“We evolved an aversion to physical pain, because that keeps us alive. But when we evolved further and developed frontal lobes and developed sentience and self-awareness, we took our aversion to pain into the psychological world. And we all, if you think about it, spend all of our days, everyday doing things to avoid what you might consider to be legitimate pain.
We have this idea now in our society that are never supposed to feel bad. We’re never supposed to feel anxious. We’re never supposed to feel exhausted. And if we do, people come to ask me as a doctor, give me a pill for this. And what I’m suggesting in the book is that when you look at pain, whether that is anxiety or exhaustion or anger or guilt or physical pain, from the perspective of acceptance, it has a very strange and paradoxical effect. It actually reduces the level of intensity of whatever you’re feeling.
So, for example, people who are trying to quit smoking and have nicotine cravings, or trying to lose weight and have hunger cravings — even epileptics who will often get a warning sign that a seizure’s about to come on with some very unpleasant sensations — if all those people view those unpleasant sensations with acceptance, invariably what happens is the studies show they have a higher rate of quitting smoking, a higher rate of successfully losing weight, and even a lower rate of seizures.
There is something about saying to yourself, when there’s an unpleasant sensation coming, rather than “I can’t handle this,” say instead, “Bring it on!”
In a sense, we’re saying to ourselves, we’re strong enough to keep going. And studies show in different contexts that this really makes a difference in how well we perform. And also in how we experience that exhausting or that anxiety or that food or nicotine craving.