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How To Avoid Suffering By Changing Your Mindset

How To Avoid Suffering By Changing Your Mindset

No one likes to suffer.

So why are so many people displaying signs of suffering? Stress, anger and regret are common emotions that you feel on a daily basis. As much as we try to avoid them, we always end up bringing the negative feelings in.

Leo Babauta has an effective solution for this problem. In his latest blog post, he highlights how to detect and avoid suffering. By doing this, individuals can regain control of their wavering emotions.

Perhaps the most shocking concept that Babauta covers is how unhealthy eating and lack of exercise are linked to suffering and fear.

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The reality is, self-compassion can hurt a progressive mindset. It can dampen the truth, making individuals believe things that can hurt their future.

Are you experiencing suffering in your life? How are you addressing these negative issues? Let us know what you think.

The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit | Zen Habits

The Miracle of the Self-Compassion Habit

Let’s hypothesize that there’s a substance that’s been irritating you and causing problems in all areas of your life: it causes you to be unhappy, to be stressed, to procrastinate, to be distracted, to be angry with people, to be dissatisfied with your life, to be overweight and unhealthy, to not exercise or eat healthy, and much more.

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Horrible substance, right? Now imagine there were a salve that could ease the bad effects of this substance, and make all those other areas better.

The substance is real: it’s your suffering. We all suffer, in small and large ways, every day. And it causes all the other problems I mentioned.

The salve is also real: it’s self-compassion. Which sounds too fluffy for most people, but it’s a concrete practice that will have concrete benefits, in all areas of your life.

Let’s take a minute to explore suffering, and what would happen if you applied the salve of self-compassion.

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The All-Pervasive Effects of Suffering

We don’t always think of ourselves as suffering, if we’re leading normal lives. But in fact, we’re suffering more often than we usually realize, just not necessarily suffering greatly. We suffer in small ways, and that affects our happiness, the happiness of those around us, and our actions and habits throughout the day.

Some examples:

  • Stress: Throughout the day, things come up to stress you out, from a new thing to add to your workload to someone criticizing you to the housework not being done. This is suffering, even if it’s usually at a low level (though sometimes it can get to high levels). The salve of self-compassion would reduce this suffering, and allow you to deal with these events/situations more calmly, increasing your happiness levels throughout the day.
  • Frustrations: Little frustrations happen all the time, from people not doing things right to traffic being congested to not being able to figure out why software isn’t working right. This is also suffering. Self-compassion can help you calm down from the frustrations, and handle the situations appropriately. You’d be less angry when you responded, which is likely to result in better outcomes.
  • Anger with others: Someone has pissed you off — your kid just won’t listen, your spouse has said something critical, your boss is being a total dillweed. You’re suffering, obviously. This can result not only in unhappiness, but in actions that hurt your relationship with others, your career, your marriage. Instead, apply self-compassion, and you can calm down, respond appropriately, even with compassion for the other person, who is also suffering.
  • Feeling bad about yourself: There are a million reasons we feel bad about ourselves, from failure to body fat to hopelessness in bad situations. This too is suffering, and it causes us to take harmful actions, like comforting ourselves with food and shopping and alcohol, not taking action, not believing in ourselves. Self-compassion eases this pain, and leads not only to more helpful actions but happiness.
  • Feeling rushed: There’s often a feeling throughout our days that we need to rush to the next thing. Walking, we go quickly. Working, we switch constantly to the next communication, next tab, next super-urgent-can’t-wait-do-it-now task. This feeling of constant urgency is itself a source of stress. Self-compassion can ease this as well, and allow us to slow down, enjoy the moment, be happier in each moment.
  • Distraction: We live super-distracted lives, wasting huge parts of our day. Distraction is a symptom of suffering — we go to distraction because of fear (we’re afraid of harder tasks, of missing out, of failing) and we think distraction is comforting. In turn, distraction tends to increase suffering — we feel bad about ourselves, we procrastinate on important things and make our jobs and lives worse, etc. Self-compassion helps us see this suffering, ease it, and reduce the tendency to distraction.
  • Procrastination: We all procrastinate, on work, on writing our great novel, on learning a musical instrument, on exercise. Procrastination, like distraction, is a symptom of suffering, of fear and thinking we can’t do something. Self-compassion can help with that suffering and reduce procrastination, increasing our creative output, helping us to take care of finances and work tasks and decluttering and all the things we know we really want to do but aren’t doing.
  • Not exercising: This is a specific form of procrastination, and so is a symptom of suffering. It also shows how procrastination can cause more suffering, as a lack of exercise leads to worse health, which leads to the stress and pain of disease. Self-compassion can help us start exercising mindfully and joyfully.
  • Unhealthy eating: We tend to eat unhealthy things because we are afraid of vegetables and not eating junk, and because we need to comfort ourselves from other suffering, and because we think we need the crutch of temporary pleasures. We don’t. Self-compassion eases this suffering and helps us to be OK with not eating Pringles and donuts, with making our bodies feel better.
  • Lack of gratitude: Much of our lives are spent in silent complaint, or sometimes not so silent. We are so unhappy with little things in our lives, which is a form of suffering. These complaints mean we’re missing out on what’s great about our lives. Self-compassion helps us to deal with the pain of these complaints, and instead turn to the amazing things we can be grateful for, which increases our happiness with life all around us.
  • Lack of mindfulness: Most of our lives are spent in distraction, unmindful of the present moment. This is a form of suffering, because if we weren’t suffering we could stay in the present much of the time, fully appreciate the moment as it happens. Instead, we’re thinking about the future because we’re worried about it, we’re obsessed with the past mistakes we’ve made. Self-compassion can ease these worries and obsessions, and instead practice mindfulness with each moment more often.

I could go on forever, because suffering takes many forms. But you can see the pattern: self-compassion eases the pain of the suffering, reducing the bad effects and allowing us to choose more helpful ways of living.

Let’s turn to a method of self-compassion.

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A Self-Compassion Method

This is a method you can practice through a daily habit, to help with suffering in all forms:

  1. Notice your suffering, in one of its many forms.
  2. Turn towards the suffering, see it as it is, feel it fully, experience it mindfully and in the moment.
  3. Accept the suffering, instead of trying to ignore it, avoid it, push it away, kill it. Accept that it’s a part of life, a part of you, but temporary.
  4. Wish yourself happiness, wish for an end to your suffering. Give yourself a mental hug, comfort yourself.
  5. Let go of what’s causing the suffering. Just release it, or put it aside. The cause is likely something you wish were different. Instead, appreciate things as they are. Be present with reality.
  6. Be grateful for the reality that’s happening right now.

This is not always easy to practice, and so I recommend a daily session where you turn inward for a couple minutes, and practice without the distractions of daily life. You’ll get better at the self-compassion habit with practice.

But it’s worth the practice. The salve of self-compassion can change your entire life.

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How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

How to Control Your Thoughts and Become the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality.

I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

1. The Inner Critic

This is your constant abuser. He is often a conglomeration of:

  • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
  • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
  • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
  • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

He is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

Why else would he abuse you? And since “he” is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

2. The Worrier

This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

He is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it.

Occasionally, he is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

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3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

He is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

He can be set off by words or feelings. He can even be set off by sounds and smells.

He has no real motivation; he has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

4. The Sleep Depriver

This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

His motivation can be:

  • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
  • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
  • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
  • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

How can you control these squatters?

How to Master Your Mind

You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

There are two ways to control your thoughts:

  • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
  • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

For the Inner Critic

When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

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You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

“Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

  • He riles up the Worrier.
  • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
  • He is often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
  • He is a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
  • He is the destroyer of self-esteem. He convinces you that you’re not worthy. He’s a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get him out!

Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

Replace him with your new best friend who supports, encourages, and enhances your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

For the Worrier

Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tense

Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

“Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

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Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

For example:

If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

“I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

“Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
  • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
  • Muscles tension

I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

Breathe in through your nose:

  • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
  • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
  • Focus on your belly rising.

Breathe out through your nose:

  • Feel your lungs emptying.
  • Focus on your belly falling.
  • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

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One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

For the Sleep Depriver

(He’s made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

  1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
  2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

You can also use this technique any time you want to:

  • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
  • Shut down your thinking.
  • Calm your feelings.
  • Simply focus on the present moment. 

Becoming the Master of Your Mind

Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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