“People will do more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure.” – Tony Robbins
Do you have trouble sticking to a healthy diet and workout program? If so, you are certainly not alone.
Why do so many men struggle to stay healthy when they know it’s the right thing to do?
Consider the quote by Tony Robbins above. Your behavior is governed by what you associate with pain and what you associate with pleasure. For example, if you link pleasure to skipping a workout and vegging out on the couch, and link pain to going to the gym, you would be far less likely to stick to a fitness program.
The key to motivating yourself to get and stay healthy is to link more pain to neglecting your health than you do pleasure to taking it easy.
Below I answer an e-mail from a reader who is struggling to stay motivated to improve his health and coach him into using the pain/pleasure principle to his advantage. (His email is in italics and my response is in bold).
Thank you for all of the information and health advice on your site. (No problem. It is my mission to give guys all of the tools and information they need to achieve optimal health and live a vital life. Health sets the foundation for a high quality of life, and that is a birthright for everybody).
I’m 37 years old and I used to be an athlete in high school. I was pretty fit in my late teens and early twenties. After college, I started working full time as a software engineer. This is when I started to go downhill. (It usually is for most guys, including myself. The reality is that working in the corporate world makes it extremely difficult to take care of yourself. Most office environments are inherently unhealthy and prioritize productivity over self care. Therefore, you must make taking care of yourself a high priority or you will fall victim to the culture.)
I gained a lot of weight and stopped caring about what I looked like. I stopped working out and being active and ate mostly junk food. (What exactly were you telling yourself? Odds are that you started to link more pleasure with indulging in junk food than you did with working out and taking care of your body. You didn’t really elaborate here, but I would surmise that junk food and comfort food became a crutch for you; an unhealthy way to deal with the stresses of work. You started associating pleasure to junk food and pain with working out and eating healthy. Your self-talk about your health likely became negative. It may have sounded like “I’m too tired to go to the gym. Oh well it doesn’t matter anyway.”)
I know I should be eating healthy and going to the gym, but I can’t stay motivated long enough. I tell myself I’ll start on Monday and by Wednesday I’m back on the couch. What can I do to make sure I stick with it?
(There are many factors that can effect your motivation, but the most important thing you can do is use the pain/pleasure principle to your advantage. Take out a piece of paper and divide it equally. On the left side, list all of the painful consequences of not taking care of your health and fitness. It could look like this:
1. I could get sick and put my family in a tough situation
2. I’ll feel like crap every single day
3. My work performance will suffer
4. No woman will be attracted to me
Over time, you will start associating those painful consequences with not working out, eating healthy, and improving your overall health. And like Tony Robbins says, “People will do more to avoid pain than they will to gain pleasure.”
On the opposite side of the paper, list all of the pleasurable results that can manifest by taking care of your health:
1. I will sleep better and feel better all of the time
2. I will attract more women
3. I will be able to participate in sports like used to
4. My cognitive performance will improve and I will perform better at work
Likewise, over time, you will begin to associate all of these pleasurable things will taking care of yourself. The combination of associating pain with not taking health and pleasure with doing so will sustain your motivation.)
Am I doomed to repeat this cycle forever? (Of course not, dude. Nothing is forever. You just need to gain some momentum by taking action and making positive choices. The goal is to get to the point where you do the right thing automatically out of habit. By using the pain/pleasure principle to analyze each choice on paper, it will condition you to start thinking this way automatically. It usually takes about six months for this to work completely. At that point your healthy habits will be well-established and you will be in the “maintanence” stage of your lifestyle change.)
(You are better off than you may think. You are motivated enough to want to make a change, and you know what to do because you have been there before. Start by using the pain/pleasure priniciple to your advantage. Eventually you will get to the point where you associate pleasure with the right choices and pain with the wrong ones. Keep going!)
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Be Awesome. Be vital.