Changing the Balance

Imagine the teeter totter is the degrees of pain and happiness in the world. On one side is the degrees of pain, the center of the teeter totter is the neutral point, and then on the other side is the degrees of good or happy. The teeter totter now resembles the spectrum of experience and emotion we have as human beings.

Now imagine we lived in a world where we were able to remove the degrees of pain we experience. Imagine the teeter totter was now a ramp that ended at the neutral point in the middle. What would happen? The assumption is that the pain would simply go away and nobody would experience that emotion anymore. But is that true?

From where we are now, given our current experience, the removal of pain seems like a really good thing. It would offer a lot of relief to a lot of people in the moment. What happens over time though, as that reference point starts to fade into the background?

Slowly as people stopped having the same reference points for pain that we have now, the neutral point or center point of the teeter totter would start to slide toward the middle of what is left of the teeter totter. Pain would still be felt. The only thing that would change is the type of experiences that offer the pain. Eventually, the neutral point would once again find the middle of the teeter totter and the same degrees of pain would be felt. The only thing that will have changed are the experiences that cause the pain.

From our perspective now, that still seems like a good thing. A less extreme experience still seems better, even if the emotion remains the same. Can you see that as a trick of perception?

The only reason we can see it that way is because we have a different reference point. Without that reference point, we would still feel the same pain and the same stuckness. We would still tell the same stories of blame, shame, guilt, and victimization. The need for help with the pain would still exist.

The trick of perception is that it is an improvement because the extremes are seemingly less extreme. Maybe if we move the center point toward the good enough times, the pain eventually goes away. But that’s not true. People will always feel pain. It’s a natural human emotion. The only difference is that now instead of the extremes of the experience being abuse, violence, and war, suddenly a bad at work will cause the same extreme degree of pain that war does now. That sounds nuts doesn’t it? But that’s only because you have a reference point for something you perceive to be far worse than a bad day at work.

You see, it’s perception not experience, that determines how you feel. Regardless of whether we are able to change the types of experiences that people have or not, the emotions will continue to be felt. If they don’t have a different reference point, than the extremes of emotion will be used to react to the experiences they have available to them, regardless of what those experiences are.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Have you ever heard that saying? What does it mean?

The feeling of pain is what allows us to perceive things as “broken”, needing attention, or needing to be changed. Without the perception of pain, nothing would ever be perceived as “broken” and nobody would ever change anything. It would offer a high degree of complacency.

We have a mentality in society that says if it’s not bothering you, don’t mess with it. Don’t stir the pot. Don’t create problems. Just leave it there until it causes pain. That mentality is the exact reason why we need pain. It shows us what needs fixing. It shows us what needs to change. It shows us where the problems are.

I wouldn’t be here without pain. You wouldn’t be reading this without pain. We wouldn’t be talking about this stuff without pain. You wouldn’t have left your last job without pain or moved without pain or left your last relationship with pain or bought that new toaster without pain. You perceived the toaster as broken and so you replaced it. If you never perceived it as broken, even if stopped working, you’d never replace it. Pain is what offers you the ability to see the non-working toaster as something that needs to be replaced. Pain shifts you perception. If there is no pain, then there is no need to replace it even if it is broken.

That’s the power of perception. It tricks us into thinking that things would be different if certain experiences didn’t exist. It’s only because we have a reference point that makes it look like an improvement. But without that reference point, there would be no perception of improvement so it wouldn’t matter.

Our need for things to be different than they are comes from our ability to compare experiences with each other. That’s why I strongly encourage people to avoid doing that to themselves. Stop looking for those connections. Stop offering yourself the comparison because it doesn’t help you.

If things could be different they would be. That’s a concept Matt Kahn offers regularly. The idea is that we learn because of the experience being the way it is. Remember that quote, “if ain’t broke don’t fix it”? Well, that’s the mentality that we have. That’s why we need those experiences because we won’t change anything without them. If we would change things when they were good, then we wouldn’t need so much bad.

We don’t like to go to the doctor when we’re healthy. Doctors keep trying to encourage preventative care. People don’t like that and they don’t do it. We’re not going to go see the doctor until it hurts. We need the pain to do something differently. For some of us, we need to have our guts hanging out of us before we’ll go to the doctor.

Here comes my favorite question!

How much pain do you need to be in before you do something differently?

Do you need to have your guts hanging out of you? Does it just need to be a bit sore? Or are you willing to be proactive and see the doctor before the pain happens at all?

If you’re doing anything but being proactive, then you’re one of the many that avoids dealing with things until there is a perception of pain. It has absolutely nothing to do with what the experience is. It has everything to do with how you perceive it and your perception has to include pain before you’re willing to do anything about it.

That’s why we need pain because that’s the only way we avoid complacency. That’s the only way things change. That’s the only way evolution happens.

Humans don’t move without pain which also means evolution can’t happen without pain. Whether we like it or not, we’re a lazy bunch and we refuse to evolve unless there is enough pain present to make it worth while.

Are there situations where people just get comfortable with the pain and stay there anyway? Yes. That happens too. Why does that happen? That’s all about the stories people tell about the pain they experience. It’s a feeling of being trapped in the experience, whether the trap is real or perceived. Sometimes we stay in the pain to try to avoid more pain, so that even if it is broken I’m not going to fix it because I’m scared of what happens next.

It all comes back to my question from earlier. How much pain do you need to be in before you do something different? This, whether it’s good or bad, right or wrong, is how we evolve. Pain is the thing that keeps us going or should I say, the avoidance of this is often what keeps us going because that’s what creates the impetus to change anything at all.

Pain is a necessary part of our experience.

It’s not about the experience. It’s all about our perception of it.

If we simply stop trying to change the experience and instead manage our perceptions of things, life gets easier. We stop needing to control the experience or change it in some way and instead simply accept what needs to happen next as a result of our ability to see the experience for what it is – part of the evolutionary process.

Keep going. Keep growing. Keep moving forward.

Love to all.



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