Permission to feel pleasureBy Dr Gemma Munro | May 17, 12 09:05 AM
Pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success. Are you denying yourself?
Have you ever had one of those beautiful, dawning realisations that seem entirely obvious once you have got over your own cleverness? That happened to me just the other day. I realised that there is one thing that distinguishes my coaching clients who experience sustained success and joy from those who don’t:
The well-honed ability to seek and experience pleasure often – without any feelings of guilt.
This realisation came to me in a coaching session last week. A client of mine was talking about all her ‘have tos’ – wake early to get some quiet time at the office, meet the multiple demands required of an executive, leave by 6.30pm to get to the gym … at which point I interrupted with, ‘”Well, you could just go home, pour yourself a glass of wine and sit on the grass”. She paused, then looked at me like I had announced a desire to eat ants on toast. Then she said, dully, “I don’t do that”.
In saying “I don’t do that”, my client wasn’t referring to drinking wine, or sitting on the grass, or even going home at a reasonable hour. She was referring to doing things for fun; simply because they make one feel delighted, delicious or just plain good.
Did you know that there is an actual disease called ‘anhedonia?’ It means, literally, without pleasure. Increasingly, I am meeting clients who are unable to give themselves permission to experience pleasure. Quite a few also struggle to identify any activities that are pleasurable to them. This is understandable, given that we live in a society where pleasure is not a necessity. Work – yes. Success – yes. Pleasure? It’s seen as an indulgence – even a little naughty.
I argue, though, that pleasure is an absolute necessity for long-term success.
Ginormously famous researchers like Daniel Pink and Martin Seligman tell us that success is linked directly to experiencing a sense of purpose. I know this to be true; from my own life and from being a close observer of/ally in the lives of others. But the concept of ‘finding your purpose in life’ is often met with a blank, glazed expression, and the slightly panicky question “How on earth am I supposed to know what I’m here on earth to do?”
Here’s where the concept of pleasure comes into its own. Finding our purpose is actually deceptively simple when we view it through pleasure-tinted glasses. Our purpose reveals itself in whatever gives us an enormous sense of pleasure. You know that topic that you can’t help but talk or read about (even on holidays)? That activity that causes you to lose track of time? That thing that, when you think about it, makes you smile ever so slightly? Anything that has this effect on you is likely linked to your purpose in life.
There is another reason for seeking pleasure, too. Pleasure provides both clarity and rejuvenation. It stops our insanely busy minds from whirring to the point of exhaustion and, in doing so; it puts us ahead of the curve. Those that seek and experience pleasure on a regular basis have more energy and greater resilience when the ship hits the fog and so, of course, they find themselves better able to perform under pressure. Greater pleasure equals higher performance.
For those who really don’t know what gives them pleasure, that’s fine – and pretty gosh darn normal, actually. My advice is to take baby steps; move towards anything you have an inkling will give you even a little bit of pleasure. Start doing one thing every day that makes you feel good, and gradually work up to making numerous pleasurable choices throughout the day. Seeking pleasure becomes a mindset relatively quickly as the rewards are so sublimely huge.
And for those who are struggling with the seemingly selfish aspect of seeking pleasure, I will reproduce the words of Regena Thomashauer, known internationally as the Queen of Pleasure:
I have made pleasure the guiding principle of my life and the lives of my family, and in my business. If something does not feel good, we don’t do it. If it feels good, we do. And because no action would feel good if it hurt or compromised someone else, pleasure is moral in the highest sense of the word.
Moreover, your pleasure invites the pleasure of others. Who would you rather be served, helped or befriended by: someone who takes great joy in the task, or someone who doesn’t?
So go forth and pleasure yourself, in the non-naughty sense of that particular phrase. Make a long, long list of anything and everything that would make you feel good (mine contains such specificities as ‘jogging past someone’s sprinkler on a hot day and getting hit by the mist’), and commit to doing at least one thing on that list every single day. And – seriously – watch as you experience more purpose, joy, meaning and success than you ever thought possible.
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If you’re interested in building your confidence and skills as speakers, Gemma is running her Speakeasy program on June 18-19 in Adelaide and is offering a great discount for Business Chicks members. Speakeasy is a two-day workshop for a small group of women who want to communicate more confidently, effectively and authentically. The program is designed specifically for women who are smart, self-motivated and positive in outlook, but who believe that they do not show their full potential when speaking to a group. More info here
Gemma Munro is an Adelaide-based coach and facilitator and the Director of Inkling Coaching. Gemma has a PhD in performance psychology and ten years' experience working with business leaders to maximise their performance and enjoyment at work.