I used to be addicted to thinking “I am miserable” all the time.
And I didn’t know any better than trying to distract myself.
Which made things even worse because I didn’t make the misery go away but now added guilt on top of it.
I didn’t like that and looked for sustainable ways to make me feel better.
The methods that I found changed how I feel on a moment-to-moment basis.
They will change yours, I promise.
In which states am I miserable?
We feel miserable in different situations.
If we know these situations, we are better prepared to deal with misery.
In 2008, my wife’s dog died tragically.
I loved that dog because I associated so many good memories of our love with the dog.
Like taking long walks together, laughing at the dog, taking it to a veterinarian, or protecting it from bigger dogs.
As a result, I sank into depression.
I blamed myself for not preventing the dog’s death.
I also thought that my life had been so much better before and now the good days were over.
I kept playing these thoughts in my mind day after day, driving myself deeper into depression.
I felt miserable because I didn’t want to accept the new reality.
A lot of my energy went into resisting that new reality.
I remember how anxious I felt after my son had been born.
A year before that, my cousin had lost her 2-year old kid.
I had been so shocked that I developed this fear of having kids.
My little son looked so fragile to me that I was constantly worried something could happen to him.
This anxiety made me feel miserable.
Last week, I flew from Moscow to Toronto via Lisbon.
I hoped my flight would be a little bit late so that my layover in Lisbon would be around 4 hours and I’d spend them in the comfort of a business lounge.
But the plane arrived on time and it turned out that Lisbon was on GMT rather than CET.
Plus, there was no lounge in the international departures area.
That’s how I ended up waiting for 6 hours instead of 4 hours.
I felt so bored because I didn’t want to wait that long.
And I caught myself feeling miserable.
Facing a challenge
When I’m tackling a challenging task, I feel an urge to escape it and do something pleasant instead.
To illustrate, I had a problem with this back when I was running a Russian translation agency.
Usually, 95% of the texts I worked on were easy to translate.
The remaining 5% were much more difficult, though.
Because of unclear writing and errors, deciphering the meaning of the original was a challenge.
I spent a lot of time researching, guessing, or contacting the client to confirm the meaning.
When I faced these challenges, I felt miserable and looked for a quick escape.
Choices we make to stop feeling miserable
When I’m in one of the states above and feel miserable, I have a choice of sustainable and unsustainable options to stop it.
Let’s look at some of those options, starting with the most sustainable ones.
Choice #1: the long-term solution
The best way of stopping feeling miserable is embracing discomfort and developing the discipline to withstand it.
Seeing misery as a chance to build resilience
When I’m miserable, I view it as an opportunity to develop my discipline and resilience.
We need to feel uncomfortable to grow.
Otherwise, we become too comfortable and lazy.
Knowing this, I embrace feeling miserable and keep going despite this feeling.
I take the energy that went into fighting misery and rechannel it into reframing and feeling better.
For example, when I feel hungry during intermittent fasting, I override thoughts of hunger with thoughts of becoming more psychologically resilient.
And next time I’m hungry, I think less about it and I also feel more resilient and less miserable.
Other choices make me weaker
Choosing to escape the feeling of misery, even with a sustainable method, is suboptimal.
Not only do I miss the opportunity to build resilience but I also wire my mind to crave that kind of escaping even more in the future.
That’s why I always do my best to embrace misery and reframe it in a way that helps me grow.
But I fail a lot, of course.
And then I use other options to stop misery which don’t have the same potential for personal development but are still very healthy.
Choice #2: using contrast strategically
I found that exposing myself to contrast, or discomfort, helps me appreciate my “comfortable” state more.
Say, I feel miserable because I’m bored. That’s my “comfortable” state.
I then get up and do push-ups until no strength is left in me. That’s my “contrast” state.
There are 2 benefits to this process:
- The “contrast” state feels so bad that returning to my “comfortable” state feels good in comparison to that, even though that “normal” state was feeling miserable.
- I become physically stronger and more resilient psychologically.
Take nothing for granted
Doing push-ups is one example of reminding myself that I take my “comfortable” state for granted.
There are so many other things we take for granted.
Starting with the very basics:
- We are warm.
- We have air to breathe.
- We have water and food.
And then we feel miserable despite having all those blessings.
But if we remind ourselves about the value of these things, we feel grateful for them.
Gratitude helps us stop feeling miserable because we can’t have two emotions at the same time.
The “spring” metaphor
To remind myself how good my “comfortable” state is, I use contrast.
Think of it as a spring.
The more I push a spring, the further it goes after release.
Likewise, the longer I expose myself to a “contrast” state deliberately, the better returning to my “comfortable” state feels.
This boost of positive emotions helps me feel less miserable than I felt before.
I find this “spring” metaphor motivating: it reminds me of the value of my “contrast” state.
Tony Robbins explained why metaphors like this are so helpful:
Our mind responds to symbols better than to anything else.
Contrast method #1: cold
Exposure to cold such as going outside in shorts or taking a contrast shower makes us appreciate the warmth that we take for granted.
When I’m inside a warm building in winter, I take it for granted.
But if I spend a few minutes outside feeling cold strategically, I’ll appreciate the warmth inside so much more.
What are some of those strategic things that we can do?
- Contrast shower. I start with hot water and then do 4 sets of alternating between hot and cold water for 30 seconds. And I finish with hot water because ending on a high note makes the experience more pleasurable. Then, I go outside for a few minutes while I’m still wet.
- Simply unbuttoning or taking off a coat for 10 minutes as I’m walking toward my building,
- Alternating between feeling cold and warm while working. I start by reducing the temperature in my room and stay cold for an hour. Then, I put on a hoodie and appreciate warmth for an hour.
What blew my mind is that eventually, I started to enjoy cold, too.
I love getting goosebumps!
That said, the only problem for us, cold fanatics, is summer! 🙂
Contrast method #2: exercise
When I feel miserable, I exercise.
Even one hard set of push-ups makes me feel better.
I believe in the value of doing this so much that I exercise every hour.
Not only because it’s important to take a break from work but also because I know it makes me feel good: changing my physiology like that is a quick and sustainable source of endorphins.
If you want to master your feelings, you must be aware of how your feelings and your body are interconnected. Your feelings are dictated by your movement. The next time you feel yourself in a bad mood, stand up and breathe deeply. You have the power to change your state.—Tony Robbins
And when I go back to work, it feels better even if it felt boring before.
Contrast method #3: intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is yet another “contrast” state that helps me stop feeling miserable.
There are at least three ways it helps to do so:
- Before eating: I look forward to eating and this anticipation makes me feel better. Remember the spring metaphor? Loading the spring makes eating more pleasurable.
- During and after eating: I enjoy eating more because a long rest resets my taste receptors: they aren’t overstimulated.
- After eating: I feel more energetic and uplifted because my body can convert food into energy more effectively.
In my experiments with optimizing eating, I drove myself to a point where one meal a day felt so good that I didn’t want to eat more often.
And of course, intermittent fasting has many health benefits including autophagy.
Contrast method #4: hypoxia
Breathing is a perfect example of one thing that we take for granted.
And it also calls for loading the “spring.”
I love taking a deep breath, exhaling fully, and then holding my breath.
And I do it several times.
Here’s what I learned:
- It’s such a huge contrast between my “contrast” state (when I hold my breath) and my “comfortable” state that the later feels fantastic afterward.
- I feel euphoria after I’m done.
- I often catch myself enjoying breathing even outside of my breathing exercises.
- According to Wim Hof, there are also multiple health benefits.
Contrast method #5: work hard
This might sound counterintuitive but I do think of work as a way to load the spring as well.
In this case, my “comfortable” state is when I’m working on something pleasant.
My “contrast” state is when I feel bored while working to the point when I want to distract myself.
I know that if I concentrate on work and avoid distractions, my “comfortable” state will feel even better
And so will my rest that I’ll take after finishing work.
Choice #3: minor sustainable ways to stop feeling miserable
Now let’s look at some of the simpler methods.
They are 100% sustainable but less effective than the first-choice method described above.
They are all about escaping the emotion rather than embracing it.
And unlike contrast that is based on feeling pain and helps develop discipline, these methods are based on pleasure, which is not conducive to building a higher level of discipline.
Expressing love for someone
When I feel miserable, I give a hug to my intimate partner, my son, or my parents.
I make sure to feel love for them deep in my heart so that my hug communicates it well.
And then I feel that love overrides the misery a little bit.
Relying on a powerful memory
When I feel miserable, I recall a memory that makes me feel proud and powerful.
I make sure to recall every little detail and engage all senses including smell and taste.
Doing that pulls me out of the miserable state for some time.
I recorded a quick video that makes it easier to remember this method:
As I mentioned above, gratitude helps me feel better when I use contrast to appreciate things that I normally take for granted such as breathing or feeling warm.
But I also remember to feel grateful for other things.
For me, thinking about my family works best.
I love them so much and feel so thankful that it helps me override misery.
Helping another person brings out the best in me and makes me feel better.
If I can’t help physically for some reason, I just positively think of that person and send my love to them.
Here’s why it uplifts me:
- When I do so, I feel love or compassion that overrides my negative feelings.
- I rely on contrast again: by helping the other person with their problems, I might realize that my situation isn’t that bad.
Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart was caring for his grandmother who had dementia.
She had not said a word for nearly a year.
One day he started to pound out a soft but insistent beat.
She smiled and pronounced his name.
Since then, he’s been on a mission to teach people about the therapeutic effect of rhythm.
Music has the power to heal.
When I feel down, I put on my favorite music and it cheers me up.
Things like meditation help us reset our minds and stop thinking negative thoughts.
Taking a nap
Taking a strategic nap during the day works very well for me.
I love it and look forward to it.
The thought about taking a nap later in the day helps me wake up more effortlessly.
Choice #4: obtainable but not sustainable ways
The general problem with these ways is that like with all other methods this is running from a state rather than developing resilience to face it.
Plus, these methods have specific negative consequences to them.
Food is one of the easiest ways to feel better instantly because it appeals to our most basic instinct.
The problem is that we get addicted to using food as a way to change our state.
Why is using food as a crutch bad?
Here’s my own example:
A few years ago, I started running a lot and lost a lot of weight.
I was always hungry as a result.
The next thing I knew I was thinking about food too much a lot during the day.
And I had to exercise my will a lot in order not to overeat.
Food addiction is bad for two reasons
First, just as any kind of addiction, it devours mental energy and steals our mental focus.
Second, it’s an unhealthy addiction.
- We might overeat.
- We tend to eat unhealthy food. It’s easy to grab an unhealthy snack than, say, a cucumber because the unhealthy snack gives more pleasure.
- We tend to become less disciplined with our eating schedule, e.g., eat at irregular times or eat late.
Sex is another addictive way to change state because it appeals to our basic instinct.
And it can even be sustainable as long as you have your intimate partner around and can have proper intercourse.
It’s good for your health and well-being.
You also make your partner happy.
But in reality, this is not how people often use sex as an escape from feeling miserable.
Two problems with using sex as a distraction
The first problem is the practical one: we don’t have the time for proper sex during the day.
We can’t allow ourselves to get distracted with sex for an hour or two.
So, it’s usually just a quickie.
But a quickie isn’t that good as proper sex.
It’s too mechanical to qualify as making love: it might hurt your partner’s feelings and influence your perception of sex in a negative way.
The second problem is that men often use masturbation rather than sex as an escape.
It’s way easier: we don’t need to work on having a woman in our life.
Plus, we don’t have to work on arousing and pleasing her during intercourse.
It’s very efficient—just what men love.
The problem with it is that men stop liking real sex because they rewire themselves to like this surrogate.
Another problem is that men get less attracted to real women.
Reading and watching content online is another way to escape feeling miserable.
I limit my content consumption.
That’s why content is my most addictive unsustainable way to change state.
I used to go on “content consumption marathons” for hours.
It changes my state immediately.
The problem with it is the guilt that I felt because of the time wasted on consuming content.
Especially when it causes me to procrastinate on important tasks.
Smoking is very addictive because of sucking behavior.
Another addictive way to escape feeling miserable.
It works best but it is so unsustainable because it ruins both health and motivation.
Drugs are one of the ultimate ways to feel better but on the other end of the spectrum.
Although they make us feel ecstatic, they do so much obvious damage to everything else in our life that it’s best to avoid them altogether.
How to find happiness within yourself?
Here’s one principle that makes me happier consistently: I push myself to be a creator rather than a consumer.
When I consume anything, I’m selfish. And selfishness moves me away from happiness and consciousness.
For example, I used to watch porn. I pleased myself in a very selfish way because I hurt my close ones while doing so.
This is not to say that selfishness is always bad. But there’s so much more happiness in selflessness.
I became a creator rather than a consumer. Trying to create Art in whatever I do. Art that makes other people a little bit happier.
Instead of watching porn, I created a beautiful relationship. I then used my experience to help others as a coach.
For you, this could be playing video games. Instead of playing your favorite game too much, you can create a mod for it.
Whatever your art is, even if helps just one person, that feels better than selfishness. That’s how you find happiness within yourself.
I quit watching porn to feel better but I feel miserable instead ❗ What should I do?
A follower Diego used to feel really miserable. He realized porn was the main problem.
He quit watching porn. The first days were like a battle in his mind. But recently, he’s been feeling better. He doesn’t feel disgusted with this bad habit anymore.
He hated being at the mercy of his urges. He also wanted to be more social and have more energy.
Quitting porn also made him realize he was lacking in other areas of his. Since then he has been taking more care of himself, working out, and eating right.
He doesn’t feel 💯 yet but he doesn’t feel miserable either. He’ll keep monitoring his progress.
When were yourself miserable, Roman ❓
I said “I feel miserable,” quite a few times. Did I hate those episodes at the moment ❓ Yes. But I also appreciate them for the lessons they taught me and the men they made me to be.
I used to be depressed. I beat depression in 2010.
I was addicted to porn. I beat porn addiction in 2014.
I used to consume tons of content. I beat content addiction in 2017.
I used to stay in bed until 10 a.m. I beat sleep addiction in 2018.
All these taught me willpower. I developed it along the way.
I felt miserable for a reason. Now I can help you develop yours. Yes, you will develop it eventually on your own. But with my help, it could take you one year instead of ten years.
Let’s go. Don’t wait.
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