Pain is not BAD, it’s UNPLEASANT.
Pain = Learning + Unpleasant Experience.
Unpleasant experiences always teach and motivate us more powerfully than pleasure, albeit in narrow areas. People will more aggressively avoid something painful than they will pursue something which gives them pleasure.
We see this in marketing – It is easier to sell someone something that helps them avoid pain than something that gives them pleasure.
No one’s desire to buy a luxury sports car, mansion, or first class plane ticket is an emergency.
But you would pay anything to a doctor to save your life if going into cardiac arrest, you’ll pay almost anything to a lawyer who can save you from going to prison, and pay much more to a plumber after hours to save your home from a burst pipe.
The most powerful learning comes from pain. I find that idea a hard one to challenge and argue with. The people our society looks up to most all tend to have a powerful learning experience in their life which was painful — a mistake or failure of some sort.
Steve Jobs got kicked out of the company he co-founded, Ray Dalio went almost completely bust in the 1980’s, and Walt Disney was told he lacked creativity. Need I go on?
We have a reactionary relationship with the concept of pain. We see someone’s fingers being closed on by a door and we wince. We watch someone stub their toe and we can almost feel the sharp sensation.
It is much less natural to think through the experience of pain.
Let’s put it this way. Is pain bad?
The ill patient, screaming in pain will shout “YES, PAIN IS BAD!”… But the pain is not bad, the pain is a signal for the thing that is bad.
Ray Dalio says of pain that it is a signal to him that he has something to learn. I love this way of understanding pain.
I want to argue that pain is not bad, it is unpleasant.
Think about the pain we experience when we exercise, or the pain that comes in the aftermath of a toxic relationship… these pains are considered necessary evils.
In these cases, we can’t say pain is bad. Rather, it is the unpleasant part of a worthwhile journey.
We see the truth of this in nature. If we didn’t have pain, we’d die much faster. That seems like an ironic thing to say.
Pain warns us. It is the flashing red light.
This is bad for you.
There’s something wrong in your body.
This could be trouble.
So pain is a teacher. Pain is a teacher called ‘tough love’.
Pain = Learning + Unpleasant Experience
There’s the formula.
You think you want a body and an existence that does not experience pain. But in a day you’d burn your hand, slice off your toe, and offend everyone you love.
You don’t want to avoid pain because this means you want to avoid learning + unpleasant experience. It’s an equation where you can’t have your cake and eat it, because you can’t isolate the learning effectively without the unpleasant experience. That would be diluted learning, which is good but not great.
Ideally, we manage the unpleasant component of pain. There are several ways to do this:
- Anticipate it — it has much less power over you when you are expecting it.
- Make it worthwhile — this is called investing. Make sure what you stand to gain is disproportionately higher than the unpleasant experience. Create an asymmetric bet in YOUR favour.
- Be Open to it — Devil’s Snare (Harry Potter geeks will know this all-too-well) … it only hurts you when you fight it. Stop writhing, and you’ll slide harmlessly through. Instead of trying to stand up and fight the waves, submit, and let the waves crash over you.
- Reflect on it AGGRESSIVELY — This is an important part. You should reflect on the pain you feel with the aggression you would have used to fight it. Extract the value out of it, look at the unpleasant, know what it is and set it aside, so you can read the learning that pain was trying to deliver to you through the unpleasantness.
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