As humans we pursue happiness. We want to feel good. The brain is designed to pursue pleasure, be efficient, and decrease pain. So let’s talk about the cure for misery.
Several years ago I was listening a podcast by an endurance running coach and he was talking about suffering. For this post, I use suffering and misery interchangeably. He shared the definition along this lines:
Suffering = Pain + Resistance
It’s super simple, stop resisting and you will have a misery-free life!
I say this facetiously because it is HARD to do. I have personally had resistance to my resistance and resistance trying to stop my resistance to cure misery. (say that 5x fast!)
If there was a prize for layering on tons of misery, I’d be the reigning champion.
I think it’s time we ask the question: What is resistance?
Resistance comes when there is refusal to accept an experience happening. Instead of allowing something to exist, it’s the urge to fight it, bury it, or react. The good ol’ fight, flight, freeze!
Sometimes resistance looks like escaping by scrolling on the phone, emotional eating instead of true hunger, binge watching tv shows, busying oneself with errands. Sometimes it is more internal, and you think you’ve endured enough stress and anxiety therefore, your misery should be over! You have “paid your dues” of feeling icky and it’s time to move on, you resent that you’re still in stressed state. Perhaps you have done everything RIGHT such as self-care, hung out with high-quality, supportive friends, slept, eaten well, exercised, etc. … and yet you still feel inwardly feel MISERABLE, you can’t escape it.
How do we cure misery?
My #1 tip to cure misery is to surrender the artificial deadline. Pain sucks. So as good little human-beings that we are, when we are in pain, emotionally and/or physically. We try to get the pain to stop ASAP. It is a safety mechanism, avoid pain at all costs. However, trying to forcefully stamp out pain is resisting which creates suffering.
We muster all the will-power we can to endure pain but inevitably it is not enough. Will power is like a muscle, it can be strengthened, but it is finite. I can hand you a 10lb dumbbell and ask you to hold it up in the air for as long as you can, but your arm will inevitably get tired. You can practice and increase the hold but your arm will still collapse eventually. The more you control or try to will your way out of pain, the more you expect pain to be snuffed out, when the opposite is true: we’ve just created a misery monster.
Here’s a personal example: last summer I was very anxious. Not my normal random bits of anxiety, but anxious for weeks. I couldn’t stand it. I was working with a life coach, I was going on walks, I was doing my self-care, staying active, and more. I was doing all the things I could to make my pain STOP. One morning, while on a morning walk, miserable with anxiety, it hit me. I thought because I was doing everything to fix my anxiety, my anxiety would have vanished by then. Since my anxiety was still there despite my efforts (WILL-POWER), I was resisting my pain. I was miserable. I realized I had to surrender to the fact that I was going to be indefinitely anxious, and that it would feel gross, but I would be okay. I could carry it with me and allow it to wash over me for as long as it needed. I would tend to myself, I would work, I would try to sleep, but I had to let it be what it would be. A few hours later, I realized I wasn’t anxious. It was all gone. This is after weeks of fighting it.
I am not going to lie to you and say, let it go to not feel any more pain. That is a false pretense! You must fully surrender for the pain to be and surrender to it without the expectation of it going away anytime soon. In other words, we aren’t surrendering for it to make it stop, that is creating more resistance. It is surrendering to fully experiencing it with no agendas. It takes practice, you may even get multiple reps of practice to surrender to the same pain repeatedly. It does not make you a failure for feeling resistance build up again, it’s just an opportunity for allowing it!
The true cure for misery is essentially this: Don’t try to cure your misery and you won’t be miserable!
This is a such a challenge. It takes tons of practice and that is exactly what a coach can help with. I am actively coaching people how to embrace pain as part of their humanity and creating less miserable lives. Which leads to a more fulfilling life my clients are creating.