Updated: Jul 25
If you’ve ever been in a clinic or hospital before, you are probably familiar with the pain scale. Usually a nurse or doctor is asking if you can rate your pain on a numeric scale from zero to ten, with zero being no pain at all and ten being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.
Because pain is a subjective sensation and can’t be measured objectively, the pain scale is a tool that’s meant to help communicate how much you are suffering. This is not easy, but after a few tries even a child can learn how many fingers to hold up to show how much it hurts. The smiley or frowny face graphics help too.
Apart from facilitating communication, the pain scale teaches our brains to compare this pain with other painful experiences and to put a number on it. Turns out that this skill of being able to go within to assess what is happening in our bodies is a uniquely human attribute. In other words, we are not just experiencing the pain, but we are also seeing ourselves experiencing that pain and judging how bad it is.
And a collateral benefit is that when we begin to analyze a sensation, it actually becomes a bit more manageable. We are not just caught up in experiencing the suffering, but we are being curious about it. That curiosity actually creates some distance from the physical sensation and gets us out of our emotional experience into a thinking experience.
Once we have the skill of tapping into how our bodies are feeling, we can begin to do this with other subjective sensations like hunger or energy level. When you can put a number on that sensation, you are giving yourself a tool to gauge and track your progress when you begin to make changes in your habits.
Tracking my progress helped me maintain incremental changes that allowed me to create the results I wanted for myself
For example, you may decide that you want to go to bed 30 minutes earlier or drink one less glass of wine per night for a week, to see how your energy level is the next day. You will make it easier for yourself to deciding if your new habit if helping or not by noting down a number and tracking it for yourself over time.
Don’t worry - there is no way to do this wrong. It is subjective after all, but as long as you can describe it to yourself, that’s good enough.
When I was still stuck in the diet mentality, I would often feel like I had to decide once and for all that things needed to change, and so I would push myself to go to the gym for an hour every day, cut out all sugar and carbs, and stop snacking at all.
But somehow I was never able to sustain the kind of discipline needed to keep it up for long, so I’d always end up disappointing myself and beating myself up in a painful and endless cycle of misery.
In his best-selling book Atomic Habits, James Clear describes how tiny changes are not only easier for us to make, but they can build into much more sustainable and powerful results. I definitely found that tracking my progress helped me maintain incremental changes that allowed me to create the results I wanted for myself.