“Men live by intervals of reason under the sovereignty of humor and passion.” SIR THOMAS BROWNE
She had been jogging for only about half an hour when it happened. Suddenly a dozen young boys began to sprint in her direction. Before she had time to realize what was happening, they pounced upon her, pulled her into the bushes and began to beat her with a lead pipe. One boy continually kicked her in the face until she was bleeding profusely. Then they raped and sodomized her, and left her for dead.
I’m sure you’ve heard about this tragic, unthinkable crime that happened in Central Park several years ago. I was in New York City the night it happened. I was appalled not only by the savagery of the attack, but even more so to hear who the attackers were. They were children, from the ages of 14 to 17 years old. Contrary to stereotypes, they were neither poor nor did they come from abusive families. They were boys from private schools. Little League players, kids who took tuba lessons. These boys were not driven crazy by drugs, nor were they racially motivated. They assaulted and could have killed this 28-year-old woman for one reason and one reason only: fun. They even had a name for what they had set out to do; they called it “wilding.”
Not more than 250 miles away in our nation’s capital, a jet airliner crashed on takeoff from National Airport during a blinding snowstorm. It hit the Potomac Bridge at the height of rush hour. As traffic snarled to a halt, emergency rescue services were immediately dispatched to the scene, and the bridge became a nightmare of chaos and panic. Firemen and paramedics were overwhelmed by the destruction, and dove again and again into the Potomac to try and save crash victims. One man repeatedly passed the life preserver to others. He saved many lives, but not his own. By the time the rescue helicopter finally got to him, he had slipped beneath the icy surface of the water. This man gave his life in order to save those of complete strangers! What drove him to place such a high value on other people’s lives—people he didn’t even know—that he was willing to give his own life in the process?
What makes a person with a “good background” behave so savagely and without remorse while another gives his own life to rescue complete strangers? What creates a hero, a heel, a criminal, a contributor? What determines the difference in human actions? Throughout my life, I have passionately sought the answer to these questions. One thing is clear to me: human beings are not random creatures; everything we do, we do for a reason. We may not be aware of the reason consciously, but there is undoubtedly a single driving force behind all human behavior. This force impacts every facet of our lives, from our relationships and finances to our bodies and brains. What is this force that is controlling you even now and will continue to do so for the rest of your life? PAIN and PLEASURE! Everything you and I do, we do either out of our need to avoid pain or our desire to gain pleasure.
So often I hear people talk about changes they want to make in their lives. But they can’t get themselves to follow through. They feel frustrated, overwhelmed, even angry with themselves because they know they need to take action, but they can’t get themselves to do it. There is one elementary reason: they keep trying to change their behavior, which is the effect, instead of dealing with the cause behind it.
Understanding and utilizing the forces of pain and pleasure will allow you once and for all to create the lasting changes and improvements you desire for yourself and those you care about. Failure to understand this force dooms you to a future of living in reaction, like an animal or a machine. Perhaps this sounds like a complete oversimplification, but think about it. Why don’t you do some of the things you know you should do?
After all, what is procrastination? It’s when you know you should do something, but you still don’t do it. Why not? The answer is simple: at some level you believe that taking action in this moment would be more painful than just putting it off. Yet, have you ever had the experience of putting something off for so long that suddenly you felt pressure to just do it, to get it done What happened? You changed what you linked pain and pleasure to. Suddenly, not taking action became more painful than putting it off. This is a common occurrence that many Americans experience around April 14!
“A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.” SENECA
What keeps you from approaching that man or woman of your dreams? What keeps you from starting that new business you’ve been planning for years? Why do you keep putting off that diet? Why do you avoid completing your thesis? Why haven’t you taken control of your financial investment portfolio? What prevents you from doing whatever it takes to make your life exactly as you’ve imagined it?
Even though you know that all these actions would benefit you—that they could definitely bring pleasure to your life—you fail to act simply because in that moment you associate more pain to doing what’s necessary than missing the opportunity. After all, what if you approached that person, and they rejected you? What if you tried to start that new business but failed and lost the security you have in your present job? What if you started a diet and went through the pain of starving yourself, only to gain the weight back eventually anyway? What if you made an investment and lost your money? So why even try?
For most people, the fear of loss is much greater than the desire for gain. Which would drive you more: keeping someone from stealing the $100,000 you’ve earned over the last five years, or the potential of earning $100,000 in the next five? The fact is that most people would work much harder to hang on to what they have than they would to take the risks necessary to get what they really want from their lives.
“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” ANTHONY ROBBINS
Often an interesting question comes up in discussions about these twin powers that drive us: Why is it that people can experience pain yet fail to change? They haven’t experienced enough pain yet; they haven’t hit what I call emotional threshold. If you’ve ever been in a destructive relationship and finally made the decision to use your personal power, take action and change your life, it was probably because you hit a level of pain you weren’t willing to settle for anymore. We’ve all experienced those times in our lives when we’ve said, “I’ve had it—never again—this must change now.” This is the magical moment when pain becomes our friend. It drives us to take new action and produce new results. We become even more powerfully compelled to act if, in that same moment, we begin to anticipate how changing will create a great deal of pleasure for our lives as well.
This process is certainly not limited to relationships. Maybe you’ve experienced threshold with your physical condition: you finally got fed up because you couldn’t squeeze into an airline seat, you couldn’t fit into your clothes, and walking up a set of stairs winded you. Finally you said, “I’ve had it!” and made a decision. What motivated that decision? It was the desire to remove pain from your life and establish pleasure once again: the pleasure of pride, the pleasure of comfort, the pleasure of selfesteem, the pleasure of living life the way you’ve designed it.
Of course, there are many levels of pain and pleasure. For example, feeling a sense of humiliation is a rather intense form of emotional pain. Feeling a sense of inconvenience is also pain. So is boredom. Obviously some of these have less intensity, but they still factor in the equation of decision-making. Likewise, pleasure weighs into this process. Much of our drive in life comes from our anticipating that our actions will lead to a more compelling future, that today’s work will be well worth the effort, that the rewards of pleasure are near. Yet there are many levels of pleasure as well. For example, the pleasure of ecstasy, while most would agree is intense, may sometimes be outweighed by the pleasure of com- fort. It all depends on an individual’s perspective.
For example, let’s say you’re on your lunch break, and you’re walking past a park where a Beethoven symphony is playing. Will you stop and listen? It depends, first of all, on the meaning you associate to classical music. Some people would drop anything to be able to listen to the valiant strains of the Eroica Symphony; for them, Beethoven equals pure pleasure. For others, however, listening to any kind of classical music is about as exciting as watching paint dry. Enduring the music would equal a measure of pain, and so they hurry past the park and back to work. But even some people who love classical music would not decide to stop and listen. Maybe the perceived pain of being late for work outweighs the pleasure they would get from hearing the familiar melodies. Or maybe they have a belief that stopping and enjoying music in the middle of the afternoon is wasteful of precious time, and the pain of doing something frivolous and inappropriate is greater than the pleasure the music could bring. Each day our lives are filled with these kinds of psychic negotiations. We are constantly weighing our own proposed actions and the impact they will have upon us.
LIFE’S MOST IMPORTANT LESSON
Donald Trump and Mother Teresa are driven by the exact same force. I can hear you saying, “Are you off your rocker. Tony? They couldn’t be more different!” It’s absolutely true that their values lie at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re both driven by pain and pleasure. Their lives have been shaped by what they’ve learned to get pleasure from, and what they’ve learned will create pain. The most important lesson we learn in life is what creates pain for us and what creates pleasure. This lesson is different for each of us and, therefore, so are our behaviors.
What’s driven Donald Trump throughout his life? He’s learned to achieve pleasure by having the largest and most expensive yachts, acquiring the most extravagant buildings, making the shrewdest deals—in short, accumulating the biggest and best toys. What did he learn to link pain to? In interviews he has revealed that his ultimate pain in life is being second-best at anything—he equates it with failure. In fact, his greatest drive to achieve comes from his compulsion to avoid this pain. It’s a far more powerful motivator than his desire to gain pleasure. Many competitors have taken great joy in the pain that Trump has experienced from the collapse of much of his economic empire. Rather than judge him—or anyone else, including yourself—it might be more valuable to understand what’s driving him and to have some compassion for his obvious pain.
By contrast, look at Mother Teresa. Here’s a woman who cares so deeply that when she sees other people in pain, she also suffers. Seeing the injustice of the caste system wounded her. She discovered that when she took action to help these people, their pain disappeared, and so did hers. For Mother Teresa, the ultimate meaning of life can be found in one of the most impoverished sections of Calcutta, the City of Joy, which is swollen past the bursting point with millions of starving and diseased refugees. For her, pleasure might mean wading through knee-deep muck, sewage and filth in order to reach a squalid hut and minister to the infants and children within, their tiny bodies ravaged by cholera and dysentery. She is powerfully driven by the sensation that helping others out of their misery helps alleviate her own pain, that in helping them experience life in a better way—giving them pleasure—she will feel pleasure. She learned that putting yourself on the line for others is the highest good; it gives her a sense that her life has true meaning.
While it may be a stretch for most of us to liken the sublime humility of Mother Teresa to the materialism of Donald Trump, it’s critical to remember that these two individuals shaped their destinies based upon what they linked pain and pleasure to. Certainly their backgrounds and environments played a role in their choices, but ultimately they made conscious decisions about what to reward or punish themselves for.
WHAT YOU LINK PAIN TO AND WHAT YOU LINK PLEASURE TO SHAPES YOUR DESTINY
One decision that has made a tremendous difference in the quality of my life is that at an early age I began to link incredible pleasure to learning. I realized that discovering ideas and strategies that could help me to shape human behavior and emotion could give me virtually everything I wanted in my life. It could get me out of pain and into pleasure. Learning to unlock the secrets behind our actions could help me to become more healthy, to feel better physically, to connect more deeply with the people I cared about. Learning provided me with something to give, the opportunity to truly contribute something of value to all those around me. It offered me a sense of joy and fulfillment. At the same time, I discovered an even more powerful form of pleasure, and that was achieved by sharing what I’d learned in a passionate way. When I began to see that what I could share helps people increase the quality of their lives, I discovered the ultimate level of pleasure! And my life’s purpose began to evolve. What are some of the experiences of pain and pleasure that have shaped your life? Whether you’ve linked pain or pleasure to drugs, for example, certainly has affected your destiny. So have the emotions you’ve learned to associate to cigarettes or alcohol, relationships, or even the concepts of giving or trusting.
If you’re a doctor, isn’t it true that the decision to pursue a medical career so many years ago was motivated by your belief that becoming a physician would make you feel good? Every doctor I’ve talked to links massive pleasure to helping people: stopping pain, healing illness, and saving lives. Often the pride of being a respected member of society was an additional motivator. Musicians have dedicated themselves to their art because few things can give them that same level of pleasure. And CEOs of top organizations have learned to link pleasure to making powerful decisions that have a huge potential to build something unique and to contribute to people’s lives in a lasting way.
Think of the limiting pain and pleasure associations of John Belushi, Freddie Prinze, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. Their associations to drugs as an escape, a quick fix, or a way out of pain and into temporary pleasure created their downfalls. They paid the ultimate price for not directing their own minds and emotions. Think of the example they set for millions of fans. I never did learn to consume drugs or alcohol. Is it because I was so brilliant? No, it’s because I was very fortunate. One reason I never drank alcohol is that, as a child, there were a couple of people in my family who acted so obnoxiously when drunk that I associated extreme pain to drinking any alcohol. One especially graphic image I have is the memory of my best friend’s mom. She was extremely obese, weighing close to 300 pounds, and she drank constantly. Whenever she did, she wanted to hug me and drool all over me. To this day, the smell of alcohol on anyone’s breath nauseates me.
Beer, though, was another story. When I was about eleven or twelve, I didn’t consider it an alcoholic drink. After all, my dad drank beer, and he didn’t get that “obnoxious” or disgusting. In fact, he seemed to be a little more fun when he’d had a few beers. Plus, I linked pleasure to drinking because I wanted to be just like Dad. Would drinking beer really make me like Dad? No, but we frequently create false associations in our nervous systems (neuro-associations) as to what will create pain or pleasure in our lives.
One day I asked my mom for a “brew.” She began arguing that it wasn’t good for me. But trying to convince me when my mind was made up, when my observations of my father so clearly contradicted her, was not going to work. We don’t believe what we hear; rather, we are certain that our perceptions are accurate—and I was certain that day that drinking beer was the next step in my personal growth. Finally, my mom realized I’d probably just go drink somewhere else if she didn’t give me an experience I wouldn’t forget. At some level, she must have known she had to change what I associated to beer. So she said, “Okay, you want to drink beer and be like Dad? Then you’ve really got to drink beer just like your dad.” I said, “Well, what does that mean?” She said, “You’ve got to drink a whole six-pack.” I said, “No problem.”
She said, “You’ve got to drink it right here.” When I took my first sip, it tasted disgusting, nothing like what I’d anticipated. Of course, I wouldn’t admit it at the time because, after all, my pride was on the line. So I took a few more sips. After finishing one beer I said, “Now I’m really full, Mom.” She said, “No, here’s another one,” and popped it open. After the third or fourth can, I started feeling sick to my stomach. I’m sure you can guess what happened next: I threw up all over myself and the kitchen table. It was disgusting, and so was cleaning up the mess! I immediately linked the smell of beer to the vomit and horrible feelings. I no longer had an intellectual association to what drinking beer meant. I now had an emotional association in my nervous system, a gut-level neuro-association— one that would clearly guide my future decisions. As a result, I’ve never had even a sip of beer since!
Can our pain and pleasure linkages produce a processional effect in our lives? You bet. This negative neuro-association for beer affected many of my decisions in life. It influenced whom I hung out with at school. It determined how I learned to get pleasure. I didn’t use alcohol: I used learning; I used laughter; I used sports. I also learned that it felt incredible to help other people, so I became the guy in school everybody came to with their problems, and solving their problems made both them and me feel good. Some things haven’t changed through the years!
I also never used drugs because of a similar experience: when I was in the third or fourth grade, the police department came to my school and showed us some films about the consequences of getting involved in the drug scene. I watched as people shot up, passed out, spaced out, and leaped out of windows. As a young boy, I associated drugs to ugliness and death, so I never tried them myself. My good fortune was that the police had helped me form painful neuro-associations to even the idea of using drugs. Therefore, I have never even considered the possibility.
What can we leam from this? Simply this: if we link massive pain to any behavior or emotional pattern, we will avoid indulging in it at all costs. We can use this understanding to harness the force of pain and pleasure to change virtually anything in our lives, from a pattern of procrastinating to drug use. How do we do this? Let’s say, for example, you want to keep your children off drugs. The time to reach them is before they experiment and before someone else teaches them the false association that drugs equal pleasure.
My wife, Becky, and I decided that the most powerful way to make sure our kids would never use drugs was to cause them to link massive pain to drugs. We knew that unless we taught them what drugs were really about, someone else might convince them that drugs were a useful way of escaping pain.
To accomplish this task, I called upon an old friend. Captain John Rondon of the Salvation Army. For years, I’ve supported John in the South Bronx and Brooklyn in helping street people make changes in their lives by raising their standards, changing their limiting beliefs, and developing life skills. Becky and I are very proud of the people who’ve used what we’ve taught to get off the streets and increase the quality of their lives. I’ve always used my visits there as a way of giving something back and as a reminder of how fortunate I am. It keeps me feeling appreciative of the life I have the privilege to lead. It also gives me perspective and keeps my life balanced.
I explained my goals to Captain John, and he arranged to take my children on a tour they would never forget, one that would give them a clear experience of what drugs do to the human spirit. It began with a firsthand visit to a rat-infested, rotting tenement building. The minute we walked in, my children were assaulted by the stench of urine-soaked floors, the sight of addicts shooting up heedless of who was watching, child prostitutes soliciting passers-by, and the sound of neglected, crying children. Mental, emotional, and physical devastation is what my kids learned to link to drugs. That was four-and-a-half years ago. While they have all been exposed to drugs many times since, they have never touched them. These powerful neuro-associations have significantly shaped their destinies.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” MARCUS AURELIUS
We are the only beings on the planet who lead such rich internal lives that it’s not the events that matter most to us, but rather, it’s how we interpret those events that will determine how we think about ourselves and how we will act in the future. One of the things that makes us so special is our marvelous ability to adapt, to transform, to manipulate objects or ideas to produce something more pleasing or useful. And foremost among our adaptive talents is the ability to take the raw experience of our lives, relate it to other experiences, and create from it a kaleidoscopic tapestry of meaning that’s different from everyone else’s in the world. Only human beings can, for example, change their associations so that physical pain will result in pleasure, or vice-versa.
Remember a hunger striker confined to jail. Fasting for a cause, he survives thirty days without food. The physical pain he experiences is considerable, but it’s offset by the pleasure and validation of drawing the world’s attention to his cause. On a more personal, everyday level, individuals who follow intense physical regimens in order to sculpt their bodies have learned to link tremendous feelings of pleasure to the “pain” of physical exertion. They have converted the discomfort of discipline into the satisfaction of personal growth. This is why their behavior is consistent, as are their results!
Through the power of our wills, then, we can weigh something like the physical pain of starvation against the psychic pain of surrendering our ideals. We can create higher meaning; we can step out of the “Skinnerian box” and take control. But if we fail to direct our own associations to pain and pleasure, we’re living no better than animals or machines, continually reacting to our environment, allowing whatever comes up next to determine the direction and quality of our lives. We’re back in the box. It’s as if we are a public computer, with easy access for lots of amateur programmers!
Our behavior, both conscious and unconscious, has been rigged by pain and pleasure from so many sources: childhood peers, moms and dads, teachers, coaches, movie and television heroes, and the list goes on. You may or may not know precisely when programming and conditioning occurred. It might have been something someone said, an incident at school, an award-winning sports event, an embarrassing moment, straight A’s on your report card—or maybe failing grades. All of these contributed to who you are today. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that what you link pain and pleasure to will shape your destiny.
As you review your own life, can you recall experiences that formed your neuro-associations and thus set in motion the chain of causes and effects that brought you to where you are today? What meaning do you attach to things? If you’re single, do you look upon marriage wistfully as a joyous adventure with your life’s mate, or do you dread it as a heavy ball and chain? As you sit down to dinner tonight, do you consume food matter-of-factly as an opportunity to refuel your body, or do you devour it as your sole source of pleasure?
“Men, as well as women, are much oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings.” —LORD CHESTERFIELD
Though we’d like to deny it, the fact remains that what drives our behavior is instinctive reaction to pain and pleasure, not intellectual calculation. Intellectually, we may believe that eating chocolate is bad for us, but we’ll still reach for it. Why? Because we’re not driven so much by what we intellectually know, but rather by what we’ve learned to link pain and pleasure to in our nervous systems. It’s our neuro-associations— the associations we’ve established in our nervous systems—that determine what we’ll do. Although we’d like to believe it’s our intellect that really drives us, in most cases our emotions—the sensations that we link to our thoughts—are what truly drive us.
Many times we try to override the system. For a while we stick to a diet; we’ve finally pushed ourselves over the edge because we have so much pain. We will have solved the problem for the moment—but if we haven’t eliminated the cause of the problem, it will resurface. Ultimately, in order for a change to last, we must link pain to our old behavior and pleasure to our new behavior, and condition it until it’s consistent. Remember, we will all do more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure. Going on a diet and overriding our pain in the short term by pure willpower never lasts simply because we still link pain to giving up fattening foods. For this change to be long-term, we’ve got to link pain to eating those foods so that we no longer even desire them, and pleasure to eat more of the foods that nourish us. People who are fit and healthy believe that nothing tastes as good as thin feels! And they love foods that nourish them. In fact, they often link pleasure to pushing the plate away with food still on it. It symbolizes to them that they’re in control of their lives.
The truth is that we can learn to condition our minds, bodies, and emotions to link pain or pleasure to whatever we choose. By changing what we link pain and pleasure to, we will instantly change our behaviors. With smoking, for example, all you must do is link enough pain to smoking and enough pleasure to quitting. You have the ability to do this right now, but you might not exercise this capability because you’ve trained your body to link pleasure to smoking, or you fear that stopping would be too painful. Yet, if you meet anyone who has stopped, you will find that this behavior changed in one day: the day they truly changed what smoking meant to them.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE, SOMEONE ELSE DOES
The mission of Madison Avenue is to influence what we link pain and pleasure to. Advertisers clearly understand that what drives us is not so much our intellect as the sensations that we link to their products. As a result, they’ve become experts in learning how to use exciting or soothing music, rapid or elegant imagery, bright or subdued color, and a variety of other elements to put us in certain emotional states; then, when our emotions are at their peak, when the sensations are their most intense, they flash an image of their product continuously until we link it to these desired feelings.
Pepsi employed this strategy brilliantly in carving out a bigger share of the lucrative soft-drink market from their major competitor, Coca-Cola. Pepsi observed the phenomenal success of Michael Jackson, a young man who had spent his entire life learning how to heighten people’s emotions by the way he used his voice, his body, his face, and his gestures. Michael sang and danced in a way that stimulated huge numbers of people to feel incredibly good—so much so that they’d often purchase one of his albums to re-create the feelings. Pepsi asked. How can we transfer those sensations to our product? Their reasoning was that if people associated the same pleasurable feelings to Pepsi as they did to Michael Jackson, they’d buy Pepsi just as they bought his albums. The process of anchoring new feelings to a product or idea is the integral transference necessary to basic conditioning, something you’ll learn more about in Chapter 6 as we study the science of Neuro-Associative Conditioning. But for now, consider this: any time we’re in an intense emotional state, when we’re feeling strong sensations of pain or pleasure, anything unique that occurs consistently will become neurologically linked. Therefore, in the future, whenever that unique thing happens again, the emotional state will return.
You’ve probably heard of Ivan Pavlov, a Russian scientist who, in the late nineteenth century, conducted conditioned-response experiments. His most famous experiment was one in which he rang a bell as he offered food to a dog, thereby stimulating the dog to salivate and pairing the dog’s sensations with the sound of the bell. After repeating the conditioning enough times, Pavlov found that merely ringing the bell would cause the dog to salivate—even when food was no longer being given.
What does Pavlov have to do with Pepsi? First, Pepsi used Michael Jackson to get us in a peak emotional state. Then, at that precise moment, they flashed the product. Continuous repetitions of this created an emotional linkage for millions of Jackson’s fans. The truth is that Michael Jackson doesn’t even drink Pepsi! And he wouldn’t even hold an empty Pepsi can in his hand on camera! You might wonder, “Isn’t this company crazy? They hired a guy for $15 million to represent them who doesn’t even hold their product, and tells everybody that he won’t! What kind of spokesperson is this? What a crazy idea!” Actually, it was a brilliant idea. Sales went through the roof—so high that LA. Gear then hired Michael for $20 million to represent their product. And today, because he’s able to change the way people feel (he’s what I call a “state inducer”) he and Sony/CBS just signed a 10-year recording contract that’s reputed to be worth more than $1 billion. His ability to change people’s emotional states makes him invaluable.
What we’ve got to realize is that this is all based on linking pleasurable sensations to specific behaviors. It’s the idea that if we use the product, we’ll live our fantasies. Advertisers have taught all of us that if you drive a BMW, then you’re an extraordinary person with exceptional taste. If you drive a Hyundai, you’re intelligent and frugal. If you drive a Pontiac, you’ll have excitement. If you drive a Toyota, what a feeling you’ll get! You’re taught that if you wear Obsession cologne, you’ll soon be entwined in the throes of an androgynous orgy. If you drink Pepsi, you’ll be able to jam with M.C. Hammer as the epitome of hip. If you want to be a “good” mom, then you feed your children Hostess fruit pies, cupcakes and Twinkles.
Advertisers have noted that if enough pleasure can be generated, consumers are often willing to overlook the fear of pain. It is an advertising adage that “sex sells,” and there’s no question that the pleasurable associations created in print and on TV by using sex do the job. Take a look at the trend in selling blue jeans. What are blue jeans, anyway? They used to be work pants: functional, ugly. How are they sold today? They’ve become an international icon of everything that’s sexy, fashionable, and youthful. Have you ever watched a Levi’s 501 jeans commercial? Can you explain one to me? They make no sense, do they? They’re totally confusing. But at the end, you have the distinct impression that sex took place nearby. Does this type of strategy really sell blue jeans? You bet! Levi is the number-one blue-jeans manufacturer in America today.
Is the power of conditioning to shape our associations limited to products like soft drinks, automobiles and blue jeans? Of course not. Take the lowly little raisin, for example. Do you know that in 1986, the California Raisin Advisory Board was expecting a huge harvest, yet they were beginning to panic? Year by year, they’d seen their sales dropping by 1 percent annually. In desperation they turned to their advertising agency and asked what they could do. The solution was simple: they needed to change people’s feelings about raisins. For most people, raisins were considered wimpy, lonely, and dull, according to Robert Phinney, the former director of the raisin board.* The task was clear: pump a healthy dose of emotional appeal into the shriveled-up fruit. Link up sensations that people wanted. “Shriveled” and “dried” are not the sensations that most people associate with feeling good about their lives. The raisin growers kept thinking. What can we associate to raisins that would make people really want to buy them?
At the time, an old Motown hit was enjoying a national resurgence: “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Raisin growers thought. What if we can take these sensations that make so many people feel good, and link them to raisins to make them seem hip? They hired an innovative animator named Will Vinton who then created about thirty clay raisin figurines, each with a distinct personality, to boogie to the Motown tune. In those moments, the California Raisins were born. Their first ad campaign created an instant sensation and successfully linked the sensations that the raisin growers hoped for. As people watched the hip little raisins dance, they linked strong feelings of fun, humor, and pleasure to the once boring fruit. The raisin had been reinvented as the essence of California cool, and the unspoken message of each of these ads was that if you ate them you’d be hip, too. The upshot? The raisin industry was rescued from its devastating slump in sales to a 20 percent growth factor annually. The raisin growers had succeeded in changing people’s associations: instead of linking boredom to the fruit, consumers had learned to link sensations of excitement and fun!
Of course, the use of advertising as a form of conditioning is not limited to physical products. Fortunately or unfortunately, we consistently see television and radio used as tools for changing what we associate to candidates in the political process. No one knows this better than the master political analyst and opinion-shaper Roger Ailes, who was responsible for key elements of Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign against Walter Mondale, and who in 1988 masterminded George Bush’s successful campaign against Michael Dukakis. Ailes designed a strategy to convey three specifically negative messages about Dukakis—that he was soft on defense, the environment, and crime—and cause people to link painful sensations to him. One ad portrayed Dukakis as a “kid playing war” in a tank; another seemed to blame him for pollution in the Boston Harbor. The most notorious one showed criminals being released from Massachusetts jails through a revolving door, and played on the widespread negative publicity generated around the country by the “Willie Horton incident.” Convicted murderer Willie Horton, released from jail as part of a controversial furlough program in Dukakis’s home state, failed to return and ten months later was arrested for terrorizing a young couple, raping the woman and assaulting the man.
Many people took issue with the negative focus of these ads. Personally, I found them highly manipulative. But it’s hard to argue with their level of success, based on the fact that people do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Many people didn’t like the way the campaign was fought—and George Bush was one of those people—but it was hard to argue with the reality that pain was a very powerful motivator in shaping people’s behavior. As Ailes says, “The negative ads cut through quicker. People tend to pay more attention to [these types of ads]. People may or may not slow down to look at a beautiful pastoral scene along the highway. But everyone looks at an auto accident.”* There is no questioning the effectiveness of Ailes’s strategy. Bush won a clear majority of the popular vote and soundly trounced Dukakis in one of the biggest landslides in electoral college history
The force shaping world opinion and consumer’s buying habits is also the same force that shapes all of our actions. It’s up to you and me to take control of this force and decide on our own actions consciously, because if we don’t direct our own thoughts, we’ll fall under the influence of those who would condition us to behave in the way they desire. Sometimes those actions are what we would have selected anyway; sometimes not. Advertisers understand how to change what we link pain and pleasure to by changing the sensations we associate to their products. If we want to take control of our lives, we must learn to “advertise” in our own minds—and we can do this in a moment. How? Simply by linking pain to the behaviors we want to stop at such a high level of emotional intensity that we won’t even consider those behaviors any longer. Aren’t there things you would never, ever do? Think of the sensations you link to those. If you link those same feelings and sensations to the behaviors you want to avoid, you’ll never do them again, either. Then, simply link pleasure to the new behavior you desire for yourself. Through repetition and emotional intensity, you can condition these behaviors within yourself until they are automatic.
So what’s the first step in creating a change? The first step is simply becoming aware of the power that pain and pleasure exert over every decision, and therefore every action, that we take. The art of being aware is understanding that these linkages—between ideas, words, images, sounds, and sensations of pain and pleasure— are happening constantly.
“I conceive that pleasures are to be avoided if greater pains be the consequence, and pains to be coveted that will terminate in greater pleasures.” —MICHEL DE MONTAIGNE
The problem is that most of us base our decisions about what to do on what’s going to create pain or pleasure in the short term instead of the long term. Yet, in order to succeed, most of the things that we value require us to be able to break through the wall of short-term pain in order to have long-term pleasure. You must put aside the passing moments of terror and temptation, and focus on what’s most important in the long term: your values and personal standards. Remember, too, that it’s not actual pain that drives us, but our fear that something will lead to pain. And it’s not actual pleasure that drives us, but our belief—our sense of certainty—that somehow taking a certain action will lead to pleasure. We’re not driven by the reality, but by our perception of reality.
Most people focus on how to avoid pain and gain pleasure in the short term, and thereby create long term pain for themselves. Let’s consider an example. Say someone wants to lose a few extra pounds. (I know this has never happened to you, but let’s just pretend anyway!) On the one hand, this person marshals a host of excellent reasons for losing weight: they would feel healthier and more energized; they would fit into their clothes better; they would feel more confident around members of the opposite sex. On the other hand, though, there are just as many reasons to avoid losing weight: they’d have to go on a diet; they’d continually feel hungry; they’d have to deny their urge to eat fattening foods; and besides, why not wait until after the holidays?
With the reasons balanced in this way, many people would tip the scales in favor of the pattern of putting things off—the potential pleasure of a slimmer figure far outweighed by the short-term pain of dietary deprivation. Short term, we avoid the pain of feeling a twinge of hunger, and instead we give ourselves that immediate morsel of pleasure by indulging in a few potato chips, but it doesn’t last. In the long term, we feel worse and worse about ourselves, not to mention the fact that it causes our health to deteriorate.
Remember, anything you want that’s valuable requires that you break through some short-term pain in order to gain long-term pleasure. If you want a great body, you’ve got to sculpt that body, which requires breaking through short-term pain. Once you’ve done it enough times, working out becomes pleasurable. Dieting works the same way. Any type of discipline requires breaking through pain: discipline in business, relationships, personal confidence, fitness, and finances. How do you break through the discomfort and create the momentum to really accomplish your aims? Start by making the decision to overcome it. We can always decide to override the pain in the moment, and better yet is to follow up by conditioning ourselves, which is something we’ll cover in detail in Chapter 6.
A prime example of how this short-term focus can cause us all to take a fall (as in Niagara) is reflected by the current savings-and-loan crisis—probably the single biggest financial mistake ever made in the history of our government. Estimates show it could cost taxpayers more than $500 billion, yet most Americans have no idea what caused it. * This problem will most certainly be one that is the source of pain—at least economic pain—for every man, woman and child in this country, probably for generations to come. In a conversation I had with L William Seidman, chairman of the Resolution Trust Corporation and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, he told me, “We are the only nation rich enough to survive such a big mistake.” What did create this financial mess? It’s a classic example of trying to eliminate pain by solving a problem while nurturing the cause.
It all began with savings and loan challenges that came up in the late seventies and early eighties. Banking and S&L institutions had built their business primarily on the corporate and consumer market. For a bank to profit, it has to make loans, and those loans have to be at an interest rate that’s above what it pays out to depositors. In the first stages of the problem, the banks faced difficulties on several fronts. First, they were hit hard when corporations entered what had previously been the sole domain of banks: lending. Large companies found that by lending to one another, they saved significantly on interest, developing what’s now known as the “commercial paper market.” This was so successful that it virtually destroyed the profit centers of many banks.
Meanwhile, there were new developments on the American consumer front as well. Traditionally, consumers did not look forward to meeting with a loan officer at a bank, meekly asking for loans to purchase a car or large appliance. I think we can fairly say that this was a painful experience for most as they subjected themselves to financial scrutiny. They didn’t usually feel like a “valued customer” at many banks. Car companies were smart enough to recognize this and began offering loans to their customers, creating a new source of profit for themselves. They saw that they could make as much money on the financing as they did on the car they sold, and they could give the customer a great deal of convenience and lower interest rates. Their attitude was, of course, quite different from the bankers’—they had a vested interest in seeing the customer get his loan. Soon, the customers came to prefer the in-house financing over the traditional method, appreciating the convenience, flexibility, and low financing fees. Everything was handled in one place by a courteous person who wanted their business. Consequently, General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) quickly became one of the largest car-financing companies in the country.
One of the last bastions for bank loans was the real estate market, but interest rates and inflation had soared in one year as high as 18 percent. As a result, no one could afford the monthly payments that servicing loans at this interest rate required. As you can imagine, real estate loans dropped off the map.
By this time, the banks had lost their corporate customers en masse, they had lost the market for a great deal of their car loans, and they had begun to lose the home loans as well. The final slap to the banks was that the depositors, in response to inflation, needed a higher rate of return while the banks were still carrying loans that would yield significantly lower interest rates. Every day, the banks were losing money; they saw their survival at stake and decided to do two things. First, they lowered their standards for qualifying customers for loans. Why? Because they believed that if they didn’t lower their standards, there would be no one to loan money to. And if they didn’t loan money, they couldn’t profit, and they’d clearly have pain. If, however, they were able to loan money to someone who paid them back, they’d have pleasure. Plus, there was very little risk. If they loaned money and the lendee didn’t meet the obligation, then the taxpayers, namely you and I, would bail them out anyway. So in the final analysis, there was very little fear of pain and tremendous incentive to “risk” their (our?) capital.
These banks and S&Ls also pressured Congress to help keep them from going under, and a series of changes occurred. Large banks realized that they could loan money to foreign nations that were desperately hungry for capital. The lenders realized that over breakfast they could commit more than $50 million to a country. They didn’t have to work with millions of consumers to lend the same amount, and the profits on these larger loans were sizable. The bank managers and loan officers were also often given bonuses in relation to the size and number of loans they could produce. The banks were no longer focusing on the quality of a loan. Their focus was not on whether a country like Brazil could pay the loan back or not, and frankly, many weren’t terribly concerned. Why? They did exactly what we taught them: we encouraged them to be gamblers with the Federal Deposit Insurance, promising that if they won, they won big, and if they failed, we would pick up the tab. There was simply too little pain in this scenario for the banker.
Smaller banks, who didn’t have the resources to loan to foreign countries, found that the next best thing was to loan to commercial developers here in the United States. They, too, lowered their standards so that developers could borrow with no money down instead of the traditional 20 percent. What was the developers’ response? Well, they had nothing on the line, they were using only other people’s money, and at the same time Congress had built such high tax incentives into commercial building that the builders had absolutely nothing to lose. They no longer had to analyze whether the market was right, or whether the building was properly located or sized. The developers’ only “downside” was that they would have the most incredible tax write-off of their lives.
As a result, builders built like crazy, causing a glut on the market. When the supply was so much greater than the demand, the market collapsed. Developers went back to the banks and said, “We can’t pay,” and the banks turned to the taxpayers and said, “We can’t pay.” Unfortunately, there’s nobody we can turn to. What’s worse, people have seen the abuse in this country, and the assumption now is that anyone who is wealthy must have taken advantage of somebody. This is creating negative attitudes toward many in business who are often the very people providing jobs that allow Americans’ dreams to flourish. This whole mess illustrates our lack of understanding of the pain-pleasure dynamic and the inadvisability of trying to conquer long-term problems with short-term solutions.
Pain and pleasure are also the backstage directors of global drama. For years we lived through an escalating arms race with the USSR. The two nations were constantly building more weapons as the ultimate threat: “If you try to hurt us, we’ll retaliate and hurt you even worse.” And the standoff continued to build to the point at which we were spending $15,000 a second on arms. What caused Gorbachev to suddenly decide to renegotiate arms reduction? The answer is pain. He began to associate massive pain to the idea of trying to compete with our military arms buildup. Financially it just wasn’t feasible; he couldn’t even feed his people! When people can’t eat, they’re more concerned about their stomachs than about guns. They’re more interested in filling their larders than the country’s armament. They begin to believe that money is being spent frivolously, and they insist on a change. Did Gorbachev change his position because he’s a great guy? Maybe. But one thing is certain: he didn’t have a choice.
“Nature has placed mankind under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure . .. they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm it.” JEREMY BENTHAM
Why do people persist in an unsatisfying relationship, unwilling either to work toward solutions or end it and move on? It’s because they know changing will lead to the unknown, and most people believe that the unknown will be much more painful than what they’re already experiencing. It’s like the old proverbs say: “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know,” “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” These core beliefs keep us from taking the actions that could change our lives.
If we want to have art intimate relationship, then we have to overcome our fears of rejection and vulnerability. If we’re planning to go into business, we must be willing to overcome our fear of losing security to make that happen. In fact, most of the things that are valuable in our lives require us to go against the basic conditioning of our nervous systems. We must manage our fears by overriding this preconditioned set of responses and, in many cases, we must transform that fear into power. Many times, the fear that we are allowing to control us never becomes reality anyway. It’s possible for people to link pain, for example, to flying in an airplane, while there’s no logical reason for the phobia. They’re responding to a painful experience in their past or even an imagined future. They may have read in the papers about airplane accidents, and now they avoid getting on planes: they’re allowing that fear to control them. We must make sure that we live our lives in the present and respond to things that are real, not to our fears of what once was or what might someday be. The key thing to remember is that we don’t move away from real pain; we move away from what we believe will lead to pain.
LET’S MAKE SOME CHANGES RIGHT NOW
First, write down four actions that you need to take that you’ve been putting off. Maybe you need to lose some weight. Maybe you need to stop smoking. Maybe you need to communicate with someone you’ve had a falling out with, or reconnect with someone who’s important to you.
Second, under each of these actions, write down the answer to the following questions: Why haven’t I taken action? In the past, what pain have I linked to taking this action? Answering these questions will help you understand that what has held you back is that you’ve associated greater pain to taking the action than to not taking it. Be honest with yourself. If you’re thinking, “I have no pain associated to it,” think a little harder. Maybe the pain is simple: maybe it’s the pain of taking time out of your busy schedule.
Third, write down all the pleasure you’ve had in the past by indulging in this negative pattern. For example, if you think you should lose some weight, why have you continued to eat whole pans of brownies and bulk-size bags of chips, and to guzzle twelve-packs of soda pop? You’re avoiding the pain of depriving yourself, yes, and at the same time you’re really doing this because it makes you feel good right now. It gives you pleasure! Instant pleasure! No one wants to give up these feelings! In order to create a change that will last, we need to find a new way to get the same pleasure without any negative consequences. Identifying the pleasure you’ve been getting will help you know what your target is.
Fourth, write down what it will cost you if you don’t change now. What will happen if you don’t stop eating so much sugar and fat? If you don’t stop smoking? If you don’t make that phone call that you know you need to make? If you don’t start consistently working out each day? Be honest with yourself. What’s it going to cost you over the next two, three, four, five years? What’s it going to cost you emotionally? What’s it going to cost you in terms of your self-image? What will it cost you in your physical energy level? What will it cost you in your feelings of self-esteem? What will it cost you financially? What will it cost you in your relationships with the people you care about most? How does that make you feel? Don’t just say, “It will cost me money” or “I will be fat.” That’s not enough. You’ve got to remember that what drives us is our emotions. So get associated and use pain as your friend, one that can drive you to a new level of success.
The final step is to write down all the pleasure you’ll receive by taking each of these actions right now. Make a huge list that will drive you emotionally, that will really get you excited: “I’ll gain the feeling of really being in control of my life, of knowing that I’m in charge. I’ll gain a new level of selfconfidence. I’ll gain physical vitality and health. I’ll be able to strengthen all my relationships. I’ll develop more willpower which I could use in every other area of my life. My life will be better in all these ways, now. Over the next two, three, four, five years. By taking this action, I will live my dream.” Envision all the positive impacts both in the present and in the long term.
I encourage you to take the time now to complete this exercise, and to take advantage of the great momentum you’ve been building up as you’ve moved through this book. Carpe diem! Seize the day! There’s no time like the present. But if you can’t wait another second before pressing on to the next chapter, then by all means, do so. Just be sure to come back to this exercise later and demonstrate to yourself the control you have over the twin powers of pain and pleasure.
This chapter has shown you again and again that what we link pain to and pleasure to shapes every aspect of our lives and that we have the power to change these associations and, therefore, our actions and our destinies. But in order to do this, we must understand . . .
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