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How to link inaction with pain

Stack of bricks laddering up with arrows pointing towards the highest brick which has a target on it

In a previous blog post, I touched on the underlying connection that pain and pleasure has with every action we take.

Procrastination is something I've really struggled with in the past, it’s far too easy to waste hours of time without thinking. You don’t even realise all the freedom you’re giving up until you check the stats on your phone. We justify procrastination because we think taking action on whatever it is we’re putting off will be more painful than ignoring it.

This pain comes from fear; of failure, of rejection, of embarrassment, but these are just potential outcomes. Things could end up so much better than we ever imagine but focusing on the possibility of failure paralyses us.

Feeling pain or pleasure depends on our focus and what feels more real in the moment. If you look at chocolate and think, ‘I can’t wait to eat this’, you’re clearly focused on the pleasure of eating it. As long as you do this, that’s what’s most real to you and you’ll be drawn to the chocolate.

Yet there will also have been times when you haven’t eaten the food you normally love eating. For whatever reason, you stopped yourself and maybe it’s sat in the cupboard for a few days. In this instance, the focus is either on the pain you might experience by eating it or the pleasure you get by not eating it.

Pain is a greater motivator than pleasure so it's helpful to focus on how not doing something is going to be more painful than just going for it. This can be applied in other areas of life too and will help gain a sense of control over your life again.

If you’re not following through on what you want to achieve, the relationship with pain and pleasure is misaligned. To avoid conflicting emotions and change focus, decide to concentrate your mind on the pain of not following through.

This brief exercise will help you:

  1. Write down four things you want to do but have been putting off.

  2. For each one, write the pain that you’re associating with it that’s kept you from taking action in the past. What do you think and feel when you think about having to do that activity? What fears, anxieties or concerns come up?

  3. Next, write down all the pleasure you’ve got in the past by not following through. Maybe it meant you could watch an extra episode of your favourite programme or that you didn't have to go outside when it was raining. What reason did you use to justify not doing what you should have?

  4. Finally, write what it will cost you if you don’t change. Think about the implication of not changing this habit over the next months and coming years. What will it cost you in your relationship with yourself and others? What will it cost you financially, emotionally and physically? How would it make you feel to not ever get the results you want?

Go into as much detail as you can and really feel what it would mean for you to be in the same place in 6 months time. Keep revisiting those thoughts and feelings when you're next tempted to put things off to the next day.

Completing something we've been putting off is rarely as difficult as we've made ourselves believe! Motivation and momentum are built over time so if you can help yourself over that initial hurdle, the easier things will become.

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