On The Virtue of Going Against Your Nature

By Bastian Florian Rohr
January 10, 2023

Not a day goes by without me reading somewhere that I should “pursue my dreams” or “follow my nature,” no matter the cost. This seems to be one of the many stupid mantras governing our age: do what you will; the rest will fall into place. Guess what? Life doesn’t work like that.

I noticed that the exact contrary is true. It is often best to pursue an activity when you feel in the mood for something completely anathema. That is why I always try to teach my daughter a lesson when I feel like learning one. Similarly, whenever I feel like letting my mind slouch, I arrange flowers or write a poem.

Systematically going against your inclinations will induce enough dissonance in your mind to allow sharper reflection to form. It will also reveal that a person’s first instincts are generally, as well-intentioned as they may appear, completely wrong. That is because they are geared toward immediate satisfaction. However, most worthwhile pursuits require delayed satisfaction.

And delayed satisfaction is an acquired taste.

You could, of course, also delay satisfaction through sheer willpower. But will alone is relatively ineffective compared to tricking your mind. Isn’t it much easier to do the exact opposite of what you feel like doing?

Of course, you’ll have trouble starting, but it is precisely what is required for proper thinking and sequencing to take place, which allows for a much higher-quality result. In other words, the less pleasant the creative process is, the better the outcome.

It’s almost as though what a person needs, in the long run, is opposite to what he immediately wants. Let’s take yoga as an example. A session will produce much better results if your body is tired and unbalanced than if it felt great. However, you will only want yoga when full of energy: there lies the whole paradox.

So, efficiency is not about minimizing the pain and maximizing immediate pleasure but rather about pursuing the pain whenever you feel good and the fun whenever you suffer.