Categories: Gettin The Mind Right

On Reducing Self-Inflicted Suffering

Happy Monday!

Let’s imagine you were walking through the woods, on the phone with a friend, fully engaged in that conversation, then suddenly someone jumped out of nowhere to scare you! How would you react? It’s likely you would be caught off guard, jump and maybe even scream and run! It would cause you suffering.


Now suppose before you started walking in the woods, you were warned that at some point during your walk someone was going to jump out of nowhere and scare you. How would you react to that?  You still might be startled, but at least you’d be on the lookout so you’d be less frightened and suffer much less–or maybe even not at all.


This example can teach us a lot about life. Most often, our minds are so busy we are constantly doing-doing-doing, looking ahead to the future or stuck in the past with our own expectations of how things should go. As a result, we are caught off guard and react to things in an emotional way…like that first scenario of not knowing someone was going to jump out at you.


As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve learned this hard way.  And it’s led me to explore Buddhist philosophy in effort to better make sense of the chaos of every day life.  In Buddhist philosophy, we discover that there are two realities; the reality of the way it is and the reality of the way we think it is or should be. Life is easier once we understand that suffering is a part of the human existence, no matter who you are and what your situation is.


In many Buddhist traditions, suffering is defined in three different categories:

  • The suffering of suffering: Physical pain
  • The suffering of change: Emotional loss or grief
  • Pervasive suffering: Self inflicted suffering


We have very little control of physical & emotional pain, but a simple awareness can help reduce the amount of pervasive suffering we encounter.


3 Ways to Reduce Self-Inflicted Suffering


  1. Expect and look out for something or someone to jump out at you. In other words, plan to encounter suffering. When you accept it will happen at some point, you’ll worry about it less, react less emotionally, and recover faster when it does occur.
  2. Create more mental space: When is the last time you sat somewhere completely still, with no technology? As odd as it sounds, stillness can be one of the hardest things for us to do. Our minds are accustomed to go-go-go which pulls us away from the present moment and puts us in a perpetual state of distraction. When we are distracted, we cannot see things clearly and we react emotionally. You can create more mental space by practicing meditation, which can be as simple as sitting still for a brief amount of time, completely still, just focusing on your breath.
  3. Take off your blinders to find objectivity! We often approach reality with preconceived beliefs of what it should be, but then find ourselves frustrated when things don’t come out the way we expect. We don’t suffer because of our circumstances, but because of how we interpret and perceive those circumstances. Next time you find yourself getting mad at someone or something, ask yourself, What if the opposite of what I think happened is true? Be open to the possibility that there could be something positive at play and look for the opportunity to learn.


As simple as this all may sound, these things are extremely difficult to execute day in and day out. Think of them not as things you should do all the time, but rather lessons; find opportunities to practice as much as possible.


What resonates most with you?  I’d love to hear!





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