#2. Convince Yourself the Pain is Helping
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We don't want to fall into some "power of positive thinking" bullshit here, but the truth is that the body really does register two different types of pain. The soreness of an infection or nasty bruise doesn't register the same way as the soreness of a workout -- the latter is, after all, beneficial. And your brain registers "good" pain differently. So your ability to withstand pain is directly related to the meaning you assign to said pain. Pain resulting from recovering after a surgery, for example, somehow seems less bad than the pain that led up to requiring said surgery in the first place.
To prove this, researchers conducted a series of tests in which they induced pain by restricting the supply of blood to the arms of two sets of volunteers. In order to earn their cookie (we assume), each volunteer had to try to tolerate the pain for as long as they possibly could, which averaged around 14 minutes. The first group was erroneously led to believe the experiment would have a detrimental effect to their arm, while the second group was told that the procedure would be beneficial by strengthening their arm muscles, and also that the greater their pain, the greater the benefit they would obtain from the procedure.
"OK, now the procedure involves us punching you in the face a whole bunch. Ready?"
At the end of the tests, researchers found that the pain tolerance of the second group was significantly higher than that of the first. So then they did it again. And again. And again. And even after four rounds of tests, the pain tolerances of the second group did nothing but increase -- simply because the participants in that group believed with all their hearts that they would lopsidedly walk out of the sessions with one massive Schwarzenegger-arm.
Obviously the people in the study had the advantage of someone else lying to them, and for you to make it work you need to come up with an effective way to lie to yourself ("Slicing my finger off has taught me a valuable lesson about knife safety that will benefit me in the future!") but honestly, lying to yourself is a valuable skill that everyone should have anyway.
"You're not a racist. You're not a racist. You're not a racist."
#1. Look at a Picture of Something Horrible
Imagine yourself in the dentist's chair. The stabbing, the bleeding, the nails-on-chalkboard sound that's echoing against the inside of your skull and is coming from your own freaking teeth. Now, wrench your head a little to the left. That's it. What do you see there, on the walls? A framed photo of flowers. A cityscape at night time, perhaps. Maybe a wacky cartoon, or a picture of a puppy intended to pacify the younger patients. The point being, clearly the dentist has tried to decorate the room with calming pictures intended to distract you from the fact that Satan is currently tap dancing on your pearly whites.
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"Just look at the kittens, you whiny fuck."
Does it work? Yes, sort of. But you know what would work even better? Torture pics.
Scientists conducted experiments in which they had volunteers look at a collection of photographic slides ranging from pleasant to neutral to unpleasant while they simultaneously induced pain by subjecting the volunteers to cold pressor tests (a common pain tolerance test that involves shoving your hand into a basin full of extremely cold water and seeing how long you can hold it there). What they found was that the volunteers who viewed the unpleasant images were able to tolerate the pain significantly better than their counterparts who viewed the pleasant or neutral images. Basically, the shock value of the unpleasant slides reduced the participants' perceived pain.
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"Your insurance won't cover painkillers, so I'm gonna pop Shoah into the DVD player."
Look, if you're going to try to give somebody something to distract them from the pain, then you need to distract them. Looking at a calming Norman Rockwell painting of a puppy snoozing in a basket isn't going to distract you from shit. But a picture you find alarming or disturbing demands your attention. So rather than grabbing the most uplifting posters he can find in the clearance bin at the local Wal-Mart, your dentist or physical therapist would actually serve you better by visiting the bargain DVD bin and playing Saw on an infinite loop instead.
For more solutions better than aspirin, check out 6 Random Things (Other Than Drugs) That Reduce Pain. Or discover 5 Ways to Trick Your Body Into Being More Awesome.
Speaking of hacking your brain, check out this video from this article's sponsor, Virgin Mobile.