The experts, whoever they may be, tell us that outside of the pain we experience when we fall and scrape our knees, we are only capable of experiencing two kinds of pain: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.
I think it is safe to say that a great many of us are familiar with these two types of pain and, in fact, it is my belief that many of us have experienced these pains more frequently than necessary because we have often chosen to experience the pain of regret over the pain of discipline.
Please allow my friend Sally to help put this into perspective. Sally recently celebrated a birthday. On that day she was greeted with two pieces of unwelcome news. Her suspicions that she might be diabetic were confirmed by her family doctor and later that day a cardiologist confirmed that three of her coronary arteries were sufficiently blocked to warrant immediate attention, possibly bypass surgery.
Happy 37th birthday Sally.
Sally’s eyes welled up with tears as she told me the story of her of her many-year-long struggle with trying to get her weight under control.
Like so many others she told me that she had tried “everything” and inevitably, after much struggle, found herself back at her starting point, usually 5 to 10 pounds heavier.
“It isn’t that I don’t know what to do, it’s just that I have such a hard time doing it,” she explained while brushing tears away from her cheeks. “I just don’t seem to have the discipline to stay with any program and the more times I repeat these cycles of failure the more hopeless I feel and the more I continue to hate myself.”
We spent several hours talking about these two kinds of pains. Discipline is the pain we feel when we don’t really feel like doing what we know we should be doing – working at the gym, saying no to the chocolate cake – and we indeed go to the gym and pass on the chocolate cake.
We do it because we know it will move us closer towards where we want to be and we do it because we know how good we will feel about ourselves afterwards.
But perhaps most importantly, we do it because, based on past times when we succumbed to temptation and did not do what we should be doing, we remember only too clearly the feelings of desolation, disappointment, anger and sadness we had directed at ourselves.
Regret is that very feeling we experience shortly after we have stayed home to eat that chocolate cake instead of going to the gym.
“I always begin with the best of intentions,” Sally continued, “but somehow those great intentions seem to disappear as soon as the temptation, to eat those very foods that have brought me to where I am today, shows up and starts to entice me.”
Sally went on to tell me that this endless cycle of self-defeat and constant giving in to temptation followed by gut wrenching feelings of guilt, anger and self-hate had left her physically exhausted and emotionally drained to the point that she was considering ignoring the treatment plan proposed by her cardiologist because, as she so eloquently yet sadly put it, “Why bother? I’ll just eat my way back to his office in a few short months.”
Sally’s story is far from unique.
In the first chapter of his classic book “Walden” Henry David Thoreau profoundly states “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” And in his remarkable essay “Civil Disobedience” tells us that “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
My meeting with Sally was just a few days ago. She asked if I would help her and I told her that I would do my best to do so.
I sent her home with an assignment. I asked her to spend a few days answering two very challenging questions.
I asked her to define what her prize will be for losing the weight she said she wants to lose. In other words, to really think about what’s in it for her.
I told Sally that I think she is focusing on the wrong target.
Sally doesn’t want to lose weight – none of us ever do. When we say that we want to lose weight what we are actually saying is that what we really want is what we believe losing weight will do for us.
It is the “because” answer to the question “why do you want to lose weight?”
And, strange as it is to say, we are not motivated by our goals, we are motivated by what we believe achieving our goals will do for us.
Which is why it was so important for Sally to take the time and really question herself as to what she believes losing all that weight will do for her?
And once she had those answers I asked her to ask herself the really difficult question.
The question was this: how important is it for you to achieve that prize.
This is the single most important question to ask ourselves each and every time we decide to pursue a goal.
We need to know, with absolute conviction, how badly we want the prize – the very things that achieving the goal will reward us with.
I believe there is something called the “Continuum of Wanting.” It works like this; on the one end of the continuum are those things we want that would be “Nice to have.” On the other hand are those things that we “Have to have at any cost. Can’t/won’t live without.”
And before we embark in pursuit of a goal it’s extremely helpful to know where we place on that continuum. The closer we are to the “Have to have at any cost. Can’t/won’t live without,” end, the greater the probability that we will endure the pain of discipline in order to get there. The closer we are to the “Nice to have” end of the continuum, the greater the probability that we will avoid the pain of discipline and in so doing will make choices to do other things that invariably leave us with the pain of regret.
Sally called me yesterday. She told me she spent several hours focusing on what her life would be like if she never gets her prize. She told me that she had never before felt such feelings of sadness and desolation. The thought that her entire life would be spent without ever reaching her prize – that the constant battle she has been fighting would never end – is more than she could bear.
And she made a decision. She has decided to not to focus on losing weight but rather on how radically different her life will be when she gets there – a radical departure from her many previous attempts.
She also told me that three days had passed from the time she made the decision until the time she called me and in those three days, for the first time in as long as she can remember, she has stayed on a program without a single sideways deviation.
Sally has a long way to go. I will do everything I can to help her get there, but in the end it’s up to her. She has to keep wanting it badly enough.
I think there’s a Sally living within each of us and we have to learn that no matter what we want in life there will always be two prices to pay; there will be the price of doing something and the price of doing nothing.
One is the price of discipline, the other the price of regret.
So far, Sally has paid the price of discipline for three days. It may not seem like much but I believe it was the great Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu who said that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
Sally, a lot of people are now rooting for you. May this be one of the most exciting journeys of your life.
Till we read again.
P.S. Join me on Facebook and let me know what you think about this post.
P.P.S. My book ‘Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours” is now also available as an Ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Chapters and Indigo. You can also click here and my friends at Self Connection will gladly mail a copy to you.