On a hot summer morning last year, I woke up feeling paralyzed: stuck to my bed like a child clinging to her mother. It was a place I've been to many times before. A place where my body shuts down, and I'm left with an incredible urge to find a more relaxed and joyful way of being.
In a culture of no pain, no gain, it feels counterintuitive to seek pleasure as a way to grow into the woman I want to be. Yet as I lay collapsed on my bed, I couldn't help but remember when I was a little girl: a time when pleasure was a way of being.
As a child, pleasure was what drove me to explore the world and stretch the limits of who I was becoming—through every beautifully flawed piece of art; through every failed attempt at putting on my mother's makeup; through every fall on the playground as I experimented with what my body could do...
Below are three tools I've discovered that have helped me reclaim pleasure as a way of being. They can support you as you define and align with what truly brings you joy. And as you practice using these methods, you'll likely find that the challenges and stresses of life become easier to face. So without sacrificing your health, you can grow into the person you choose to become.
1. Keep blissful childhood memories on hand.
Think back to when you were a small child. Or, if that's difficult for you—think of a happy child you know. Picture the pure joy emanating from the child. Imagine how fearless and resilient he or she is, all while learning and growing at an astonishing rate. Then, keep childhood pleasure memories near you by placing a few old photographs, fragrances, and whatever else evokes these recollections where you live and work.
Reconnecting with childhood pleasure memories attunes you to a time when you played your way to a more developed self. Practiced regularly, revisiting these memories can motivate you to act in ways that feel pleasurable to you now, helping you embody a child’s sense of resiliency, fearlessness, and fun as you conquer your dreams.
2. Bring more pleasure into the present moment.
Pause several times throughout the day for a few moments and reflect on the thoughts, words, and actions that bring you pleasure. In my experience, taking time each day to be in nature, connect with loved ones, and enjoy a few deep breaths in a quiet space are excellent ways to feel more pleasure. You may experience blocks to pleasurable feelings as they arise, such as guilt and stress. Simply acknowledge the resistance and re-focus on the feelings of pleasure you want to create.
The more you enjoy yourself, the more you can give yourself to the journey of personal growth without burning out. Consistency creates resiliency. Ask yourself every day: How could I create more pleasure in my current situation? This question is especially important when you feel low or stagnant.
3. Replace self-sabotaging thoughts, words, and actions with those that move you in the direction of growth.
A study published by peer-reviewed journal, Plos One, suggests that infusing your thoughts, words, and actions with positive affirmations can actually enhance your problem-solving and creativity. First, define a thought, statement, or behavior that no longer serves you and briefly describe why it isn't working. For instance: "When I think I don't deserve a fulfilling relationship, I feel defeated, because I close myself off to the possibility of receiving love."
Then, replace self-sabotaging thoughts, words and actions with those that align you with what you want. To do this, play with the following prompt: "I choose to think/say/do __ so I can __." Going off my previous example, you might say: "I choose to think that I will create a fulfilling relationship when the right partner comes into my life, so I can receive the love I deserve."
While personal growth requires effort and discipline, pain isn't the only way to get there. By committing to your own pleasure, you can discover your own capacity for growth as naturally as you did when you were a child. Bring consistent and simple rituals into your day that gratify you—like displaying childhood mementos in your work space, playing your favorite ambient music as you clean, mindfully massaging lotion into your skin after you bathe, or just going outside to breathe the morning air. Every day, these rituals make it easier to create the life you want more effectively and efficiently than a no pain, no gain approach ever could.