Make Pain Pleasurable



“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many activities are not inherently pleasant.

Many activities don’t produce natural rewards.

How do you motivate yourself when the activity is not inherently pleasant, or not inherently motivating?

What can you do to motivate yourself and others to do the things that need to be done, or you should do, or are good for you … but you don’t want to do them, or don’t like to do them?

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to motivate yourself and others to do activities that are not inherently fun or not inherently rewarding.  That is, if you know how.

In the book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, authors Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler show us how.

These authors know their stuff, and they are great at turning insight into action.

The key is to make pain pleasurable.

The Biggest Motivators of Excellence are Intrinsic

You can pave the path of personal excellence from the inside out.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“In short, as you think about the problems you’re trying to resolve, don’t be afraid to draw on the power of intrinsic satisfiers.  As Don Berwich so aptly stated: ‘The biggest motivators of excellence are intrinsic.  They have to do with people’s accountability to themselves.  It’s wanting to do well, to be proud, to go home happy, having accomplished something.’  Berwick recognizes that people have a powerful desired to do what’s right.  Harnessing that intrinsic desire is a far more powerful influence tool than using extrinsic rewards or exacting punishment.”

We Can Transcend Our Own Nature

To motivate yourself, it helps to know that a characteristic of human nature is to transcend our own nature.

According to psychiatrist M. Scott Peck:

“Just because a desire or behavior is natural, odes not meant it is … unchangeable … it is also natural … to never brush our teeth.  Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural.  Another characteristic of human nature — perhaps the one that makes us more human — is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hences transform our own nature.”

Make the Activity Itself More Attractive

To motivate yourself, you need to find ways to make the activity more inherently attractive.

In In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“The promise here is significant.  If we can find a way to change the feeling associated with a vital behavior, we can make compulsive bad habits feel as disgusting as going to bed with gritty teeth.  And we can make formerly unappealing activities become as satisfying as brushing our teeth.  And if you miss this important concept, whenever you try to motivate yourself or others to change behavior, you’ll turn to perks and wisecracks rather than find ways to make the activity itself more inherently attractive.”

Create New Experiences and Create New Motives

You can change reactions to previously neutral or negative behaviors by creating new experience, or changing why people do something.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“So, if we shouldn’t poke people with sharp sticks as a way of propelling them away from their inappropriate behavior, what’s left?  Actually, there are two very powerful and ethical ways of helping humans change their reaction to a previously neutral or noxious behavior: creating new experiences and creating new motives.”

You Can’t Just Talk People Into It

While you can spend a lot of time painting a picture of the vision, and explaining the benefits, unfortunately, that alone doesn’t work.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“These arguments are easy to make but hard to sell because they involve verbal persuasion and the people you’re talking to don’t understand the language.  You’re describing activities and outcomes for which they have no frame of reference, and you’re then asking them to make enormous and immediate sacrifices (no gang, no drugs, no freedom) in order to achieve them.  It won’t work.  It can’t work.”

Try It, You’ll Like It

Get people to try it.  This is the “Try it, you’ll like it approach.”  Psychologist Daniel Gilbert taught us that we’re awful at predicting our own likes and dislikes.  We’re often wrong when we predict we won’t like a new behavior.  Try it anyway.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“So Dr. Silbert simply plods forward, demanding that residents try studying for a class, attending the opera, mentoring another student, and so forth.  Experience has taught her that if residents try  new behaviors, they end up liking many if not most of them.  Okay, perhaps few become opera fans.  Nevertheless, over 90 percent come to enjoy dozens of behaviors they never would have imagined if they’d one day enjoy.”

Vicarious Experience

If you can’t get people to try something, sometimes the best way to motivate someone is to share a story that people can relate to, and vicariously experience the impact.   The key is emotion and empathy.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“The ‘try it, you’ll like it’ strategy can be further aided by the use of models.  Many of our influencer masters have found that vicarious experience can work in situations where they can’t get people to try a vital behavior based on faith alone.  For example, as you recall from an earlier chapter, Miguel Sabido inspired hundreds of thousands of illiterate Mexicans to sign up for literacy programs by engaging them in the story of a man just like them — someone who was ‘too old to learn.’  Someone who was initially unwilling to bear the shame of sitting in a class with much younger people and admitting his ‘defect.'”

Make it a Game

Fun and feedback are a powerful way to create change.  People like to feel like they’re making progress.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“Keeping scores produces clear, frequent feedback that can transform tasks into accomplishments that, in turn, can generate intense satisfaction.  The designers of many of today’s video games have an intuitive feel for Dr. Csikszentmihalyi’s research and have used it to create games that call for highly repetitive activities that end up being amazingly addictive as individuals strive for that next level of achievement.”

Connect to a Person’s Sense of Self

Many activities are not naturally rewarding, so the ‘try it, you’ll like it strategy’ doesn’t always work.  Also, it’s difficult to turn every activity into a game through constant feedback.  In this case, you can find your motivation by investing yourself in the activity.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“Unpleasant endeavors require a whole different sort of motivation that can come only from within.  People stimulate this internal motivation by investing themselves in an activity.  That is, they make the activity an issue of personal significance.  Succeeding becomes more than the challenge of reaching the next level of a video game — it becomes a measure of who they are.  They set high standards of who they’ll be, high enough to create a worthy challenge, and then they work hard to become that very person.”

It’s the Lack of Thought that Enables Bad Behavior

Thoughtless behaviors and auto-pilot can lead to unintentional bad behaviors.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“Often humans react to their immediate environments as if they were on autopilot.  They don’t pause to consider how their immediate choices reflect their ideals, values, or moral codes.  The connections between their actions and personal standards are rarely ‘top of mind.’  Michael Davis calls this failure to connect values to action, ‘microscopic vision.’  Ellen Langer calls it ‘mindlessness.’  Patricia Werhane prefers to refer to it as a lack of ‘moral imagination.’

No matter their terms, each of the scholars was referring to the human tendency to burrow into mundane details while failing to consider how they connect to our values, morals, and personal standards.  This means that when we make horrific and costly mistakes, more often than not we’re not purposefully choosing to do bad things.  It’s almost as if we’re not choosing at all.  It’s the lack of thought, not the presence of thought, that enables our bad behavior.”

Connect Behavior to Values

If you connect behavior to your values, then you can establish connections and consequences that you might otherwise miss.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“When we inspect our actions from a moral perspective, we’re able to see consequences and connections that otherwise remain blocked from our view.  Renowned psychologist Dr. Stanton Peele reports that taking  a broader moral perspective enables humans to face and overcome some of their toughest life challenges.  In fact, Peele has been able to systematically demonstrate that this ability to connect to broader values predicts better than any other variable who will be able to give up addictive and long-lasting habits and who won’t.  Peele has found that individuals who learn how to reconnect their distant but real values to their current behavior can overcome the most addictive of habits — cocaine, heroine, pornography, gambling, you name it.”

Shine the Spotlight on Human Consequences

It’s easy to lose the human touch.  It’s easy to get desensitized with information overload, or a bunch of facts and figures in a spreadsheet.  It’s then just as easy to make bad choices despite good intentions.  The key is to rehumanize things by using real people, real examples, and having empathy for your impact.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“Now for a corporate application.  If you’re a leader attempting to break down silos, encourage collaboration, and engage teamwork across your organization, take note.  Moral disengagement always accompanies political, combative, and self-centered behavior.   You’ll see this kind of routine moral disengagement in the form of narrow labels (‘bean counters,’ ‘gear heads,’ ‘corporate,’ ‘the field,’ ‘them,’ and ‘they’) used to dehumanize other individuals or groups.  To reengage people morally — and to rehumanize targets that people readily and easily abuse — drop labels and substitute names.  Confront self-serving and judgmental descriptions of other people and groups.  Finally, demonstrate by example the need to refer to individuals by name and with respect for their needs.”

Confronting Demons Does NOT Motivate Change

Confrontation doesn’t motivate change.  In some cases, it can make it worse.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“A reigning but inaccurate assumption in counseling is that confrontation motivates change.  But despite all the hoopla about family interventions and counselor-led confrontations, William Miller learned that forcing people to face their demons along with their friends, colleagues, and therapists who hates those demons also didn’t work.  In fact, in one study, he found that confrontation actually increased alcoholic binging.  This les Miller in a different direction.  He began to explore the opposite.  What if the counselor merely helped patients figure out what they wanted rather than what their fed-up friends wanted?”

Motivational Interviewing

If getting preachy or having people confront their demons doesn’t work, then what does?  Honor choice.  Lead the horse to water.   If they find the water, and it’s their choice, they’ll drink.

In Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors write:

“With the new question, Miller discovered that the best way to help individuals reconnect their existing unhealthy behaviors to their long-term values was to stop trying to control their thoughts and behaviors.  You must replace judgment with empathy, and lectures with questions.  If you do so, you gain influence.  The instant you stop trying to impose your agenda on others, you eliminate the fight for control.  You sidestep irrelevant battles over whose view of the world is correct.

The discovery led Miller to develop an influence method called motivational interviewing.  Through a skillful use of open and nondirective questions, the counselor helps others examine what is most important to them and what changes in their life might be required in order for them to live according to their values.  When you listen and they talk, they discover on their own what they must do.  Then they make the necessary changes.”

If you haven’t been effective in driving change or motivating yourself, maybe you can use one nugget from above, or one piece of insight, to change your approach and get unstuck and get real results..

Are you ready to change anything?

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Image by stevendepelo.


  1. What a great reminder that, in addition to persuading by “What’s In It For Them,” creative approaches that make an activity fun can help jump start the desire for change.

    • I can’t help but to think of Tom Sawyer, when he got his friends to pay him for “the privilege” of painting the fence.

  2. J.D.,
    I continue to be blessed by the wisdom you share! Thank you for helping me to find answers to make my life more of what I desire for it to be! 🙂

    • I always remind myself to keep trying new things.

      It’s way too easy to fall into habits of the comfortable and habits of the familiar.

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