Fitness column: How to use pain to your advantage
Pain and pleasure — does that ring any bells?
What gives you more pain: exercise or the fact that you can’t buy the clothes that you want because they don’t fit you? Is eating healthier food more painful than taking medication with side effects to control a health issue? What is more painful: spending money on exercise and eating the right foods to improve your health or spending money at the hospital?
It is human nature to run away from pain and look for pleasure. We usually do this subconsciously. Only people who are mature enough can differentiate when pain is good. That may sound funny, but let me explain.
Short term relief vs. long term consequences
Usually people think in the short term. If something provides immediate relief they are willing to do it: having a couple of glasses of wine every day, watching TV for hours, eating fast food, going relief shopping and so on. All of these bring some immediate relief or pleasure, but we don’t think about the long-term consequences they cause when the pain from which we need relief just gets worse because this prompt relief only covers the pain.
On the other hand, exercise, eating healthily, saving money and controlling our thoughts when we are stressed brings some kind of pain short term, but they bring a lot of pleasure long term. These habits contribute to improving our health. If you can be aware of these two feelings, you can make pain your ally.
At one point in my life, I used to seek prompt gratification. One day I suffered so much that I could not handle it anymore. I told myself, “Enough, it is time to change my life. I’m tired of being in pain.” Later in my life, I concluded that many people don’t change because their level of pain is minimal. Many people need to suffer a high level of pain to change.
Maybe for many to start losing weight, they need to feel uncomfortable when they can’t fit in an airline seat. For others to change, they need to see a close loved one become consumed by a disease and die before they’ll change their eating habits. Others need to lose everything, including their family, before they accept that they have a problem.
Making pain your friend
I’m motivated to help many people change their lives and help them understand the power of pain and pleasure. When we say, “Enough, I’m ready to change my life,” is the time when pain becomes our friend.
I think pain makes us more human, and this is the reason I put effort and time into my job and writing this article. I want to change lives positively. For me it is more painful wasting my time partying, drinking and watching TV than sitting in front of my computer writing, hoping to make a positive impact in your life. I get some level of pleasure when I finish writing, when people tell me that they like my articles and when I see results in people.
Now, you have to keep in mind that, as is true with many things, it required a level of pain or discomfort when I started. But now it is automatic.
We all are driven by pain and pleasure. We are always weighing the consequences of our decisions on the scale of pain and pleasure. For some people, making breakfast at home gives them more pleasure than pain because they see the long-term results: They save money, they choose the right foods, they eat healthy calories, and they have control of their nutrition, contributing to their health, weight loss and life.
On the other hand, some people see more pleasure than pain in stopping at a fast food chain restaurant and getting something on the go: They get to sleep more, they don’t worry about what they need to eat, and they think the fast food tastes good. While they get these “benefits,” they may also pay the consequences of eating foods with no nutrients, high in fat and pay more in the long term.
Both examples are driven by pain and pleasure; one is focusing on the long-term pleasure and short-term pain, and the other is focusing on the prompt relief and ignoring the long-term consequences.
My point here is that you can make pain your ally — visualize the long-term results. Keep in mind that your health will only develop when you practice or improve your good habits every day. No matter which is your goal — losing weight, avoiding disease, toning your body, being independent, running a marathon — you should keep in mind the power of good habits.
And good habits usually bring a sense of discomfort in the beginning. However, by thinking in long-term effects, the good habit becomes easy to practice improving your life.
Change your life for the better will bring you happiness — you will enjoy it more and inspire others to do the same.
Sandro Torres is owner of Custom Body Fitness in Carbondale, author of the book “Lose Weight Permanently” and a Watch Fit columnist. His column appears on the second Tuesday of the month in Body & More.
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