From Vol. 4, Issue 11, November 2022
Dealing with your inner pigdog
“Your habits, your attitude, and the decisions you make, make you.”
Epictetus asks us, “How long are you going to wait to demand the best of yourself?” Enchiridion, 50. This is a question that runs through my mind on the days I don’t jog. The only exercise I get is beating myself up when my inner pigdog takes the wheel. Our lives are a constant series of decisions; we make over 30,000 choices every day. It is up to us to choose the best for ourselves.
One of my personal heroes is Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen. He was dogsledding across Greenland and was buried by an avalanche. He crapped his snowsuit, but was it from fear? No. He fashioned a dagger from his own frozen feces and dug himself free from his icy almost-grave.
The 6’7” polymath later amputated his own frostbitten, gangrenous toes, though not with the same frozen knife he used to dig himself out of the snow. His books about his experiences with the indigenous peoples of Greenland were the basis for the Academy Award-winning film, Eskimo. In World War II, he fought the Nazis, was caught and sentenced to death, but he escaped. After the war, he moved to the United States and won the grand prize on the U.S. quiz show “The $64,000 Question.”
Daily acts of heroism and courage
We are not all called to great acts of heroism, but opportunities for daily acts of valour and courage are all around you. We all have a choice: be useful or useless. It is up to us to look for our shots to be useful. As Mother Teresa noted, “We all can’t do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” I firmly believe it is a mistake to do nothing, just because we can only do a little.
Your greatest struggles reveal who you really are
It is what you choose to do during your greatest struggles that shows you who you really are. To stagnate in mind or body is to surrender, to capitulate without terms. Action will dull fear. There is always something to do, even if that something is to prepare to accept what is inevitable and cannot be changed. As Marcus Aurelius wrote,
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being.
And as he continues:
What do I have to complain about, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm? – But it’s nicer here … So were you born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? - Meditations, 5.1.
When you loll in bed after the alarm clock detonates, even though you have an early meeting, or when you scroll through Instagram until your eyes bleed the night before that meeting, or when you give in to that last ice cream sandwich in the freezer, because what good is one ice cream sandwich anyway? – you have revealed your weaker self to yourself. In Greek this is called “akrasia” – a lack of willpower that keeps us from doing what is good for us. But when you delay instant gratification to work toward higher goals, the Germans say you are overcoming your “innere Schweinehund” – your “inner pigdog”.
Your pigdog is the desire for immediate gratification. The pigdog values short-term rewards over long-term gains. He nips and growls and squeals and oinks to keep you watching cute duck videos when you should be reading your Zeno. When you overuse your smartphone or tablet, devices that have been engineered to engage the pigdog part of our brains, you give the porker at the wheel.
Your pigdog can be gluttonous
Your appetites and instincts are not negative. They drive you to fulfill your very essential needs – to survive, thrive, mate, and reproduce. But the pigdog can be gluttonous and override your higher self. It’s easier than ever to feed him – just think of how much junk entertainment and junk food there is. The trick is to take the wheel from the pigdog and pilot yourself toward your greater goals. This is in your control. You choose, not the pigdog. To paraphrase Epictetus, it is all in your control, in your way of thinking. Sometimes we have to think fast, like Freuchen, who spat in death’s eye many times.
Your inner pigdog can be trained and guided
Your inner pigdog can be trained and guided by having an ethos, a vigorous philosophy of life that guides your choices and actions. We are what we repeatedly choose to do. Your habits, your attitude, and the decisions you make, make you. As my main man, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, wrote 2,000 years ago,
You are not your body and your hair style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too, will you be. - Discourses, 3.1.
Karen Duffy is a producer, actress, and former MTV VJ. Her latest book on Stoicism. Wise Up (https://amzn.to/3PpLv5D) is published by Seal Press.