There are a couple of things that I’d like to clarify regarding our emotional desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s not the actual pain or pleasure that drives us, it is really something else. Any idea what that is?
Our desire to avoid pain is really based on fear. What fear? The fear of taking any action that feels like it might lead to pain.
Likewise, it’s not the actual pleasure that motivates us to take action, but our belief that a certain action will lead to a pleasurable experience. So, our movement in either direction is a response to our perception of where that action will lead.
The power of anticipation and anxiety
Have you ever noticed that the anticipation of the pain we think might result from a certain action is generally much worse than the actual experience? Here’s an example, if you’ve ever done any public speaking it’s usually the 10 or 15 minutes just before you get on stage that creates the greatest anxiety.
You may experience all kinds of symptoms like an increased heart rate, a rise in body temperature and a nauseous feeling in your stomach. At this point are any of these symptoms the result of actual public speaking? No, they are caused by your estimation of what the experience will be like, not by the actual activity.
Speaking from my own personal experiences and those of other public speakers that I know, everyone agrees that the anxiety that comes before hand generally vanishes as soon as they begin speaking. Anxiety of course, is a form of fear.
Where does the fear come from?
There are so many different kinds of fear that it is impossible to label them all, but it is possible to identify where they all come from. The reason we can do that is because fear is always related to one or more of these three primary human desires.
1) A desire for approval
2) A desire for control
3) A desire to feel secure
If you examine any fear, whether it’s the fear of rejection, fear of failure, or fear of loss, you will discover that, on an emotional level, it represents a perceived threat to our sense of approval, sense of control, or sense of security.
Fear grows or shrinks with focus
Take the example of our public speaker. Once he gets on stage and focuses on his topic, he can settle down and enjoy the experience. But during the 10 to 15 minutes before he gets on stage, he is not thinking about his topic, instead he is focused on himself. He is wondering if he’ll have the approval of his audience, if he’ll have control of his voice and body language, and the anxiety is making him feel insecure.
The solution is to focus on the outcome, the feeling of satisfaction and approval that will come from a job well done. By visualizing a pleasurable outcome there is a complete shift the focus. Excitement replaces anxiety and the expectation of pleasure replaces fear. Moving toward a pleasurable outcome is a pleasurable experience so it is one we can look forward to.
Choosing less pain and more pleasure
Now we can see that one way to avoid pain and move toward pleasure is simply to change our focus. In our example, a short-term focus created pain in the form of fear and anxiety, while a long-term focus turned the whole experience into a pleasurable one.
Once we understand the relationship between focus and pain or pleasure, we can easily change our perception of any experience. By controlling your focus you give yourself the ability to decide whether an experience will be painful or pleasurable. Then you can choose pleasure over pain.
Can you think of time when…
~ The anxiety was worse than the reality?
~ The anticipation was better than the reality?
~ The reality never happened and the fear was for nothing?
The lines are open!
This is part 2 in a 3 part series of articles dealing with pain and pleasure paradigms. If it seems like I started in the middle of the story, check out…
Part 1: The Power of Pain and Pleasure Paradigms
Part 3: Creating Your own Pain and Pleasure Paradigms
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