When Suffering Is Optional

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

The Results of High-Quality Brain Fuel


Disclaimer for mindset work: there's a big line between mindset work and trauma, oppression and gaslighting. Mindset work is about influencing and owning what you can control. Please note that anything regarding trauma, oppression or gaslighting is a separate category of mental health and not included in these discussions.



See the spine of that mountain range? ⬆️

There's a trail running race that navigates directly on top of it. Yes, serious. 19.62 miles of highly technical terrain, 7,080 feet of elevation gain (think 700 sets of stairs), and multiple max altitudes of 9,000+ feet.

And, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I decided it would be a great idea to subject myself to that brand of intentional discomfort and sign up. I mean, anything sounds like a good idea several months in advance while browsing race photos on the couch.

After the first mile, a painful reality that every athlete on competition day fears presented itself followed by two famous last words:

“Uh, oh.”

One mile into the first peak climb, the initial adrenaline wore off and in a swift instant I felt my lower back flip to jelly and my legs fill with lead. A crushing realization was before me: my body, despite all my training and preparation, decided it was going to have a bad day.

I had a decision: turn around and cut my losses, or continue with what I had to offer. I gave the race a shot and zombie-walked the next 18.62 miles, barely making time cutoffs. Every part of me ached. I was suffering for 16 miles on:

Why did this happen?

I can't believe how slow I'm going.

I hurt, I hurt, I hurt.

This isn't how it was supposed to be.

This sucks.


Then, with about two miles left, I paused to look at the beautiful scenery and was struck like a lightning bolt with an epiphany: my body having a bad day wasn't my choice, but choosing to suffer because of it was.


The Two Kinds of Pain

There are two kinds of pain: pain that is real, and pain that is self-inflicted with low-quality thinking. When you compound your self-created pain onto your real pain, it’s a one-way ticket to utter misery. When you dwell on low-quality thoughts, your brain (and then your body) will begin to react as though it were real. No different than if you were to close your eyes and begin to dwell intently on biting into a lemon...you begin to salivate. Your body always responds to what your brain dwells intently upon.

That epiphany called for a change in perspective and a shift in mental approach for the last two miles of the race from low-quality thought trains to high-quality brain fuel:

🌟 Each step is one step closer.

🌟 Look how far I’ve come.

🌟 I’m far stronger than I think.

🌟 This will pass.

🌟 I’m Whitney Hinshaw and I’m a badass.

The body pain didn't go away, but it wasn’t further weighed down by mental punishment.

To be clear: I'm not saying you should pretend your pain isn't real, or your feelings aren't valid, or that your trials and tribulations are as simple as “just think positive.” But, what I am saying, is that low-quality thinking will only compound your very real afflictions further. High-quality mindset (Power Seven Success Skill #4), and living with robust personal power, is about focusing on what you can control, which gives your body, mind and soul even the slightest boost in your experience rather than add extra weight.

Bottom line: Your pain is real, but your painful-thought-suffering is optional. Focus on what you can control: feeding yourself high-quality thoughts so your real pain isn’t compounded with self-punishment. When in doubt, give yourself compassion and kindness. It will pass, it always does. You will pick yourself up, like you always do. You are resilient. Trust it!