Are You Afraid of the Pain?

People often ask me how I do everything that I do.  Writer, blogger, teacher, father, spa industry leader . . . I wear many hats (and try to wear them well.)  I usually don’t know how to respond when someone asks me what my secret is, but I think I’ve finally figured it out:  I’m not afraid of the pain.

I was thinking about this last week when I went to Barbados on vacation with my wife, our two-year-old son Dylan and our six-week-old baby Max.  Traveling with two kids that young is not easy (in fact, it sucks) and most sane people wouldn’t even think of planning a trip like this.

Day one of our vacation was pretty miserable: getting two kids out of bed, fed and dressed at 5 a.m., mad dash to the airport, juggling strollers, boppies and baby bottles through the security checkpoint (our baby formula went through a chemical analysis that would make the cast of CSI proud) until we finally took off en route to Barbados. The four-hour plane ride was no picnic either, with a wriggling infant on each lap (particularly Dylan who seemed to only be able to distract himself from the discomfort of the flight by exploring new and innovative ways to annoy nearby passengers.)

You’re probably thinking we were finally able to relax once we landed in Barbados . . . No such luck.  We went through emotional meltdowns with each child as they adapted to their new environment.  So, by the end of the first day, I was exhausted, had a splitting headache, and was starting to wonder if this was a good idea.

But then came day two.

I woke up in beautiful Barbados greeted by smiles from the two well-rested boys (the fresh sea air being a sufficient cure for whatever was ailing them.)  All around me, I was treated to a spectacular view of the Atlantic Ocean lapping at our villa just below our second floor balcony.  By 7 a.m. I was surfing under a rainbow while turtles bobbed all around me.  It was a fantastic, glorious day, and one I will remember for the rest of my life.  But I couldn’t have had a day like this without taking on the pain that was required to get there.

I also think about this at the gym.  I’ll be on an exercise bike doing intervals.  I adjust it manually because I can’t rely on the bike’s “programs” to give me the intensity I need.  Halfway through the workout I look up and see my face in the mirror.  I’m beet red, veins are bulging out of my forehead, sweat is dripping off of me, and the grimace on my face shows that I’m not having fun.  The “feel good” part comes later when the workout is done.

Suddenly, I look up and notice the guy next to me.  He’s been on the bike even longer than I have, but he isn’t huffing and puffing like I am and he’s not sweating.  In fact, he’s leisurely reading the newspaper while he slowly spins the pedals around at a lackadaisical pace.  He’s “mailing it in.”  Doing the minimum.

When I look around the gym, only about a third of those present have that same intense focus to their workouts that I do.   A full two thirds are just getting by.  I give them credit for showing up because showing up is half the battle.  But the other half of the battle should hurt. I realize that everyone has to start somewhere, and a little exercise is better than no exercise.  But I think most people don’t realize the amount of effort required to get real results.

For me, life is like that exercise bike.  If it feels easy, you’re doing it wrong.  I don’t do easy.  I want to live a rich, full, meaningful life.  I want to stand for things I believe in.  I want to try things I’ve never done before.  I want to work hard and love harder.  I want to make a difference.  I want go to places I’ve never been before.  I want to take my “too young” boys on a surf trip to Barbados.  And . . . I’m not afraid of the pain.

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14 Responses to Are You Afraid of the Pain?

  1. Leona February 28, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    This is great, Jeremy, totally resonates with me. Isn’t this the core of self-regulation? Self-reg is putting off short-term gratification (or in this case, the absence of pain) for a long-term reward. If you don’t fear the pain, the self-reg required to overcome your inertia will be less, and engaging in what you want will be easier…and then it becomes habit, and also transfers into other areas of life…like dragging two screaming kids for a day in order to experience the ‘aaaaah’ of a swanky, beautiful location. Awesome!

  2. Dan Bowling February 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Fun blog, Jeremy. I love the opening sentence – reminds me of the old Steve Martin bit: “People come up to me all the time, and say, Steve, what makes you so f–ing funny?” 🙂
    More seriously, I know you, and Leona, and others in our community tend to be people who juggle many things, wear many hats, have multiple business cards, etc. People often say to me (and presumably you and others who are reading this) “Gee, I bet you find all of that “rewarding” – or “fun” – or “exciting.” Yeah, I guess so, but in a lot of ways our lives are like that plane flight, or the workout, with plenty of painful things to subject ourselves to for reasons a lot of people close to us – in my case, my Mother can’t fathom. But on the whole our lives are far richer for the pain – and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Well done.

  3. Mary Jane February 29, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    Hi Jeremy,
    This is a great post, one that I can relate to and sheds light on my own behaviour. Do you ever feel that maybe you are just to hard on yourself? I only ask because that is something I have been asking myself.
    I agree that being afraid of the pain of growth just keeps people from truly experiencing life.
    Thanks for the insights and helping me to not feel so strange!
    Take care,
    Mary Jane

  4. Charlie Wills February 29, 2012 at 9:53 am #

    Bipolar at Best?

    The very last Blog was about ….
    ‘”many people are able to use their newfound free time to learn new things, take up new hobbies or passions, socialize with friends and family, and generally think more about their health.”

    ” For those who are able to hold onto their jobs, although they have some increased stress from taking on the burden of more work and less people, many employers will also reduce overtime, encourage job sharing, or consider work furloughs that give people more free time to pursue leisure and health related activities.

    “Once you get above the poverty line, healthy consumption quickly becomes overconsumption and begins to take a negative toll on our health and our happiness. Taking the foot off the GDP gas pedal from time to time can be a good thing.”

    The “Pain” ? is it people’s self-Inflicted personal torment.. ouch!
    Almost like gettng a big nose ring,,to broadcast to others I am in Pain,,,Insecurity? maybe,

    “Pain an Pleasure”,,,which is it today would be a great next blog,,and “Why are we Stuck in such a cycle”,,,, or “A Dog’s Life”

    Marie Josee Shaar is this you emailing my to buy “secrets of weight Lose” ?

  5. Jeremy McCarthy February 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

    Dan, thanks for your comment. I remember and love that Steve Martin bit. He says his secret was to put bologna in each of his shoes so he “feels funny.” In my course on positive leadership I teach that it is not about creating “happy” employees. Doing great work comes from taking on great challenges, managing difficult relationships, overcoming great obstacles, etc. For some people who focus on positive psychology it’s all about creating positivity in the workplace. I’m more interested in doing meaningful work, even if it’s hard or sometimes unpleasant.

  6. Jeremy McCarthy February 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Hi Charlie, I have to be careful . . . you are paying attention. I think the challenge with the modern workplace is not the fact that there is stress or that you have to take on difficult circumstances. It is the problem that there are no opportunities to regnerate and refuel. If you are “feeling the pain” of working towards something you are passionate about you are renewed by your passion. It is important to have the ebb and flow time to confront challenge and time to recover so that you can develop your resources before going back into the fray. The modern workplace has a “go go go” marathon mentality that doesn’t allow people to celebrate successes, take moments of pause for rest and recovery (or for inspiration and innovation), and work autonomously on areas that are most energizing for the individual.

  7. Jeremy McCarthy February 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    Hi Mary Jane,

    I do not feel that I am too hard on myself (although I do feel that I take too much on and usually regret it later.) I have self-regulation as one of my highest strengths which is highly unusual. Once a colleague of mine who is a positive psychology consultant wanted to interview me to understand how I had this strength so high (he was interested because it was his bottom strength, which is quite common.) What we realized is that although the VIA strengths survey measures me as having high willpower, I don’t feel like I have to exercise my willpower often. In other words it is not hard for me to get to the gym, clean the house, eat healthfully etc. I want to do those things. I think it is because I have a strong sense of future time perspective so I am more willing to put off short term gain in exchange for long term goals (most people are the other way around.) You can learn more about time perspectives from The Time Paradox by Zimbardo and Boyd (or see my article on it here: Thanks for reading and your comment!

  8. Louisa Jewell March 1, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    Love it Jeremy! As I go through the ‘mess’ of getting kids to a vacation spot, I am having to constantly remind myself of how great it’s going to be! You nailed it.

  9. Heather March 19, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    I have experienced both the physical pain of exercise and pushing physical limits as well as the traveling with a baby pain, so your story resonated with me. My question is, what is the root of your pain? Or for me, I check in with that before I decide if it is worth pursuing. If I am pushing myself through a strenuous Yoga pose so my teacher will recognize me, then the pain is as much psychological as it is physical. And I am only setting myself up for more disappointment – because no one will love me enough all of the time. If the pain, is a discomfort born of daring to be honest about who I am and what I can do… then that is a worthy pursuit for me.

  10. Phal Naap March 23, 2012 at 7:01 am #

    I’ve been blessed with chronic physical pain from a form of genetic neuropathy. As the physical pain increases progressively, the depression follows, draining the meaning out of every day. It affects concentration, attention, sensation, planning, doing. It is like the constant drone from a nagging child who continually pokes you in the head to ask if you know they are there. It’s the “I’m not? touching you” game all day, every day. Plus, you hurt.

    If you couldn’t get off of the treadmill, what would you do with the emotional pain that comes with knowing that you can’t get off of the treadmill?


    Phal Naap

    RE: Naghma quotes me in his article…
    From: naghmakkhan@YAHOO.COM
    Subject: [FRIENDS-OF-PP] Emotional Pain

    Dear All,

    A few weeks back I was trying to find some information on Emotional Pain. I tried and understood that by pain, usually you get information about physical pain.

    Relieve the pain: http://unwrappingminds. relieve-the-pain/

  11. Jeremy McCarthy March 23, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    Thanks for your comment Phal. The point I am trying to express in my article is that not all pain is bad and that pain is not all bad. Pain, fear, anxiety, sadness, regret all serve us in some way. They motivate us to change our behaviors and provide an impetus for learning and growth. Sometimes they help us appreciate things (even if only by providing contrast against more positive experiences.)

    But there is such a thing as too much pain. Barbara Fredrickson is a researcher who has investigated positive emotions and identified an average ideal ratio of three positive emotions for every one negative one for human flourishing. It is interesting to note that the ratio is not three-to-zero, i.e. we don’t thrive by eliminating negative emotions altogether. But as you point out, it is also hard to thrive when the ratio is flipped the other way and there is so much pain that the positive emotions get squeezed out altogether.

    It sounds like you have a clinical condition which would require guidance beyond what I am qualified to give, but I would recommend a fascinating book on the topic of pain called “Why We Hurt: The Natural History of Pain” by Frank Vertosick Jr. I cited him on a previous article I wrote on “Why is Childbirth so Freakin’ Painful.” (

    For the readers who don’t know, Naghma Khan, whom you mentioned above, is a clinical/addiction counselor who has written a series of wonderful articles on psychological pain:

    Feel the pain : http://unwrappingminds. the-pain/
    Live the pain: http://unwrappingminds. the-pain/
    Relieve the pain: http://unwrappingminds. relieve-the-pain/

    For those who enjoyed this article, you may find these articles interesting as well (along with Phal’s comments–cited in the third article.)


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