We often hear of people who have been down very dark roads, often with drugs, alcohol, abusive relationships or eating disorders who have clawed their way back to a beautiful and balanced life. I often ask myself what it is that makes these people who have been through such traumatic experiences come through and create such beautiful futures. Though, its not just those who have been through tough times that can find equilibrium and balance in their lives without first falling into a very dark place, we all can!
What is clear to me though, is that everything we do, we do for a reason, there is a single driving force behind all human behaviour. This force undoubtedly impacts every facet of our lives, from our relationships, to our bodies, our education and our finances. But what is it that is controls us in such a way to make us demonstrate single acts of behaviour? PAIN and PLEASURE. Everything you and I do, we do either out of our need to avoid pain or out of our desire to gain pleasure.
One decision that has made a tremendous difference in the quality of my life is that I began to link incredible pleasure to expressing my intolerable and often unbearable emotions through photography when I was suffering quite severely from Anorexia Nervosa. I realised that I could transform the way I saw the world through my camera lenses and while I was in such a creative state, I felt a drive to produce pieces of art that empowered me to do virtually anything I wanted with my life. It could get me out of pain and into pleasure. Learning to unlock secrets behind our actions helped me to become healthy again both physically and mentally, it helped me to connect with myself and others more deeply, and ultimately, it saved my life. Thats when my lifes purpose began to evolve.
What are some experiences of pain and pleasure that have shaped your life? Wether you’ve linked pain or pleasure to to cigarettes, alcohol, long walks or training daily for a marathon, all of your actions affect and shape your destiny. The truth is, if we link massive pain to any behaviour or emotional pattern, we will avoid indulging in it at all costs. We can use this understanding of pain to harness the force of pain and pleasure to change virtually anything we are unhappy with or anything that is not serving us in our lives right now.
Our behaviour, both conscious and unconscious have been established by pain and pleasure from so many sources; childhood experiences, those we admire, frightening or enjoyable experiences, and more. You may or may not remember when that conditioning occurred – it could have been an embarrassing incident at school, you could have been bullied, you could have failed your exams, or you parents could have divorced. All of the incidents of our past contribute to who we are today and what we link pain and pleasure to will shape our destinies.
Although we’d like to believe its our intellect that really drives us, in most cases its our emotions. You know you should quit smoking because of the attached health risks, but you light up anyway, right? Ultimately, in order for us to truly change a behaviour, we must link pain to our old behaviour and pleasure to our new behaviour. Remember, we will do more to avoid plain than we will to gain pleasure. For instance, for 10 years I was anorexic. I was “comfortable” so to speak, although my disease was painful, I had no intention of changing for many years because it was what I knew and the pain of changing in the short term outweighed the pleasure of a long, healthy and vibrant life in recovery. But I began to wake up. In order for me to start recovering fully, I had to start linking great pain with the idea of turning 60 or 70 and still being anorexic and having the regrets of not living a truly fulfilled life because of my disease. That killed me, even more than the inevitable short-term pain emotional and physical process of healing. The time came when the pleasure of imagining a beautiful life without my anorexia outweighed the pain in the short term of pushing through recovery, and that is when I truly started to turn my life around.
Simply by linking pain to the behaviours we want to stop (and that are no longer serving us) we need to associate that behaviour with such a high level of emotional intensity that we won’t even consider indulging in that behaviour anymore. Im sure that are things you would never even consider doing, right? Think of the sensations you link to those behaviours. If you link those same feelings and emotions to the behaviours you want to eliminate, Im betting you’ll never indulge in them again. Then, simply link pleasure to the new behaviour you desire to replace with the old behaviour. This bit is important. Through repetition (remember, we are creatures of habit!) and emotional intensity, we can condition healthier behaviours so they become automatic.