Take a minute to think about something in your life you know you should take action on but have been putting off. This episode of the Titanium Life podcast is about learning why we avoid these things. The simplest explanation comes down to pain and pleasure.
We are hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. This simple concept was first popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it cooled off considerably. I stuck with it, though. I spent a few years studying the neuroscience behind pain and pleasure. This research helped me come up with the following six-step formula to understanding how pain and pleasure govern our decision making.
Step 1: Humans want to Avoid Pain and Gain Pleasure
Every single decision at its core comes down to either avoiding pain or gaining pleasure. Understanding this concept is the foundation of the next five steps.
Step 2: We’ll do More to Avoid Pain than Gain Pleasure
Your brain, all things being equal, will make a decision to avoid pain over gaining pleasure. Sometimes all options involve both pain and pleasure. You will always choose the option with the least pain, even if it doesn’t give you the most pleasure.
Step 3: Perception of Pain and Pleasure Controls Everything
Your perception of pain often has more of an effect on you than the pain itself. Think of when you have to go to the doctor for a shot. You are afraid of needles, so you spend days dreading the needle in your arm. Getting to the doctor’s office is a struggle. Then, the doctor gives you the shot. Looking back, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as the anticipation.
This step starts to explain some of our irrational decision making.
Step 4: The Perception of Pain and Pleasure are Modulated by Time
Let’s say I tell you that, a year from now, I’m going to take you to an event. All you have to do is let them stick a big needle in you and you’ll get every result you ever wanted. It doesn’t sound so bad since you look at it as if you have a year to prepare for the pain.
If I told you I was taking you to that same event a week from now, you’d have a different reaction. Since it’s so close, the pain feels more real. You’re much more likely to object.
5 – Emotional Pain/Pleasure Trumps Logical Pain/Pleasure
One day I was listening to a neuroscientist talking about emotion and logic, and that’s when it hit me. These feelings are much stronger on an emotional level than a logical level. In other words, pain and pleasure of the heart is more important to us than pain and pleasure of the brain.
This is why we make the most irrational decisions in relationships when love is involved.
6 – Survival Always Beats Desire
The final step is survival always beats desire. Our brains are hardwired to survive, NOT thrive. The desire to have something is nowhere near as strong as your survival instincts. It’s because they have to do with emotional pain and pleasure, and the decision in question is always immediate.
Start Using Pain and Pleasure in Your Favor
Let’s wrap up by reviewing the six steps you need to keep in mind to understand the role of pain and pleasure in your decision making.
- We want to avoid pain and gain pleasure
- We’ll do more to avoid pain than gain pleasure
- Our perception of pain and pleasure control everything
- Perception of pain and pleasure is modulated by time
- Emotional pain and pleasure trump logical pain and pleasure
- Survival always beats desire
Go through each of these six steps to see what exactly is causing you to make irrational decisions in your life. If you need help with this process, consider scheduling a life coaching consultation today.