I was recently asked how I made the shift from being an unhappy, complaining, tired, running from one thing to another, burned out executive to one that was more positive, focused on solutions, engaged in self care and committed to helping others, while still working.
I have to admit I didn’t have a ready response. I had to think about it.
So home I went to think. Those that know me know that I think on a whiteboard or on paper (old school, I know!). I took my sticky note pad and started writing one thing on each that I did to make changes in my life. Those stickies adorned my office wall for some time. Taking up space and reminding me that had I started something, but didn’t finish it. So I decided to take them down today.
As I did so, two of them jumped out at me and practically screamed ‘Here I am. Look at me, I am important! Remember this!’
Those two stickies read:
- “Pain vs Suffering Concept”
- “Accepted that I was doing it to myself….Suffering”
It was the second one that really stopped me in my tracks remembering the grand ‘a-ha’ moment I had when I fully, truly acknowledge and ACCEPTED that I was making myself miserable.
It wasn’t being done TO me; I was doing it to myself.
It was a super deflating; heavy feeling…like there was an elephant on my back and a 50-pound bag of peanuts in my arms. It was not a feel good moment, but it was a life shifting one.
Let me back up a bit though and explain the ‘Pain vs Suffering’ concept.
We all experience pain. Physical pain like a stubbed toe, a pulled back, a broken bone. And emotional pain like the loss of a loved one, a break up or lay off. These are real events and cause real pain.
Suffering, however, is the story we layer on top of the pain. Most of the time the story goes on and on and on and on…. We keep ourselves mired in the story long after the pain of the event has gone away. We keep our drama going. The ego likes this.
We are in control of the story, not the pain.
I knew this and thought I believed it. But I didn’t ACT on it. I was keeping myself mired in all my stories, keeping my suffering going. I wasn’t taking the actionable steps to make change and stop suffering.
I was just hoping that it would somehow just ‘go away’ because I understood, intellectually, the difference between pain and suffering. Doesn’t work that way.
When I really accepted this, embraced it, I vowed to do things differently. The remainder of the stickies are filled with those other things. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I will call out two:
Find Gratitude/Joy Every Day I made it a point, a goal, to find something to be grateful for or that brought me joy every day. It could be anything…the beauty of the sunrise or sunset; the chirping of the birds in my yard; the scent of the jasmine outside my window; the crispness of the air as I drove to work.
At first it was an effort. To not forget to do it, to put everything else out of my busy brain so that I could notice something to be grateful for or find joy in. The more I did it, the easier it became. Also, I noticed that I became calmer, more relaxed. Things didn’t bother me so much.
This practice began to put things into perspective and helped the second thing be more effective.
What’s the Worst that can Happen? When I started to worry, or things weren’t going my way, I asked myself this question “What’s the worst that can happen?”
This forced me to recognize when I was catastrophizing, making things seem worse than they were. It forced me to see that my story was out of control. It forced me to see things based on reality and not fantasy.
And if the worst that could happen wasn’t so far fetched, it forced me to really look at how I would manage it. How would I get through it? What would I need to do? Was I prepared to do that? I started to see that even if something bad happened, I could handle it. I could make a plan, be in control (at least of myself) and get through the bad thing.
The big, bad thing didn’t seem so insurmountable, or scary or so big or bad.
So what is my point? What do I hope you take away from this ramble?
I hope that you see that small steps can make a huge difference in your life and that YOU are in control of the stories in your head.
If you take the time to be grateful everyday and stop making sh*t up in your head, you will be happier, more peaceful and at ease in life.