The 3 Most Important Skills That Will Transform Needless Suffering
The previous article highlighted powerful mental habits that cause needless pain and struggle. Let’s look at some habits and actions that can change this pattern of suffering.
For the purposes of this article, I’m assuming that the feelings are manageable. If you feel you can’t handle any negative emotions on your own, please seek help. Ask your loved ones for their support, and, if needed, get professional help. Asking for help is one of the biggest acts of courage.
For struggle that constantly runs in the background of our lives, we can try one, or a combination, of the following.
3 ways to diminish suffering
Just like negative habits feed on each other and compound the suffering, we’ll focus on a few connected positive habits and actions that can amplify feelings of ease and peace.
If you remember from the previous article, we’re starting from a place of awareness—meaning we have noticed our attitudes and patterns of thought that keep us stuck in a loop of misery.
Once we know what we’re dealing with, we can move forward in a different direction.
1. Simplify to the bare essentials
If you have a lack mentality and not enough of anything, I urge you to start examining all the things you do, or want to do. It may sound counter intuitive. How can I address lack with less?
It’s a valid point. But not a realistic one. The perception of lack stems from unrealistic expectations. So we’re cutting down the unrealistic demands we put on ourselves.
To clarify what’s essential, ask yourself the following questions:
- What would happen if I didn’t do this?
- If it’s really important, can I have someone else do it?
- If it’s something I feel compelled to do, what’s the simplest way to do it?
If you honestly answer the three questions before you do anything, you’ll probably eliminate 80% of the noise that lingers in your mind, and on your lists.
There are no universal rules for defining what’s essential. Other than survival needs, the rest is completely dependent on your choices and life situation.
If you keep asking the questions, and following through with the answers, you’ll reduce your obligations. You’ll also have clarity about the simplest way to do something. This by itself is an incredible step in reducing confusion and overwhelm.
2. Develop a bias towards action
Suffering is mostly mental patterns showing up as negative emotions. If we learn to step out of our heads, and focus on taking action, we’ll lessen inner resistance and negative thinking.
If you know the basic things you need to focus on, or if you know there is an action you need to take, do it.
This is meaningful and focused action, not busy avoidance and mindless motion.
Focusing on a few actions is not that hard, if you do the following:
- Be clear about one simple action you want to take.
- Prepare the day before (or ahead of time) so you can dive into it.
- Work in short intervals, ranging from 10-40 minutes, depending on your level of familiarity and resistance.
- Focus on the task, without distractions.
- Review your process, and results, when you’re done, and determine the next step. And prepare for it.
Being is more important than doing. Sometimes we need to do so we can allow ourselves to be—at peace.
Once you do the action steps of the day, allow yourself to relax—guilt free. If guilt creeps up, remember: you did your work and you deserve a break.
The most important thing is to keep going. Consistency is key in developing trust in your choices and abilities.
3. Make suffering not an option (refuse to suffer)
Eastern philosophers proclaimed thousands of years ago that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional (or something like that). And that’s where we get to make a conscious choice to refuse to suffer.
If we learn to feel without resistance, rejection and judgment, we’ll be free from most of the suffering that haunts us.
This is one of the hardest things to do, yet it’s very simple. Just feel what we’re feeling—without rejecting the feeling, or judging ourselves for having it.
We can feel the anxiety, fear, sadness, or anger till the sensations subside. The feelings may come and go, but the more we notice and feel them, the less hold they have on us.
Start with a promise to yourself when you first wake up in the morning. Take a deep breath, and smile.
Make a mental and emotional commitment to yourself: Today I refuse to suffer, I’ll roll with my feelings and see where they take me. Then smile again.
A smile brings us back to the reality of this moment: we are fortunate enough to be able to smile.
If you’re like me, you might have doubts about this approach. So let me share with you a few thoughts that can help.
It’s not denial. Suffering is a mental pattern of resistance that we created for ourselves. We’re not denying that it’s there. We’re trying to change it by creating new patterns that are more helpful.
When we refuse to suffer, we become fully aware of its presence. We’re making a conscious decision not to choose this automatic behavior.
It’s not an affirmation. It’s a decision to eliminate suffering as an option.
It’s possible. Suffering may feel so powerful and natural. But your brain is mightier than any habit—negative or positive.
Belief is nothing more than a mental thought that the brain allowed to take hold and become a truth for us.
Once we believe in our ability to change, we’ll replace suffering with acceptance. And we’ll become more confident in implementing change.
When we refuse to suffer, we won’t need to dwell in a painful past that’s long gone by. And we won’t need to feed the old patterns of shame and guilt.
There are many other ways to alleviate suffering. To keep it simple and manageable, I chose to focus on only three ways that, in my view, are vital to getting unstuck and moving out of unnecessary struggle.
I have been working with the three steps for over a week now. I start the day with a promise to myself not to suffer, and I work on the main things in clear action steps. As I go along, I keep asking the essential questions to eliminate as much as I can, and simplify my actions. And I’m feeling a little better. So I highly encourage you to give them a try.
Suffering is part of life—when it’s part of an organic healing process in response to life’s many pains.
But when the suffering becomes an identity, and a weapon you use against yourself and others, know that it’s just a habit. You have within you all you need to change it.