Summary The first thing to say about this book is – great title.Who hasn’t experienced those moments when reality pops up and gives you a good old slap. The premise is that there is a gap between the reality we have and the reality we want. The bigger the gap, the more difficult life can be. Sitting in the gap, will have you dwelling negatively on the past or anxiously worrying about the future. The book offers some really useful thoughts and ideas about how to live with the gap without getting stuck in it.
10 Useful Things I’ve Learnt
There is a difference between ‘inner fulfillment’ and ‘external fulfillment’. We can work on our inner fulfillment (peace, wellness, vitality) so it is always there for us to draw on throughout our lives. We cannot rely on eternal fulfillment (confirming reality to our wishes).
Presence + Purpose = Privilege. Being present in the moment (mindfulness) and drawing on our values and what really matters (purpose) creates a sense of privilege. Life becomes something to be appreciated and relished. “Purpose gives our life direction, and presence allows us to make the most of the journey” (Harris, 2011). Hey presto – inner fulfillment.
Our mind tells us stories. Not the childlike stories you read in books, although it might do if you are that way inclined. Mind stories are all those thoughts, ideas, opinions, judgments, theories, goals, assumptions, daydreams, fantasies, predictions and beliefs. Wow are minds are busy, mine certainly is. Only some of this is ‘facts’. The tendency to think negatively, compare, criticise, find fault and focus on deficiencies, is part of a normal healthy mind. Our mind’s job is to tell us stories, they are not necessarily facts, just stories. This is normal. I am not insane – hooray!
It’s all about how you choose to respond to the stories. Judging yourself for the stories your mind tells you is futile but we have a tendency to give it all of our attention. I’ve been lost for hours, days, even weeks in these stories. It’s all been futile! We can become ‘fused’ to our thoughts/stories. If they are helpful thoughts we can use them. It doesn’t actually matter if the stories are ‘true’ or not. It’s about how useful they are in helping us be who we want to be. If they are unhelpful, defuse from them, they are just stories. Forget trying to challenge them, it’s a waste of time. Acknowledge them, name them (e.g. ‘worry’, ‘blaming’, ‘daydreaming’, ‘predicting), then let them pass on by like clouds or images on a tv screen.
Feelings are just feelings, they cannot hurt you. Be still and just observe them, with a curious mind. You might encounter thoughts and sensations that are be helpful. Create a space within yourself that is peaceful and still. A place where you are not trying to control or push away difficult things. A place for letting go. We do not need to let our difficult emotions dominate our life and our daily experiences.
Looking at the world through ‘not good enough’ goggles makes fulfillment impossible. The gap exists, acknowledge the gap – notice and name it. Getting stuck and dwelling on the ‘not good enough’ is going to make life more difficult and unnecessarily painful. You have the power not to wear the ‘not good enough’ goggles. Are the ‘not good enough’ labels you give to yourself and others helpful?
We can always be there for ourselves. Even when it feels like there is no one else there, you are there. Even when I am lost in the difficult gap place. Bring yourselves back to the present, fully be in the now, engage, be open, be curious and connect with your inner fulfillment. You won’t achieve anything by giving yourself a hard time. “Do what is necessary to protect and look after yourself and meet your own needs” (Harris, 2012). Focus your energy on doing things that are purposeful and life enhancing.
If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t hurt. Hurting and suffering are normal human experiences. You cannot escape it, sometimes life just sucks and awful things do happen. At times of difficulty, ask yourself, what do I want to stand for in the face of this?
Live a value focused life. Your values are who you want to be and how you want to behave, as you develop and move towards your goals. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve your goals, it’s who you were while you were trying. Living your life through I ‘have to’, ‘must’,’ ‘should’ will turn your values into life draining rules. Choose relationships that matter to you. Connect, care and contribute to these and allow them to flourish. “We create our lives through our actions, not through our thoughts” (Harris, 2012)
All we need to do is pay attention. Keep working on developing the skills of noticing, naming, neutralising. See the stories for what they are, take away their power. Change your focus so the gap is not where your attention lives. Ditch them ‘not good enough’ goggles and notice the ways in which life is not lacking. Remember the moment we catch our true self, we are free.
Adapted from – The Reality Slap: Finding fulfillment when life hurts by Russ Harris, 2012
How do you deal with the difference between the reality you have and the reality you want?