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The Psychology of Suffering

Not long ago, a friend of mine stopped by for a quick espresso and chat.  I love friend deliveries, by the way…you know, when you don’t have to leave your house or make complicated plans and they just show up.

This friend is no ordinary guy and is one of the top in his field.  Peter McGraw is a behavioral psychologist and studies humor and “what makes things funny.”  It is his passion for answering this question that currently has hime traveling the world to show that there is one common thread, regardless of culture, to everything that makes people laugh.  These travels will soon turn into a book he is authoring.  In the meantime, he continues to teach and lead his research at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and blog regularly about pop culture, humor, and behavior.

In addition to his work, Pete is also an avid seeker of knowledge and social connections.  He often discusses the importance of not only having and finding role models, but also actively getting in touch with them to learn.  After all, if you want to model yourself after the inspiring traits of others, what better way to do so than to actually be around them, read about them, and pick their brains? I believe Pete looks at his friendships in this way – there is always something to learn from those around you.  Staying in touch and chatting with people is how you fill your life with opportunity.

So, with all that, Pete is great about staying in touch and making sure we have a little get together every once in a while – even if it’s a quick coffee session between travels.  And, regardless of what’s going on, Pete is always asking intellectual questions and offering advice about how he navigates the world – I’m glad to have him around…he always leaves me pondering things I didn’t know I wanted to ponder…ah, opportunity.

This particular morning fell one day after I had decided that I wanted to tap into my creative side more by writing more often and being more proactive with social media.  Coincidentally, he was also exploring possibilities with his own blog and how to provide better content for his readers.  His big, new thing of the moment was video blogging.  He said that not everyone likes to read blogs and that there is a huge amount of value to having material scattered throughout your site that people can WATCH.  This is when I became one of his posts.

I’ll leave the explanation about the psychology to him…but the basic question he asked me was one I’ve heard before:  “how do you deal with the suffering that comes during a bike race.”  I’ve shared some of my coping mechanisms before and a bit, here, in his video (disclaimer…I pretty much JUST woke up when he shot this):

How professional athletes cope with pain..


I suppose the gist is this: I hold strongly to the belief that there are two selves – the true self: “the watcher” “the seeker” “the doer” and the false self, or ego “the mind”, “the thought generator.”  To me, the mind is what distracts us from performing at our best, opening our heart to beautiful interactions with others, or understanding that everything is all good, always.  So, when that little (or big and loud, as it often is) voice starts chattering away, I like to either distract it, interrupt it or just plain old put it in time out.  Here are a few examples:

When climbing up a short difficult climb, rather than focusing on where the top is, sometimes I like to count my pedal strokes – counting takes my mind off the physical pain and distracts my mind from complaining about it.

Pretty sure I'm counting here..."1 banana, 2 banana, 3 banana"

If my mind get’s too busy and worried during a descent and chatters away, as each chattery thought arises I say “blah, blah, blah” and interrupt it – no thought completed = no distraction.

When my mind gets really persistent and just won’t stop, I view it as a small child that’s just had too much sugar and needs something better to do than bother me.  So I tell it: “here, take this iPod and go sit over there and listen to this music.”  I can just see the little whiney Heather child sulk off with the iPod and leave me alone.

How do you cope with the distractions of the mind?

3 Responses to “The Psychology of Suffering”

  1. Gail Royce says:

    Ha, Ha! As a mental coach I’ve suggested many thought tactics for my athletes. But never the “blah,blah,blah” one. Love it! Thanks for the tip!Have a great race season!

  2. keisber says:

    hello heather irmiger te deseo lo mejor del mundo

  3. Funny Heather, I was having this conversation with a cycling freind the other day…

    He too comes from the same background in Strength training and body-building. We’ve both trained together, off and on for 30 years… and know what pain, sweat and suffering is.

    When we talked about the bike, and why people call it suffering… we talked about the meaning we give it. Like the watcher and the doer, we tend to see the experience of the body and just be with it… know it but don’t let it be the center of everything.

    And it’s not suffering if it’s what you’re doing on purpose. It’s stepping as far into your limits, testing and pushing them, without collapse… without fail (and sometimes with).

    I think this is a fascinating topic and one that separates those who want from those who do. And it doesn’t have to… but not sure everyone is per-programmed with the right operating system for pain either.

    To Your Full Strength,

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