When is pain not a bad thing? Bob Dempsey explains.
How many of us have changes in our lives we’d like to make? How many of us try again and again to change, but when the willpower runs out, we stop? How many of us tolerate the same conditions for years and then one day, BAM! Something flips and we change overnight.
One day while passing around some vacation pictures with my family, I saw a picture of myself and was shocked. I was fat! Now I’ve always had some junk in the trunk, but I must have put on 20 pounds in the six months since the pictures were taken! I hadn’t even noticed the weight I was putting on.
I hit a breaking point that day and decided I was going to change how I looked.
What drove me to change after seeing a picture of myself overweight? I knew that I was heavy before seeing the picture, but never felt compelled to change until then.
I had finally hit my emotional threshold. The emotional threshold is the amount of pain I was willing to endure before changing.
The forces of pain and pleasure impact every area of your life: from relationships, to finances, to how you feel about yourself and others. Everything you do is to either avoid pain or to gain pleasure.
Sure this sounds simple, but give it some thought. Why don’t you do the things you know you should do? You know the benefits of getting things done, but why do you continue to procrastinate?
Because at some level you feel that taking action now would be more painful than continuing to put it off.
How many times have you procrastinated during tax season? You keep putting it off and putting it off until tomorrow is the deadline and BAM! You switch into high gear and get it done right away. What happened? Suddenly it was more painful to keep putting it off than to get it done.
When you first start a diet, it’s painful missing the foods you love. But as you build some momentum, a shift happens; the pain you associate with cheating on your diet and delaying progress outweighs the short blip of pleasure you’d gain from eating your old foods. The pain of cheating on your diet now becomes your friend.
Whether it’s the alcoholic that quits cold turkey after 20 years, or someone that finally leaves an abusive relationship, they’ve both reshaped their lives through altering their pain and pleasure associations related to a particular scenario. They’ve both made pain their friend.
Skeptical? Picture a food or drink that was once a favorite of yours, but now you do everything to avoid. Could it be that you’ve sworn off of pickled pigs feet and Jägermeister because you now just prefer the finer things in life?
Or does night of projectile vomiting and the smell of vinegar haunting you for 3 days come to mind? See the connection?
Painful emotions are an extremely effective way to avoid unwanted behaviors. Once you make pain your friend, you can change your life in an instant.
You may be thinking “No one changes in one day…” Garbage! There’s more pain in staying the same than in changing. I made the decision that day to no longer settle with being overweight. I’m not saying I lost all the weight (100 lbs.) that day. But in my mind it was very simple; the emotional pain of living another day doing nothing about being overweight outweighed the pleasure of gummy worms and soda.
Everything you strive for in life is a result of what you’ve associated pain and pleasure with. When you’re able to leverage pain and pleasure in your favor, you’ll be able to create lasting change in your life that isn’t dependent upon the surge of willpower we usually experience when starting a new goal.
What’s preventing you from living life exactly how you imagined it? What changes do you need to make, but can’t follow through on? What keeps you from going on that diet, or starting that business? What if instead of focusing on your behavior, you focused on what’s motivating you? What if you were able to link more pain to not pursuing your dreams than with the security and familiarity of your 9-5?
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.