Probably my favorite episode so far of the Tim Ferriss podcast is this interview with Tony Robbins, when Robbins talks about why people suffer. At one point he says, “Suffering happens when you’re obsessing about yourself.”
When Robbins talks about suffering, he means any time you are angry, sad, or upset in some way, this is a suffering state. He says, “There are only two states that we live in. Beautiful states or suffering states.” And the reason why we’re suffering, Robbins says, is because we’re obsessing about ourselves. Our first reaction might be to disagree with this, because I think when we’re angry or mad, we can feel like victims of those emotions. So how is suffering about self-obsession?!
Robbins points out that many people do try to argue that it’s not about their own self-obsession–”I’m not suffering in that way, it’s not at all about me! It’s just that I’m worried about my kids–they’re not what they need to be.” Yet as Robbins points out, “The reason they’re upset is because they feel they failed their kids–it’s about them still.”
Your suffering happens when you’re stuck in your head, obsessing about yourself.
After first hearing this, I started to see that each time I was in a suffering state, it all related back to focusing on myself. Oh, I’m so stressed out because of my job? No, I’m stressed out because I’m fixating on how I’m doing at my job. It’s about me. Worried or anxious about how my sisters are doing? Again, it’s about me, about how I’m doing as a sister to them. Our suffering occurs because we’re unconsciously fixating on ourselves.
“Figure out your favorite flavor of suffering,” Robbins says. “Are you the person who gets stressed? Anxious? Worried or angry? End that suffering and you’ll reach a level of freedom that no amount of money can give you.”
The antidote to suffering, Robbins says, is appreciation. “Your brain is two-million years old and it wasn’t designed to make you happy. Your brain was designed to make you survive. It has ancient survival software that is constantly looking for what’s wrong so you can fight or flight that thing.” But we no longer have a saber-toothed tiger, Robbins explains, so now we worry about what people think about us. We worry about making more money or getting a cooler job. We have expectations for how exactly life should go and we suffer when it doesn’t go our way. “Trade your expectations for appreciation,” Robbins says, “and your life will change.”
Instead of obsessing about ourselves and how we’re doing, we can begin to appreciate things as they are.
I used to know someone who was always suffering. She was suffering because she felt she wasn’t in the place in her life she was supposed to be. She’d gotten her degree and felt she should’ve had a better job than the one she had. Sometimes when we talked, I would point out that while I myself at the time didn’t have a degree let alone a decent job, I was learning to focus on appreciating what I had, and I was happier for it. At one point I sent her this Tony Robbins interview along with an excited rant about how much it was changing things for me. “Suffering comes from self-obsession! We can re-train our brains! This stuff is golden!” She dismissed all of it. Her suffering wasn’t in her control, she believed.
I started to become anxious when I talked to her. After listening to her talk about being unhappy for so long, I wanted to fix things for her, not realizing that it wasn’t my place to do so. I wanted her to see she could choose to end her suffering and be happy. I soon realized that I was just creating my own suffering too. All of my worry about her was because I had this vision of myself as the good friend who would help her, the one who would free her from her self-obsession, her suffering. Yet I was now suffering too. It was really about me: I was suffering because I was focused on me being the kind of person who could change her, when I couldn’t. I also wanted to fix her suffering because I didn’t think it was healthy for me to be around so much negativity. Once I recognized all of this, I was able to let go. I can’t end her suffering but I can end my own. I can accept what is and act.
Our brain might be looking to see what’s wrong, but what’s right is always available to focus on too, Robbins explains. We can train our brains to focus on what’s right. “If you don’t take control of your focus, everything in your life will disappear,” Robbins says. “We need to trade our expectations for appreciation.” He goes into the 90-second rule in the interview, which is a way to re-train your brain to shift yourself from your suffering state and into a beautiful state. Whether I’m stressing, angry or sad over something big or small, I can practice bringing myself back to a beautiful state.
“That’s just self-help mumbo-jumbo,” I’ve heard people say. “I can’t change or choose when I suffer.” But what if that’s just another negative thing your brain is focusing on and you’re choosing to believe it’s true? What if you’re so focused on the image of yourself as a victim of suffering, you’re actually missing the chance and the choice to end all that suffering? By honestly asking myself these questions, I’ve been able to let go of so much silly, needless suffering in my life.
“There are only two states you live in. Beautiful states or suffering states. And life is too short to live in a state of suffering.” -Tony Robbins