Seven Reasons to Lean Into the Pain – Pain is Good

It's a well-documented that prescription antidepressant and painkiller use rose 400% between the early 80’s and 2000, and then another 65% increase in the last 15 years. It’s true that some people receive great benefits from these drugs. For some it is literally life-saving. It’s also true that doctors are getting better at identifying mental illness. But a 400% + a 65% increase?

To me this is a stark reminder of how our society seeks a quick fix for most problems, and will go to great lengths to avoid emotional and physical pain. It appears that in our pursuit to avoid pain, we’re seeking ways that just may be making us weaker rather than stronger. In my neighborhood, I know people who eat too much, drink too much, lust too much, rage too much, and are addicted to prescription painkillers and antidepressants.

A great paradox here is that they know it! They may deny that they know. The human animal is great at self-deception. I know this from personal experience. In the first half of my adult life I became an expert at avoiding pain and problems through denial and lying to myself and others, mostly those I loved most. And in the second half of my adult life I’ve been in a recovery program that’s taught me a lot about the importance of leaning into pain.

Another problem with avoiding the pain is that it will bury itself somewhere deep inside of you, and then start attacking other parts of your mind, body and spirit. You can be certain that someday it will rear its head much uglier and stronger affecting you in even worse ways.

Another great paradox is that pain hurts, and it’s good for you. As a matter fact, not only is it good, but it's very important. You may be saying, “What? I broke my foot and it hurt for weeks. That's good?”

Absolutely! Our body, mind, and spirit is telling you to take care of your injury. The pain is normal, and should be expected. The same is true of emotional pain. A loved one dies of cancer. You say, “I feel so empty. My gut has this sense of longing and helplessness. This is good for me?”

Yes, grief is a gift. “Be” with it, feel it, really experience the pain, physical or emotional. Just being with it causes the pain to decrease. It will teach you something about yourself, it will increase your strength, resilience, and compassion.

I’m also my firm believer that all of us are imago dei, that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This means that we possess creativity, the ability to change, resilience, brilliance, and the capacity for love and forgiveness. If indeed you have both this great capacity for self-deception and are imago dei, another great paradox, what does this all mean? It means you’re normal. It means you’re human. You’re experiencing what most people do. Some are just more transparent about it than others.

Here are seven points that will help bring meaning to the pain you experience by being alive.

  1. Slow down – Breathe and listen to that still small voice that's crying for help. It's your voice. You may have nearly suffocated it with your "drug of choice". Allow yourself to feel what’s real.
  2. Ask for help – Usane Bolt, the fastest man in the world for many years, didn't do it alone. He surrounded himself with a team of experts who knew about strength, fitness, resilience, and nutrition. Isolation has a way of compounding itself.
  3. Honesty – You already know what you need to do. If you’re saying, “Do I?” Just remember that the human being is the only animal with the capacity to lie, and an amazing capacity at that. Tell the truth to yourself first and then someone else.
  4. Take action – JFK said, “Knowledge is power.” I disagree. Knowledge, without action, is worthless. Take the first step, followed by another, and then another until it becomes momentum.
  5. Lean into the pain – Expect it to hurt. I know this is counterintuitive. It hurts most at the beginning, and then lessens along the way. This axiom is true for many things in life - short-term pain = long-term gain. The opposite is also true.
  6. Grace – Give yourself a healthy dose of it. Change and healing take time. Don’t expect perfection – but shoot for progress.
  7. Accountability – Going through hard things on your own doubles the load. Going through hard things with a friend cuts the load in half, and you both are strengthened from that experience (another paradox).

These tips can help you create a new ending to your story. So lean into the pain – pain is good!


This blog shares perspectives on how you have the ability to create new story endings that are meaningful, powerful and filled with hope. I facilitate culture changing processes that help organizations achieve greater impact. Also, I provide leadership coaching to help executives and aspiring leaders become the fullest expression of who they’re intended to be.

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