You’ve heard the proverb: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. As concepts go, we get this right away. In our human condition, pain is a part of life. The point is whether or not we choose to suffer in response to it, as if it were merely that easy. Experience speaks otherwise.

When it comes to our professional lives, I’d like to offer an important distinction: “new pain” vs. “old pain.” New pain is temporary trouble or discomfort associated with trying new things, solving fresh problems, or reaching new heights. Old pain is chronic and toxic – it comes from re-hashing intractable issues repeatedly, revisiting stubborn problems, or tolerating poor habits or performance. In my experience, suffering only accompanies old pain, not so with new pain. And since pain is indeed inevitable, a great way to reduce suffering is by arranging our lives to target new rather than old pain, to the extent possible.

Some illustrations:

You get the idea. Not one of the items in the New Pain list is risk free, but they all move beyond acceptance of, and suffering with, the old pain.

Reducing Our Tolerance for Old Pain

As with any good discipline, we must acknowledge the problem before we can fix it. Thankfully we have a built-in warning system; something already hurts. None of us is immune to this problem since some battles just can’t be won. But we can admit the damage (and suffering) the old pain is causing. Once we do, we can consider new approaches.

Jeff Foxworthy Style

If the meetings you attend devote more than 20% of the available time to old business, you may be suffering with old pain.

If it hurts and you don’t feel like you are really stretching or growing, you may be suffering with old pain.

If you spend valuable energy hoping that you-know-who does not contact you…

If you try to convince yourself that “this too shall pass,” but in fact know better…

It Might As Well Be New Pain

Since we are going to have discomfort, it might as well be new pain. At least then our soreness will be an investment in the future instead of a reliving of the harmful past. The best way I have found to help is to work backwards; I ask myself, “What am I suffering with right now?” It then becomes easy to identify whether the cause of my suffering is from a chronic problem (old pain) or from something that is propelling me forward (new pain).

Just to be clear, I don’t advocate that stubborn problems be abandoned – my wicked slice, for example. I am saying that suffering and old pain are found together, and it is likely that the way we are addressing them needs a fresher approach.

New Pain At Building Trust

Speaking of new pain, or at least new opportunity, Building Trust, LLC has created a LinkedIn Group called Trustbuilders Network specifically for followers of Building Trust and attendees of the Building Trust workshop or other programs. This Group provides an open dialog to explore in more detail anything we’ve covered in the workshops, blog posts, and Building Trust speaking engagements.

The Trustbuilders Network will stay focused on down-to-earth and practical communications, leadership and management topics. Please join us by clicking here to enroll in the new group!