Pain vs Pleasure

By June 3, 2014 April 18th, 2020 Articles
nlp pain-pleasure principle

Have you ever wondered WHY you do some of the things you do?  Like why you don’t take action when you want to or need to. Or, you do something then ask yourself “why would I do that?” Well the answer is quite simple. It has everything to do with the fight or flight mechanism. Or what we call the pain/pleasure principle. Because we will do MORE to avoid pain then gain pleasure, SIMPLE!

You’ll hear me make this statement over and over again about the unconscious mind; “it’s number one prime directive is to PROTECT the body.” So anything that could potentially bring harm or PAIN to the body/mind it will avoid. And this all takes place at the UNCONSCIOUS level. You’re not aware you are avoiding the circumstance. You may only perceive it to be; unappealing, difficult, challenging, uninviting or, you’re no longer interested. You may poo-poo the idea, find excuses why you can’t do it or even procrastinate…  (oh no, not that!)

It’s because we tend to gravitate towards what is ‘known’ and move away from what is the ‘unknown.’ The unconscious mind likes familiar, we recognize it as our ‘Comfort Zone.’ But just because something is ‘known’ or familiar, does not mean that it’s good, pleasurable or a pleasant experience at a conscious level. And just because something is ‘unknown’ or unfamiliar, does not mean that it’s bad for us, or a painful experience at a conscious level.

But when it comes to our unconscious mind, this is exactly the way we perceive our external world. And this is why it is such a challenge to break bad habits or to do something that may bring harm or have perceived pain associated with a new experience. Our unconscious mind tends to gravitate towards what is familiar; because familiar is usually something that is comfortable and NOT painful. Or if it is, we understand this familiarity brings with it a positive intention.

Subsequently, the unconscious mind will avoid what it ‘does not know‘ because this is unfamiliar to us, outside our comfort zone and may bring us pain, which is what the unconscious mind will avoid at all costs. Think about it this way; the conscious mind is your thinking mind. It’s the part of your mind that is AWARE or perceives your environment. It is the analytical, logical and intelligent part of the mind. And your unconscious mind is not. It’s not analytical, logical or intelligent.  It doesn’t understand sarcasm, humor, or negations (IE: putting a “don’t,] “can’t” or “shouldn’t,” in front of a statement; something you want to have happen, For example; “Don’t think of the blue tree.”)  The unconscious mind takes everything LITERALLY and PERSONALLY. It also provides answers to all questions you ask of it. Disempowering questions will yield disempowering answers. Whereas empowering questions get empowering answers.

I understood this concept very clearly when I was young. I recognized that the things I didn’t want to do, procrastinated or never started, were the things that brought me the most pain, and the things that I liked to do, brought me pleasure. Understanding this allowed me to easily change my behavior by USING this principle of pain and pleasure. I would link up a lot of pain to NOT doing something I wanted to do, therefore getting me to take action. For example; going to work out. I didn’t want to go because it was just exhausting, made me hurt, and would bring me pain. So I would associate even MORE pain in the future and how bad I would look, what others would say or how I would feel months or years later if I didn’t immediately go workout. Pain can be a great motivator!

And then I would equate a lot of pleasure going to the gym; how I will look and feel, what compliments I’d get from others and how healthy I am. This way I used both pain AND pleasure to motivate me to something I didn’t want to do, the carrot and the stick. I’m sure you’ve played these same mind games even if you didn’t know you were doing it consciously, am I right?

I realized it wasn’t necessarily my willpower that was the driving force behind getting me to do the things I wanted to. It was simply moving away from pain or moving towards pleasure. Willpower is a conscious level thought process. Once I understood how the pain and pleasure principle affected my results and outcomes I began appreciating the “WHY” behind my own behaviors as well as the WHY other people did what they did.

When you fully comprehend the ‘WHY‘, or the driving force behind what you do, you can begin to ‘consciously’ take charge of your behaviors thus producing better results. Knowing WHAT you associate to pain and WHAT you associate to pleasure can help you get your goals faster by re-assigning what you link to your driving force.

It’s knowing how to control this concept that will bring you the most results. Though some behaviors that are bad for us can actually be pleasurable. Can you think of a few? And many individuals have come to “abuse” these feelings of pleasure, for instance; they eat a lot of fast-food, drink a lot of alcohol, do drugs, party all night, fill their lungs with tar-ridden smoke and do things which are completely foolish just because it feels good, to rid pain or just for the thrill of it. They put their lives at risk all because it “FEELS GOOD”…  it’s pleasurable! Remember the 1960’s adage: “If it feels good, do it!”  Thank God we don’t live our lives by that saying! 

On the pain side of things, those who fail to achieve what they set out to do, ‘in that moment’ have associated more pain to doing what’s necessary, rather than gaining the pleasure of achieving their outcome. This is called pain avoidance.

So, understanding the concept of the pain/pleasure principle and how your unconscious mind operates could be the most important distinction you can learn about how to achieve the things you desire in your life. This all make sense doesn’t it!

Would you like to re-program your mind to produce massive results from here on out? Click Here!
Or please contact me personally about a free coaching session – Contact Me Here!

John James Santangelo PhD

Author John James Santangelo PhD

John James Santangelo PhD - nationally acclaimed speaker, author, seminar leader, and business results coach, has been a guiding force in empowering individuals, businesses, and corporations to excel at peak performance. John is a foremost authority in success principles and expert in the field of communication; an NLP trainer and clinical hypnotherapist. He has worked with companies such as The Learning Annex, Los Angeles Sheriffs Dept., Mary Kay Inc, Multiple-Sclerosis Society, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Well-Point, Xerox, RE/MAX Realtors, the Teamsters Union, and the US Army counter-intelligence team. Whether you’re looking to fulfill short/long term goals, increase your sales performance, or hire John for your next event, John will help you achieve that success! Visit or call (818) 879-2000

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