Five Handy Slogans for Constructive Living

David K. Reynolds wrote Constructive Living and many other wonderful books. He champions an approach to behavior change and mental health that draws from two Japanese traditions.

One is Morita psychotherapy, which emphasizes the value of accepting our feelings — no matter what they are — and continuing to act in ways that align with our values. This is the active element of Constructive Living.

The second is Naikan reflection, which is based on asking yourself three questions:

  • What have I received from others?
  • What have I given to others?
  • What difficulties have I caused others?

This is the reflective element of Constructive Living.

One cool aspect of Constructive Living is Reynolds’s fondness for aphorisms — slogans that crystallize simple, useful, and profound ideas. Following are five of my favorites.

Have it be the way it is

A variant on this one is: “Things turn out the way they do.” Cars get stuck in snow banks. People get laid off from their jobs. Accidents take place. Why pretend that reality is anything other than what actually happened?

If a problem surfaces, accept it. That is, permit yourself to have it for right now. Then continue to the next slogan.

I’m feeling… . ; what needs doing now?

There’s one aspect of being human that’s profound, easy to verify, and easy to forget: When appropriate, we can separate feelings from actions.

We can feel sad and still do the laundry.

We can feel stage fright and still give a speech.

We can dread doing our taxes and still sort our receipts.

We can feel angry with someone and still listen to what they say.

If we wait to take important actions until we “feel motivated,” then we could end up waiting a long time. Maybe a lifetime.

All I can do is … the next thing and the next thing and the next

“Moment by moment,” writes Reynolds, “reality brings us tasks in just this order.”

Here’s the deal: There is no such thing as multitasking. When people say that they’re multi-tasking, they’re not really doing several things at once. They’re actually doing one thing for a few seconds, then another thing for a few seconds, and then another … ad infinitum.

The problem with this is that rapid switching between tasks imposes cognitive burdens that our poor brain is not designed to bear.

How much better it is — and how much more fun — to do one thing at a time with full attention.

Stick it in your hara

Hara is a Japanese word for your lower abdomen. In certain spiritual traditions, this part of your body is considered the seat of wisdom — not your head. Americans might say that hara is “gut wisdom.”

The suggestion here is to refrain from acting impulsively, especially when your actions could alienate or hurt other people. Let your intention sit in your hara for a while. Act only after your gut wisdom has spoken.

Every moment is fresh

Who among us could bear being held accountable for every mistake we’ve ever made? Our past actions are beyond our control.

All we can do is apologize, make amends — and use the present moment to make a choice that sets a new direction.

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