A model to handle pain

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Does pain make you miserable?

I like the phrase “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” It says that pain doesn’t have to make you feel bad emotionally. How you respond to pain is what makes you feel emotionally bad, and you can control that response.

I prefer to say it more broadly.

A model to handle pain: Pain isn’t bad.

Most people understand the value to their lives of physical pain. Our bodies can be damaged and pain motivates us to protect them. Without pain we’d cut, burn, and break ourselves and worse. With pain we take care of our bodies. We don’t have to think hard to figure out how animals evolved pain.

As physical pain motivates us to protect our bodies, emotional pain motivates us to consider others. Without emotional pain we’d mess up relationships, hurt each other, undermine groups and society, and worse.

Pain isn’t bad. It’s helpful.

We all want to avoid pain. If we think pain is bad, which is different than painful, we risk avoiding it too much or living our lives less than optimally. Sometimes taking risks leads to the best outcomes for yourself. Sometimes the pain is worth it, like the soreness after playing sports, the heartbreak after an exciting fling, or the sting of a business decision that didn’t pay off.

If you think pain is bad, you’ll suffer after those things. If you don’t, you may learn from them.


A strategy I’ve tried to adopt is to learn to handle and learn from pain, whether physical or emotional, more than to try to avoid it.

You’ll run a business more effectively if you aren’t afraid of bankruptcy than if you try to avoid it at all costs.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself avoiding something out of fear of pain, even when I want to do it. I use this belief after something causes me pain and I ask myself if trying what led to the pain was still worth it.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces reactively avoiding pain with considering your options more comprehensively.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to pain not being such a problem and to making better decisions for your business and life.

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