How to Develop Superpowers in Business and Relationships

It all comes down to one simple principle.

The pain and pleasure principle can be used to understand all human behavior and to modify our behavior. This is a superpower in itself. Today, we are going to go one step further and discuss how we can use this principle to modify the behavior of others, which is an even greater superpower.

Ethical Concerns

Before we continue I want to address a possible objection. You might think that using the pain and pleasure principle amounts to manipulation and it is unethical. I get this reasoning. However, there are several arguments in favor of learning the use of this principle.

First of all, almost every authority and business is using the pain and pleasure principle. It’s the easiest and most effective way to control and influence people. Think about all the ways the society is rewarding and punishing people.

By knowing how the pain and pleasure principle is used, you become more immune to manipulation.

Moreover, you can use the pain and pleasure principle constructively to motivate people to create positive results for everybody involved. It is only unethical, if you use it to manipulate people to their disadvantage.

Creating Addictive Products

The pain and pleasure principle is heavily used by B2C Internet companies to make their users addicted to their products. These products measure user engagement and feature the content that is most engaged with. They filter out the boring content and emphasize engaging content.

There might be a life changing, text only content on a social media platform. Such content will most probably go unnoticed, shortened, and squeezed between flashier images and videos. That’s why most bloggers use flashy images and online copywriting principles such as short paragraphs, subheadings, bullet points, and quotes.

Sales and Marketing

Salespeople and marketers know how powerful the pain and pleasure principle is. They take full advantage of it. They determine all the pain and pleasure points of a prospect. They exaggerate these points and the effects of their product.

You might hear an insurance salesperson exaggerating the probability and effects of a rare event and how their insurance will save you from that.

Unfortunately, a lot of money changes hands without real value in return, because of effective sales and marketing.

Management of Employees

The 20-70-10 rule of Jack Welch is an effective way to motivate employees to perform at their best.

The 20-70-10 rule is completely based on the pain and pleasure principle. In this model, top 20% of the employees are rewarded with promotions, raises, and bonuses. Bottom 10% of the employees are fired.

You might think that the 20-70-10 rule is a ruthless system, but think about the opposite. What would motivate an employee in a company where nobody advances in their career and nobody is held accountable for not performing?


The pain and pleasure principle applies to all kinds of relationships, including private and professional. Now, think about a person who’s always nice to their partner, friends, and colleagues. You might think this is the ideal behavior. In reality, that person is doomed to become a doormat in their relationships.

Now, think about a person who’s being a jerk to their partner, friends, and colleagues all the time, indiscriminately. There are some choice words for such people, which I won’t mention in this post. Such a communication strategy doesn’t work in real life, as documented in the book No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton. (Oops, I did it :))

By pain, I don’t mean to whip your partner.

As in every area of life, the pain and pleasure principle is effective in relationships as well. Please, don’t get me wrong. By pain, I don’t mean to whip your partner. I mean giving the necessary feedback to your partner, friend, or colleague, whenever necessary. This is a painful process for most of us.

Don’t forget the pleasure side of the principle. We humans associate a higher weight to pain compared to pleasure for evolutionary reasons. That means giving more positive feedback than negative feedback is necessary. The ideal ratio seems to be five-to-one.


The pain and pleasure principle is not only useful for modifying our own behavior, but also for modifying other people’s behavior. Becoming aware of it can save us from the manipulations of others. Using it effectively and ethically can improve our success in our jobs, businesses, and relationships.