I’ve just finished Personal Power 2 and it came with some interesting insights. It is not actually new, since I’ve listened to it before but this time, I’ve actually did the exercises and took notes. Last time when I’ve listened to Personal Power 2 and did this exercise it was when I was 16. Needless to change, a thing or one thousand changed since then.
As a note here, even if I do exercises and read books I’ve read as soon as five years ago, I’ll still see them in a completely new light.
Resuming, the idea behind this session is how pain and pleasure controls our life.
You see, the reason why most people don’t take action is simply because they fear pain. They fear the pain of what could go wrong (failure), the pain of the effort or process or even the pain of success.
Every person on this Earth is driven by a simple force – the need to avoid pain and the need to gain pleasure. That’s it. It is something we’ve knew since we were kids but we’ve hardly ever thought about it. When you like something, you want to do more of it, when you don’t like it, you want to avoid it. This is why after touching a hot stove for the first time, you’ll not want to touch it again. Pain and pleasure are the “rules” for our lives and it works on a emotional, mental, spiritual and physical basis.
For example, when we procrastinate, delaying something we need to do but we don’t, we are avoiding pain. We find the action painful compared to the alternative and that’s why we leave it as late as possible. On the other hand, if we need to deliver it tomorrow, then the pain of not doing it because higher than the pain of doing it and we get to work.
When two pains are side by side – pain if you do it or pain if you don’t do it, the bigger one will always win.
Our behavior is determined by what we apply pain and pleasure to. We’ll work hard to avoid pain and then we’ll work hard to get pleasure (pain tends to be a stronger motivator to action compared to pleasure, however, as soon as the pain goes away, the motivation goes away too).
For example, if we have a cake in front of us and we have a choice between eating it and not eating it, our body will be predisposed to eat it. Now you may be saying though “oh, no, because the pain of getting fat is higher than the pain of not eating the cake”. Well, in a way that is true but your brain doesn’t operate on an abstract long term, at least, not automatically. Behavior, when no awareness exists is directed by what you focus now on – the pain and pleasure that exists in this moment, not the long term consequences of your actions.
When it comes to pain and pleasure, it is simple. You can let it control your life or you can take control of it and take control of your life at the same time. The proverbial carrot and stick are the engines to action.
This is not always obvious.
Think about money. The truth is that if you don’t have money, you link more pleasure to having money than not having. You may think that this is wrong but think about it. Do you associate pain or pleasure to the work required to get money? Do you associate pain or pleasure to the fact that you’ll lose a lot of friends but welcome others in your life? Do you associate pain or pleasure to the fact that your life is going to change? If you associate pleasure to all of the above and you still don’t have money, then you don’t have a behavioral problem but a strategic one. However, chances are that the answer is no – you associate pain to something required to earn money, directly or indirectly, therefore creating a blockage.
Speaking of which, let’s use going to the gym as an example. Some people associate massive amounts of pain, from the humiliation of not being good enough to physical pain. These people don’t stick to the gym too much. Others associate pleasure like meeting their friends, relaxing or at least, getting outside of the house.
On a abstract level, both parties associate pleasure to going to the gym. Going to the gym means an improved body which means an improved quality of life. However, behavior is not dictated by your SMART goals, behavior is dictated by what you focus on right now. The statement above, the long term consequences of exercises may direct your strategy, how to get there, but actually executing on that strategy comes down to what you associate to it – pain or pleasure?
Let’s think of a salesman. What does a salesman need to do primarily? Call and sell. If a person associates a lot of pain towards calling or talking to new people, can he be a good salesman? No. Because pain will act as a brake and he’ll either not do it at all or his performance will be inferior. He must associate the idea of pleasure to calling, in that particular moment and also in the long term, to know why he is doing what he’s doing.
Every action you take is measured on a scale. On one side you have pain. On the other side you have pleasure. There are many elements including beliefs, the environment, connections, systems, assumptions that determine where the action will fall. For example, if you associate Coca Cola to diabetes, then you’ll put drinking Coke very far into the pain category. But if you associate it to fun times, then you’ll drink more coke.
I think I’m overcomplicating things here a bit. Well, the idea is simple – whatever you focus on right now that the action will bring you, pain or pleasure, be it real or not (your perception may simply be artificial, it doesn’t matter) dictates where you are likely to go with your behavior. It doesn’t mean you’ll always do that but it means that you’ll likely do that, which on a statistical level is equal to certainty.
So how do you change this? By starting to think from terms of what is going to be the pain if I do this to what is going to be the pain if I don’t do this. However, don’t think in terms of years or decades. Think in terms of now. You’re taking an action now, not five years in the future. Yes, having long term leverage like a reason why for 3 – 5 years is great. It is amazing to have a vision that pulls you towards things. But people who only have a vision tend to forget that the future is build based on the actions of today.
Finally, the exercise had me think about four things that I know I should do but I didn’t; what is the pain associated with doing them; what is the pleasure gained by not following through (the other side of the coin); and what it will cost me in 2, 3, 4, 5 years if I don’t change, if I don’t follow through.
I’ve realized during this exercise that I’m in avoidance mode to some really important stuff in my life and that sooner or later, I need to get on it.
Before I finish, let me explain something.
When I was young, I’ve associated massive pleasure with learning. Honestly, I can’t remember how it happened but it was like a trance, I wanted to consume everything. When my classmates were reading a book per year, I was reading a book per week or one every two weeks. I was consuming courses, audiobooks, books in all my spare time. I was putting in info at such velocity that I was making mental breakthroughs at a huge rate.
This helped me get ready for life far faster than other people and allowed me to take some responsibilities that were at least five years too early for me at that moment.
I didn’t need to convince myself to actually read. I simply enjoyed it. It was like eating chocolate or smoking, when I did smoke. I felt so much pleasure paying for books or finishing a book or sitting late at night reading one more page. I’ve associated massive pleasure to learning and this changed my life.
This is how it works. When you associate massive pleasure to something that serves you, it becomes a second nature, it becomes something your body, mind, emotions, spirit automatically wants out of it.
To what you associate pleasure it becomes destiny. People who associated pleasure to playing the piano became piano players or teachers. People who associated massive pleasure to writing became writers and so on. I’m not saying successful ones because if 100 people become something, 20% will suck, 60% will be average, 20% will be good but that’s another story. However, they were influenced that way.
The same can be said about negative habits. If you associate pleasure to drinking, you’ll drink more. You know on a deep level that drinking is not good for you and that you have so much to lose out of it but when you have a bottle in front of you, the pleasure of the present moment is higher than the pleasure of denying it long term.
For me, I was a lot into blaming and victimizing. It is society’s fault, parent’s fault, etc. I drew a lot of pleasure from this because I received a lot of sympathy as a consequence. Well, at some point I’ve realized this, I’ve realized that it is a feedback loop and I’ve decided to stop it. I’ve attached massive pleasure to taking personal responsibility and this changed.
Here’s another one – do you know that when I was a teen I was suffering from social anxiety? Like finding it difficult to walk down the street because there were people around me?
Well, this came from my life in high-school which was … a compromise to say at least. I’ve learned that human contact is bad and that being alone is good. However, after I’ve finished high-school and moved on my own, so many things changed – made friends, discovered myself in romantic relationships, saw real kindness and human beauty and slowly, I’ve began to associate massive pleasure to people. I’ve associated it so much that I’ve left on a long term journey just to meet as many as possible. I still need time alone, sometimes, to recharge but the feeling inside is that people = pleasure.
Another example – I was big into video games. I must have played everything. It is not a joke. I think I’ve spent more time playing video-games, lifetime value, than studying business and self-improvement. When I was a kid, being shy, I was spending a lot of time alone. Games gave me access to a new world and were able to fulfill, albeit superficially, needs I was not meeting otherwise. Because of this, they’ve became among the most important thing to me.
Well, slowly, as I’ve found other things and I’ve started to see how they impact my life, the pleasure moved to pain. Now, the idea of playing a video game is somewhere in both pain and pleasure territory. It gives me a feeling of significance (because it is easier to be a commander or a general in a game than get shit done in real life) but I also associate the pain of wasting time and giving myself a bad physical state if I play. That’s why I’ve played less than 50 hours in the last two years. In comparison, I was playing 50 hours per week when I was in high-school and even a bit after.
Pain and pleasure may not seem a big thing in the moment but in the long term, it is destiny shaping. Your preference or avoidance of broccoli has long term consequence. Your association of pain or pleasure with conflict will determine a large part of how you communicate. Your association of pain or pleasure for letting other people do the work and giving up control will determine if you’ll be an entrepreneur or self employed or employed.
So don’t let pain and pleasure control you. You’ll be at the mercy of randomly formed neurological associations. Use pain and pleasure to control your life.