On Forming New Healthy Habits and How to Start

On Forming New Healthy Habits

By Stephen Wickhem

”The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you.”– Tony Robbins

This is the key to fulfilling your health and fitness goals. I grasped it intellectually from Robbins, but now that I’ve experienced it for myself, I can verify it’s truth. It almost seems like magic, but it’s science. (Though I guess science can be magical, too.)

All human behavior is driven by one of two things: either towards pleasure or away from pain. You must understand how your brain works and responds to different stimuli.  And then you can use this principle when it comes to forming new and better habits.

Our brain has been preprogrammed from birth – genetics- and shaped throughout our childhood years. We inherited this brain that automatically caused us to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli.

We can learn to re-program our brains to associate certain behavior with pleasure and certain behavior with pain. When I read ‘Unleash The Giant Within’, I only understood this principle on a mental level, as a concept. Recently, I became more aware of how this idea of pain versus pleasure rings true for me.

On Forming New Healthy Habits and How to Start

Make it tiny. To create a new habit, you must first simplify the behavior. Make it tiny, even ridiculous. A good tiny behavior is easy to do — and fast.

I’ve got a lot of examples in the pipeline, but let’s start with the easiest: fitness.

Many people claim to want to lose weight or gain muscle, yet they hate going to the gym, or working out at all. This is because they associate exercise with pain. Slogans like “No Pain, No Gain,” have ingrained in us that working out is painful. Unless you’re accidentally dropping weights on your foot, it should not be physically painful. It’s pleasureful! We have to train your brain to associate working out with pleasure on a subconscious level. Then it becomes second nature. But first, we have to do this on a conscious level by re-framing the way we look at things.

body quote

We often associate exercise with “pain” because it’s uncomfortable. After working hard all week, we think we deserve to spend Saturday lounging on the couch and watching TV.

We crave comfort to deal with stress. But even if we don’t have stress, we choose the route of comfort because we have linked it with pleasure. Our brains pick the easiest path to happiness, but our brains are often wrong.

Comfort Doesn’t Equal Happiness

Science has proved this, that the more hours you spend watching TV, the more likely you are to be unhappy. Yet the average American watches five hours of television a day. Why? Because we think it’ll make us happy. On a subconscious level, we have equated television with decompression, relaxation, enjoyment. The neurons in our brain associate TV with pleasure, making us want to watch more of it.

Happiness Requires Action

Exercise is far more likely to increase happiness than watching Netflix. Fact. Yet the average American works out only two hours per week! There are so many reasons why we might associate exercise with pain (and I don’t mean the obvious soreness the next day.) Maybe we think we’re not fit enough to start. Maybe we think we’re being judged for how we look. Maybe we hate how lifting weights remind us we’re not strong enough. The stories we tell ourselves go on and on…

If people instead focused on the pleasure, the national average would go up. The pleasure of exercising outweighs the pain! Endorphins, clarity of mind, sustained focus, lasting energy, the feeling of progress and accomplishment as the weights you lift increase in small increments; the list is endless! Isn’t it interesting how the pain we associate with exercise are things in our heads, but the benefits can actually be seen and felt in our bodies? What does that tell us? The pleasure is real – the pain is fiction.

Beginning With The End in Mind

Beginning with the end in mind means focusing on the reward instead of the struggle at the start. Not doing so could hinder you from getting going. I know how hard it is at first to get into a gym routine. You’re starting from the bottom, out of shape, physically weak, and uncomfortable. Though, shortly after you begin to notice how your entire everyday life drastically improves! And it’s so self-loving! You aren’t doing it for your boss, or your parents, or a significant other. You’re doing it for yourself and the way your body feels and your mood improves.

Pleasure – Pain Principle Also Applies to Meditation

Many people tried meditation and hated it. This is because they weren’t actually meditating. They associate it with pain because of their own negative thoughts whilst sitting there. Some people get even more anxious during meditation, though it has nothing to do with the practice itself. People put pressure on themselves to be “good” at it. They judge themselves for not meeting those expectations. Or they sit there for five minutes and expect something big and magical to happen. If they were able to quieten their minds, hush that endless internal chatter, and expand their consciousness into the fullness of the moment – there is no way their experience with meditation would be anything but positive.

meditation quote

Want More Examples?

I have a friend who used to smoke marijuana and loved it. One day, he had a ‘bad trip’ and he quit cold turkey from that day forward. Sometimes the pain is so strong and sudden that it can jolt your nervous system into creating change instantly!  Tony Robbins taught me that, too.

I used to love pancakes. Perhaps because they reminded me of childhood, but more likely because they’re delicious! Now I associate them with pain, because of the way they make my body feel. They no longer serve me because they take away my energy and don’t make me feel good. Now I eat oatmeal for breakfast. Yes, it doesn’t taste amazing, but it sustains me, fuels me, gives me lasting energy. The lasting pleasure of outweighs the short-term pleasure of the other.

It is more important to be mindful of how something is affecting your body rather than affecting your taste buds. #NothingTastesAsGoodAsHealthyFeels!

“If we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” – Tony Robbins

We are what we do. To still think of yourself as an athlete because you used to play water polo in high school is a bit delusional. The same goes for thinking of yourself as an entrepreneur without doing anything that would support that belief.

Living with intention means performing actions that are aligned with your values, rather than having a false narrative about who you are in your head.

You can use this pleasure / pain principle to live a life that better serves who you are at the core. If you look at exercise as a chore, or meditation as a drag, it’s never gonna stick.  You first have to associate the act with pleasure on the conscious level, and through repetition, it will become encoded on the subconscious level. That’s how real change takes place. That’s how you’ll become an even more extraordinary person than you thought possible!

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Stephen Wickhem
Stephen Wickhem is a writer and life coach currently living in New York City. His motto is simple: "Live fully in the Now, while consciously creating your future." More of his personal and inspirational essays can be found on StephenWickhem.com.
Stephen Wickhem

@StephenWickhem

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