Gijs Verheijke

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The preference window and the tolerance window

3 November 2023

One of my favorite Stoic sayings (actually, one of my favorite sayings of all time) is: "A Stoic loves to enjoy the wine, but would be equally happy with water."

I recently moved house, and my new place has a quirk. The water tank and pipes are apparently somewhere on the roof, and heat up in the sun. On a hot day, if you take a shower at the end of the afternoon, it's going to be a hot shower whether you like it or not. I generally don't shower very hot. My preference is to shower mildly warm, a bit on the cooler side. But I don't really mind that much to shower very hot. I can tolerate it. I have a similar weird thing with boiled eggs. I prefer them to be soft-boiled in a way that the eggwhite is completely set, but the yolk is still soft, but not too runny. I boil them for 7 minutes. But when I was a student I would not even bother to time boiling eggs. I would take pride in not needing to. I do have a pretty good sense of time, but I also just didn't care whether they were a bit softer or a bit harder.

While I was heaving my mildly uncomfortably hot shower I suddenly got struck with the realization that this extends to many things. Generally, I believe I have a narrow preference window. I know what I want, quite specifically. But I also have a wide tolerance window. It doesn't affect me that much when things are not as comfortable as I prefer them to be.

It makes it easier for me to enjoy things like travel, or to handle setbacks. I think it makes me happier. It might be good to train your tolerance window to become wider. That's probably why people have cold showers or go on ultra-runs. On the other hand I also think it's good to narrow down your preference window. It makes it possible to know how good things can be.