Did you ever have a goal that you didn’t achieve? A plan that you didn’t execute? A bad habit that you couldn’t break out of? Did you ever wonder why it is so difficult to do these things, even though you consciously want to? The answer lies in the emotional leverage that you create for yourself!

Emotional leverage is a powerful concept that can help you increase your willpower, achieve your goals, create more discipline and be more assertive in the way you execute your plans.

What is emotional leverage?

Originally formulated by Tony Robbins, emotional leverage is based on the the idea that the two main driving forces in every human are the desire to avoid pain and the desire to gain pleasure. This is what determines our actions. Whatever we do is either an attempt to reduce pain or to increase the pleasure that we experience. Emotional leverage utilises this by setting up goals in a way that it becomes pleasurable to go after them and extremely painful not to. As Tony Robbins puts it:

To access leverage, you must help someone associate massive PAIN to not changing NOW, and massive PLEASURE to changing immediately. The motivation is based on both pain AND pleasure.

What most people’s plans fail

Most people don’t follow this way of goal-setting. Instead, they do the exact opposite: for most people it is far more pleasurable to stay in their comfort zone and keep their habits. Making a change on the other hand is considered painful. This way, even if they have good intentions, most people are bound to fail. There is no way a person can achieve an ambitious goal without first having a clear sense of how exactly that will benefit him (either reducing pain or increasing pleasure).

As human beings might be able to formulate conscious, rational long-term plans. But once we are faced with concrete decisions, we weigh the pain and pleasure associated with them and choose the option that is most beneficial to us. And if you then haven’t created enough emotional leverage for yourself, all your plans go out the window.

How to create emotional leverage

To create emotional leverage, the potential pain of continuing what you’re doing has to outweigh the very real pain of making a change. You have to visualise in detail the negative effects that not making a change will have on your life. How will that affect you? How will it affect your family and friends? How will it affect your work? Write it down. Keep that list with you. Whenever faced with a decision, remind yourself of the negative consequences (aka the pain) of not following your goal.

Furthermore, make sure that making the wrong decisions becomes associated with immediate pain as well. You could for example ask friends or family to “punish” you if you slack off. On the other hand, they can reward you and that way create pleasure when you are doing great.

Try to have both a long-term and a short-term system in place that reduces your pain AND increases your pleasure in case you change. If you do that, change is inevitable.

emotional leverage

A real-life example

So let’s say you want to go jogging three times a week. But you are having a hard time doing so, since it is more tempting to just stay home on your couch instead. You don’t want to go outside, especially in the winter, when it is cold and wet and dark. Yes, you know it is healthy and good for you in the long run, but right now you are also healthy, even with a few pounds extra. In this scenario, running clearly brings more pain (physical exercise) and reduces pleasure (horrible weather) compared to just staying in and watching TV. Therefore, there is no way the habit of jogging regularly will be implemented.

This can be changed though with a bit of emotional leveraging. Tell your girlfriend she should make fun of your weight whenever you are being a lazy couch potato. Sign up for a 10k run three months from now, and, to further increase the leverage, already invite your friends to come and see you run there. Give your parents a 100 bucks and tell them to donate it to a politician that you absolutely hate in case you don’t run regularly. The possibilities are endless, but they all have one thing in common: they increase the pain and reduce the pleasure of not taking action!


Emotional leverage can be a powerful tool on your way to achieving your goals. If used correctly, it facilitates the entire process of breaking out of your habits and making a positive change. Suddenly, you don’t have to use your willpower anymore because taking action becomes a no-brainer. Emotional leverage can turn something that you previously had to force yourself to do into a pleasurable experience.


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