How Can "No Pain No Gain" Can Help You in Life

Bill Abbate

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Everyone is familiar with the 80s fitness mantra "no pain, no gain," but did you know the saying itself dates back long before the 1980s. It has been around for millennia in one form or another. And it still means the same thing – to gain, you must endure pain. Unlike in the 80s, when the phrase pertained primarily to exercise, it has a much broader application and is true for most of life.

Let's peek back in history to see if we can find where "no pain, no gain" started.

The origin of no pain, no gain

Nearly 300 years ago, in about 1734 AD, one of our founding fathers wrote:

"There are no gains without pains." Benjamin Franklin

Going back another 100 years, Robert Herrick, an English poet and cleric, wrote a two-line poem in 1650 AD:

"NO PAINS, NO GAINS.
If little labour, little are our gains:
Man's fate is according to his pains." Hesperides 752.

While the mythical nymphs of Hesperides are, well, mythical, the next stop is nearly 2000 years ago, in around 100 AD. One of the disciples of Christ recorded to endure is to suffer pain, and to reign is to gain:

"If we endure hardship, we will reign with him." 2 Timothy 2:12a NLT

As you see, the saying easily traces back two millennia. Like many wise old sayings, it is old and wise. Very old, in fact. There is little new that is said that has not been said before, as is true with all such sage advice. Solomon's words, recorded in scripture nearly three millennia ago, state:

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV

Solomon was right, and you can bet someone said something to the effect of "no pain, no gain" even before he was born.

There really is nothing new under the sun. The longer you live on this earth, the more real Solomons words become. You too, will come to see you must often sacrifice something (the pain) to gain something else.

Such is life. But not all pain is bad, and much of it benefits us.

"Great things never came from comfort zones." Neil Strauss

The good lessons of pain

Without lessons from the pains of growing up, we would never mature. Sadly, it is little wonder some people mature slowly. When a child or an adult is too sheltered and pampered (spoiled) and not allowed to experience the world's normal pains, they can suffer more in life than if they had grown through the pain.

"We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change." Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend

There are pains when proper boundaries are set early in life and through adulthood. If you go outside the limits, you experience pain. If you lack boundaries, you will suffer pain as well. You can't touch the hot burner on the stove, and you should never take candy from a stranger are two such boundaries. You should not talk back, and you should mind your manners are others often repeated. Oh, and don't lose your temper applies to everyone, young or old.

There are hundreds of stated and unstated boundaries in life meant to keep us from experiencing unnecessary pain, yet we often test the limits anyway. For some of us, it is the only way to learn!

Another pain common to modern mankind is getting a proper education. You have to study hard, sweat the exams, and endure until you graduate. True, some of you may have found it a breeze and made straight A's, but most of us did not, I assure you! Some even suffered physical or psychological pain when making poor grades.

"There is no education like adversity." Benjamin Disraeli

Then there are the pains of working, which can be both pleasant and challenging at the same time, although it tends to alternate between the two. Was it not for the challenging times on the job, how would we grow?

The only job I could find when I left the military near the end of the Vietnam War was as a laborer. I went through some real pain, going back to college at night while working 60 to 70+ hour weeks. I had plenty of pain back then, but it paid off as I advanced through the ranks. Were it not for the pain, I would have never reached the higher positions I did during my career.

How about the pain of childbearing? Without our mothers suffering through it, we wouldn't be here, and neither would our children!

Looking back, it appears practically all of the good things in our lives come from going through difficulty. If we only knew some of what we know now, how the difficult times were to teach us, grow us, and mature us.

Being a little older than most of you reading this, I can look back and see the many things I gained through a great deal of pain. One day you will too, and if you think about it, regardless of your age, you can see it even now.

Final words

What are you going through now that is difficult? Ask yourself, "What is life trying to teach me?" Or "What can I learn from what I am going through?"

There is an extremely good likelihood you will come out the other side of the difficulty with more wisdom and knowledge, stronger, more mature, and as a better person.

Keep in mind a lesson I learned during my youth:

"You don't lose unless you give in or give up."

The only way a difficulty can overcome you is if or when you give in or give up. Look at what the difficulties have brought you thus far in life. Why did they bring good things to you? Because you persevered. You never gave in or gave up!

So press on. Keep your chin up, and keep in mind the difficulties in life can be for your good. Hang in there. Never give in or give up when you know you can learn something, grow stronger, mature, and come out a better person on the other side. It'll be worth it, believe me!

I leave you with encouragement from an ancient philosopher that is as valid today as it was more than 2000 years ago:

"New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings." Lao Tzu

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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