For many years I was waking up, mindlessly moving through my days. There was intentional work, meetings, building relationships and progress. Until one day the progress became elusive and distant. You thought it was there. It was, though it was also diminishing.

I had fallen into the modern-day trap of comfort, technology-infused context switching, and the related loss of focus. Subtle, pervasive, and ultimately very unhealthy in many ways


With some help from friends and a newfound focus, to understand what was driving my state, learning became my outlet and passion. Since then, I’ve learnt a lot about what happens to us (humans) and a lot about myself.

In Dr Anne Lembke’s book Dopamine Nation, which primarily focuses on the rising tide of addiction and dopamine’s role, her metaphorical explanation of pleasure and pain’s balancing act is compelling.

We have endless outlets for pleasure. Everything is literally at our fingertips. It is constantly becoming our “go to”. Most of us choose “pleasure”.

Why? Because the brain is an energy monster and therefore lazy by design. It’s easy, a distraction, an addiction and/or a habit. Given the prevalence of outlets we have, to me it feels and looks like, there is the potential this is fast becoming an integral stage of our evolutionary journey.

So what about pain?

Pain is what arrives in return for our pleasures. If we choose pleasure first, pain follows. It’s the longing, nagging tug on our mind. Go back, you want more is effectively pain tormenting you! A common characteristic in addiction.

Conversely, when we have felt pain, what follows will seem like pleasure. Our brain and body works with simple principles but in complex ways.


Choosing pain first has become a key plank in my personal approach to remaining on the right side of the ledger. This can come in all sorts of methods including exercise, cold immersion, heat exposure and simple breathing practises. When we choose to start with pain, the balancing act that Dr Anne Lembke refers to, comes into play. However it is in reverse, and we are rewarded. The sense of accomplishment and grounding sets the tone.

My body repays me with counterbalancing molecules, namely that of dopamine. Endorphins also play their part.

Apart from the feeling (post-pain), a host of other health benefits are activated. BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) production is instigated for my brain’s plasticity. Cold and heat shock proteins are activated. Our energy production systems are accelerated and move into overdrive. But more on that another time.

The sense of hormetic stress begins to become an innate part of myself. The biggest difference with beginning each day this way, is not being at the whim of the lazy mind. That’s why I choose pain for my brain.

Image from the book, Dopamine Nation by Dr Anna Lembke.

If you are executive leader looking for some help in wellbeing, stress or resilience, let’s chat.