Select Page

The Pain & Pleasure Principle: Explanation & How-To [Motivation]

The Pain & Pleasure Principle: Explanation & How-To [Motivation]

What is the pain & pleasure principle, also known as ‘Leverage’? How can you apply the Pain & Pleasure Principle through powerful exercises like the Dickens technique and NAC technique of Tony Robbins? Read along…

What is the pain pleasure principle?

The pain-pleasure principle is an aid in setting and achieving goals, because it gives motivation. How do you create motivation with this tool? It’s simple to understand this principle: both pain and pleasure can serve as motivation to get moving.

  • Pain : When a gun is held to your head, you do as you are told. In that case necessity motivates you to get moving. The lever in this case is to move away from pain.
  • Fun : When you can collect a million euros from the cigar farmer with a winning lottery ticket, change your clothes now and get on your bike. In that case, desire motivates you. The lever in this case is: move towards pleasure.

The Pain-Pleasure Principle means that someone can be motivated through pain and pleasure. Both can be used as motivational tools:

  • Pain or extreme need to change : “You have to reach your goal. If you are still stressed weekly in five years, most of your hair will have fallen out and you will experience dangerous palpitations.
  • Pleasure and extreme limitless desire to change : “If you look back on a life of relaxation and control in five years, you can enjoy a beautiful, healthy body and life for the rest of your life .”

Climbing a snowy mountain with only your underwear in freezing winds of 100 km / h is like being continuously beaten by a whip. Then you don’t keep having a nice picnic or getting distracted by thoughts or emotions. You just want and need to move forward as quickly as possible. Even though it is actually not possible: you go anyway, you leave the mountain alone with your sad thoughts and you just do it. Seek discomfort.
– Wim Hof

The different names of the pain-pleasure principle …

pain pleasure principle explanation

Different NLP developers have given it different names.

  • Tony Robbins calls this the ‘leverage technique’. He also combines this with pattern breaks, as a  result of which he has developed a new technique that he calls ‘Neuro Associative Conditioning (NAC)’ .
  • There is an NLP model that has dubbed this the ‘Dickens Technique’ , in reference to Scrooge’s pain and pleasure scenarios in A Christmas Carol.
  • It is also known as ‘just’ the ‘pain pleasure principle’. This term was partly introduced in the Netherlands by UNLP.

Why does the pain-pleasure principle work?

Why this works? Just ask a gazelle: How does he stay motivated when a lion is chasing him? In short: the pain-pleasure principle brings  motivation and urgency, almost compelling us to change. Now . Not next week or in six months.

If your house is on fire, you put out immediately.
– Michael Pilarczyk

Many coaches start working with clients without the client really being motivated to change. That is not desirable. The client must be convinced that he / she must change, because the consequences of not changing are deadly and the consequences of changing are ecstatic. If someone is fully motivated to change, then it will

The one whose why is strong enough can handle almost any how .
– Nietzsche

There are four main reasons why leverage works:

  • You feel  intense desire, motivation, urgency and / or intense pain that requires something to happen. That pain in particular gives you a hard kick-in-the-butt to do something.
  • Feeling is the domain of the subconscious,  so it also sets it in the right direction.
  • You know why you do something … If the why is big enough, you will always find a how.
  • There are many studies showing how powerful motivation becomes when we are at risk of losing something. So pain. When a boss promises employee A a Ferrari if he performs better, and gives employee B a Ferrari in advance and threatens to take it back if the performance does not improve, employee B works much more effectively than employee A.

Gentle healers make smelly wounds. With the leverage technique you will therefore actually intensify pleasant and painful feelings. In this technique you act with the conviction: you sometimes have to hurt people to prevent more pain.

All people are willing to achieve the incredible when their ideals are threatened.
– Hermann Hesse

By exploring the pain-pleasure principle, you can finally see the need for something. We often don’t acknowledge that we have a problem until we investigate it and examine possible (painful) scenarios.

And not only necessity is powerful … fun too! It becomes very easy to jump out of bed early in the morning when you have a ‘sexy vision’ of what you will be doing that day.

If you’re working towards a great life with a nice partner, nice friends, lots of time for family, a comfortable home and a million dollars, you wake up much easier to go to work than if you were a not-so-so-so. -sexy vision of two thousand euros.

Why do you do what you do? Everything is possible if you really want it. Then you will always find a way to make it happen.

Using leverage is much more powerful than using discipline

You may already know that the subconscious is much more powerful than the conscious. You can consciously want to go in one direction, but the undercurrent of the subconscious can just pull you in the other direction.

A man had been smoking two packs a day all his life and quit smoking one day or another . How can someone stop an addiction so quickly – overnight? Pain is the answer. The day before, the doctor told him: “We have observed cancer in your body. If you do not change anything, there is a chance that you will be in a wheelchair from chemotherapy in two years’ time.”
– Michael Pilarczyk

Discipline must be used on a conscious level, while leverage has an effect on an unconscious level. An intense desire solves the whole discipline problem. Then you don’t even need discipline anymore.

Make sure you feel so much passion and love for what you want to do that it’s not even an option to do something else.

Say the word ‘different’ for every task you have to do. ‘I have to do this, otherwise … [doom scenario]’

What are the steps to apply this principle (the Dickens technique)?

pain pleasure principle

Suppose Marietje has the goal to become healthier. She also knows why. Thanks to the pain-pleasure principle, she has excellent fuel to get moving!

  • Part of her really doesn’t want to feel the pain of having a fat body anymore . So she is motivated by moving away from that pain.

But there are also active forces that hold back Marietje in her goal to become healthier …

  • Part of her enjoys the fatty snacks and the relaxation of not exercising.
  • Even a third of her experiences pain from exercising and eating vegetables.

Well, you now have insight. What about the solution? You have now analyzed your pains and pleasures, but how can I steer the fuel of pain and / or pleasure in the right direction? Time to apply the Dickens technique to use pain and pleasure as a ‘lever’ in the right direction. This is how you perform it …

Step 1 – Take a neutral meta position to observe your current situation and your goal

Your goal has not yet been reached, but you obviously want to achieve it. Since the time has not yet come, you have to  dissociate from the desired situation – the goal. You are not there yet!

Compare the current situation with the desired situation. Notice the differences from a distance as you look at these situations.

Step 2 – Now associate in the pain and in the pleasure

Leave your neutral perception position and go to your feelings . Notice the tremendous happiness and joy of achieving the goal and especially the tremendous pain of staying in the current situation.

Take advantage of that pleasure and the benefits of achieving the desired situation, and the pain of not achieving the desired situation. Also discover the submodalities of the desired and current situation (in a dramatic way).

Step 3 – Respond extra intensively to necessity as leverage …

Pain-inducing questions  with which you attach important values ​​to the pain:

  • What will it cost you if you don’t change? What is the price of that?
  • What can happen if you continue in this way?
  • What will you ultimately miss in your life?
  • What is it already costing you?
  • Indeed, you will be {less productive, so your contract will not be renewed and you will become a smelly old cat lady in a slum apartment}.
  • (Example with unhealthy food in the current situation 🙂 Well, then you just die a little earlier, but you do eat the pizza.
  • How are things in a month, 3 months, 6 months, a year? What would it be like if you were still doing it in 10 years?
  • Really feel what it would be like. Really feel like it would be. Really feel what it would be like.
  • What’s worse, and worse, and worse?
  • Associate in this! Feel what it is like when you are a heart patient and can no longer walk. Just feel .
  • Where are you then? Where are you? Where do you live? How do you get up in the morning? What do you see when you walk into the bathroom and look in the mirror? What do you see in the eyes?

That one pizza is the first step to that crappy flat. The pizza is one step away from dying. How old are you then? 50.

Keep looking at that pizza (and amp up the submodalities): What would that pizza look like in your stomach? With cheese and saliva, and what does that smell like? And so on.

Your tears are your fuel.

Also consider ecology, or other areas in your life: What would it be like for your wife and children if you die prematurely from heart failure?

Dreams don’t get you anywhere. A good kick against your pants will take you far.
– Baltasa Gracián, 17th century Spanish writer

Step 4 – Play extra intensively on desire as leverage …

The above step has already given you a huge kick. However, you can’t just run screaming from what you don’t want. You must also have something to go to. That is why pleasure is discussed in this step:  Play extra intensively on desire as leverage … Fun-associating questions to which you can attach important values:

  • If you did change, how would you feel?
  • What then becomes possible in your life?
  • What else can you achieve or what else does that give you? What else can you achieve, what else does it give you?
  • Indeed, you will feel optimistic and happy with an energetic feeling, you will be able to attract more wealth, you will get a nice house near the forest, you will receive more and more income, more and more money and more and more friends around you … }
  • Ecology: How will my loved ones feel?
  • Use the Cartesian Coordinates:
    – What will happen if you do it?
    – What will happen if you don’t?
    – What won’t happen if you do?
    – What won’t happen if you don’t?

May realize and feel it then you have to change and the goal must get! As a bonus, you can reframe the positive intentions of not achieving the goal, for example of staying single.

The pain-pleasure principle applied in the technique: ‘Neuro Associative Conditioning’ (NAC)

nac tony robbins

Tony Robbins came up with six steps in the 1980s to teach new behaviors. This makes good use of the pain-pleasure principle in combination with a pattern interruption.

Step 1: Determine what new behavior you want and what is holding you back

For example: getting up earlier. What pain from changing and what pleasure from sleeping in is holding you back?

Step 2: Create a lever (thanks to the pain-pleasure principle) for your new behavior

Feel the intense pleasure of getting up earlier and sleeping in the pain of the rest of your life. You can also use submodalities for this , for example with a Mapping across .

Step 3: Action! Now actually interrupt your limiting patterns

This is actually taking action. Now you are actually going to change the pattern by doing something else immediately when you feel the urge to sleep in. As examples, you can look at  these pattern breaks . For example, as soon as I felt like I wanted to sleep in, I put on crazy music and danced really loud as a pattern break.

Step 4: Immediately after that pattern break, do your new desired behavior

Immediately after step 3, do what you want to do: get up earlier. So for the next few days, get up early after your pattern break.

Step 5: Reinforce your new pattern and align it with your beliefs and personal values

Reward yourself after doing the new pattern (step 4). Immediately feel the pleasure of doing the new behavior. Feel the benefits of breaking your pattern. For example, reward yourself extra and make it even more fun to keep up with this new pattern.

Step 6: Reflect on your new behavior … monitor yourself and your effectiveness

This step takes place, for example, a week later. Schedule a reflection moment to reflect on the actions you have taken in the past week to break your pattern. Check yourself: how strong has your new pattern become a reality?

If you are told that they still have a week to live, don’t wait 10 months to ask someone out …

Use the pain-pleasure principle for coaching

So find that motivation – both the pain and the pleasure – and use it to launch yourself towards your goals. To your success!

About The Author


Hello! Thanks for reading these articles. My intention is to make happiness as simple and clear as posssible. By the way, excuse my English. I am not a native English speaker since I live in Amsterdam. Much appreciated if you use the comments to make suggestions on my grammar. See ya in another blogpost!

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Appreciate this information! Thank you!!