What motivates you more – pain or pleasure?

W hat motivates you more, pain or pleasure? I am reading “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins at the moment, in which he talks about pain and pleasure being the great motivators for most of what we do. It certainly made me think.

Let me work this through with one of my most failed goals – going to the gym.

I have been a member of a gym for the last decade and a half but haven’t exactly been a regular visitor! I thought you just had to join to get fit, but it turns out you have to actually go and train! Who knew! I actually do quite enjoy it when I do go but getting myself there is another thing altogether! I actually have to sneak up on myself. As long as I don’t consciously think about going, but just find myself there, I’m fine. This isn’t exactly easy as I know what I am up to!

So, I started to think about this concept of pain and pleasure as a motivator. Clearly, I am not keen on the idea of pain in the short term at the gym. I associate going with discomfort and lack of enjoyment. It is a chore. A pain, quite literally. I like the idea of being fit and healthy but not the pain to get me there. I would rather take the short-term pleasure in doing something else other than going to the gym. I am quite motivated by short-term rewards. I have trouble visualising things that are a long way in the future. I am a bit of a “now” girl.

This used to be true with my relationship with food. I would take the pleasure of the taste there and then, rather than go through the pain of denial for a longer-term reward of pleasure – ie being slimmer! This had to change last year because all the short-term pleasure caught up with me and gave me some quite real pain. So now, most of the time, I think of that short-term pleasure of eating the wrong things, leading to some real pain in the not too distant future. That has helped me reprogramme my responses to certain foods and, actually, going without is no longer associated with pain but with the satisfaction of knowing I am avoiding pain. It doesn’t work all the time and I slip up but I know I have because my body gives me a lovely reminder!

 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’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you. – Tony Robbins

So back to the gym thing. Somehow, I need to reprogramme my response to going to the gym. I need to find a way of seeing it as a pleasure. Blimey. That’s a tall order.


So, what does going to the gym regularly give me?

It gives me time to myself, time to listen to my ipod, which is full of uplifting tunes that I never listen to anywhere else but the gym or on a plane during take off and landing as I try to pretend it’s not happening (I don’t like that bit of flying!). That means that listening to my ipod reminds me of holidays. That must feel good. What else do I get? I get pleasure from knowing that I am doing the right thing for my body. I am making it stronger and healthier. I also get the pleasure from knowing I am being a good role model for my daughter. I also get pleasure from fitting into my clothes and knowing I look good. When I finish at the gym, I get pleasure from knowing that I have been! I feel smug! I also like seeing myself make progress when I go regularly.

So what pain do I get? I don’t like going out when it is cold or wet, or after work when I just want to relax. I get some discomfort when I go to the gym – I don’t like getting sweaty!! I never really ache, because I never push myself so hard. I don’t like using the time to go to the gym when I could be doing something else, like working. How do I see work then? What are my values around work and health? It is important for me to do my job properly, so I need to spend time on it. But I have learnt from past experience that my health is paramount. If that goes wrong, I let down an awful lot of people. I didn’t value myself highly enough to prioritise it above work for many years but I do now. So knowing that, is work an acceptable replacement for going to the gym? No.

Hmmm. Interesting. I seem to be able to come up with far more pleasure feelings than actual pain ones. So maybe I can reframe how I see going to the gym. I am going to the gym for some well deserved me time.  That sounds quite nice actually. I like that. Perhaps in my mind I can build an image of the gym being my place for my thoughts.

So with that knowledge of pain and pleasure and a few useful coaching questions, I now have a new image to motivate me for going to the gym.  What can this model help you with?