Before I start this post, a quick recap of Part 1 (click on the link to read it in full):
- Wishful thinking alone will not achieve positive results
- Wishful thinking is futile when it comes to wishing someone else will change purely because you want/wish them to.
Today I would like to explore the fine line between reality and fantasy.
The way we wished things would be, and the way things actually are.
In 2011, I was recommended a book to read: The Reality Slap. The book provides insights on how to live a fulfilling life, despite the curve balls life throws at you. It acknowledges and validates the hurt, disappointment, frustration that comes in the aftermath of an unexpected life event. It encourages you to be kind to yourself, accept what cannot be changed, and live your life with purpose; this guidance can be applied to life events, big and small.
My perspective is, in life we have a mixture of:
Rewind to when you were a child…
What did you wish for yourself? Were you influenced by fairy tales? Did you wish to follow in the footsteps of one of your parents? Did you have high or low expectations for yourself? Did you visualise yourself going to college or university? Did you see yourself having a successful career? Did you imagine a happy family life?
These expectations set you up in life; your aims and goals provide a starting point for your entrance into the adult world at 16 or 18.
We experience day-to-day events, and bigger life events. Holmes & Rahe compiled a list of stressful life events ranging from bereavement to change in sleeping habits. Their research found if too many events happen to you at the same time, you become susceptible to illness.
Top 5: Most Stressful
- Death of a spouse
- Martial Separation
- Death of close family member
Kanner explored the impact of ‘daily hassles’ on our stress levels; he found these daily hassles often cause more stress than other life events, such as:
- Home maintenance
- Concerns about weight
- Too many things to do
- Health of a family member
- Rising prices
Looking at both categories, some of the events we have control over, some of the events are out of our control. Whatever influenced them, each event forms part of our reality.
In a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach, our reaction to an event or situation determines how we feel emotionally. Often our initial reactions are:
- Our cognitive reaction – our thoughts on what happened
- Our behavioural reaction – our behaviour as a result of what happened
How we react to the event, and how we perceive the event compared to our expectations, has a big impact on how we feel and what happens next…
Where does wishful thinking fit in?
I believe wishful thinking can affect both our expectations and our reactions. Regular optimism can enhance expectations, and soften our reactions. However, I’m concerned with how wishful thinking can prevent us accepting our reality. If we do not accept our reality, we risk living in a fantasy land where you are susceptible to hurt, disappointment, and frustration on a regular, circular basis.
Example # 1
Expectation: I’m going to be healthy until after I retire
Event: Treated for cancer aged 40
Wishful Thinking Reaction: The cancer was just a one-off, I’ll have no more health issues after this.
Acceptance Reaction: I am more susceptible to cancer now I have had it. I better review the ways I can look after myself better e.g. healthy eating, exercise & lifestyle choices
Example # 2
Expectation: I’ll always be able to manage what life throws at me on my own
Event: Build up of events culminating in time off work due to stress
Wishful Thinking Reaction: Nothing will be stressful like that again in the future
Acceptance Reaction: I’m not immune to stress, I need to re-evaluate my approach when I have several demands at once e.g. time-management, prioritisation & relaxation time
Example # 3
Expectation: I’ll get married by the age of 27
Event: Break up with long-term partner aged 25
Wishful Thinking Reaction: It could still happen, I need to find someone quickly!
Acceptance Reaction: I want to get married for life, so it would be better to let go of that expectation; I’ll get married to the right person, at the right time, whatever age I am
Example # 4
Expectation: I’ll have a beach holiday every summer when I have children
Event: Prices of flights in the summer holidays are extortionate
Wishful Thinking Reaction: We can go in term-time, no-one will mind.
Acceptance Reaction: We can afford summer beach holidays every other year
Example # 5
Expectation: My close friends will be always be there for me
Event: Friend drifts away
Wishful Thinking Reaction: They’ll come back & it will be just like old times
Acceptance Reaction: Some people are in your life for a set amount of time, that’s OK
When we have a blank slate we can fill it with wishes! As our life progresses, we have to acknowledge the events that happen to us. We cannot wish them away, deny they happened, and carry on regardless. It is healthy and helpful to take stock once in a while. To readjust any unrealistic expectations, especially in the aftermath of a stressful life event; to reset your goals, if your life path takes an unexpected turn.
A fantasy life is just that, a fantasy. Let go. Your life is now. Your reality surrounds you as you read this blog post. Your friends are who you saw at the weekend. Your reflection is YOU. Your career is thanks to your hard work. If there’s something in your life you want to change, that’s possible to change, change it; if it’s not, accept it. Let your life be a reflection of who you are, not who you wished you were or what you expected before you knew better.
Focus on what is possible for YOU, despite what has or hasn’t happened to you.
By accepting your life exactly the way it is and accepting yourself exactly the way you are, you can embrace:
Sounds good, right?