Why You Should Be a Masochist

Several years ago, my marketing company had a client who sold sales training. One day, we met around the conference table and I asked him to explain his philosophy.

“Here’s the biggest problem with people,” he said. He pulled out a notepad and scribbled some numbers and arrows. “You see, eighty percent of people are motivated by avoiding pain. Only twenty percent are motivated by moving towards pleasure.”

So, essentially most people live their lives running away from negative outcomes rather than pursuing pleasure. They get a job because they fear not being able to pay the bills. They stay in a place they dislike because they fear the hassles and unknowns of moving.

And when problems come up, they spend their time avoiding. My avoidance drug of choice is work. But there are a variety of ways to avoid pain—from alcohol to drugs to food to social media to television—anything that distracts you from the miserable situation you now find yourself in.

The issue with these pain avoidance tactics is that your problems typically don’t go away just because you ignore them. In fact, they often get much, much worse. If, for example, you’re avoiding speaking to your spouse about something that’s bothering you, it may relieve the pain of confrontation in the short term, but what about the long term? That nagging problem that could have been resolved quickly could easily turn into a communication rift, built up resentment, feelings of rejection and even result in divorce down the road.

I’ve had plenty of first hand experience with this. My avoidance of addressing painful issues in my marriage led to all my stuff being seized, an FBI investigation and an indictment. Trust me. It’s much easier to jump right into the pain when it’s small enough to handle.

Now, I’m not talking about starting a fight for no good reason. Or being unnecessarily harsh or brash with your decisions. What I am talking about is actively tackling what has you stuck in a holding pattern.

A while ago, I tried out a meditation technique that has to do with breathing in your painful feelings and breathing out the positive. The idea to get you comfortable with accepting and facing pain head on, which is not something that comes naturally. You have to train yourself to “like” pain.

This is a big thing to note: the typical initial gut reaction is going to be avoiding pain. It’s only through mindset training and analyzing your self-sabotage habits that you will have the strength to override that initial reaction.

Some benefits of addressing painful issues head on are:

  1. Less wasted time (and more time spent on productive endeavors).
  2. More conscious growth.
  3. A realization that your emotional pain won’t kill you (and facing it isn’t nearly as bad as you’ve anticipated).
  4. A feeling of control over your destiny.
  5. The ability to quickly rid yourself of problems as they come up.

Engineering Positive Struggle

There is a new body of research being conducted by Ann Marie Roepke of the University of Pennsylvania which delves into the idea of purposefully creating challenges. She calls it post-ecstatic growth.

Roepke writes, “My recent research indicates that people [also] experience positive psychological changes after extremely good experiences in their lives — experiences like having one’s first child or accomplishing a major goal.  I provisionally call this phenomenon post-ecstatic growth.  Interestingly, people tend to report some of the same positive changes after the best and the worst experiences of their lives; that is, posttraumatic growth and post-ecstatic growth can be similar.”

In other words, purposefully creating positive challenges can lead to great personal growth. Running a marathon. Having a baby. Starting a business. Traveling the world. Learning karate. Technically, these things are painful. I mean, it’s a lot easier to sprawl out on the couch and binge watch Netflix than train for a marathon. But the joy and satisfaction you gain from completing that marathon helps you reach levels of fulfillment that are not possible on the easy path.

The pursuit of growth is like a muscle. The more you work it, the stronger you become.

All my love,

Laura

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