Sir Thomas Browne once said, “Men live by intervals of reason under sovereignty of humor and passion.” What makes a person of supposedly good background behave savagely without remorse while another person gives his own life to rescue complete strangers? What creates a hero, a criminal, a contributor? What determines the difference in human actions? Throughout his life, Tony Robbins has passionately sought the answer to these questions. In the process it has become abundantly clear to him that human beings are not random creatures; everything we do we do for a reason. “We may not be aware of the reason consciously, but there is undoubtedly a single driving force behind all human behavior. This force impacts every facet of our lives, from our relationships and finance to our bodies and brains.” This force that is controlling you even now and will continue to do so for the rest of your life, he identifies as PAIN and PLEASURE. “Everything you and I do, we do either out of our need to avoid pain or our desire to gain pleasure,” he emphasizes in his book “Awaken the Giant Within.”
Understanding and utilizing the forces of pain and pleasure, Robbins advises, will allow you once and for all to create the lasting changes and improvements you desire for yourself and those you care about. Failure to understand this force, he cautions however, dooms you to a future of living in reaction, like an animal or a machine. Seneca once admonished that, “A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.” So to Robbins, the secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. “If you do that, you are in control of your life. If you do not, life controls you.”
What are some of the experiences of pain and pleasure that have shaped your life? Whether you have linked pain or pleasure to drugs, for example, certainly has affected your destiny. So have the emotions you have learned to associate to cigarettes or alcohol, relationships, or even the concepts of giving or trusting.
If you are a doctor, is not it true that the decision to pursue a medical career so many years ago was motivated by your belief that becoming a physician would make you feel good? Invariably, every doctor links massive pleasure to helping people: stopping pain, healing illness, and saving lives. Often the pride of being a respected member of society is an additional motivator. Musicians have dedicated themselves to their art because few things can give them that same level of pleasure. And CEOs of top organizations have learned to link pleasure to making powerful decisions that have a huge potential to build something unique and to contribute to people’s lives in a lasting way.
Think of the limiting pain and pleasure associations of Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, and our own Kiki Gyan. Their associations to drugs as an escape, a quick fix, or a way out of pain and into temporary pleasure created their downfalls. They paid the ultimate price for not directing their own minds and emotions.
What can we learn from this? Simply this: If we link massive pain to any behavior or emotional pattern, we will avoid indulging in it at all costs. We can use this understanding to harness the force of pain and pleasure to change virtually anything in our lives, from a pattern of procrastinating to drug use. How do we do this? Let us say, for example, you want to keep your children off drugs. The time to reach them is before they experiment and before someone else teaches them the false association that drugs equal pleasure.
Marcus Aurelius once observed that, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
We are the only beings on the planet who lead such rich internal lives that is not the events that matter most to us, but rather, it is how we interpret those events that will determine how we think about ourselves, and how we will act in the future. One of the things that makes us to special is our marvelous ability to ADAPT, to transform, and to manipulate objects or ideas to produce something more pleasing or useful. And foremost among our adaptive talents is the ability to take raw experience of our lives, relate it to other experiences, and create from it a meaning that is different from everyone else’s in the world. Only human beings can, for example, change their associations so that physical pain will result in pleasure or vice-versa.
Remember a hunger striker confined to jail. Fasting for a cause, he survives thirty days without food. The physical pain he experiences is considerable, but it is offset by the pleasure and validation of drawing the world’s attention to his cause. On a more personal everyday level, individuals who follow intense physical regimens in order to sculpt their bodies have learned to link tremendous feeling and pleasure to the “pain” of physical exertion. They have converted the discomfort of discipline into the satisfaction of personal growth. This is why their behavior is consistent, as are their results.
Through the power of our wills, then, we can weigh something like physical pain of starvation against the psychic pain of surrendering our ideals. We can create higher meaning.
Our behavior, both conscious and unconscious, has been rigged by pain and pleasure from so many sources: childhood peers, moms and dads, teachers, coaches, movie and television heroes, and the list goes on. You may or may not know precisely when programming and conditioning occurred. It might have been something someone said, an incident at school, an award-winning sports event, an embarrassing moment, straight A’s on your report card—or maybe failing grades. All of these contributed to who you are today. What you link pain and pleasure to will shape your destiny.
Though we would like to deny it, the fact remains that what drives our behavior is instinctive reaction to pain and pleasure, not intellectual calculation. Intellectually, we may believe that eating chocolate is bad for us, but we will still reach for it. Why? Because we are not driven so much by what we intellectually know, but rather by what we have learned to link pain and pleasure to in our nervous systems. It is our neuro-associations — the associations we have established in our nervous systems—that determine what we will do. Although we would like to believe it is our intellect that really drives us, in most cases our emotions—the sensations that we link to our thoughts—are what truly drive us.
Many times we try to override the system. For a while we stick to a diet; we have finally pushed ourselves over the edge because we have so much pain. We will have solved the problem for the moment—but if we have not eliminated the cause of the problem, it will resurface. Ultimately, in order for a change to last, we must link pain to our old behavior and pleasure to our new behavior, and condition it until it is consistent.
The truth is that we can learn to condition our minds, bodies, and emotions to link pain or pleasure to whatever we choose. By changing what we link pain and pleasure to, we will instantly change our behaviors.
Remember too, that it is not actual pain that drives us, but our fear that something will lead to pain; and it is not actual pleasure that drives us, but our belief – or sense of certainty – that somehow taking certain action will lead to pleasure. We are not driven by reality, but by our perception of reality.