“Whatever you resist you become. If you resist anger, you are always angry. If you resist sadness, you are always sad. If you resist suffering, you are always suffering. If you resist confusion, you are always confused.” — Adyashanti
There’s a common thread across those challenges: our (in)ability to deal with reality.
That’s the biggest behavior we must battle.
Most of us refuse to see reality as is, acting as if reality is ignoring us.
When things didn’t go as expected, you feel disappointed. And you fight back. You resist reality, trying to get attention. But things won’t change because you can’t accept them. You are not that important.
Being at war with reality will only turn you into a casualty.
Stop fighting what you don’t know, what you can’t manage, what you don’t like or what didn’t go your way.
You can’t change reality. But you can change how you react. Allow things to be as they are.
The Only Truth Is Reality.
“No amount of regretting can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future.” ― Roy T. Bennett
We are addicted to our emotions.
Before something happens, your brain starts enjoying a pleasant outcome. The dopamine, the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter, spikes anticipating a rewarding experience.
Unfortunately, things rarely go as planned.
Your dopamine drops all of a sudden due to disappointment. This emotional gap — the difference between the experienced and predicted ‘reward’ of an event — is what scientists call ‘reward prediction error.’
“Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.” — William James
Accepting reality requires refocusing our attention into what happened rather than in what we wish should have happened.
Adapting to reality doesn’t mean giving up. It means giving up to resist what you don’t like (what happened).
“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life. “ — Thich Nhat Hanh
As I’m writing this, the first signs of winter are starting to show. It’s already cold in Chicago. And it will only get worse. There’s nothing I can do about it but embrace a positive attitude. And enjoy biking indoors even if I’d rather be cycling on the road.
“The only truth is reality.” — Aristotle
The Five Illusions: Why Reality Hurts.
“Because it hurts.” — that’s the answer I get every time I asked our workshop participants why they resist reality.
Reality doesn’t hurt. Reality is fantastic once we stop fighting it. Avoid these illusions if you want to end the war with reality.
1. Behaving like a victim:
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” — Buddha
“Why is this happening to me?” — you ask as if the world should revolve around you.
Your ego distorts your vision. Seeing the world through a ‘me-me’ lens blinds you from reality. Stop behaving like a victim is the first step to stop being at war with what you don’t like.
2. Comparing your reality to others:
“The basic root of happiness lies in our minds; outer circumstances are nothing more than adverse or favorable.” — Matthieu Ricard
It’s impossible to appreciate what you have when you are dealing with high levels of negative emotions.
Envy, hate or jealousy. When you compare to others, you always lose. You feel inferior; life seems unfair, because your reality is not as good as others’.
Comparing to others is like holding burning coal.
3. Having expectations:
“There is no formula for success except an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.” — Arthur Rubinstein
Having expectations is the worst form of ignorance.
By clinging to your expectations, you fail to accept things as they are.
Being attached to expectations fuels your anxiety. It’s difficult to understand reality when your mind is busy anticipating the results you want. William Ward said it better: “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
Attachment leads to expectations and expectations lead to disappointment.
4. Believing resisting will make things disappear:
“What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” — Carl Jung
Your ego, once again, gets you into trouble. Not only you resist reality, but you believe you can change it.
When you fight and resist, you get stuck; you create turbulence in your life.
As Josep Goldstein said: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” Stop resisting and find the lesson.
5. Wanting things your way:
“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.” — Soren Kierkeggaard
Stubbornness can be a virtue. But you need to realize when to draw the line and stop fighting a lost battle. It takes courage to say no and quit.
Quitting when things get hard is an easy way out. But not realizing when you need to change direction can be harmful. Find the right balance.
Bruce Lee reminded us of the importance of movement: “Running water never grows stale. So you just have to ‘keep on flowing.’”
When you lack balance, you fall.
Learn to Adapt to Reality
“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” — Stephen Hawking
Adapting to reality is not about lowering the bar.
Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up. But to receive reality with open arms.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them, that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” — Lao Tzu
Acceptance is a choice. To move from fantasy to reality. Move from being in control to let go of control.
Find the lesson. Acceptance prepares you to live in an ever-changing world. ‘When life gives you lemons, make gelato,’ is my version of the old saying. You can turn reality into something exciting.
When one door closes, another opens. Let go of the closed door, cross the open one. Discover what’s on the other side.
Resisting a project that was cancelled or the loss of a job, won’t change the facts. What happened, happened. Resistance will only make suffering worse.
If you get stuck in mourning the ones you lost, you might neglect those who are still around. Acting like a victim after a job loss will take your focus away from finding a new one.
Letting go doesn’t mean not caring. It means giving space to care about other things.
Exercise: Be Like Water
You are over 70% water. This exercise is an invitation to embrace your true nature.
Reconnect with your adaptability:
“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, and it becomes the bottle. Now, water can flow, or it can crash.” — Bruce Lee
You were born with the ability to adapt.
Your education and upbringing erased that from your memory. But the ability is still within you. You were taught that confronting your enemy means being strong. But those who can be bent but not broken are really strong.
Mutate with a purpose:
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.” — Lao-Tzu
When facing something that didn’t go your way, be mindful about how to react. Do you need to be fluid and soft like running water? Or be more aggressive?
That events can raise your temperature doesn’t mean you need to be boiling all the time.
Have you seen a river overflow its banks? It carves new waterways in any direction to whatever depth it needs. Be like a river when needed.
Find the path of least resistance:
You believe that putting more effort on something will make it better. But more often than not, it’s a waste of your energy.
The most successful ideas are the simplest. Don’t overcomplicate. Half of our problems are caused by overanalyzing and overthinking.
Be smart. Stop fighting what you can’t control.
Turn patience and perseverance into a strength:
“It is the calm and silent water that drowns a man.” — Ghanaian Proverb
Don’t react. Pause. Reflect. Wait before you act.
Water can wear away rock. Think of what you don’t like — patience and perseverance can wear those away. Being slow and consistent can be more potent in the long run.
Release tension regularly:
“Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo.”― Bruce Lee
Learn to watch life like watching a movie. Let go of your need to control all the events. Like a mirror, reflect back any situation without thinking about it or changing it.
Expend no unnecessary energy.
A mirror has no ego. It reflects reality, not emotions. The best way to release tension is by not adding drama to reality.
Stop being at war with reality. Be like water.