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How to Use the Pleasure/Pain Principle

How to Use the Pleasure/Pain Principle

How to Use the Pleasure/Pain Principle

This grid holds the secret to understanding why people do strange things:

Personal Effectiveness : How to Use the Pleasure/Pain Principle

Many people eat too much, drink too much, take drugs that they know will destroy them, drive motorbikes at 100mph on crowded motorways, and generally act in a manner likely to take them to an early grave.

The big question is; WHY?

Because its pleasurable!

The human brain is programmed by two factors: pleasure and pain.

The human brain is a pleasure-seeking organ, it is always looking for things that it thinks will bring it pleasure.

It is also a pain avoiding mechanism. It wants to avoid things it finds painful. Therefore:

  • We eat cream cakes rather than fish, because cream cakes are more pleasurable.
  • We drink wine rather than water, because wine is more pleasurable.
  • We lie in bed too long and don't run around the block, because lying in bed is more pleasurable.

Annoyingly, bad habits tend to be more pleasurable than good habits. But only if you assume a short-term perspective.

If you look at the long-term consequences of a particular habit, then the pleasure pain consequences often switch places!

  • What was pleasurable becomes painful.
  • What was painful becomes pleasurable.

For instance:

  1. Cream cakes are pleasurable in the short term, when you eat them. But what are the painful long-term consequences you will suffer if you overeat on cream cakes? Fish is not as pleasurable as cream cakes, but what are the pleasurable long-term consequences you will enjoy if you eat a fish-based diet?
  2. Lying in bed for too long is pleasurable short term, but what are the painful long-term consequences you will suffer if you lie around and never exercise? Hard Running is not pleasurable, but what are the pleasurable long-term consequences you will enjoy if you train hard three times per week for three months?

Wisdom is the art of thinking long range.

Judging actions by considering the short-term consequences, tends to produce bad decisions.

Judging actions by considering the long-term consequences, tends to produce wise decisions.

When you are trying to change a behaviour, or a bad habit, keep asking the following two long-term consequence questions and try to get as many answers as you can.

  1. What is the long-term painful consequences you will suffer if you keep doing what you are doing?
  2. What is the long-term pleasurable benefits you will enjoy, if you do make a change?

Memorise these two questions and use them on yourself and other people, in order to make them re-evaluate their current behaviour and induce them to consider making a change.

For example: What are the long-term painful consequences you will suffer if you keep procrastinating on that job you don't want to do? And what are the long-term pleasurable benefits you will enjoy, if you just bite the bullet and get the job done?

"The aim of the wise is not to secure pleasure, but to avoid pain." Aristotle

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Personal Effectiveness

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