pleasurable life would be as an adult. If the adults in your childhood environment didn’t appear to enjoy life very much, then you formed an expectation that life wouldn’t be very enjoyable. Unless you grew up with only blissed-out saints around you, then you have this source of pleasure tolerance. Some people have this kind of negative conditioning to an extreme degree and feel that if they enjoyed life they would be disloyal to their family tradition.
Some religions reduce a person’s tolerance to pleasure by teaching people that they are not worthy of God’s love or by giving them other negative messages. Obviously if you were taught to believe that pleasure is sinful, or that someone else suffers because of your pleasure, then you will not be very tolerant of pleasure. In the extreme form, negative conditioning from religion can make people intolerant of other people’s pleasure, too.
Another common source of a low tolerance to pleasure is shame. Shame is your negative thoughts, feelings, and contexts about yourself. Shame means thinking that you would be better if only you were different. Shame leads you to think that you don’t deserve pleasure.
These are the most important sources of pleasure tolerance, but there are many others, for example being cynical about love, having a drug addiction, or spending too much time with negative people. It’s essential to realize that you do have a pleasure tolerance, and you do limit the amount of good that you can accept in your life, whether or not you have any of these specific conditions. The only way you can make a significant improvement in your life is by directly challenging your pleasure tolerance.
Anything you do that improves your life will activate your pleasure tolerance. For example, you might take a seminar that teaches you how to increase your income. Even if it’s a really good seminar and you learn well, you won’t be able to make much difference in your life if you can’t increase the amount of pleasure that you can tolerate. Otherwise you will either sabotage your efforts or become a miser who can’t enjoy having money.
Another example is that you might work hard to lose weight, and then when people start to give you more sexual attention than you can accept, you might put the fat right back on. This is very common and yet it might surprise you.
There countless other examples. The main point is that if your life starts to become more pleasurable than you can tolerate, you will do something to sabotage your success and return to the more acceptable level of struggle and misery.
In order to get the most benefit from any program of personal development, you need to directly challenge your pleasure tolerance. Do this by intentionally putting yourself in situations that will give you pleasure, and then taking in the pleasure as consciously as you can.
If you are like a lot of people, you don’t think of taking pleasure as something you do for personal growth. Often people think that for something to be good for them it needs to be unpleasant, sort of like medicine that’s good for you must taste awful and candy which tastes good must be unhealthy. Some people even like to take personal growth seminars from people who are rude to them. They think they get more benefit from someone who tells them what’s wrong with them.
This approach is both motivated by shame and increases shame. Personal growth methodologies need to be pleasant in order to give much benefit. If you think you need something unpleasant in order to become a better person, obviously you think that because of your shame. Engaging in unpleasant activities for the purpose of personal growth also reinforces shame. While you are doing the unpleasant activity, some part of your mind is inevitably going to ask you, “Why are you doing this instead of going to a movie, or partying, or playing baseball?” When the answer comes, “I have to do this unpleasant thing just to become an OK person,” your shame ratchets up a notch!
Something I like about Vivation is that it’s physically pleasurable. The enhanced energy from the breathing is, itself, pleasurable. In Vivation you bring your attention fully into the present moment, which is where all pleasure exists. You produce the result by focusing on the strongest feeling in your body and enjoying that feeling as much as you can. (There’s a lot more to Vivation than just this, but it’s not the purpose of this article to teach you how to Vive.) If your mind ever asks you why you’re doing Vivation, the answer is obvious: “Because it feels good!”
Your receptivity to pleasure is the extreme opposite of your negativity. Your negativity causes you to find fault with things. The more you are able to enjoy experiences unconditionally, the less negative you are.
Anything that gives you pleasure will support you in challenging your pleasure tolerance, provided that you focus on taking in the pleasure very consciously. (That is not what people do when they have an addiction or compulsion.) Contrary to what you may have been taught elsewhere, PLEASURE IS GOOD FOR YOU!
Vivation itself directly challenges your pleasure tolerance by giving you concentrated practice at enjoying each moment of your life. Once you learn Vivation you can also do it while engaging simultaneously in any other activity.
The personal growth method I am about to share with you will work much more powerfully for you if you know how to Vive. However, even if you don’t know how to Vive, it will still produce an overall improvement in your life by challenging your pleasure tolerance.
HOW TO CHALLENGE YOUR PLEASURE TOLERANCE
- Make a list of things that give you pleasure.
- From the list, choose the thing that gives you the most pleasure of all.
- Make a list of things you could do in order to have a vivid experience of that pleasure.
- From that list choose the things you are willing to do as part of this exercise.
- Make a list of ways you could make that experience even more pleasurable.
- You now have a plan. Put that plan into action.
- Take in the pleasure very consciously. Explore and savor the pleasurable feelings. Try to milk the experience for every drop of pleasure you can get from it.
- Allow yourself to experience any negative emotions that might be activated by the pleasure. For example, you might experience frustration over not getting even more pleasure. You might feel fear of negative consequences from having such a pleasurable experience. You might feel guilty because you think you shouldn’t allow yourself so much pleasure. You might feel angry at people who don’t cooperate in your efforts to experience pleasure. You might feel sad that the pleasure is limited by time. Or you might feel something else entirely.
- Feel the emotion in your body in as much detail as possible. Do your best to accept the feeling and embrace it. If you are skillful with Vivation, the emotion will actually contribute to your enjoyment of the pleasure.
The rest of the exercise is absolutely essential. Do these things during your anticipation of the pleasure (which is itself pleasurable) and during the pleasurable experience itself.
This simple, pleasurable exercise will give you more personal growth value than writing a thousand repetitions of an affirmation or running a marathon or doing almost anything else that people attempt for the purpose of personal growth. And it will greatly accelerate the results you get from every other personal growth method.
Jim Leonard was the originator of the Vivation process. During his life he conducted more than 45,000 Vivation sessions in 22 countries.