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Make the Pleasure-Pain Principle Work for You.

Updated on August 2, 2016

If you've ever been lying in a warm bed on a cold winter work morning hoping for just 5 more minutes before you have to get up into a cold room so that you're not late in to the office, you've experienced the pleasure-pain principle.

Freud and other psychologists identified the pleasure-pain principle as the concept that's right at the heart of all our motivations and decision making. We are all programmed to avoid pain - in this case the cold room but also being late for work - and seek pleasure - staying in a warm bed.

Business and motivational guru Anthony Robbins ( says that one of the secrets to making good decisions is to learn how to use pleasure and pain to your advantage, rather than having them use you. If you control pleasure and pain then you control your life. If you don't, life controls you.

Do you want it enough?
Do you want it enough? | Source

How can we make pleasure and pain work for us?

Mae West famously said she could resist everything except temptation and a lot of us would agree when we're confronted with something we have a weakness for. But if that something is best avoided altogether or consumed in moderation we need to first simply stop and think.

Recognise that there are 2 opposing forces at play here: the anticipated pleasure of the thing you want and the anticipated pain of knowing when you've done whatever you shouldn't, you'll be full of regret and self loathing. This is the time to consider which has the stronger pull and which reasons or consequences matter most.

Make it real.

Making the right choices and staying motivated can be hard.

Think of a 'project' (in the broadest sense) you're working on or having difficulty with right now. It might be weight loss, exercise, business goals, a difficult personal relationship, work issues etc. Consider the tough decisions or the unpleasant actions you need to take, and you'll probably agree that it's easier to concentrate on doing the little, inconsequential things that don't make any difference, or to focus doing anything but that things you need to do. This is pain-avoiding behaviour.

However, take that unpleasant task and visualise it. Feel what you feel and see what you see when you think about it. Now, seeing it as if it's on a TV screen, make the picture black and white; make it fuzzy as if the TV is badly tuned; turn the sound down and now make the picture smaller and push it right down to the bottom of the screen until you can barely see it at all. Repeat this several times over, becoming faster as you find it easier to do. Practise on your commute to work, while standing at the Xerox machine, exercising or cleaning your teeth - anytime.

You should find that the painful feeling of dread or unpleasantness associated with the difficult decisions/actions diminishes as you practise this visualisation technique.

Alternatively, perhaps in addition, make a strongly pleasurable picture associated with having taken the actions you need to. Make the picture brighter, the colours more beautiful and the sensation of satisfaction/pride/success more intense. Play some of your favourite music in your head to go with this image and enjoy it. Again, repeat this several times over in quick succession and practise.

The creation of pleasure helps propel you towards what you want.

Retrain your brain.

This is brain re-training and once mastered it can be a switch to flick that helps you control difficult situations with confidence and make better decisions when faced with a lot of alternatives.

Take a look at the decisions you make every day. From the brand of washing powder you buy to the route you take home from work. Everything is influenced - usually unconsciously - by messages from advertisers, friends, family and our environments. When we know what influences us and how we make decisions, it's easier to take control of what's good for us and create greater successes and lasting pleasures in our lives.


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