Rip Off the Band-Aid!

by Brett & Kate McKay on December 4, 2011 · 55 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

When I was a kid and had a loose tooth, my intimidating grandmother would always ask me if I’d like to have it removed using her patented old school technique. This method involved tying one end of a string to the tooth, the other end to a doorknob, and then slamming the door shut, thus ripping out the tooth with one fell swoop.

As an eight-year-old I found this idea pretty terrifying. Actually, as an adult it still kind of gives me the heebie jeebies. But I understand her reasoning—instead of getting a little dull pain every day for a week from jiggling the tooth around, just get it over with and out of your mouth.

A sharp, momentary pain or a dull, protracted one. Even if you didn’t have a grandmother who wanted to tie a string to your tooth, you can probably identify with this choice when you think back to removing a band-aid from one of your appendages. You could simply rip the thing off, resulting in one big quick OW! Or you could keep lifting the corners a little bit at a time—ow, ow, ow, ow, ow…

Now which method of band-aid removal you favored as a kid won’t have a big effect on your life. But unfortunately, many men grow up to choose the dull, protracted pain approach in making more important life decisions. And taking that approach to life can have a major impact on their success, relationships, and ultimate happiness.

Why Choosing Less Pain Over the Long Term Instead of More Pain in the Short Term Is a Bad Idea

Why ruin a little bit of every day when you can just ruin a big chunk of one of them?

When there’s something that you need to take care of or do, it nags at your mind each day; it’s like constantly walking around with a pebble in your shoe. That nagging feeling plants itself in your cranium and clutters your thoughts, making you cranky, anxious, and depressed. By nature the brain does not like unfinished business and dangling threads…

As I talked about in my post about my battle with “shoulding” on myself, when the blog became so time-consuming that I knew I needed to quit my corporate job, I dragged my feet for awhile on turning in my resignation. My boss had really stuck his neck out in hiring me (his superiors had put a lot of pressure on him to choose an internal candidate), and I had only been on the job for seven months. I didn’t want to leave him in the lurch, and I felt like such a jerk for quitting. I wondered if he’d be upset when I told him, and thinking about having that conversation made me incredibly nervous—even sick to my stomach.

And so for weeks I held on to the great hope of all slow band-aid rippers—that something would happen so that I wouldn’t have to make the decision myself. Maybe I’ll be downsized! Maybe my boss will be promoted and I won’t have to tell him personally! Maybe a meteor will strike the earth and kill us all!

For weeks I couldn’t pull the trigger. And yet I thought about it every day, how I needed to make the decision, how I needed to get the ball rolling. It made me miserable. I was gloomy and short-tempered with those I love.

When I finally quit, my boss was very understanding; this thing that I had built up in my head turned out to be nothing at all. (And isn’t that so often the case?) I realized I had wasted a month of my life with worrying about it.

Nobody can be fully happy if they’re walking around feeling like there’s an axe hanging over their head. Sure, they can go about their day-to-day life, but they can’t fully relax and enjoy that life. They settle for mediocrity; each day isn’t a 3 or a 4 on the aliveness scale, but it isn’t a 9 or 10 either. When you choose to rip off the band aid, you have one day that’s maybe a  2, but then you’re free to enjoy 9 or 10 days from there on out.

It keeps you from progressing with your life.

How many of us know a guy who’s in a long-term relationship with a girl whom he doesn’t love and doesn’t see a future with, but who stays in the relationship anyway because he’s scared to have the break-up conversation with her? He thinks about ending it every day, but he can’t pull the trigger. He could be out dating and finding the love of his life, but instead he’s sitting on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy with a person he doesn’t really even like anymore.

A constant, dull pain can become such a regular part of our lives that it becomes like a comfortable companion. Getting rid of it can be scary.  But don’t let your annoying unfinished business fool you into thinking you guys are friends—sure you’re attached, but that attachment is as a ball and chain is to an ankle. It’s keeping you from moving on and finding greater success and happiness.

It turns a small problem into a large one.

Many men ignore a problem or a needed decision, hoping they’ll never have to fully deal with it. But in nearly every case, that procrastination only makes the situation much worse than before.

Two high profile news stories come to mind here.

When Steve Jobs was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it was at a stage where his chances of survival were very good. But he didn’t want to deal with the reality of his disease and didn’t like the idea of surgery and the “invasion of his body,” so he tried to cure the cancer with diet and alternative remedies. When he realized this approach wasn’t working, he threw all his money into the traditional methods. But the cancer had progressed to the point where it was too late. And the world lost a great visionary.

Case in point number two: the scandal at Penn State. Much ink has been spilt over this terrible situation. But one of the most important lessons we can glean from it was penned by David Brooks: “Pain now is better than pain deferred.”

Coach Paterno and the other university officials could have nipped Sandusky’s reign of terror in the bud by going to the police as the evidence emerged. But they were likely loathe to reveal a dark spot on a program that prided itself on its by the book reputation. So they swept it under the table. And now that the scandal has exploded, the fallout out is far worse than it would have been if they had dealt with the problem promptly. What would have been a blip of a story that got a lot of coverage at first and then went away, has now become a stain that will forever taint Penn State and JoePa’s legacy. Pain now is better than pain deferred.

These kinds of situations don’t just happen to high profile men either, obviously. I know a guy who had an affair, ended it without ever telling his wife, and then hoped to just go on with the marriage like nothing happened. But the wife always had her suspicions, and would ask him about it. And so when she finally discovered the truth years later, the fallout was much worse. She was most hurt to learn of the affair itself, of course, but what damaged the relationship even further was knowing that he had lied to her for years. While they’ve stayed together, this fact has made re-establishing trust even harder in an already difficult situation.

In all of these cases, the men delayed pain in the present, in the hope that they’d never have to deal with it fully down the road. It was a gamble, and yet in the case of Penn State and the philandering husband, even if they gambled and “won”—the secret never came out–they would have been deprived of a man’s most valuable possession—a free and clear conscience.

Bottom line: Whether literally or figuratively, left untreated, a cancer will grow and fester. As soon as you can, you need to wield the knife and cut it out.

If you really don’t want to be a lawyer, and would rather be a musician, then it’s better to tell your folks now, instead of after they plunk down $75k for three years of law school. Ditto for telling your fiancée you’ve changed your mind about getting hitched—tell her now, not on the wedding day. Pain now is better than pain deferred.

Rip Off the Band Aid!

Is there something you’ve been needing to do but have been too scared/nervous/lazy to do it? Something you’ve been putting off for awhile and it’s been weighing on your mind?

Maybe it’s some serious moral or ethical mistake that you need to confess to someone. Maybe you need to tell your annoying roommate that it’s time to move out. Maybe it’s just that huge stack of paperwork that’s been sitting on your desk for a month waiting to be filed away.

Whatever it is, now that you’ve reached the end of this post, I challenge you to rip off the band aid. And I mean right now. If you can’t take care of it in one fell swoop, then set the wheels in motion—send an email or pick up the phone and set up a meeting. Do something where there’s going to be no backing out and the die has been cast.

What helps give me a push when I’m scared to do something is to look at the clock. I say to myself: It’s 8:00 pm now. The next few hours are going to suck, but they’re a tiny fraction of my whole life. At 8:00 pm tomorrow, it will be finished and over with, and I’ll never have to think about making that decision again.

So go on, tie that tooth to the doorknob and take a big breath.

Take the pain like a man now, so you can live like a man later.



{ 55 comments… read them below or add one }

1 A. McGinn December 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I’ll admit that I have this problem and it’s severe. Specifically with relationships, and when it finally does come to ending it, it ends with so much drama and animosity that it puts a halt on everything in my life.

I think one of the best things about AoM is that we are all fully aware that ripping the bandaid off would be the best option but none of us can do it, yet when we see the solution in writing, it prompts us (or at least me) to take action. And because of that, AoM has made me a better man. Thank you.

2 Umar December 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Thank you for this, Brett. Great read.

3 Joey Espinosa December 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm

I tell my kids that a lot, like in the context of getting a flu shot. “A little bit of pain now is better than a lot later.”

Now, if only I was wise enough to follow my own advice. . . .

4 Kayleigh December 4, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Take it from a woman: We also prefer that you end it as soon as you realize you’re not in love, that way you’re not wasting OUR lives too! Great advice overall.

5 Caleb December 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm

This is exactly what I need to hear right now. Thank you so much.

6 Austin December 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Instantly shared this with a friend. Thanks for the affirmation.

7 RJ December 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm

You know. I have actually had a few occasions where my tooth was pulled with a Door Swing? I had not thought of that in ages. ( Shudder )
Nothing like being raised by pre depression area Grandparent. She went through it all and some .. and honestly was the better for it. I can’t say I can do the things she did.. but I am hoping I got a little of her no non sense Life style.

8 Michael wait December 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm

That was a very motivating article

9 Ian Miller December 4, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Great motivation.

10 Frank December 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Now, if only I could get my poor brother to twig onto the concept there. I’ve got it. I’m living it. (One nasty aspect of things is very likely to end on Jan 20th 2012…and then I’ll be fully free of the nightmare I stupidly signed up for…)

@Kayleigh: Yeah…the problem is, quite honestly, that many women have changed the rules in the equation and doing what you propose can inflict vast losses to the men. I know one thing…no more marriage for moi…as a friend pointed out, neither of us could tell a bunny from a rattler…and I’m soon to be rid of one. (The rattler, that is…)

11 Swizec December 4, 2011 at 10:26 pm

Another cool approach that works for me is that if I don’t get my act together and do something in a day or two, I simply forget about having to make the decision.

It doesn’t weigh on my mind and I guess it wasn’t that important anyway … until a month, two months later it pops in my mind again and has that one or two day window of opportunity.

12 Robert December 4, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Great advice. Although sometimes the pain can be prolonged regardless of how fast you act. I was working in a job that I hated, read long hours, poor working conditions and just bad morale at that particular location. After seeing what the schedule the next week was shaping up to look like, I said enough and fired off my 2 week notice while there. It was an excellent feeling doing the deed, and I don’t regret it one bit. However it also left me eating through my savings, since I didn’t have any job offers or even prospects. I did end up getting a new job that I’m starting soon, and it sounds closer to what I went into my particular field for, however it took a little over a year for me to land it, which means a year’s of lost wages and a year’s worth of eating through my savings. Would I do it again, definitely, but it helps to be prepared for some prolonged pain.

13 Kerr December 4, 2011 at 11:06 pm

I heartily agree. I find I have to rip off the bandaid simply because I can’t stand having things nag at me. It’s always better to just deal with it and move on with life.

14 Dean Ouellette December 4, 2011 at 11:55 pm

This is one of those things that everyone knows, nothing new here. But when you read it it makes you feel like an idiot for letting it get to this point. Now for that pile on my desk… here i come.


15 Bill December 5, 2011 at 12:05 am

Don’t forget – some situations can be avoided entirely with a little extra thought. Band-aids use simple adhesive that most solvents (eg: rubbing alcohol) will dissolve. Taking the smart way out can often save you a lot of pain!

16 Brandon Cook December 5, 2011 at 12:13 am

Thanks for that. Really works well with my newly adopted “Be. Here. Now.” Philosophy.

17 Dave B. December 5, 2011 at 12:17 am

I made just such a decision in a strange moment of clarity. Seeing someone else affirm such a decision and urge others to do so as well is much appreciated encouragement, Brett.

18 Jordan Howard December 5, 2011 at 12:19 am

Great advice, for sure. Just be careful that it doesn’t make you second guess those commitments that you really ought to keep. Relationships, for example: don’t make the decision to break it off with a girl just because you’re scared of commitment. Man up and commit. Whatever band-aid you rip off should always make you more manly, not less.

19 Erickson December 5, 2011 at 2:01 am

Always a great wake-up call. AOM comes clutch– whenever my mind is boggled about something it helps clear my conscience.

20 The Dutch Dastard December 5, 2011 at 2:07 am

Oh boy….talking about motivational! Great article!

This fits right in with a book i’ve been reading lately. (I’ve no affiliation with the writer or publisher whatsoever) It’s called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely, and considers, amongst other theories, the cost of nót making a decision, and keeping your options open.

The funny thing is (not a counterargument for what is stated above, but more a ‘fun fact’), that he also researched if the actual ripping of the band-aid results in less pain. Being a very very severe burn-victim himself, he has more experience in that than anybody deserves. Turns out: It doesn’t. In the end, it’s better to slowly tear them off.

On the record: Good luck guys (and girls)! Change your lives!

21 Jan R December 5, 2011 at 2:55 am

I cannot agree more! In my job (therapist in san diego) i see this played out time and time again. It is much healthier IMO to rip off the bandaid and move forward with your life.

22 Lupo December 5, 2011 at 4:20 am

“To be a man of action is to live life properly.” -il Furioso

23 Tim December 5, 2011 at 6:02 am

As a chronic procrastinator at uni I always somehow manager to finish things on time and cram for the exam to get a decent grade. But now in the workforce it really tends to show when I put things off. Your blog in particular has been great at getting me out of this rut. To just get on with it, get things done, and not overthink it or dawdle frees up our time and energy for the more important things in life.

24 Colin December 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

The more important question is: What manly man wears a band-aid anyways?

25 Kevin Groesbeck December 5, 2011 at 9:02 am

Interesting article.
On a nitpicky side note, if you watch this video:
Or at least the beginning of it, he talks about bandaids and which is better, fast or slow. Either way a fascinating study.

26 Doug December 5, 2011 at 9:51 am

An excellent article. I won’t lie, I was kind of interested to see where this was going to lead at first, but a very powerful article that all mean, myself included, should take to heart.

Keep it up, man! This is quickly become one of my favorite sites!

27 Stupefly December 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

Good point, wobbly analogy. Studies show that we tend to forget the duration of physical pain and recall only the maximum intensity of pain. (So protracted dull pain is more forgettable than short sharp pain.) But studies also show that fear or antipation of pain can be even more disabling than actual pain. This is the analogy I’d use here.

28 Frank Chiuppi December 5, 2011 at 10:20 am

Great post! I can attest to this. I took the long slow approach to pain many times in my life. It took me until I was 28 to understand ripping off the band aid. That was 5 years after I married the wrong person but was too scared to break it off once we got engaged. I had an analogy for this, but your band aid version is so much more simple. I live life in a much bigger way now.

29 Scott December 5, 2011 at 10:23 am

I don’t remember my teeth ever hurting when they were loose. Now my kids are getting to that age, and they haven’t complained either.

30 Nicholas December 5, 2011 at 10:33 am

ok, ok universe I get it. I’ll go write that book already.

31 Sam December 5, 2011 at 11:09 am

One thing that you have to remember is that this is actually a bad idea for certain types of pain / events. Humans tend to remember the highest intensity of pain. For instance, if you are having covering removed from wounds, it’s actually better to have a little bit of pain over a longer period of time then just ripping the covering (or band-aid) right off and causing a large amount of pain. Also, it is better to start with higher pain and slowly work down, instead of easing into the pain.

32 Pat December 5, 2011 at 11:36 am

Thank you for the motivation and inspiration. As a sophomore in college, I’m at that point where I really need to step it up and make some big decisions about what I want to do with my life. AOM is continually helping me to grow as a young man. It’s articles like this that make me realize why this my favorite website.

33 Rob December 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Well, I guess I am lucky in that I never really had this issue. I always just have a go at it and get it over with. In the Manovationals book, you talk about Discipline. I guess I have had it always. I just choose to use it or not.

34 John December 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Love the Dan Ariely shout-outs. I was going to mention his theory on ripping off band-aids, but didn’t want to side track people from the message of the post.

35 Evan G December 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Wow what a great read. Thank you for this. I nearly want to print this out and frame it on my wall—timeless advice for people of all ages. What a read…

36 Aaron December 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Great article! Something I think most of us need to hear over and over again. I would add that making these kinds of band-aid ripping decisions gets easier with practice and reaping the benefits. I’m sure it never really becomes easy though. That’s the manly part of it, right?

37 Ethan Taylor December 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm

This might have been just the kick in the rear I needed to tackle finals week! **game face**

38 David John Drew Esq. December 5, 2011 at 5:49 pm

A small piece of metallic coloured duct tape and a squared-up section of toilet paper is more my idea of a wound dressing. Strong adhesives are used only in the rare cases of actual dismemberment. Although I am not quite sure what this article has to do with domestic nursing.

39 Rory December 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Only, be careful not to tear away flesh when you rip off the band-aid. This is easier to do than it sounds. I ended a relationship not too long ago, and instead of just ending it and continuing on, I entirely destroyed my life, hoping that I would put it back together again the right way this time. Instead, I just made a big mess, and I am still repairing relationships that were part the fallout. Moral of the story: Don’t get over zealous, the results can be devastating.

40 Louis December 5, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I like the expression “Eat a frog first thing in the morning”. The theory being that if you eat a frog first, the rest of your day will be much better (what could be worse!). “Ripping of a band aid” just does not have the same image as swallowing a frog.

41 Dan December 5, 2011 at 8:47 pm
42 Kyle December 6, 2011 at 9:16 am

Brett, as a student of Law, I would think you’d know better than to put too much weight into the wording of a grand jury presentment. Let’s let all the testimony and facts come out before we start assigning blame and oughts.

43 Jordan December 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

This was a great article, thanks for sharing this. I think this can relate to most people including myself. Rip the Band-Aid off!

44 Aaron December 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Damn it, now I have to get started on this project.

Good work, AoM.

45 Carl December 6, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Hmmm…. few things to do tonight….RRRRRIIIIIIIPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!

46 DAN December 6, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Hahahaaa My dad (USMC) Just super glues his large cuts.

47 Harry December 6, 2011 at 10:05 pm

If only Our Government understood this.

48 Gwen December 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm

My dad used the dental floss and doorknob method on me… I used to run with the door. He even filmed it once. Somewhere in my mom’s house, there’s a video of 10 year old me, with a piece of dental floss tying my tooth to the door, running with it twice, and then Dad saying “okay, hang on, we’ll just take it off” and his hand reaching out and slamming the door as soon as I relaxed.

Didn’t hurt that bad really.

I still totally run with the door as an adult, though. Need to get over that. Thanks for this article.

49 MundaSingh123 December 12, 2011 at 5:13 am

One of the best stories i have read on the AoM . Amazing and amusing . I will share this on FB for sure

50 Pauly December 15, 2011 at 7:26 am

4 words plus 1 action

“Suck it up princess”


51 Sarah Jane December 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm

While I agree with the content of the article, a majority of dentists prefer you let your baby teeth fall out on their own as they act as spacers for your adult teeth.

52 ravissant December 24, 2011 at 9:42 am

amazing post!the bandaid analogy is so apt!

53 Mark December 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I had originally read this post shortly after it was published. I spoke to me deeply, especially the section about being in a long term relationship with no future.
Until last night, I was in a 2 1/2 year relationship with a really great woman. The trouble was I knew I didn’t want to marry her. I’m still unsure why, but I know it I didn’t want that. I kept putting it off hoping that things would change. They didn’t. Last night, we came to a point where we needed to make a decision. She initiated the break up and I agreed.
I just didn’t have the courage to rip off the band-aid for many reasons. It was great relationship even though there wasn’t a long term future. I was comfortable. On top of that, I’m getting older and haven’t been married yet. It was hard to give up.
But its over now and It’s time to move on.

54 C R Parker January 2, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I’ve been putting off going to the Doctor for a good few years now, much to my shame.

Tomorrow I make an appointment.


55 Rachel December 5, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Interesting and thoughtful essay, thank you. I believe some people lean towards OCD and are haunted by unfinished tasks, while others learn towards procrastination and it simply doesn’t bother them to have future unpleasantness hanging over their heads. I am a compulsive Band-Aid-ripper-offer. I can’t really relax after dinner until the dishes are done, and having to do them the next morning would be even worse. I prefer to get all the chores and unpleasantness out of the way as quickly as possible so I don’t become anxious thinking about it. But sometimes I envy those people who can, for example, clean their house on the last day of a week’s vacation and yet still enjoy the preceeding six days! I am no saint, though, and frequently have to be my own cheerleader, coax myself to do unpleasant tasks, and sometimes even make internal pacts and Pavlovian bargains, withholding small pleasures like a cup of coffee, a few minutes with a good book, favorite television program, or even my lunch, until I do the chore or task that needs to be done. I guess as long as everything that needs to be done, gets done, it doesn’t matter so much if you get it out of the way or wait till the last minute, so long as the procrastination doesn’t cause anxiety or sleepless nights.

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