This is episode number 103: Shorten your suffering. Welcome to the mindset for life Podcast. I’m Bethanie Hansen, your host, and I’m here to help you shorten your suffering today. The word suffering seems a little bit odd at times, I don’t use that word in my vocabulary very much. Some people do. Perhaps you do. Maybe you don’t. Regardless of how familiar that word is, we all suffer.
We might suffer other people’s attitudes; we might suffer limits placed on us from the outside world or people around us. We might suffer from world events that are happening, that are far removed from us. Or we might suffer from them as they are literally impacting us. And we’re involved in them.
We might suffer from the loss of other people; we might suffer from uncertainty. We might suffer from so many things in our lives that literally impact us every minute. But we can shorten our suffering.
And it doesn’t mean that we’re bad or wrong to try to do that. In fact, it means that we’re intentionally trying to find something else to focus on. I used to think that if I was really happy in a negative situation, that other people would think I was out of touch with that situation. And that probably does happen. Maybe you’ve experienced that too, where either you or someone else was trying to be joyful or happy when it was a tough situation.
I’ve had my own share of difficult situations in life. And I choose intentionally. There’s an option where I can review the events over and over. And I can sit in that horrible situation, and I can keep experiencing those same emotions. What we know about neuroscience is that our mindset of being stuck in a place mentally comes from replaying the same thoughts and the same emotions are going to happen.
Pretty soon those thought habits take over. And we have this whole habit of feeling those same feelings and thinking those same things. And then we behave in similar ways over time.
Somewhere in my life, when perhaps I was younger, I started to latch on to this idea that I could actually choose to focus on different thoughts. And over the course of my life, I have also learned that there are many other people out there, either through their research or their philosophy, who have discovered the same thing.
We can look at a situation and see what is negative, how it’s impacting us. How it’s hurt us. And we can feel those feelings and we can think those thoughts and we can experience them. And it will cause more suffering.
It increases our suffering to do that because every time we think about it, we are literally experiencing the chemical rush of emotions that fill our bodies with that negative sensation, whether it’s sadness, or despair, or anger, or frustration, or a whole host of other feelings. And yet, there’s always something in the future. Either something that is a lesson learned, something that will contrast with the experience we’re having now, or something good that will come out of the experience.
Focusing on the Future Shortens Suffering
Regardless of what that thing in the future is, we can choose to believe something better is coming in the future. Something will come out of this, we’re not sure what it is. But it’s always going to lead to something that could be beneficial, or could be good. I like to lean on that side of things.
So my goal is to decrease suffering by focusing on the future. Now, living in the present is important too. We need to experience what’s happening right now and live in reality. And be very sensitive to our own experience and others. And feel what others may be feeling with empathy, and understand what others are experiencing. And yet, looking towards the future can give us a brightness of hope.
It can help us to just pick ourselves up from this place that we’re at, and see that there’s somewhere to go. And even if we don’t know where that somewhere is it simply opens up the idea of possibility.
When we’re thinking about a fresh start, a new day, or somehow moving forward with something. This is critical to our mindset. Having the space to think of anything other than what is already happening is the only way to go. If we’re thinking about what’s already happening, we can investigate it. We can analyze it, we can do a retrospective on it. We can determine the impact it’s currently having.
And when we look to the future, we can start to see what’s next. What could happen. Where we could go. The door is wide open.
Choose to Be Hopeful
I want to just recommend today that in thinking about shortening your suffering, one way to do that might be to also look at the future with hope. We can also look at the future with a negative lens. We can project the failures that could come in the future based on whatever the present is; we could project how bleak the future might be based on whatever’s happening now.
And we can also project all kinds of other negative outcomes. So we literally have a choice, we can choose to project something positive, or we can choose to project something negative. I choose the positive. I don’t know if it’s something inherently part of my personality, or if it’s just something I keep cultivating over time. But I want to intentionally choose that.
And the reason for that is that there’s something I can do with the positive, it opens doors and possibilities. And when I focus on the negative, it makes me feel really awful right now, it increases my suffering. But it also makes it hard to see anything different in the future, but more suffering.
So let’s take stock right now. Where are you suffering right now? Are you suffering in your relationships? Are you suffering in your work situation? Are you suffering in your physical health? Are you suffering in your living conditions? If there’s any area that you’re suffering, in right now, you’re really struggling with a situation or a person or an environment, let’s think about what might be coming in the future.
There have always been people in my life that I could easily love, because they were just so likable and easy to love. But I’ve also experienced my share of people who are challenging, and I’m sure I’ve been that challenging person to others as well. And when I face a challenging, challenging person, to me, who is challenging me, that person doesn’t always present themselves as challenging to others. We all have different personalities and different perspectives. So someone who I might find challenging, you might not agree that they’re challenging. Anyway, a person like that in your life could be your best teacher. Dealing with a person that you disagree with, or that you have a little friction with, teaches you so much about how to be patient, how to really listen, how to learn what that person’s perspective is, and how to slow down and just understand.
You can’t assume. You have to get question oriented, curious, and you have to learn things, or you’ll be stuck in suffering for a long time. Or you’ll have to just leave the relationship. And if it’s a person in your life, maybe you’re related to them, or maybe it’s a co worker, and you don’t plan to leave your company anytime soon, or your school anytime soon. That’s something you have to come to terms with, right?
What if it’s a physical situation that you’re suffering with? Well, there are chronic illnesses, and there are conditions that we can’t change right now. And they might last the rest of our lives. Maybe it’s even a chronic illness that will eventually lead to one’s death. We don’t know, right? But there’re a lot of things that we could be facing that are suffering oriented. And while we’re having that experience, that too, could be our teacher.
I know it’s a difficult thing to put a happy face on suffering. And that’s not what I’m really asking you to do. What I’m suggesting is that we shorten that suffering, we’re going to live with that experience. But what if we use that experience to grow and learn and figure out? What can I do because of this experience? What are the things I still can do, even though I’m not able to do all things I used to be able to do? What are some new interests I might take up that I haven’t considered before, that I could still be capable of doing with this physical condition?
Or if it’s something I can change, like, maybe it’s something about my physical appearance, and I do want to change it, I can get to work. It can be motivating to me to actually spend the time. And then what about our environment, when we have an environment that causes suffering, and we think it’s because of the other people and their stuff, or what they do in the house? There is actually a lot more about that, that we can control. And we can clean up our space we can weed out or whittle down.
There are always former parts of our lives that we have moved on from and we can let go of them now. So whatever’s within our control, we can take charge of it and we can get it in orderly condition and we can take stock. Have things and clean it out and really beautify our environment.
Then if it’s other people in our environment that also have the stuff or the clutter or habits we don’t like, we may be an influence on those people through what we choose to do with our own situation. We can also choose to rearrange the furniture, even if we don’t think people around us will like it, we can try that out. And there’s a new experience right there.
This idea of focusing on the future, to shorten our suffering, and trying options, those things can help us at the very least have a different experience.
Recognize Your Feelings, Experience Them, and Choose
Now, maybe you are a parent or a partner or a teacher to someone with a severe disability or a disabling condition of some kind. When we experience those kinds of situations, we may feel that we are suffering, and we don’t want to talk to anyone about it. Because we also feel guilty about that suffering. Like for some reason, we think we should feel great. That whole mindset becomes a spiral. And we’re stuck in it. Because no one can hear or understand us, we’re simply not sharing our experience, right.
So the first thing in that kind of suffering, is to simply acknowledge what you’re actually feeling. And let yourself be a human being who feels the feelings and acknowledges the thoughts. And go ahead and say to yourself, these are neutral thoughts, I’m not a bad person for realizing this is hard for me, or that I’m struggling with it, and I’m suffering.
And if we can take all the blame away from those kinds of thoughts, we can just feel them and think them, all the feelings that go with them. So when you’re taking care of someone else, or you’re working with someone else who may be a challenge to you and is a source of suffering, that would be the first step is to let yourself have the thoughts and feelings that are related to it and just acknowledge them and not shame yourself for doing so. You’re okay.
Then the second thing would be to decide what you want to do with it. Yes, you can thrive through challenges, maybe you want to find experts to help you like health professionals that can help rehabilitate the person, and you can get a break. Or you can find someone to learn from that will give you strategies to interact with that person even better. Or maybe you just want to listen, or maybe you just want to be a listener with that person, because they just need someone to talk to. And regardless of their disabling condition, you can do that.
So there are a lot of things about caring for others that can be really challenging and might feel like suffering. The first way to shorten suffering is to seek support after you acknowledge your feelings and your experience. And then the second way would be to decide what can I do now because of this experience? What am I gonna get from this? What am I learning? What characteristics and attributes Am I developing, and really focus on that?
One of the things I talk a lot about in this podcast, and I just want to bring it up again today is that mindset. And having a healthy mindset and living in a way that will bring out your best self has to do with acknowledging who you really are. And the more of who you really are. That means we can draw on our experiences to build strength of character. We can live in our strengths, acknowledge our weaknesses, and just be humans about it. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to win the prize.
Today, those are my thoughts to share with you about shortening your suffering. I hope you’ll think a little bit about that. And in the future, we’ll talk more about the positive side of things. It doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the negative stuff that’s going on. We’re just focusing on how we can shorten that duration of suffering.
I wish you all the best this coming week and in the month ahead as you focus on this idea. Because wherever you are, I’m certain that you have your own suffering just like I do. And we’re all getting through something different. So maybe we don’t understand each other’s experience. But we can understand the fact that we are all suffering in some way.
Hang in there. You can do this. It’s hard, but you can. Here’s to being the best version of you
New Day, performed by Danny Gokey, (P) 2021 Danny Gokey, under exclusive license to Capitol Christian Music Group, Inc., was written by Ethan Hulse, Coby Wedgeworth, and Danny Gokey. Copyright © 2019 Better Than I Found It (BMI) (adm. at CapitolCMGPublishing.com) All rights reserved. Used by permission; and EGH Music Publishing (BMI) / Be Essential Songs (BMI) / Colby Wedgeworth Music (ASCAP) / Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP) / (admin at EssentialMusicPublishing.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission.