Pain and Pleasure

Pain and Pleasure – the ultimate controlling forces

Everything we do in our lives is driven by a fundamental need to avoid pain and gain pleasure. And we do a lot more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure: particularly in the short term. Whenever we hold back from doing something it’s because we rationalize that taking that action now will be more painful than doing nothing or taking no action.

For most of us, in the short term at least, it’s much less painful to eat that candy or croissant than to say no. The problem is that if we continue to take the quick or easy route, in due course, it reverses on you. It certainly did on me.

Eventually being overweight (the natural consequence of avoiding pain), living a life where my actions conflicted with my vision of myself became much more painful than the momentary pleasure I gained by eating unhealthy and unhelpful foods.  

The problem is that any behavior change is painful, and challenging: And a big risk. While you might think that you will gain pleasure by controlling your eating at the same time you worry about the pain, the suffering and all the deprivation. Like I said, we are more motivated by avoiding pain than gaining pleasure and if you were anything like me, the pain of control was much more scary than the potential pleasure of losing some weight.

There are real risks in losing weight. Anyone who has been overweight for any length of time has reasons for being overweight. They might be good reasons or bad reasons, but no one becomes overweight by accident.  I know that for years I was overweight because it was easier to (literally) swallow my emotions than express them. People expect less of you when you are overweight and it’s great to impress them with just how competent you are. Frankly, I was a lot warmer last winter than I have been during this Autumn!

So what changed, how did I move from pain to pleasure? How was it possible to start to better control these motivating forces of pain and pleasure?

Well, it’s all about perspective really. Once I understood that pain is a bigger force in my life than pleasure I started to focus on the reality that not changing my behavior was going to be much more painful than changing it. I don’t want to develop Type 2 diabetes, destroy my joints because they have too much pressure on them, continue to squeeze my XXXL body into XXL clothes – because that’s the pain I feel by staying overweight. And that’s before you get into any  of the emotional conflicts involved in continuing to damage my health by remaining overweight.

So there’s the pain, but where is the pleasure? I get it on a daily basis with every mouthful of healthy wholesome food I eat.  I get it from knowing that straying from the course I set myself will be much more painful than any momentary pleasure I can get from a poor food choice.

Changing what you link to pain and pleasure in your mind could be one of the most empowering gifts you give to yourself.

Richard Kohn