The good, the bad and the ugly!
Pain and Pleasure, The keys to transformation and long term change.
Realizing why we make the decisions we make and how our feelings affect us is a very tricky thing. We wonder why we grieve relationships that were toxic. We wonder why we carry emotional scars for years sometimes after an event. We wonder why even when we make a change that’s best in the long run we sometimes hurt and catch ourselves looking back. We question if change is really what we want, if leaving the old situation, person, job or (whatever) in search of happiness and fulfillment is really what is going to make us happy.
Ultimately our nervous system and subconscious naturally gravitate away from pain, we make nuero-associations about what causes us pain and naturally we move away from those causes and seek things that make us feel good. We naturally move towards things, events, circumstances that bring us pleasure and give us a sense of happiness, excitement and bliss.
That sounds like its simple doesn’t it? Its sounds like the issue is black and white. Why we would anybody ever stay in that abusive relationship or at a job that pays horribly and is unsatisfying. Why would we choose to keep anything in our lives that brings pain?
We all set goals, we say “I’ve had enough of living this way; I need to make some changes”. We diet, join gyms, get out of toxic relationships, decide try harder in marriages and all with good intentions for lasting long-term change. A lot of times our will power falters and we fail only to return to the safe house of familiarity, the rut of un-satisfaction and un-fulfilled hopes and dreams.
Why do we fail when we know the changes and adjustments we need to make will bring us closer to our best and most happy life? Why do we lose our drive and will to succeed.
In the midst of those transitions we sometimes associate more pain with the change than we did with the original circumstance that we wanted to transform and make better. We get to a point during the transition that the discomfort and unfamiliarity cause us to waver, where we miss the old way, we fear the unknown and we long for the very thing that we are trying to change.
Think of a smoker, there are a hundred billion reasons to quit smoking. Why would anybody (and yes I’ve been there) want to keep a habit that is linked to so many health risks and is a serious waste of money. If pain isn’t associated with keeping the habit and pleasure isn’t associated with a healthy smoke free life then success for a permanent change will be extremely difficult.
Think of any drastic change you made in your life, what was the motivation? Chances are you knew you “had” to get out of that abusive relationship, you knew you “had” to quit drinking. You knew you “had” to return to school so you could gain better employment and take care of your family. You in essence associated more pain to not making this change than staying in the same place. You visualized and linked pleasure to what it would be like to succeed and move forward. You linked pleasure to the long-term consequences of this change.
The problem with the quick fix..
At times we will do anything to feel better “right now”. This is one of the reasons that addiction is such a tough problem to overcome. The person struggling with addiction has a hard time linking “pain” to the addiction when it brings “pleasure” even if it is short lived. This person may link more “pleasure” to continuing in the addiction than “pain” even if the consequences are brutal.
When we link both “pain” and pleasure to a situation it’s very hard to make a commitment to change and transformation. Most of us have had a relationship that when it was good it was the best thing ever and when it was bad it was the worst. When it was good it was a perfect 10 and when it was bad it was a horrible 1 or a 2. The rollercoaster drove us crazy and made us miserable but we stayed for far too long. The problem there is we linked both pain and pleasure to the situation. We thought if only we didn’t fight about ________, then things would always be perfect. Some of us waited and waited. Then when we finally had enough and got the courage to make a change for our own survival, we stayed the course for a time only to return the first chance we got or we found a similar person and continued down the same path. This is because we have linked pleasure to the situation as well.
The good news is we can reprogram our nuero-associations. We can do this through reflection and visualization. When making a lasting change we need to associate massive pleasure to making that change and massive pain to not making the change. We can unravel the ropes of nuero-association by changing our belief systems, perspectives and idealogy.
In times of struggle we have to find the reasons to feel happy about the changes were making. There are exercises and skills that we all could use to achieve this. I’ll be writing more about how to get out of these ruts in days and weeks ahead. I’ve been there and I know there is a way out. For more info. I’m always an email or a phone call away…….
Be good to yourself