I’m Diana Swillinger. Welcome to The Renew Your Mind podcast. Episode 17 Pain Pursues Pleasure.
DIANA: Hey. Hey. Welcome to the renew your mind podcast. I have a special guest today. He’s my friend. I like having friends on. He’s going to be my first friend on the podcast. Welcome, Zach Spafford.
ZACH: Hey, how’s it going? This is super exciting for me.
DIANA: This is super exciting. What I think is really fun, too, is that we met in the state of Washington a year ago.
ZACH: I lived in St. George, Utah, then.
DIANA: You lived in Utah, and then you ended up moving to my neighborhood in Wisconsin.
DIANA: We bonded over bubbler talk.
ZACH: I love the idea that, uh, wisconsinits use the term bubbler. Yeah.
DIANA: So anyone listening, if you have no idea what a bubbler is, I’m going to leave you to Google that one. That’ll be some fun homework for you.
ZACH: Yeah, absolutely.
DIANA: All right, well, Zach, I’m having you on today because we are talking about pain pursues pleasure, and I know you’re very familiar with that. As a life coach, can you just tell us a little about yourself as a life coach, the quick story, how you got into it, um, where you got trained and what you specialize in.
ZACH: Yeah, okay. Well, for starters, when I was eight years old, I found pornography. And for the next 25 years after that, pornography was an in and out sort of situation in my life, and I was always trying to get rid of it, and it was always trying to come back. And then about five or six years ago now, my wife and I, we made some extraordinary efforts. And I took a step back from twelve step groups and counselors and, uh, ecclesiastical leaders, and I said, okay, I’m going to try and figure this out. I’m going to work and look at my brain and try and figure out what the heck is going on with my brain and why it’s doing what it’s doing. And so I started to do certain things. And then about two years ago, my wife started to listen to a podcast by a lady named Jody Moore. And in that podcast, she would teach principles of things that I was doing. So she would teach something that I was doing. And then my wife would come to me and she’d say, Jody Moore just taught me this on the podcast. And you said you used to do it. And I would say, yeah, that’s how it works. I didn’t know that’s what you would call it. But yeah, that’s how it works. And eventually we went to Jody Moore’s Be Bold Masters up in Spokane, where you and I met. And at that moment, I spent a week figuring out, holy cow, this is so amazing, this life coaching deal. I am going to become a life coach. This is something I can help people with. So I’ve been a podcaster now, uh, since October, the self mastery podcast. And, yeah, uh, that’s how I got into becoming a life coach. I figured it out the hard way, and then I realized that there were people who knew the easy way, they knew all this stuff that I had to figure out on my own. And I was like,
DIANA: yeah, but that makes you an expert now at teaching it, because not only have you been taught it, but you lived it and learned it the hard way. So you’re a great coach. Everyone should know you coach me. But when I need a little help, I have an appointment set up with Zach tomorrow. He’s going to give me some coaching. So before people listening get freaked out because you’re talking about pornography and I don’t know how many listeners in my audience have issues with pornography, but that’s not all. What pain pursues pleasure is about. That’s how you sought pleasure when you had pain in your life. For me, I started using alcohol. My sister had died of leukemia when I was 30 years old, and I was gradually using it more to deal with pain. So I’m wondering what you think. Are we kind of the, uh, oddballs out here? We went and sought some destructive ways to handle our pain, and we’re the only ones?
ZACH: No, everybody does the same thing we do to a, uh, greater or lesser degree, right? Seeking pleasure to avoid the pain that you feel, seeking pleasure to overcome the discomfort that you’re dealing with is a pretty normal situation. Some people do it with food, some people do it with drugs, some people do it with alcohol, some people do it with pornography, video games, um, shopping, social media, shopping. All of it. Right. And the reality is that to one, uh, degree or another, each of us interacts with our pain in sometimes unhealthy ways. And the question then becomes, okay, well, how do I actually deal with that? What is it that I can do instead of going to a self destructive behavior to deal with the pain that I’m experiencing?
DIANA: So we want to get to that, and we will get to that, but let’s just kind of start with the why. What’s going on in your experience, uh, what are we feeling, first of all, that makes us want to pursue something different, and why do we do it?
ZACH: So, that’s a really good question. The very first thing that you’re feeling usually when you begin the process of turning to some more pleasurable activity is discomfort in some way. I don’t know anyone out there who raises their hand and goes, I want to feel upset today, or I want to feel lonely or sad or tired or whatever it is. So the very first thing that you have to recognize is what you’re feeling. You have to see your feelings for what they are and recognize that they take you down a path that drives some long term, self destructive behavior. So, for instance, for me, loneliness was always a big start point. And you might call this a trigger, but it’s a start point of some sort where, now I’m lonely. How do I stop feeling lonely? Well, that takes me down the rabbit hole of scrolling social media or beginning to look at pornography in one way or another. And then you go through that process of doing the thing that feels good, but at the end, you still feel lonely because you haven’t gotten rid of the loneliness per se. You’ve really just avoided it, uh, for a temporary period of time. And that’s really what becomes the problem, is that if you don’t go in and feel your feelings, if you don’t feel loneliness and just say, okay, this is what loneliness feels like, and experience that feeling to its fullest, you end up extending the life of that feeling. Because rather than feel it and then move past it, you feel it a little bit, and then you avoid it, and then it comes back after you’re done with your avoidance behavior.
DIANA: I did experience that, too, because, like I said, I had been drinking to avoid pain before my sister died. I just did it a lot better after she died. And I was angry at God, and I was feeling the pain of grief and being perpetually angry and perpetually trying to hold back. Grief was excruciating. So my only escape was alcohol. And by the time I was ready to deal with it was two and a half years later.
DIANA: But like you said, it just stayed there. I didn’t deal with any of the anger at God. I didn’t deal with any of the grief. It was all just festering there while I dumped alcohol on it to hope it would go away.
ZACH: Yeah, you dump the alcohol on it, you light it on fire, and it still doesn’t burn up. It’s just there.
DIANA: Yeah. So I had to decide to feel this sounds not very hopeful, but it was completely hopeful. I had to decide to feel uncomfortable. I had to decide to feel pain of, ah, being angry at God first, and then underneath that, deal with the pain of losing my sister in order to come out of it on the other side and not feel desperate to drown it out with some sort of pleasure, like you said. For other people, it could be social media or food.
ZACH: Um, food is probably bigger ones. This is one of my favorite things to tell my clients. They pay me a lot of money to teach them how to be uncomfortable.
DIANA: Yeah. Right.
We’re not supposed to tell them that nobody wants to get coaching when we tell them it’s going to feel terrible.
ZACH: But you know, what the the difference there is, and and this leads to the conversation about, okay, well, how much of your life do you get to feel great? And generally speaking, we call it 50 50, which basically means if you’re going to feel joy, you’re going to feel sorrow. If you’re going to feel, um, love, you’re going to feel upset. Right. Like, all of those things, they have their opposite. And essentially about half the time, you get to feel one or the other. And when you learn to properly feel bad, which means not avoid your bad feelings, uh, like I did with pornography, like you did with alcohol. When you learn to actually deal with whatever bad feelings you’re actually having, then the times that you get to feel good, they’re so much more valuable, they’re more vibrant, they’re more vivid, and you get to really feel those as well. Because when you suppress upset, it’s hard to feel and fully acknowledge love in your life. Or, uh, when you avoid feeling sorrow, it’s hard to truly feel joy and have that expand in your life. And so the process that we take people through, although we do teach them to feel uncomfortable, actually creates a great deal more space for the love and the joy and the good feelings that they want in their lives.
DIANA: Some people might be asking, I love that explanation you just gave, and it’s brilliant. We’re going to get to the solution. But what really is the problem? What’s the big deal if I have a drink when I’m feeling pain? What’s the big deal if I go spend $100 at Target? What’s the big deal if I eat the rest of the Oreos? Why does that matter?
ZACH: That’s a really important question. Because I advertise on Facebook, and it’s always interesting to me. Some of the comments that I get, like, I can’t believe that you I’m like, wait a minute, if you don’t want to stop this, I’m not here to judge you and tell you, don’t do it. I’m here to just help you. If you do want to stop it, that’s all I worry about. Uh, and that’s hard to convey that in a Facebook ad. But the truth is that if this behavior is serving you, then there isn’t a big deal. But if the behavior stops serving you, for instance, if you’re using pornography to a point where it’s damaging your relationships with your family, you have to decide, uh, which one is more important and how do I then choose the thing that’s more important? Or if you’re drinking to excess or drinking to a point where it’s damaging the person that you want to be, it doesn’t help you become the person that you want to choose to be. Well, then you have to decide, okay, do I want to continue to choose this behavior, or do I want to adjust what I’m doing? Food is another one. If you eat, uh, an entire box of Oreos, there’s very little consequence other than you might gain a pound or two, right? But if gaining a pound or two or, uh, burying your feelings in a box of double stuffed Oreos is not really who you want to be, then you can ask yourself the questions of, well, what can I do differently to become better at being me, better at being the person I see myself as?
DIANA: Yeah, I love that. And double stuffed Oreos comes up a lot when I coach people and in my Facebook lives and all that kind of stuff. Because when the kids are going to be home for school for a month because of the coronavirus, I bought myself a bag of double stuffed Oreos.
I admit it. Yeah, they’ll live on a shelf forever, but they didn’t last that long, right? So I don’t condemn myself when I have a couple of double stuffed Oreo because I’m doing it and enjoying it, and I am handling my pain a little bit with it when I have a few. But I’m not doing it instead of handling my pain, I’m doing it for a moment. And I’m not saying pornography is okay or alcohol is okay, or drugs okay, but we do something. We decide to watch a Netflix show or two or eat a couple of Oreos for a moment to give ourselves a breather. But then I process what’s going on. Then I get out my pen and paper, and I start dumping all the thoughts that are in my brain that are creating my feelings of discomfort, and then I decide to do something different.
ZACH: Yeah, well, and here’s the difference, right? So the idea of, well, this isn’t really who I want to be. It’s what you make that mean, that carries into the next phase, right? So if I eat my double stuffed Oreos and all of a sudden, I’m like, no, that’s not really who I want to be, I’m going to make different choices going forward. That is a process of guilt and change. I’m not that guy. I’m going to change who I’m going forward. But if you take that double stuffed Oreo and you go, I can’t believe I’m such a terrible person because I eat so many Oreos, you’re creating shame, which is, again, it’s creating additional negativity. And when you create that additional negativity, you’re driving that 50 50 more in the negative space than you are in the positive space. And shame never really drives good behavior. Whenever I talk about shame with my clients, I’m talking about essentially a doubling down on that negative behavior. When you take that shame and you actually drive the behavior deeper and more ingrained because you’re feeling like, not this is a bad behavior, but I am a bad person. And that’s where you start to lose yourself because you don’t want to feel like you’re a bad person. Nobody does.
DIANA: Uh, that’s when people feel a lot of my clients use the word stuck. They feel stuck because they get in that loop. And we think that if we just do something to relieve our pain, that things are going to get better. But we’re actually like, driving a stake lower, deeper in every time. We’re not handling pain in a healthy way, but we’re trying to bury it instead.
ZACH: Absolutely. And shame is a huge component there.
DIANA: Okay? So if people are using some of these some people call them vices or ways to escape pain from a place of wanting to grow, wanting to improve their life as they know it, uh, wanting to take a step forward in the right direction, away from mishandling some of this pain. What’s the first step?
ZACH: So I always give this analogy. This is one of my favorite. If you’re familiar with David Attenborough, uh, you know his work from the BBC. But if you’re not familiar with who he is, you’ll know who he is. When I describe him, if you’ve ever seen, there’s a video of an iguana that escapes these snakes. Have you seen this?
DIANA: I haven’t. ZACH: It is extraordinary. DIANA: I’m going to look it up now.
ZACH: Oh, you should. So there’s an iguana, and he’s in this it looks like a gravel pit. And he’s sitting there very, very still. And all of a sudden, these snakes start coming out of the woodwork, and they start to flick around and check him out. And all of a sudden, he takes off, and he’s running at breakneck speed. And David Attenborough, who is the narrator of this BBC film, he’s not saying a thing. And actually, he narrates a couple of things. It’s very calm, though. He’s like, snakes can smell with their tongues. And I don’t remember all the dialogue, but he’s not, like, freaking out as this iguanas takes off. And at one point, he’s grabbed, um, by a snake and then wrapped up in a ball of, like, three or four snakes and escapes. David Attenborough says nothing. He’s just, like, just sits back, very calm. And the iguana is, like, scaling this sheer wall, the sheer rock wall. It is an amazing if you haven’t seen this, you’ve got to see it. But at the very end, David Attenborough says, another miraculous escape in that same tone, in that same just even keeled perspective. And what I tell my clients is, you got to be David Attenborough. You got to watch what’s happening in your brain. So you got to be able to take a step back from your brain and stop judging it for a second and stop judging your behavior and view what’s going on in your head. So that thought, I’m, um, a bad person for eating these cookies or looking at porn or over drinking, all of that you take a step back from and you start to narrate this from a very non judgmental space and you go, oh, I just drank this drink, or I looked at porn. Why am I doing that? What’s the value in that? And what am I saying to myself because of that? And stepping back and being David Attenborough gives you a new perspective on the whole thing, rather than judging yourself and beating yourself up and talking down to yourself and going, I can’t believe you did this. I can’t believe all the things that we say to ourselves just be like, wow, that’s happening right there, right now.
DIANA: I love that. I try to encourage my clients to do that all the time. Just take a step out and see what’s going on in your brain. Because the thoughts in our brain is like that pit of snakes, just like, creeping around, trying to grab hold of us and take control. And they don’t need to, but we also condemn ourselves. Like, I shouldn’t have had that thought, or I shouldn’t have had that cookie, or I shouldn’t have had that drink, or I shouldn’t have looked at that website. Like, Well, I did. And when we do take a step out, we can be like David Attenborough, another miraculous escape.
ZACH: Right? And the thought, Well, I did is not an excuse. So this is one thing where, uh, sometimes people hear me and they go, well, you’re just saying that this behavior is okay. No, I’m not saying this behavior is okay. What I’m saying is acknowledging a behavior is different than beating yourself up for a behavior.
ZACH: And acknowledging it and then helping yourself figure out and clue into what are the changes that I might make. Being a scientist, uh, with your own brain, how is this affecting me? How could I do it differently? Why would I do it differently? Why would I want to do it differently? Rather than going, you’re a bad person, you shouldn’t be allowed in society, which is what our brains kind of tell us.
DIANA: Mhm, yeah. And awareness seems to be the biggest key for most of my clients and all my life, uh, coaching friends. I know that you say the same thing with your clients, that once you can step back and see what’s happening and be aware and allow yourself to watch what’s going on in your brain and how you think and what you might do from the thoughts you’re having or how you might feel from the thoughts you’re having. That all that awareness builds up your ability then, to choose. Uh, you and I talk about agency and free will all the time, and I think we all think we have free will in what we do. We can go rob a bank or not rob a bank. We can put on blue pants or put on red pants. We have free will, but we think about it in terms of action so often when we can back it up and take a look at our thoughts and we have free will in which thoughts we want to ruminate. On or meditate on or play with or entertain and which thoughts we want to look at, like observing them like you would on a BBC channel and then choose with free will. I do want to think that. Or I don’t want to think that that’s useful, that’s not useful. And we get so much leverage in that awareness piece that I don’t think we realize it. So I love that advice of just really starting with that yeah.
ZACH: And taking back your free will, taking it back into your higher brain and saying, I’m going to actually make conscious decisions about what I’m going to think and how I’m going to act. We build habits. Pornography, uh, is a really easy habit to build because it hits three of the main components that our lower brain thrives on. Right. It’s very low energy, so it conserves energy. It’s very pleasurable. Right. So seek pleasure and then, uh, avoid pain. When you’re feeling arousal, you can’t actually feel pain. And so the idea that you can create a habit out of almost anything is really important. And knowing that these highly pleasurable activities that help us avoid whatever bad feelings we’re dealing with are there, and we create habits with them very quickly. Understanding that is vital in terms of being able to remove them from your life. And once you begin that process of removing them from your life, you’re going to have to make a lot more decisions. It’s going to take more brain power. And once you create that process within your brain, it’ll eventually go back to a habit. Like, you don’t drink anymore, right?
DIANA: I don’t. Not for many years.
ZACH: Right. And in the beginning, did you ever walk by a bar or the liquor cabinet or whatever and be like, oh, I could try that, but I’m not going to?
DIANA: Yes. Uh, I still do. ZACH: Okay. Is it easier now than it was? DIANA: Yes. But I always know it’s a choice. I think in the beginning, for me, I white knuckled it. I’m like, I can’t drink anymore. It’s ruining my life. I can’t. And for me, I really felt like I had a lot of power from the Holy Spirit in asking for him to empower me to do it, because I didn’t feel like I could do it on my own, but it still was me. Like white knuckling it a lot. Like I can’t drink. I can’t drink. I can never drink again. But it felt a lot freer when I finally decided I could drink, I could pick up that drink. I don’t want to. I’m choosing not to.
ZACH: Right. And eventually, I think, for most people, you can get to a place where it’s not consciously making that decision all the time. It’s a habit that is now who you are rather than who you have to fight to be.
DIANA: Yeah, for the most part, it’s a habit for me, and then sometimes I am like, well, I could do that. Does that still happen for you, too?
ZACH: Oh, totally, yeah. But it’s no longer that fight. It’s no longer like brass knuckles down in the pit. Like, I have, uh, to get away from this. It’s more like, oh, yeah, I remember what that was like, and that’s not who I want to be.
DIANA: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing all that with us. We could probably go on for hours about this, and there are additional steps beyond this, but I think leaving it as the awareness and understanding we’ve covered a lot today is a good place to leave it. Some people are going to listen to this episode, and it’s going to give them just what they need for the next step in their own life about going to the next level or altering some of their thoughts or conquering something they’ve wanted to conquer. But some people are going to need some additional help. So I definitely want to let people know how to find you. I especially recommend Zach for men. I do coach some men, but I coach mostly women. So men who are looking for a life coach or people struggling with addiction or addictive tendencies or specifically with some sort of pleasure they’re seeking, that they want to gain some control over that in their life. So, Zach, how do people find you?
ZACH So you can check me out at, uh, Zackspafford.com. That’s Z-A-C-H-S-P-A-F-F-O-R-D. So, Zackspafford.com. Or you can listen to my podcast, the Self Mastery podcast. Those are both available. And then if you’re looking for me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, it’s Self Mastery, Coach.
DIANA: Awesome. Great. I recommend his podcast to you all. I listen to that. His wife gets on some episodes with him. Darcy, she’s a friend of mine. She’s pretty, smart, smarter than she knows.
ZACH: You coach Darcy, and she loves it.
DIANA: Awesome. Um, I’m so glad to be there for you guys and love how we can support each other in our coaching journeys. So thank you so much, Zach, for joining me today. And anyone who wants to get in touch with me or get a hold of my resources, go to Rympodcast.com and sign up. We’ll be in touch. That’s it for this week, y’all. We’ll talk to you next week. Take care.
As an advanced certified life coach, I help Christian women trying to live their best lives, but they still feel unsatisfied and stuck. I teach thought management skills that work so you can enjoy life again and step into who God has created you to be. Don’t forget to head on over to Rympodcast.com, to get my free resource sources or a free coaching call.