Create a Pain and Pleasure List

Practice of the Week
Create a Pain and Pleasure List

What do you absolutely love to do? It need not be a big thing. Perhaps you really love to watch baseball, or maybe you really enjoy baking your own bread. Often, we get so caught up in living our life that we forget to take time for life's simple pleasures. Many people find that their life is so full of responsibilities that they rarely take time for fun and adventure. If that sounds like you, then you'll benefit by making and using a Pain and Pleasure (P&P) list.

The P&P list is a list of at least ten things you enjoy doing and a list of ten things you don't particularly care for. It helps you clarify what really turns you on in life and what you do only because you have to -- or think you should. While we all need to do things we don't like from time to time, life is not meant to be a series of burdens and responsibilities. Your P&P list will say a lot about you, and by having your P&P list handy, you'll be able to make important changes in your life with a lot more ease.

Step One: Create your list. The singular act of writing down ten things you love to do and ten you don't care for can reveal a lot about your life. Recently, a client named James made his list while in my office. He had originally come to see me because of depression, stress at work, and problems with his spouse. James created this list:

Ten Things I Don't Like to Do:
  1. Go to work
  2. Market myself or my products
  3. Clean the house
  4. Cook
  5. Be around disagreeable people
  6. Spend time with my parents
  7. Taxes and paying the bills
  8. Give my spouse a massage
  9. Go shopping for clothes or gifts
  10. Argue with spouse
Ten Things I Love to Do:
  1. Ride my bike
  2. Be by myself, reading a good book
  3. Play with the dog
  4. Eat good food
  5. Travel
  6. Get a massage
  7. Spend time in nature
  8. Make love with my spouse
  9. Drive and listen to music
  10. Watch a good baseball game
Step Two: Estimate the number of hours every month spent doing each activity. I asked James to do this after he had made his list. When he finished this part of the exercise, it was brutally clear why he was depressed, stressed, and having problems with his spouse. The total number of hours on the "pain" side of the list was 215 hours a month. The total number of hours on the "pleasure" side of the list was 32 hours a month. That's almost a 7-to-1 ratio of pain to pleasure.

I've found that when the pain-to-pleasure ratio rises above 5-to-1, people dislike their life. In order to feel good again, time spent on the "pain" list must drop and time spent on "pleasure" list must rise.

The first key to changing your life and behavior is to be aware of what's currently not working. If you see discover your pain-to-pleasure ratio is similar to James' then you'll know you've been denying yourself too much. It's time to put pleasurable activities at a greater level of importance in your life.

Sometimes people think if they make pleasure a bigger priority, the rest of their life will fall apart. Not true. When we don't have enough good times in our life, we become less capable and effective in our career and relationships. We pay a price. As we feel good more regularly the "rising sea" of our emotions tends to lift the various "boats" of our life.

On the other hand, some people who complete the P&P list see a pattern of having too much pleasure in their life. They tend to be undisciplined and avoid responsibilities. Long term, the under-responsible route is as problematic as the over-responsible route. By avoiding difficult things now, people with this predilection often create problems in their finances and relationships later on. The key to having a successful life is to find the right balance of pain to pleasure -- in both current life and long term.

Your P&P list is a convenient reminder of what you really like to do. Sometimes we get so caught up in the various "chores of life" that we forget to enjoy ourselves. Putting your P&P list in a place where you'll see it often will softly help you remember the direction you want to go. Seeing what causes you "pain" can remind you about areas of life you might like to change. If your list shows that you spend 160 hours a month at a job you don't like, then it might help motivate you to look for another job.

Step Three: Change your behavior. If there's a lot of pain and little pleasure in your life, ask yourself two questions:
  1. Are there any activities on the "pain" side of the list that I can easily change, do less of, or have someone else do instead?
  2. and
  3. Are there any activities on the "pleasure" side of the list that I can easily do more of, beginning with scheduling time for it in my life right now?
Search your P&P list for answers to these questions you can immediately act upon. Then take action. Schedule a fun activity into your busy week, or see if you can get someone else to do what you always hate doing. Even a small change can yield a major shift in your attitude and disposition. Let the P&P list be your caring companion -- gently reminding you of the road to greater fulfillment.

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For list of all weekly practices: "Practice of the Week Index"

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