We, humans, are hardwired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. This simple principle was a wise rule of thumb before the civilization. Our environment provided us with sufficient challenges to deal with. This is not the case anymore.
Civilization brought us abundance and removed pain from our daily lives. This is good news on the surface, but there’s a flip side. We don’t know how to deal with abundance and the lack of pain.
If we follow our instincts, we can sink deep into pleasure and have no pain at all in the short-term. Such behavior is guaranteed to bring pain in the long term, either the pain of sickness, or the psychological pain of emptiness, or both.
Pleasure vs. Satisfaction
Satisfaction is a different feeling than pleasure. It requires our effort. That effort can be mental, emotional, physical, or a combination of them. When we reach a goal after an extended period of hard work, the emotion that we feel isn’t pleasure. It’s satisfaction.
Pleasure is a bad heuristic for success. Following pleasure rarely leads to success. Following satisfaction does.
The Formula of Mental Toughness
Success requires effort. After a certain threshold, effort feels painful. If we used our instincts, we would avoid the pain of extensive effort. That means we need to go against our instincts to succeed in life.
In other words, we need to invert the pain, pleasure principle. We need to avoid pleasure and go toward the pain to the extent possible. This is the formula of mental toughness that leads to success and satisfaction in life.
The Pain that Stimulates Growth
The pain I’m talking about here isn’t harming yourself physically. It’s the psychological pain of making the effort necessary and facing your fears. In other words, it’s the pain of self-discipline and courage.
You don’t need to become the toughest person overnight. It’s a process. All you have to do is to put one step in front of the other in the right direction. This is the principle of 1% improvements. By making 1% daily improvements, you make significant changes in your life over time.
When you go toward the eye of the storm, you’ll inevitably fail. That’s good. Every failure is an opportunity for personal growth and progress. Ray Dalio, an American billionaire investor, defines progress as pain + reflection in his book Principles.
Our default behavior is to avoid pain and seek pleasure. That instinct worked back in the day for our ancestors because their environment provided them with sufficient challenges. That’s rarely the case for us now.
To reach success and satisfaction in life, we need to invert our default instinct. We need to seek pain and avoid pleasure. That new heuristic improves our mental toughness and results in success and satisfaction in life.
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.