How to use Pain/Pleasure Principle to manage yourself and others

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Time and again we feel that we, or someone we love so much, get stuck in life or a repeating non-productive behavior like procrastination, whining, cribbing, criticizing, complaining, irritation, lack of anger management etc. 

And then we wonder, how can we get out of this behavior or life pattern. 

Another case is you see around in your organization and see people indulging in non-productive behavior. It is a helpless situation if you happen to be a manager or entrepreneur under pressure to deliver. How can you change this behavior? 

In such situations, how can we do things differently so that other people feel internally motivated to change their behavior as you want it to be and feeling that it is them they are driving the change for their own good.

Yes, it is possible to effect a Behavior change in ourselves and in organization if you happen to be in a position of authority.

This can be achieved through Pleasure/Pain Principle which has been around for centuries and many ancient philosophers and mystics have spoken about it.

This is most powerful principle running each of our mini universes, called life. And if someone masters this principle he can master his own life as well. This is the power of this principle.

The purpose of this article is to introduce you to this principle and also teach how to use this principle to be the master of your life.

As per Pleasure/Pain principle – whatever small or big things we do in our lives we do them either to avoid a pain or to achieve a pleasure.

I have used the generic word things which can refer to our behaviors, actions or inactions, small/big decisions etc.

Right from waking up in the morning till we retire to the bed in the evening, whatever  we do or “don’t do” is governed by Pleasure/Pain principle.

If you are avoiding getting out of the bed for long time in the morning it is may be to enjoy the pleasure of sleeping more or maybe to avoid the pain that you might have associated with going to a job which you no longer like.

Now there is no intrinsically painful or pleasurable about any of the activities. It is our psychology behind doing an activity that makes it a pleasurable or painful activity.

For example the first activity that comes to most of minds when we talk about pleasure is Sex.   At the same time, right now some of you might be wondering about what is pleasurable about Sex.

Sex can be pleasure for the people who are associating it with enjoyment or strengthening a relationship. At the same time for some insecure partners the Sex means nothing more than a necessary chore to avoid the pain of parting away.

Hence sex is a physical activity and based on our experiences and thought pattern we might attach the feeling of pleasure or pain with it.

Sometimes, we endure pain in short term for long term pleasure or to avoid more pain in long term.

Relevant example is, some people find the idea of going to gym daunting and unfeasible to avoid the exertion/pain. On the other hand there are people who cannot live without going to gym.

Point to be noted is that both kind of people experience physical pain by going to gym.

You might be thinking what makes it the second type of people to go to gym despite the physical pain?  Or what makes athletes to toil so hard despite the physical pain? The pain-pleasure principle seems to be falling apart right?

The answer the net pleasure or net pain that they have associated with going to gym or training.

A fitness freak overcomes his short term physical pain with long term result of seeing himself with a well built body.

Let us take the another example of an athlete.

The reason, he is training so hard despite harsh weather, physical pain or maybe some injuries continuously for hours is that he is either looking at long term pleasure associated with winning a gold medal in Olympics and the pain he has associated with losing a chance of participating in olympics.

The Pain-Pleasure principle is so powerful that is running most of our lives whether we are aware of it or not.

The key to being the masters of our lives lies in mastering the powerful pleasure/pain principle as it is the underlying root cause of all our behaviors.

So how do we master this principle for behavior change? Below are 7 essential steps to master and use pain-pleasure principle to your advantage:

  1. Identify what is you behavior which you want to change.
  2. Identify what part of pleasure/pain principle this behavior is serving. Are you getting a pleasure or are you trying to avoid a pain or both.
  3. Identify what is your ideal behavior you would like to cultivate.
  4. Associate pain with the current behavior . Identify all that could go wrong or you will be missing in long term if you continue your behavior.
  5. Associate long term pleasure with the ideal behavior
  6. Associate pain with not following your ideal behavior. This is most important step. Don’t miss our. Avoidance of pain is stronger emotion than chasing pleasure.
  7. Once again imagine step 5 to come back to pleasure state.

For example if you want to go to gym regularly. In step 2, you might identify that you are getting pleasure from watching TV and at the same time trying to avoid the physical pain of going to gym.

Step 3 would be to identify your ideal behavior e.g. running on treadmill for 45 minutes or doing weights etc. Step 4 would be to associate pain with current behavior. Identify all the problems that you would eventually land into if you continue doing this behavior. The old age issues which will start surfacing when you are only 50 rather than at 75.

Step 5 would be to visualize and list out all the long term benefits you would be getting from exercising. For example going to gym might bring more flexibility to your body resulting in higher energy, better digestion or better and more enjoyful sexual experience, your preferred gender would find you more attractive…. imagine looking well build even at the age of 50-60-70 whatever …while you are doing all this imagine all this in vivid details and big pictures. Get more engaged. Brain is powerful machine, it can create experience from nowhere. Imagine people looking at your well built body and wanting to go out with you. Listen to them admiring you. Feel the sensations in your body.

Step 6 would be to associate Pain with not following with the behavior. If you don’t go to gym, you will look uglier as your age progresses, you will be always tired and unfocused,  people would avoid you… you will be burden on others in your old age…. etc.

After step 6 again imagine step 5 to come back to pleasure state.

How can you use this principle in organizational settings with your employees?

  1. Find out the non-productive behavior of your staff.
  2. Analyze and find out what is their non-productive behavior getting them in terms of pain/pleasure principle. Is it giving them some sort of pleasure or are helping them avoid pain for some more time or both.
  3. Introduce policies which would revert this pain pleasure relationship that you found in step 2. i.e. make it more rewarding to indulge in the behavior you want them and painful in long term to be non-productive. You can do this in number of ways like
    • Intangible approach: Appreciating productive behavior in front of everyone. 
    • Tangible approach: Associating a tangible reward with desired behavior. The reward could be a pre-determined generous amount for being productive, or a trip to an exotic place or simply the employee of week or month where the winner’s picture will be posted on the wall/notice board where everyone could see.

You have to have a correct mix of intangible and tangible approach. Both of these approaches together can create amazing levels of motivation. And it is very important to have various levels of tangible awards because appreciation alone might not be that effective given the era of artificial smiles and thank yous.

Another thing I would emphasize is the financial award is very important and it should be specifically announced. The  people should know what amount are they aiming at. It should not be like – the most productive employee will get some monetary award. (How do you define productivity? What do you mean by some monetary award?) The moment you say “some” the listener listens an additional alarm bell. It is like you are saying give me your most and I will give you some.  Not everyone will fall pray for this.

But when you say that the winner of the “Employee of the month” contest will get $1000 after tax then it has a different motivational impact altogether. And the criteria for being employee of month should also be transparent.

Other important advice is, if you are a lone entrepreneur, housewife, or a executive, or you are working on a personal goal or a goal which you are not required to report to your manager; then it is helpful to have an accountability partner. An accountability can hand hold you and keep you on track for your goals.

He can look at your situation in non-judgemental way and point out the areas of improvement without any agenda, and also support you with motivational talk if you are feeling low. He can look at areas which are blind spots for you.

Theoretically an accountability partner can be anyone including your friends and family members, but it is better to go with a professional coach who can look at you in more unbiased way without any strings attached.

A coach is more interested in your all round development than your dearest relationships who in most cases have got vested interest in moulding your behavior to suit their needs. He is paid for helping you achieve your goals and your goals are his priority.

A coach is the ally of your best self and he would do his best to bring this self out of yourself. When you are feeling