Understanding the concept of pain and pleasure, and how your subconscious mind and nervous system are wired, may be the most important distinction of your life. When you understand that your subconscious mind and nervous system are programmed to avoid pain and seek out ways to gain pleasure, you can begin to direct and effectively manage your mind and nervous system to associate pain and pleasure where you consciously decide appropriate which will allow you to create new habits, and ‘recreate yourself’ in anyway you like.
What is the single most profound distinction that has increased the quality of my life? What is the understanding that has allowed me to follow a workout routine consistently for years? Even more importantly, what is the understanding that, if used, will allow YOU to make any change you want in your life and have that change stick for the long term? It’s not willpower, It’s this: the understanding of pain and pleasure. This is a concept that has changed my life in more ways than I could ever describe. This concept is simple yet profound. Most importantly, this concept is usable. It’s an understanding that allows you to start seeing the “WHY” behind your own, and other people’s behavior. When you understand the why, you can start to consciously take charge.
Last week in the brilliant guest post the science of self change, Randy covered this concept flawlessly. Really quickly, read his explanation of pain and pleasure:
2. Pleasure & Pain: The Twin Driving Forces of Your Behavior:
Humans are Driven by Pleasure & Pain: The biological machine (Human Body & Mind) that our genes have built to house them, does not carry out the orders (Survival & Replication) of our genes directly. In other words, you and I don’t consciously receive instructions from our genes on what to do, how to act or behave. Instead, we carry out orders from our genes indirectly, through the sensations (Emotions) of “Pleasure and Pain.” It is through these two sensations, of which there are many manifestations and intensities that we obey our genes. Every intended action is driven by these two unseen forces, to avoid pain and to gain pleasure. It just so happens that most of the situations that threaten the survival and replication of our genes is associated with pain (Damage to our body, in which the genes reside within.) and most situations that increase the survival and replication of our genes have been associated with pleasure (Food, Drink, Money, Protection, Sexual Intercourse).
Pleasure Abuse & Pain Avoidance: It all seems to be well for the genes, doesn’t it? Well it’s not that simple. Again, we do not see our genes, know of them, or do the bidding of our genes directly. We do so indirectly by avoiding the sensation of “Pain” and seeking “Pleasure.” It is how our masters (The genes) designed us. This is the catch. Because we only know pleasure and pain, and nothing else, many of us have come to “Abuse” the sensation of pleasure, which was initially set to help our genes. We take drugs, we eat loads of fattening food, we drink alcohol, we take risks, we smoke our lungs to ashes, we do things which are dangerous or can be fatal, we fight and put our lives at risk.
Why do we do all these things? We carry out these behaviors because at some point in our lives for whatever reason, we linked up some amount of pleasure to all of them, the sensation of ecstasy, joy, pride, satisfaction, acceptance, etc… Not all people have associated positive emotions to these behaviors, but many have, which is why so many partake in these destructive behaviors. On the pain side of things, those who fail to achieve what they associate pleasure to, do so, because in that moment they associated more pain to doing what’s necessary, than to gaining the pleasure of achieving a desired goal. They experienced pain avoidance. After all, what if you approached that person and they rejected you? What if you tried to start that new business, but failed and lost the security you have in your present job? What if you started a diet and went through the pain of starving yourself, only to gain the weight back eventually? What if you made an investment and lost all your money?
So has pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain backfired on our master genes after all? Not necessarily. Because of our modern society, survival is usually no longer an issue, and most of us go on to replicate and pass on our genes at some point in our life regardless of what we do, how mediocre our lives are, or how we abuse our bodies and put our masters at risk. We still try our best to survive, to eat and drink, to protect ourselves and to replicate. Every time you carry out these behaviors, you are doing the biddings of your genes, that is, you are permitting them to survive and eventually to replicate via sexual intercourse. Yes, we do take drugs, prevent ourselves from really living a fulfilling life, or do other activities that harm us, and thus our genes, but as long as we’re alive and able to replicate, we yet are useful to our masters, our genes, and so masters they shall remain.
My addition/way of describing this concept
Okay, first of all we’ve got to understand that our subconscious mind and nervous system is a powerful machine. We almost have to start looking at ourselves as a triple entity “ME, my brain, my body.” You are not your mind. You are not your body. You are the awareness behind them. Notice for me right now, that you can observe your own thoughts. You can be aware of what’s going on in your brain. What’s that? AWARENESS. In philosophy they call it the “the problem of consciousness.” Why is it considered a problem? Because it makes NO SENSE. It’s bizarre. This awareness is who you are. You aren’t some stored up subconscious belief about yourself such as “I’m a fat girl.” Nope. Ultimately, that may be what your brain has stored in it, but it’s NOT who you are. For a great resource around the concept of awareness and increasing it, check out the book “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle. In the mean time, start the process of becoming more aware of your thoughts. Become aware of the machine that is your brain. Become aware of the machine that is your body. Once you begin to gain awareness, you can begin to control and direct; rather then being controlled and directed. You can start to become ‘proactive,’ rather then reactive. This is the ticket to success.
Really quickly, this is massively important. Understanding this concept has transformed my ability to take charge of my life. If you don’t think it’s controlling your life and keeping you from becoming who you want to be, it’s time to think again. This literally is the reasons why EVERYONE doesn’t become their ideals. I mean think about it, we all want to be healthy, fit, attractive, etc. Why don’t we all take action to achieve this? Being healthy, fit, attractive, is a SCIENCE. It really is nothing but a math formula. “Do these things, and get this result.” Here’s the reason why; people’s brains, their subconscious brains, and nervous system (aka body) are holding them back from taking action. It’s that simple.
Our Subconscious Mind’s Programming
On a subconscious level, our minds are wired to avoid pain, and also wired to seek out ways to gain pleasure. Both physical pain and pleasure, and emotional pain and pleasure. It is the basis behind our survival. For example, if the burner is hot and gives us physical pain when we touch it, we avoid it in the future. What’s called a neuro association is made between a hot burner and pain. To your mind, hot burner = pain. This is a fantastic system! Now we don’t have to think about whether to put our hands on a hot burner. However, like a virus infested computer, sometimes it can screw up and make the wrong evaluations based on inaccurately perceived data.
You see, your subconscious mind and nervous system doesn’t care about your goals. It doesn’t care that you want to become fit and physically vibrant. It doesn’t care about anything other than survival. As long as you’re surviving, all is well to your genes and your subconscious mind which is doing their ‘bidding.’ So you can imagine what happens when you go do some hill sprints or other rigorous exercise? Your subconscious does its job and starts making evaluations and associations. It starts evaluating, without YOU (remember you are the awareness behind this mechanism) being consciously aware “does this mean pain or does this mean pleasure?” When you let your subconscious win, every human being on planet earth will associate pain to sprints and exercise. It isn’t hard to figure out why so few people can get themselves to exercise on a regular basis. Their subconscious mind makes an evaluation and association that goes something like this: “sprints are painful! Must we do them to survive? Is there anything chasing us? A lion? A Rhino? One of those other humans from across the hills? NO????!!!! Screw this, sprints equal pain, therefore don’t do them.” Now your brain has a new association that doing sprints is painful and as this association strengthens, it gets harder and harder to consciously ‘drag yourself out there’ to do them. It takes more and more willpower, and eventually you just quit. In other words, willpower runs dry. The reality of the situation isn’t that you’re just lazy, or weak willed. The reality is your subconscious functioning took over and is now controlling your life in this particular area. You brain went ahead and associated some pain to the very action that get you the results you so desperately want.
This is called internal conflict. “I want to workout, I’m just lazy.” The “I’m just lazy” part of the equation is really your subconscious screaming “working out equals pain!”
We will do much more to avoid pain then we ever will to gain pleasure. However, when your subconscious mind associates pleasure to something, you better believe you will have no trouble taking action. It won’t take will power. You’ll love it. When you love something does it take motivating yourself to do it? If you absolutely love chocolate cake, do you need to pump yourself up to eat it? ha….yeah right. This is called DESIRE. Screw temporary motivation, getting yourself to take action on a regular basis is about gaining new desire. What this really means is getting your subconscious mind to associate pleasure to taking right action. Remember, right action=following through, doing what you consciously know you should be doing.
When you take charge of your subconscious mind and get it to make new pain/pleasure associations, all of a sudden you take right actions on a consistent basis, and in a relatively short period of time, you have a new life. It no longer takes motivation, you can ‘just do it.’ This is what gets me excited. I love this. I take great pride in seeing this process happen within people. People come to me and exercise and proper nutrition takes will power, and by the end, they LOVE exercise and proper nutrition. It no longer takes will power. Why? They have updated their subconscious minds to associate pleasure with right action.
Ultimately, this understanding is the ticket toward getting yourself to follow through on a consistent basis. This is the ticket to new habits where you take right action on a regular basis. You’ve got to start consciously associating pleasure toward proper nutrition and exercise, and you’ve got to start consciously associating pain toward inferior habits. Don’t wake up one day and go “woops, I got diabetes,” or woops “I got heart disease.” The time to take charge is now.
So how can you and I form new associations?
First, you must be aware of your brain, and begin to direct it through this awareness. This is like a muscle, it must be trained. You must be on guard and aware of what your nervous system is doing. For example, if you go exercise, and it hurts (which it will if you’re being effective) you know at that moment that if you leave your mind undirected it will be busy associating pain to exercise. Conversely, if when you’re feeling the painfulness of exercise you consciously start thinking about all the pleasure/benefits/implications of the exercise that you’re doing, you will direct, guide your subconscious associations. Enough of this type of direction will create a pleasure association to exercise. One month later you’ll look back and realize that all of a sudden you really enjoy and look forward to exercise. One month later you’ll also notice that you’ve lost 10 lbs of fat and that will create even more pleasure. In other words, success will build more success. At this point you’ll have momentum. Positive momentum, the most precious thing any person can have, will be rolling. The snowball effect will begin to take place and you’ll be heading toward a totally different destiny. It’s a beautiful thing.