When Pleasure Becomes a Pain

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A few days ago my friend Joe Brodnicki sent me an article on the dangers of soda consumption. It was quite shocking"¦this stuff is evil!

If it's as bad for me as the report says it is then not only am I basically drinking fat when I drink high fructose drinks but the caramel colour is actually carcinogenic (it can cause cancer). Add the Aspartamine (brain tumors and birth defects), Phosphopric Acid (softening of teeth and bones) and Sulfites (potential death) then why the hell would anyone tip even an ounce of that poison into their bodies?

However, I would be a total hypocrite if I said the thought of a ice-cool cola with a fresh-baked hot greasy meat pizza didn't set my mouth watering. And there-in lays the problem. I (and maybe we) have confused pleasure with goodness.

Our bodies are designed to produce endorphins when we are engaged in pleasurable activities but because our brain has no built-in quality control mechanism (at least our stomachs vomit out poison) we have few ways of telling whether they are good for us.

Taking certain drugs is certainly pleasurable at the time but if they're so good for us why are there rehab clinics? Hmm?

When we engage in "˜pleasurable' activities our minds focus in and then "“ and invite us to do more of them. They become what are known as "˜attractors' and they do just that "“ attract our attention more and more.

Then as time goes by we develop habits and suddenly the things we do become familiar and comfortable which we also tend to equate with good. In his book Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment George Burr Leonard calls this process "˜homeostasis' and says that it is basically the enemy of progress because our bodies want to maintain the status quo.

Avy Joseph (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) agrees and his approach to change is basically to keep cheering for the new belief until it becomes "˜magnetic' enough to take over and become the new homeostatic attractor ie. The more compelling of the two beliefs.

There was an interesting experiment I read about. A researcher put a cat into a room and rang a bell. The cat's ears flicked the first few times but when it realized there was no danger from the bell it started to ignore it. This is called attenuation.

I, you might say, had attenuated myself to cola, pizza and a few other things (although I am officially about two months without chocolate now and not missing it!)

To some extent it's not hard to understand why we find ourselves in this situation.

We live in a "if it feels good do it" message society and we see the destructive signs of that all around us. Please don't think I'm claiming to be better than anyone else "“ I can just see the signs like anyone else who looks.

Obesity is rife in the States (I think Texas was the "˜fattest-state' winner according to the documentary Super Size Me) and it can only be because people are confusing tasty with good for you' and ignoring their body's signals in favour of something that's finger-lickin' good"¦ these people are literally killing themselves with food.

Sexual diseases are on the increase almost every year in the UK (and maybe the States). Why? Because people are having unprotected sex with multiple partners or with persons who have been with multiple partners. Why? Because sex is enjoyable and is good per se "¦ but sex without responsibility can and does lead to this, and unwanted pregnancies and even worse, abortions. Ask a crack-baby how good it feels?

Reading, for many kids, is no longer the thrilling pleasure it used to be. Okay, I used to be hidden under the covers with a Stephen King book, hardly healthy, but I did also enjoy the classics like Robin Hood and Paradise Lost (Treasure Island was boring, sorry!) and I know how to learn from books.

I spoke to a friend's child recently who seemed quite unconcerned that he never read but spent most of his free time playing PS3 (and I do like games!). A friend my age said he just didn't enjoy reading so didn't do it "“ he plays games instead "¦seeing a pattern?

I do understand "“ flashing lights and explosions are, physiologically, a greater and more immediate  "˜hit' than diving into words but what happened to "˜winners are readers'? These people could seriously curtail their chances of success if they don't know how to profit from reading.

Perhaps they never got the chance or the encouragement to learn how to enjoy books. And then, because reading feels "˜strange', "˜boring', "˜bad' etc they stayed away from it. I am not saying video games are bad in and of themselves (although I do think games where you stomp on people's heads can't be healthy for growing minds) too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, right?

And this brings me to my next point.

To resist certain pleasures because you know they are not good for you is a mark of deep maturity in my books. Read that again, memorise it and mutter it to yourself at 3pm in the afternoon (the time you are most likely to eat "˜bad' things)!

To do "˜good' (read healthy and moral) things in the face of conflicting emotions is also a sign of maturity.

This raises three questions:

  • How do you know what's good for you?
  • How do you de-pleasure your "˜bad' pleasures?
  • How do you re-pleasure the un-pleasurable things?


1. How do you know what's good for you?

I realize in this Postmodern and multicultural society we may have wildly different ideas about what is "˜good'. But here are some reasonably sensible guidelines:

Sources of wisdom and knowledge

Timeless books like the Bible are sources of wisdom and good principles for living. Steven K Scott claims in The Richest Man who Ever Lived that he got rich living the Proverbs on a daily basis. Man hasn't really changed so books that have remained around for thousands of years often have something profound and useful to say about our natures.

Parents and elders

Someone once said:   "Maturity is doing what is good for you "“ even though your parents said so."

Your parents have lived longer than you. Fact. They have probably made more mistakes than you. Possible fact. They almost certainly have learned some of what NOT to do. Fact. If you have a talking relationship with them, ask their advice and why they are giving it. Elders are far more revered in other cultures. Yes, you may have to try and sort out the good from the bad advice but you'll get perspectives based on time and experience.

Modelling projects

In the field of NLP some people have engaged in modelling projects which are essentially psychological and physiological breakdowns of how someone achieved a result.

So, in Inside-Out Wealth, Michael Hall modelled how numerous people got rich, and used that strategy to amass over a million dollars himself. (If you are interested in an interview I did with him, let me know and I'll inform you when I release it.)

You can also model the results of people who get healthy fast. You can tell by looking at them (clue) and just ask them what they did.

Now we are perhaps straying outside of the region of "˜good' because you can read The Prince by Machiavelli and learn how to hold onto power at all costs (not good) but as long as you are sensible you can find out how to do good things as well.

Biographies are also less formalised ways of finding out how successful people think. I am reading about Roosevelt and Churchill at the moment.

A rather important point is this: you have to learn to go against your "˜feelings' and think about the principles you want to live by, and the results you are currently getting "“ you can find more information about this in the Articles section of my site at

This may involve a complete redefinition of what emotions are for (clue: it's not infallible guidance – L) and my audio product: Change your Concepts: Change Your Life is an excellent resource for redefining what things mean to you.


2. How do you de-pleasure the bad pleasures?

At the heart of all pleasures is meaning. That's right "“ the meanings you give to a feeling can increase the pleasure AND the meanings can give pleasure in and of themselves"¦

You may have heard the term "˜sex is power' "“ so for all those people in power out there who have got caught out in their extramarital dalliances "“ just so you know: it was the meanings that got you intro trouble as much as the hormones.  I believe Tiger Woods said something to the effect that he felt that the rules didn't apply to him. What a meaning.

There is such a thing, therefore, as a "˜too meaningful' experience.  But if we learn how to take meanings AWAY from the things we over-value then food stops becoming comfort (but chocolate will always be "˜love!) and becomes what it is, nutrition and fuel, sex stops being power, and he who dies with the most toys just"¦dies"¦rather than wins"¦!

There are a number of ways of demeaning something (geddit?):

The classic NLP patterns such as the Compulsion Blowout, the Swish Pattern can work – or you can use a Neurosemantics Pattern developed by L. Michael Hall called The DePleasuring Pattern. It's unfortunately not available online but if you buy The Secrets of Personal Mastery book ( it's in there. I recommend this one because if the classic patterns don't deal with the higher frames of meaning in the mind, you could just get reconnected to the pleasure or substitute it for something else. Before I knew this I once worked to help someone give up smoking and they started eating more chocolate. You can also find the Over-Valuing Pattern in the NLP Users Toolkit on Amazon Kindle for PC.

3. How do we re-pleasure the things that are "˜good' for us?

You can use the Godiva Chocolate Pattern developed by Richard Bandler "“ just Google it and use it or use Michael Hall's Pleasure Pattern (the opposite of the first one).

A simple method though is to deliberately look for evidence and reasons why you want the good thing. Inititally, you may feel like you're "˜going against the grain' and looking for something that isn't there but that's just your mind trying to hide contrary thinking from you (it does that!)

If you look for evidence you're likely to find it! As the saying goes "“ what we focus on grows and "˜energy flows where attention goes'.

You can also spend some time doing the thing that is good for you "“ heck, you might find you enjoy running, reading wisdom literature, or dare I say it"¦eating vegetables"¦

To your highest and best.

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About the author

Joshua Cartwright

Joshua Cartwright is the author of 11 personal development books including Your Mind is a Liar, and The Millionaire Silence is working on his latest book Rich Inside. He loves helping people develop their creativity and inspiring them to share their gifts with the world and has a penchant for innovation.