#SPYHACK: Mastering Pain Tolerance

Greetings Everyday Spy,

Welcome to your newest #SpyHACK!

Pain is something all living creatures have in common.

One of the most interesting things about traveling the world is seeing how humans interact with stray animals.

  • In Thailand, Buddhist culture gives stray animals total freedom of movement. Cars, motorcycles and pedestrians give animals right-of-way on streets, sidewalks and park benches.
  • In Panama, stray animals live together in large packs, like street gangs. At any moment you might find yourself face-to-face with a mangy mass of cats, dogs, ferrets or snakes.
  • In China, you don’t see stray animals. You eat them instead.

I consider myself an animal moderate. 

That means I treat my pets like part of the family, but I don’t think animals should have their own social media accounts. 

When I meet a well-behaved house pet, I give smiles and treats. 

When I see a stray animal, I call the humane society.

On Christmas Eve in 2010, my wife and I were in southern Florida driving from one family dinner to another. 

Just after dusk, we saw a stray dog run into the street and get hit by a passing car. 

My instinct was to reach for my phone. 

My wife’s instinct was to run to the wounded dog.

To anyone out there reading this and cussing at my wife under their breath, thank you! I was cussing, too!

The text-book answer to dealing with a wounded, unknown animal is always ‘keep your distance.’ Injured animals are unpredictable and may attack in an effort to protect themselves. Rabies, tapeworms, and fleas can quickly spread to humans after physical contact with an infected animal.

Unfortunately, my wife did not agree with me… 

     I saw a stray dog that needed professional help. 

     She saw an innocent animal that needed our help.

She sat next to the animal and immediately inspected the damage. 

She found a severe break in the animal’s right hind-leg. 

She found abdominal swelling and bleeding from the ears and mouth.

The animal had a quiet, steady whimper that came with every breath. 

It was clearly in pain. 

Its eyes were fearful and sad. Its whole body was limp.There was a small rhythmic twitch in its broken leg.

The animal was dying.

After trying to call two different animal units in the area, my wife told me to put down the phone. 

It was Christmas Eve and nobody was going to answer. 

She wanted me to focus on soothing the dog before it passed away. 

So I did.

The dog died in my wife’s arms while I stroked its ears.

A passing police officer saw us and pulled over. We told him the story and he took the animal’s body away.

When we got to Christmas dinner, we cleaned up and put on smiles… but we didn’t eat much.

The sadness was still too fresh…

There are two main categories of physical pain: chronic pain and acute pain.

     Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks.

  • 50 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain right now.
  • 11 million Australian citizens live with chronic pain every year.
  • 169 million Indian citizens live and work in chronic pain every day.

     Acute pain is pain that lasts less than 12 weeks.

  • 76.5 million people worldwide experience acute pain on any given day.
  • 12% of acute pain is classified as ‘severe’ – causing intense suffering and distress.
  • 14% of people suffer acute pain in the final moments before their death.

Some people turn to artificial painkillers to rescue them from pain.

  • 70% of people take more than the maximum amount of over-the-counter painkillers.
  • 123,000 Americans are hospitalized each year for complications related to over-the-counter painkillers; 16,000 of these patients die in the hospital. 
  • Deaths related to the prescription painkiller Codeine more than doubled in Australia between 2000-2009. 
  • Deaths related to illegal use of the synthetic painkiller Fentanyl increased by 46% in the United States between from 2015-2019.

Others believe natural painkillers are better.

  • Essential oils like lavender, rosemary, and peppermint have been proven to dampen pain by reducing physical tension and muscle inflammation.
  • Consuming 2 grams of ginger root daily (raw, in tea, or as a spice) has been shown to reduce pain by encouraging muscular healing.
  • Old timers and athletes still swear by rotating ice and heat; ice to reduce pain and swelling, heat to encourage blood flow. 

While pain may appear to come from the body, it actually resides in the mind.

Drugs, herbs, and cold packs do not reduce pain. 

Instead, they temporarily block the brain’s ability to receive electrical signals from pain receptors. That is why pain always comes back after the treatment wears off.

In the field, operators learn to master their pain tolerance instead of relying on medical aids. 

We do not want to dampen our body’s natural functions. We want to make our body function as efficiently as possible. 

Especially when our body is processing pain.


This is how your body processes pain:

     Traffic Flow

The human body has 90,000 miles of interconnected nerve fibers. The spine is the nerve superhighway, the largest and fastest conduit for nerves to send messages to the brain. 

The further away from the spine you get, the smaller and thinner the nerves get. It’s not that different from a road-map where interstates turn to highways, highways turn to roads, and roads turn to streets.

Just like streets and interstates, the size of the nerve fiber impacts both the speed and volume of traffic that reaches the spinal cord. Large nerve fibers (called A-delta fibers) carry signals quickly to the brain, resulting in sharp pain. Small nerve fibers (called C fibers) are much slower, resulting in dull, throbbing pain.

     Toll Gates

Before a nerve ending is allowed to pass a pain signal to the spine, it must go through a neural gateway. This gateway is controlled by the central nervous system. Just like city traffic is directed and prioritized by a traffic computer, the central nervous system does the same for nerves carrying pain signals.

When there are no other sensations in the body, pain travels quickly through the toll gate. But when there are many sensations in the body, pain may actually be denied access to the spine.

No access to the spine means no pain signal to the brain… no pain at all.

     Central Station

The final destination for all incoming sensory signals is a part of the brain called the ‘primary somatosensory cortex.’ When pain arrives in this cortex, a few different things can happen.

  • Emotions can amplify the pain signal and increase the pain’s intensity.
  • Cognitive reasoning can engage the pain signal can reduce its intensity.
  • Mental resources can be diverted away from the cortex, neutralizing the pain.

There is a proven correlation between emotion and pain levels. The more you are afraid, sad, or intimidated, the greater you will experience pain. But if you are distracted, uninterested, or even excited for the pain, the less intense it will be. 

You’ve seen the primary somatosensory cortex at work in your everyday life:

  • Shots always hurt more when you get scared of the thick needle. 
  • Itches always feel best when just after you scratch your skin open.
  • We laugh so hard it hurts afterwards.
  • We enjoy sex that ‘hurts so good.’

You can use your nerve road-map to master your pain tolerance.

First, you have to understand the difference between ‘pain tolerance’ and ‘pain threshold.’ 

The two terms are often mistaken for each other, but they are in fact very different.

  • Pain tolerance is the amount of pain you can physically endure before seeking intervention (drugs, physical relief, passing-out, etc.).   
  • Pain threshold is the point at which a physical sensation becomes painful. Everyone feels sensations differently, but we all have a threshold where a sensation becomes painful.


MASTER TIP #1: Cognitive reasoning will boost your pain threshold.

You already know that fire is hot and ice is cold – it is a cognitively reasoned fact. That is why you can reach into a fridge and pull out a cold beer without feeling any pain. But when someone puts a cold can to your back, your body startles because your cortex reacts to the sensation as pain.

Whether your pain comes from an old injury or a dental cleaning, you can immediately reduce the pain by recognizing and recalling previous experience with the sensation. This works whether the pain is a constant body ache or the unique feeling of a dental pick scraping your gums.


MASTER TIP #2: Cognitive focus will boost your pain tolerance.

All pain must travel on highways and through toll gates to reach the brain. The more traffic on the highway, the more difficult it is for the pain to get through the toll gates and reach Central Station.

Cognitive focus is the way you make more traffic.

There are two types of focus you can use to master pain tolerance:

  • Active focus requires you to deliberately quiet your mind and focus on an object, sound, or mental image.
  • Reactive focus requires you to overwhelm your senses with noise, images, and physical sensations.

In both cases, you pain tolerance will increase because your central nervous system will be forced to prioritize pain signals against competing sensory signals. 

Women who give birth without painkillers use active and reactive focus to manage their pain. It is a powerful tool.


(Let me be the first person to say this to you…)



     The PIN Test

Step 1: Find a sharp sewing needle or a safety pin

Step 2: Touch the point of the pin gently to your finger tip

     (You can feel it is sharp, but it does not hurt. This is the difference between physical sensation and physical pain.)

Step 3: Press the pin into your fingertip with steady, increasing pressure – stop as soon as you feel pain

     (This is your pain threshold. The same sensation, applied with greater intensity, ultimately becomes painful.)

Step 4: Rub your fingertip rapidly across a rough surface for 3-5 seconds – fabric, flooring, textured paper

Step 5: Press the pin again into your fingertip with steady, increasing pressure – stop as soon as you feel pain

     (The pain takes longer to register because you built up traffic in your nervous system by rubbing the rough surface)

Step 6: Repeat the PIN test on different fingers and discover your different thresholds and tolerances


     The AIR Test

Step 1: Prepare a stop-watch (on your phone, your computer, or your wrist watch)

Step 2: Hold your breath and start the watch

Step 3: Stop the watch when you release your breath

Step 4: Reset your watch and scroll down to the bottom of this article, below my ‘Author’ byline… read my special message there.

Step 5: Hold your breath again and start the watch

Step 6: Remember what you just read below my signature block and focus on it

Step 7: Stop the watch when you release your breath

Step 8: Write me at info@EverydaySpy.com and tell me how much longer you were able to tolerate the pain of holding your breath.


     The OPTION Test

Step 1: Fill a mixing bowl with ice and cold water 6-8 inches deep

Step 2: Prepare a stop-watch (on your phone, your computer, or your wrist watch)

Step 3: Submerge one hand/arm into the ice water and start the clock

Step 4: Stop the watch when you pull out your hand out of the water

Step 5: Dry off your hand/arm

Step 6: Turn on as many sensory distractions as possible: loud music, youtube videos, audio books, white noise, etc.

Step 7: Prepare your stop-watch

Step 8: Submerge your OPPOSITE hand into the ice water and start the clock

Step 9: Turn your mind to the different sensory distractions in the room with you

Step 10: Stop the watch when you pull your hand out of the water

Step 11: Write me at info@EverydaySpy.com and tell me how much longer you were able to tolerate the pain and which distraction captured most of your attention.


Whether you chose just to read this article or to actually test yourself, you are now in greater control of your pain than you were yesterday.

Use that knowledge.

  • Use it to reduce your own chronic or acute pain.
  • Use it to help your children when they skin their knee or stub their toe.
  • Use it to help people you know suffer from pain in their life.

Godspeed, #EverydaySpy

Author: Andrew Bustamante, Founder of www.EverydaySpy.com. Andrew is a former covert CIA Intelligence officer, decorated US Air Force Combat Veteran, and respected Fortune 500 senior advisor. Learn more from Andrew on his Podcast (The Everyday Espionage Podcast) and by following @EverydaySpy on your favorite social media platform.



Read this only after you complete Step 4 of The AIR Test above:

The tight feeling (of pain) you have in your chest after holding your breath is not a sign that you are lacking oxygen. It is actually the feeling of carbon dioxide building up. The average person will maintain full mental clarity and consciousness for anywhere from 1-3 minutes after feeling the first pains of carbon dioxide build-up. Now return to Step 5 of The AIR Test

1 Comment

  1. Nocturnal

    August 28, 2019 at 6:12 pm

    We won’t hurt you in discord…