How much pain you are in will determine whether you change or not

by Annelise Mitchell November 23, 2016

How much pain you are in will determine whether you change or not

I had only been in classroom teaching for a few years when I first heard the following expression by Tony Robbins:

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.”

He talked about a pain spectrum, where between 1 – 3, you’re as happy as pig in mud, and you even embrace change because you are doing what you love. Between 4 – 7, where most of the human population exist, is where we feel some type of emptiness and are certainly not happy, but we are not that uncomfortable that we are forced to do something about it. Whereas, when you stand between an 8 – 10, you are in a world of pain, and this is where you are forced to change. You have no choice. This change could mean quitting your job, leaving your partner or an unhappy relationship or some intolerable situation, and in the worst-case scenarios - it can mean that the change is forced by severe illness and even thoughts of self-harm.

Click on the following printable poster to see where you sit along the spectrum:

Change spectrum chart by Life-changing Learning

I was sitting at an 8 or 9, maybe 7 on my best days, and 9 on my worst. I was afraid of the 10, and could see it on the horizon.

Robbins explains that when you’re sitting between a 4 and a 7, you are not in the safety zone, you just think you are and because you are under the illusion that all will work out in the end, you will continue doing things that are not in your long-term best interests. It was here that I realised why my stepfather drank himself to death. I was like, holy shit, he was most likely living life in this alleged “safety zone,” never bringing himself to an 8 or 9 because alcohol muffled some of the pain until he destroyed his liver.

The lesson from watching him and many of my fellow teachers use drinking or other products to cope was: run away from the pain and the outcome is clearly brutal.

The toughest part of being in so much pain, is it looks like no one else is going through the same thing as you. I would look at other teachers, and although they complained, and some made it their primary modus operandi, it didn’t look like they were looking for an escape hatch. Some would drink a lot, or use antidepressants, or any of the other pain-numbing products that they could buy, but most just gritted it out.

Click on the following printable poster that you can download to reveal who makes a change or who chooses to stay put:

Who sits on each point of the change spectrum

If I suggested that they go and do something else (what that was or looked like I didn’t know), they would say, they had no choice, and that nothing pays as well as where they are now. Yes, teaching is tough, and the kids don’t respect their teachers like they used to, but… the other options are far worse.

These comments would deflate my spirit, sometimes taking my breath and voice away. This is it. I have no choice but to stay because the pay is much better and everywhere else is far worse.

At this point of nearing despair, is where I really started to identify with Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. I was Andy. I was that colourful bird that Red uses to describe Andy’s flight  to freedom.

In referring to Andy, Red reflects: “Some birds aren't meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright.”

I, like Andy, was going to find a way out. I was more frightened of what would happen if I didn’t escape.

Who would I become?

A bird that doesn’t sing. A bird that doesn’t connect with other birds who wants to hear her sing. And most of all, a bird that doesn’t share her colour with the world.

No, that is what Andy Dufresne decided was not for him. It was not for me, and it is not for you.

Even if it meant crawling through 500 yards of shit, I was going to do it. And do it alone.

Why alone?

When you’re in a world of hurt, and you are firmly nestled within an institution, you cannot look for empathy around you. You won’t find it.

These people can’t give you empathy because they are going through their own pain, and if pain has anything to teach us, it makes us extraordinarily selfish. We are so consumed by our own suffering that we go into shutdown mode, blocking the world out around us, trying our best to survive.

This contrasts with people who are living their true values. You can see it in not only their happy demeanour but they also give a shit. They feel other people’s pain and they want to make the world a better place. People who are suffering, and are in a world of hurt, are mostly concerned about avoiding more pain, not helping you work though yours.

Wise psychologists and other practitioners in the human services field now this. Priests and yogis know this. You know it.

What happens when you are unhappy? When you are not doing things that fill you with joy? Are you wanting joy for others? Do you want to make the world a better place with your creativity?

No. You don’t and you can’t. What you need to do is get well again. You need to change your life, and you need to stop exaggerating the risks and challenges of doing something more fulfilling.

Changing your life is a lot easier than you think. It is about seeing what you absolutely need to survive, and working out a plan that will help you do the things that you find most meaningful.

For me, it was earning around about $400 a week, and foregoing the 1000 or more that I thought I needed to survive. $400 bucks would cover rent, food, clothing and bills. I had to learn to live light again, just like I had when I was going through uni. I would also take advantage of living with three other adults – all of who can make their own way. If I was on my own, I would need more money, but not too much more.

Did I succeed?

I would like to say that it was all wonderful after hearing the Tony Robbins quote and understanding what he meant but I did run back to a similar, well-paying job within a year, and then a different, less-stressful, albeit brain-numbing job, only to be faced yet again with the same dilemma.

I would see myself as Andy, and feel his despair and look again for a way to escape.

This was happening because I didn’t know who I was.

I was hiding my true self from the world, and the only way to feel truly alive, and live between Robbin’s 1 – 3 was to know who I was, what I truly valued and stood for, and share that with the world.

However, I needed to go through the process of learning what it was that truly filled me with joy. I knew that it was writing and creating things, as well as using teaching as my medium but how to do that in the world, and outside of an institution, was unclear.

At first, it was baby steps. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to create. What it looked like. All I knew for sure was that I was in a world of hurt and that I wasn’t doing what I was capable of.

I also knew that I needed to learn from what my pain was telling me. Not all pain is bad, and some of it will push you to bigger and greater things.

This is the joy that can come from being in pain. It tells you something is wrong, and that you must change. When the pain becomes so loud that you can no longer ignore it, you change. And when you are wise, you make the change for the better of not only yourself but for the world around you.

For when we keep our gifts to our self, we are not helping anyone, ourselves, other people or the living world around us. Pain is there to tell us something is wrong and we need do something about it.

Go do something about it and share your experiences, your joy with the world.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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