Pain VS Pleasure: Which One Controls You?

Why don’t you do some of the things you know you should do? The reason for this is because of the hidden forces behind human behavior. These hidden forces are driven by the pleasure principle. Quite simply, the pleasure principle drives one to seek pleasure and to avoid pain.

Let’s put this into context by defining what pleasure and pain are.

Pain: “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience”
Pleasure: “the state or feeling of being pleased or gratified”

These two towers are the evil twins of our emotions. They are the same and they are also different. They are the same because they are both emotions. They are different because they are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

Our emotions are delivered through our sensory experience, which is through our visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory and gustatory senses. The net result of these five senses creates our subjective experience and our emotions.

For example, I really like sausages. They bring me pleasure. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you. Some of them are probably laughing right now because I’m writing about sausages, but it’s true. I could eat sausages every day and then some even though I don’t. I love the taste, the smell, the spice and the juices as I bite into them. Basically, I feel really good when I’m preparing and eating them. I love sausages! Man, am I ever getting hungry, I wonder what’s for supper Hmmmm. Sausages. I think you get the point.

The reason I love them is because they bring me pleasure. There is no tricking my mind here, my senses are saying, “Sausages, come to big daddy! The more pleasure they bring me the easier and faster I’ll move towards them.

Some days Trish, my wife, will see me in a sausage frenzy running around the house like a mad man. She’ll gently come up to me and suggest an alternative. In some cases her suggestion is very helpful and gets me to turn things around and look for other options. Trish may say something like, “Honey, you know those aren’t very good for you, why don’t you have something else to eat?”  In this case I’ll think about what she said and come up with reasons why she might say something like that.

For instance she may have thought that because meat is not a water based food, it takes more energy to digest. If it takes more energy to digest then I might not sleep very well. I may even wake up in the morning feeling like someone hit me over the head with a sledgehammer. Have you ever had a steak dinner and then woke up the next day feeling tired? Yeah. I know the feeling. Because of that I no longer eat a lot of meat, especially before bed.

Seeing this experience is telling me that “Meat is bad,” I don’t eat it as much, especially before bed. Once I have enough reasons to not do something then I won’t do it. In my case, burping up steak in the morning is not my idea of having a good time. Therefore, I don’t eat large quantities of meat because of the pain associated with it. All of a sudden, I’m not that interested in eating sausages anymore.

This thought process does not always work. Sometimes I don’t associate enough pain with eating meat. In this case I haven’t reached my point of critical leverage where I’m willing to look for something else to eat. There isn’t enough pain, at least not yet. In my mind I haven’t come up with enough reasons not to eat the sausages.

If this is the case, then I’ll change my focus and look for something else that I can eat that will still make me feel good. An alternative that brings me pleasure. One that comes to mind right now is a Zucchini Lasagna. Lasagna tastes amazing, the aromas and spices are capturing and the sure look of it gets me excited. This will definitely satisfy my hunger and will make me feel just as good, if not better. This option also has additional long term health benefits. In this scenario I’m moving from one pleasure (the sausage) to another pleasure (lasagna). I made a shift from one pleasure to another and changed my behavior which changed my actions.

Can you see how pleasure and pain can drive your behavior? Being aware of these twin forces is a very powerful tool. It doesn’t matter if you’re afraid to ask your boss for a raise, are avoiding to ask someone out on a date, been procrastinating with that gym routine or want to eat healthier. It all comes down to recognizing your motivators; pain and pleasure.

“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” ~ Anthony Robbins

This is all great stuff but it doesn’t mean squat unless you do something with it. Besides, thinking never creates results, only action does.

One of the things that I find that works for me is to begin by writing down what I want and then to write down why I want it. It doesn’t matter what it is. For example, when I started this blog, I wrote down all the reasons why it would be a good idea:

  • I love writing
  • Gives others something they can use
  • Teach someone something new
  • Share my stories and what I’ve learned
  • Build my credibility
  • Ideas from my blog could be used in my seminar
  • Share my ideas with a broader market
  • Generate a residual income online
  • Inspire others
  • Good writing practice the more I do it the better I get
  • Share my ideas and thoughts
  • Keeps me on my toes for new ideas
  • Gives others an opportunity to contribute
  • Build new partnerships online (win-win)
  • If Steve Pavlina can do it then so CAN I!

The list keeps growing.

The great thing about this is that it gets me motivated; I’m feeling the pleasure-treasure.

Now it’s your turn. Take a few moments and write down your goal/promise/dream/wish. It could be starting a new business, changing your diet, or meeting someone new.

Once you’ve written down your goal, write down as many reasons as you can think of why you want to achieve this goal. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to come up with some answers. Trust me, this process works. Your brain will automatically begin to come up with answers, it never fails. If you still feel stuck after 5 minutes then do some jumping jacks for 30 seconds. This will change your state and unlock your brain. Go through the exercise again and come up with at least 10 reasons why it would be a good idea to achieve this goal.

Do this now.

This could be the most powerful thing you do today. Give it a shot.

Here’s your second opportunity… start now!


Take this list and post it in a place where you can see it. If you ever feel like crap then go to this list. This will help you change how you feel when things don’t seem to be working. It will move you from pain to pleasure and fast.

Congratulate yourself for getting this far. Most people won’t even take the first step of writing down their goals and dreams to get them moving in the right direction. You should feel proud of yourself, you’re on your way.


  • Michael

    Reply Reply May 11, 2007

    Thanks Steve for the comments. I found them really helpful. Keep up the good work.

  • Dana Walton

    Reply Reply July 4, 2007

    Hey Steve…This is great. You are quite an inspiration! Congrats on your blogging, you should be so proud of yourself as you are realizing your dreams!

  • Steve

    Reply Reply July 5, 2007

    Hi Dana – Sometimes I have to pinch myself to check if I’m not dreaming….. it’s truly amazing,

    thanks for the great feedback,


  • Glenny

    Reply Reply December 2, 2011

    Hi, just wanted to tell you, I loved this blog post. It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

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