Goal Setting

How to link inaction with pain

In a previous blog I referenced the underlying connection that pain and pleasure has with every action we take. This article takes a more detailed look at how to associate inaction with pain, in order to make progress towards what we want to achieve.

Procrastination is something I really struggle with and it’s far too easy to waste hours of time without thinking. You don’t even realise all the freedom you’re giving up until you check the stats on your phone. We justify procrastination because we think taking action on whatever it is we’re putting off will be more painful than ignoring it.

The pain comes from fear; of failure, of rejection, of embarrassment. But these are all just potential outcomes. Things could end up so much better than we ever imagine but focusing on the possibility of failure paralyses us.

Our pain/pleasure associations, whether good or bad, can switch in an instant. At university, everyone had ‘that’ drink that they used to love but couldn’t drink anymore after one bad experience. One occasion and they associated it with too much pain to ever drink it again.

Feeling pain or pleasure depends on our focus and what feels more real in the moment. If you look at chocolate and think, ‘I can’t wait to eat this’, you’re obviously focused on the pleasure of eating it. As long as you do this, that’s what’s most real to you and you’ll be drawn to it.

But there have also been times when you haven’t eaten the food you’re normally addicted to. In this instance, you stopped yourself because the focus was different. It was either on the pain you’d experience eating it or the pleasure you’d get by not eating it.

Pain is a greater motivator than pleasure. If you’re not following through on what you want to achieve, the relationship with pain and pleasure is misaligned. So to boost motivation, focus on how not doing something is going to be more painful than just going for it. This can be applied in all areas of life and will help regain a sense of control over your life again.

This brief exercise will help you link inaction with pain:

  • Write down four things you want to do but have been putting off
  • For each one, write the pain that you’re associating with it that’s kept you from taking action in the past
  • Next, write down all the pleasure you’ve got by not following through
  • Finally, write what it will cost you if you don’t change. Think about the implication of not changing over the next months and coming years. What will it cost you in your relationship with yourself and others, what will it costs you financially, emotionally, physically? How would it make you feel to not ever get the results you want?