Melbourne Corporate Health | 6 Ways to Use The Pleasure and Pain Principle
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6 Ways to Use The Pleasure and Pain Principle

Tip #1: We Decide based on Avoiding Pain or Gaining Pleasure

In our Coaching Programs we have found two common drivers that drive behaviour. Firstly, many individuals are motivated by fear or lack as they progress through life to avoid pain. Conversely, some of us are more motivated by success and prosperity as they move towards pleasure. Everything we do, every single action we take is based on the pleasure pain principle. Here’s the catch, the quality of life between someone who is driven by avoiding pain compared someone acting on gaining pleasure is very different.

Tip #2: People Will do Much More to Avoid Pain than they Will to Gain Pleasure

As it turns out, while human beings want to both avoid pain and gain pleasure, they will do more for one than the other. Avoiding immediate pain is much more motivating than gaining immediate pleasure. If there is a lion running after you versus a suitcase full of money in front of you, which would motivate the average human to act quickly? Avoiding a certain amount of immediate pain wins over gaining immediate pleasure every time. Studies have demonstrated time and time again that people will do much more to avoid short term pain than they will to gain short term pleasure.

Tip #3: Our Perception IS OUR Reality!

It’s the perception of pain and pleasure, not actual pain and pleasure that drives people. During the initial stages of our Corporate Coaching programs we make mention to the fact that to empower any change in our life we must change our perception of ourselves.  Why? Because what we perceive we project and its that projection that becomes our reality. At first, this concept might seem a bit strange but a quick inspection makes it seem rather obvious. We don’t know what the future will hold so our brain goes about making judgments and assumptions linked to current beliefs, values and past experiences. So what might happen if there are  negative experiences in the past? What about limiting beliefs linked to those past experiences? What do we then perceive as painful or pleasurable?  It’s this perception of future pain and pleasure that drives our actions. Unfortunately, it turns out that our perceptions are often very flawed.

Tip #4: Pain and Pleasure Change Over Time

We trying to avoid what we perceive to be painful and get what we perceive to be pleasurable, but timing also matters. We are focused avoiding immediate pain and we are trying to attain immediate pleasure. The closer something is to this moment, the more pain or pleasure we attach to it. Therefore, pain tomorrow is not as powerful of a force as pain today. Pain in a decade is absolutely far less motivating (or demotivating) that pain a week from now. This is precisely why most human beings have such a hard time saving money even though you can receive interest and free money by delaying spending.

As time goes on, our perception of pain and pleasure changes. Every decision you make results in at least one or more of the following: short term pain, long term pain, short term pleasure or long term pleasure. Short term always wins over long term unless there is a substantial amount of pain or pleasure associated with the long term avoidance of pain or gain of pleasure involved. Pain, or the level of perceived pleasure decreases with time.

Tip #5: Emotion Trumps Logic When Thinking of Pain and Pleasure

Emotions will always win over logic when thinking of making a decision based on gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. We act, decide, motivate and buy based on emotion. If there is a choice emotion wins out all the time. How many times have you been given chocolate and even though you knew intellectually that you should not have it, the chocolate wins out every time. Sound familiar? It’s the emotional connection to chocolate and the pleasure associated with it that wins, not intellect.

The pain or pleasure related to our emotions are hard-wired in our brains to be much stronger because it’s the primitive part of our brain that tells us to act rather than think ahead to the future. This also further explains the modulation of pain and pleasure by time. When something is going to happen now, it’s much more likely to trigger an emotional response in us than something that is going to happen decades from now.

Tip #6: Survival vs. Desire in the Pleasure & Pain Principle

Finally, the pleasure pain principle can be linked to survival and here lies one of societies greatest challenges.

Lets take sugar, the desire to consume sugar or other addictive foods is the perfect example of something that is absolutely hard-wired. If you love chocolate and someone puts chocolate in front of you, you are instinctually driven to eat the chocolate. Now, many times, we are able to use enough intellect and future pain to stop ourselves but over 1/2 the time we lose this battle and the addictions take over! You are hard wired to eat sugar to stay alive and while processed foods are only 100 years old, our genetics are over 100,000 years old! From a survival perspective, the more calories, the better avoid pain and gain pleasure!Your brain thinks eating the chocolate means survival and not eating it means death…pleasure v pain! You can see why so many of us today are struggling with weight gain and other challenges associated with mental and emotional wellness.


The pain and pleasure principle is much more complex than one would think. Many people know that we are motivated to avoid pain and to gain pleasure, however, factors like, time, emotion, logic and survival versus desire all create a complex personal formula which influences us to act.

  1. We want to avoid pain and to gain pleasure
  2. What we want more is to avoid pain, even if we won’t get pleasure
  3. But we don’t know what is actually going to cause pain or pleasure so we have to rely on what we perceive to be painful or pleasurable
  4. Then the clock takes over and we focus on now rather than later and immediate pain or pleasure become magnified
  5. If for any reason emotion enters the equation, that element gets much more magnified, regardless of the type or reason
  6. Finally, if anything triggers our survival response, all else goes out the window because we are hard-wired to survive.



So how can we use this principle to our advantage? People use it in many different ways but here are my tips:

  1. ThinK about the things you want to change in your life and link more pain to not achieving it in the here and now.
  2. Think about those same things and link as much pleasure now and into the future once you have achieved it.

To find out how you can overcome emotional blockages, distractions and addictions find out about our Corporate and Personal Coaching Programs by clicking here.