What do grammar and math have to do with mindset and emotional pain? More than you might think!
There’s an old Buddhist saying: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Once you learn this, your quality of life will greatly improve.
If you’ve ever heard me speak, or even had a conversation with me, you’ve probably heard me say, “Just because life gives you a cactus, doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.” Roughly speaking, don’t do things that cause yourself to suffer unnecessarily. Instead of touching the cactus, admire it. Let it bring you joy, not pain.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I got that pearl of wisdom from a meme on Facebook. In fact, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever gotten from social media.
Why is that?
Because that saying so beautifully illustrates a critical math problem for life:
Pain + non-acceptance = suffering
This is something they don’t teach you in school. This equation does a great job encompassing one of the hardest lessons to learn. We often have little choice or control when it comes to pain. And there are many types of pain: physical pain, emotional pain, psychological pain. It doesn’t matter. It’s all pain, and pain is an unavoidable part of life. It’s how we deal with the emotional distress and negative thoughts that have long-term positive or negative effects on our mental health.
Take this pandemic as a salient example. There are so many pain points for so many people, and pretending like that pain doesn’t exist or trying to “just be positive” the pain away really isn’t helpful.
What is the solution, then? Acceptance.
In psychology, acceptance is really captured by the cliche, “It is what it is” sentiment. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking it or approving of it or wanting it. Acceptance means acknowledging things as they really are and not allowing pain to dictate your actions in unhelpful ways.
Now, this is where the grammar lesson comes in. Acceptance can be hard to wrap your head around and even more difficult, yet, to embody and implement. What you can do right now to start toward a place of acceptance, though, is to insert the mental period.
The Mental Period
I was talking with colleagues from the anxiety world last night, and one shared this cartoon that so perfectly exemplifies the mental period.
When you experience a pain point, notice it. Acknowledge it. Then insert the mental period. This helps solve the problem of dwelling which only causes more pain.
“It’s raining.” PERIOD.
“My head hurts.” PERIOD.
“I’m scared.” PERIOD.
“I’m feeling burned out.” PERIOD.
“I’m feeling bored.” PERIOD.
“People are losing their jobs and their loved ones.” PERIOD.
“I feel heart broken.” PERIOD.
“And I’m grateful.” PERIOD.
See how that works? Give it a try this week and see if this is a more helpful way of dealing with pain, whatever form it takes. Try it with a family member and keep each other accountable.
This does not mean be complacent. It means developing a powerful skill that is often a part of proven therapy approaches like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which refocuses your mind and does so much for your acceptance of pain to mitigate intense emotional suffering.
And if you want more tips and tools for building acceptance skills and other aspects of psychological strength, our ASCEND program is for you. There’s a whole section on acceptance and other tools for taming your mind, in addition to modules on becoming the best version of you and creating a life you love.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
– Dalai Lama