Are you more motivated by pain or joy?

Steven Barnes
4 min readMay 29, 2024


Yoga is the very best system for preserving health. But only at intense levels is it FITNESS per se. It is alignment, balancing of muscle tensions, creating kinesthetic awareness, putting muscles, tendons, and ligaments “up on the rack” so you can see what’s going on. (In contrast, Tai Chi is more like driving your car slowly around the track to see what’s vibrating wrong.)

The most honest and direct way I could describe it is that yoga puts back what time takes away. Every day that you breathe, move, stand in a manner out of alignment with optimal patterns, you cause micro-damage. The PROBLEM with yoga is that done properly, you don’t feel it until you stop!

As bizarre as this is, it is true. Constant yoga practitioners just feel “normal” to themselves. Stop for a month, and you might not feel anything wrong at all…until the next time you practice, and suddenly realize you are tight and sore in places you used to feel loose and calm. You suddenly realize things are hurting where you didn’t realize you had things.

And…you start thinking about the complaints other people have about their bodies, and dear God, you are feeling that too. And its not the inevitable ravages of age, or a badly designed body, but the fact that you haven’t been changing your oil and rotating your tires, checking your spark plugs and using the right gas. And probably flee back to yoga…until you stop feeling the discomfort, at which time you slack off again…

And since the pain is probably some misalignment that creates friction and misuse injury, when you come back, you are just a little less, in ways difficult to rebuild. Oh, you can probably compensate, because the body has a LOT of redundancy built in. So all you have to do is use a greater percentage of your remaining capacity, and you probably won’t notice the difference.

But can you see the problem? If you are motivated primarily by pain, then you only act when something is damaged. You’ll fix it enough to reduce the pain, and then go unconscious again…until the damage catches up with you, at which time you blame “age.”

The superior approach is to bite the bullet and learn to ENJOY the process. Find things to LOVE about yoga, or whatever discipline you embrace to facilitate healing and function. Why? Because if you LOVE it, the more of it you do the better you feel, and the greater your motivation becomes. (Is it possible to become addicted, and do yoga, or anything else, too much? Of course it is. But this is much less common than “not doing enough” so we can discuss that at another time.)

This is a critical difference between actions to “avoid pain” as opposed to those you practice to embrace joy. CRITICAL TO UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE.

If you can step back and think just a little flexibly, you’ll see how this is true in all three centers.

  1. If you only watch movement and diet when the doctor gives you the long face, you are constantly trying to outrun pain, and the INSTANT you have the result, will slack off, guaranteeing a repetition of the cycle.
  2. If you only communicate with your sweetheart when there is an argument, you are constantly skating on thin ice, missing all the joy of shifting into a “Love feast” mode where you can give without concern, constantly receiving, like chambers of a heart shifting blood back and forth, naturally, with every beat.
  3. If you only write when the deadline looms, you are motivated by pain. And if you EVER find success financially, you’ll find your motivation dropping through the floor, and sabotage everything you built by not maintaining momentum. And if you can’t find SOME way to enjoy looking at your finances, they will always represent pain to you.

It is reality that we can be stuck in pain. Born in a hole and have to dig our way out (mixing metaphors there). But you should at least realize where you want to go. That you want to get to the point where you are embracing joy rather than fleeing pain. Do that, and your mind begins looking at the world differently. You start looking for answers, planks you can use to build a bridge to a happier place.

But you have to acknowledge you have the DESIRE for joy, and FAITH that it is possible. Without those, you won’t try to change.

Look at those three basic areas of your life, and ask yourself it you believe it is possible to embrace JOY in your physicality, your internal and external relationships, and your finances. Maybe you aren’t there now. But in 1–3 years of constant, gentle but firm discipline? And beyond discipline…HUNGER. Joy. Feeling that your days are in alignment with your deepest being?

If you can believe that, just for a few minutes every day, you can change your life path.


Use the MAGIC formula to put your goals into positive format

Create a MORNING RITUAL that embeds the attitudes, beliefs, values, and role models at unconscious competence

This is your life. Own it. Embrace it. And every step you take that moves you away from pain and toward joy is something you can share with the world. Believe me: EVERYONE wants to be on that path. Most just don’t know how to get there any more.

Or worse, they’ve stopped believing that path even exists.





Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.