The Mind’s Motivating Forces: Pain and Pleasure
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As humans, we share the basic need to survive. This core survival instinct has reigned at the forefront of our minds (either consciously or subconsciously) since the dawn of time.
Back then, we had predators with razor-sharp teeth and a taste for human flesh to worry about. Survival was our main focus because our lives depend on it. Nowadays, survival is about paying our bills and filling our stomachs with nourishing food. Our environment may have changed, but one thing remains the same – we’re still on the course of survival.
So, what keeps us on the ‘right course’? And, how do we know when we’ve ventured ‘off course’ for our purpose of survival?
Uncover the answers to these questions and more.
To listen to the podcast on this topic, hit play below, or read on for more.
What Is Your Internal Guidance System?
Did you know that you have an internal GPS?
It operates deep inside your mind and works tirelessly to ensure you stay ALIVE. Keeping your heart beating is its only concern. Your internal GPS system is always asking the same question.
Is what we are doing or seeking bringing us closer to survival – or closer to death?
Yes, it’s a little grim. But without our internal guidance system, the human race would have gone extinct a long time ago.
Our internal GPS System helps us make choices that benefit our two primary desires – avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.
Pain vs. Pleasure
Have you ever wondered why you feel pain? What is the purpose of pain?
It’s certainly not an enjoyable experience, so why does pain even exist?
Pain is a signal to your brain that you have veered off course. You are no longer on the best path for survival. You are in danger. If you don’t find your way back to the course of survival quickly, you’ll continue to feel pain.
Pain is a warning. It sends a very important message to your brain that whatever you are doing is not good for your survival.
Hence, that is why you automatically pull away from the source of the pain (if possible). For example, if you accidentally touch a hot stove, you pull your hand back quickly. If you step on a sharp object (such as an up-facing plug) you lift your foot. Your response is immediate. Don’t think about it. You just react to the pain by doing whatever you can to stop it.
Pleasure, on the other hand, is the opposite of pain. It’s bliss. Experiencing pleasure of any kind means that you are not in any danger. You are on the right path for survival, and you need to stay there. You’re surviving.
Our internal GPS system motivates us to do things that keep us alive. When we do the right things, we feel pleasure. When we do the wrong things or we stray from the path of survival, we feel pain.
Short Term Gratification VS Long Term Gratification
When you’re on the right path, the brain releases neurotransmitters into your bloodstream.
Serotonin is a natural mood-stabilizing chemical and is released along the journey towards accomplishing your goal. Serotonin is known to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. It provides long term gratification or fulfillment while you are making great progress towards achieving your goal.
If you stay on the path of survival, your body rewards you for it by releasing the ‘happy hormone’, Dopamine. This results in an intensely pleasurable experience. However, Dopamine has a short lifespan and only provides short term gratification.
DESIRE: Pathway Success > L.T. Gratification > Pleasing Mood > Serotonin
REWARD: End-Point Success > S.T. Gratification > Intense Pleasure > Dopamine
The Two Types of Pain & Pleasure Guidance Systems
There are two different types of guidance systems for pain and pleasure:
Physiological – This refers to how the body experiences pain and pleasure with physiological signals of both.
Psychological – This refers to how the mind experiences mental pain and pleasure signals.
4 Bugs in Our Internal Guidance System
Our internal guidance system is incredibly clever. However, our GPS system lacks the defense mechanisms it needs to protect it from outside intruders such as devious hackers.
We can feel pleasure even when we’re technically ‘off course’ and feel pain on the ‘right course.’
There are four different ways that our GPS system can inadvertently take us off course. You can look at these as the four bugs in our system.
1. Environment Delta
As the human environment continued to change, we ran into a bit of a snag. You see, our environment changed so fast that our evolutionary instinctual programming still hasn’t caught up.
Charles Darwin said it best:
“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones that are most responsive to change.”
We must learn to adapt quickly, or we run the risk of premature death.
Although we are programmed for survival, we need to adjust our basic survival instincts to coincide with our changing environment.
Food shortages were once a very real problem in the world and in many places today, it still is. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have enough food to keep us nourished and alive, the risk of food shortages is no longer a threat to our survival. Yet, our brains still think it is. That’s why we’re more likely to crave calorie-rich foods, which can lead to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and so on. We need to make a conscious effort to become more aware of this and overcome our urges to consume calorie-dense food.
Our brains are also programmed to feel fear. In the past, predators were a constant and very real threat to human life. Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about being eaten by intimidating predators. Yet, we continue to feel fear, whether there is a physical danger present or not.
F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real
To silence our fears, we again must override the wiring and create new wiring that makes sense in today’s modern environment.
2. Instant Gratification
We are an impatient race. We want instant gratification because our brains are programmed for an immediate reward. This desire for instant gratification dates back billions of years and our brains still expect an immediate return.
The immediate return environment back then looked very different from today’s environment. Instant reward came in the form of escaping a hungry carnivore and celebrating that you got to live another day or searching for food and finding a juicy piece of fruit. You wouldn’t bring it home with you, you ate it right there on the spot and it felt fantastic.
Most of the stress humans faced in an immediate return environment didn’t last long. Stress didn’t linger the way it does today. We have to put up with it for longer, which isn’t healthy for our physical or mental wellbeing.
Plus, our internal guidance system has been hacked by those looking out for their own interests (and profits). Not to mention, we’ve moved past an instant gratification environment to a long-term fulfillment environment.
We don’t always get the reward instantly and when the reward is delayed, we get stressed. Stress lingers more now than ever. This isn’t good news for our mental health because we are not meant to feel stressed for prolonged periods of time. Prolonged stress can lead to high blood pressure and a list of other health issues.
Since we don’t experience instant gratification the way we used to, we have to create it for ourselves (or so we think). We do this by binging on unhealthy snacks, drinking too much alcohol, and so on. We do these things because they give us the immediate gratification our brains seek.
We must reprogram our brains to be satisfied with delayed gratification. The reward WILL come, but we have to ‘do what we should be doing TODAY’ and/or set smaller goals that can be achieved sooner rather than later.
3. The Pleasure Hack
Humans seek pleasure. So, it makes sense that companies (such as those in the processed food industry) have created a treasure trove of unhealthy ways to provide us with pleasure in the form of processed burgers, sugary drinks, salty snacks, and so on.
For many of us, processed food is like a drug. We are addicted to it because of the immediate pleasure we get when we consume it. We know that processed and sugary foods aren’t good for us. Yet, we keep eating them. This is just one example of an unhealthy choice we make that’s preventable.
We have been and continue to be manipulated by companies to make a nice profit for themselves. They’re selling their products to make money and they don’t care if consuming those products harms your health.
We are programmed to consume calorie-dense foods because we don’t want to starve. Even though food shortage may not be a real threat to our lives anymore, our brains still crave calorie-dense foods, such as sugary and processed foods.
4. The Pain Hack
Our desire to avoid pain, along with the evolution of the pharmaceutical industry, has made us dependent on pain relief medications. We don’t bother to figure out the root cause of the pain because we can just take some pain relief to reduce the pain whenever it happens.
Painkillers are readily available whenever we need them. Some of us even carry some painkillers in our bags or have them on our person throughout everyday life. This type of pain relief drug blocks the neurotransmitter pain signal that our internal guidance system needs to send to help return us to the path of survival. This is a huge problem for obvious reasons not to mention the long list of side effects that come along with these and other drugs.
If we continue to block pain signals to the brain using drugs, we will never identify the cause of the pain. The cause goes untreated, which can lead to even more problems. By hacking our internal system and using medication to avoid pain, we continue to head down the wrong path towards potential death.
How can you turn this around?
Well, you should start by finding the cause of the pain and dealing with it properly – and that means you need to stop cloaking the problem with temporary quick fixes such as painkillers.
How to Hack your Mind
Is it possible to hack your own mind? To find a way to use our basic desires to avoid pain and seek pleasure, and use them to help achieve our goals?
The short answer is YES.
First, let’s talk about how we can use pain for our benefit.
Let’s assume that there’s something you’ve been meaning to do for a very long time, but you keep putting it off. To motivate you to actually get it done, you need to make pain a motivating factor that you want to avoid.
By making a public declaration.
Declaring to the world that you will do something, such as running a marathon, makes it so much harder to avoid doing the said thing. After all, if you don’t follow through with the promise you made in your public declaration, you open yourself up to public humiliation.
Imagine what people will say about you if you don’t run that marathon? Especially after you announced it so publicly…. imagine the public ridicule and embarrassment that would follow.
In this case, the motivating force of pain is public humiliation. Your natural desire to avoid pain will be the very thing that inspires you to complete your goal.
Next, let’s talk about using pleasure as a motivating force.
If there’s something you want to do, but the process of accomplishing that thing is difficult, ask yourself how you can enjoy the process.
For example, if you want to exercise more, but the thought of doing so many crunches and squats makes you want to crawl back into bed, think about how you can enjoy the process.
Would music help you to enjoy the workout more? How about your favorite podcast or TV show playing in the background? (Why not try listening to The EnRichment Show the next time you’re out for a jog?).
Think about how you can enjoy the process of achieving your goals and you’ll be able to successfully hack your own mind and use your natural desire for pleasure to help accomplish your goals.
Hacking your mind is a learnable skill – you just need to commit and become more aware and vigilant of whom (or what) is controlling the reigns of your internal guidance system!
Need help getting there? Grab your FREE copy of Crisitunity for further advice on unlocking your mind’s potential, creating new opportunities for yourself, and finally living the life you’ve always wanted.