top of page

The Pain-Pleasure Principle

Has the pain of a situation (or the possibility of it ever happening) motivated you to make a change in your life? Has your yearning for something amazing, helped you to take action?

I have always been interested in what motivates people to take action in their lives.

When I think about my own life, some actions have been easy to move forward with and others definitely haven’t! But why? What makes us motivated to follow through in one aspect of our life but not another?

There are several theories on motivation, and I wanted to share one here that relates to the concept of pain and pleasure.

The Principle

Based on Freudian psychoanalysis, the Pain-Pleasure Principle identifies that we instinctively seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Since childhood, we have had a variety of personal experiences. The painful experiences no doubt led to emotions such as anger, hurt, stress, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions. On the other hand, pleasurable experiences have led to emotions of happiness, joy, love, gratitude etc. These emotional experiences are neither good nor bad, rather it is our interpretation of these experiences that form these preferences based on our perspectives at the time.

Brief summary of the Principle

Here is a quick breakdown of how the Pain-Pleasure Principle works:

1. All decisions made by human beings are to avoid pain or experience pleasure.

2. People are more motivated to do something about avoiding pain than gaining pleasure.

3. It’s the perception of pain or pleasure that is the driver (not the reality).

4. Timing matters! Pain tomorrow is not as powerful a motivator as pain today.

5. Emotion trumps intellect every time. Even if you know that you shouldn’t have an extra slice of cake but emotionally you want it, the emotion always wins.

6. A survival response trumps everything else. There are some things that we are hard wired for in terms of survival (fight or flight responses) and some that are just wants and desires. The survival responses are strong motivators for action.

So, every decision you make will lead to one or more of the following consequences:

  • Short-term pain.

  • Short-term pleasure.

  • Long-term pain.

  • Long-term pleasure

In what areas of your life have you used the pain-pleasure principle to take action and make changes?

Next steps

Working with a coach can help you to identify the pain or pleasure that is keeping you from achieving your goal. It is just one tool that may be used by your coach to help you move forward in your life.

Busting limiting beliefs and replacing them with positive motivation, goals, action plans and accountability are key outcomes of working with a life coach.

Contact me and let's start taking action to achieve your long held dreams and goals.

233 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page