The Resilience and Well-Being of Ordinariness 

The Resilience and Well-Being of Ordinariness 

Whenever I mention the title of Ron Siegel’s new book, The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary, folks respond, “Oh, I LIKE that!.” Perhaps the relief, the permission, to get off the hamster wheel of needing to be perfect, to be special, to be able to relax and be ourselves, to accept ourselves just as we are. 

Ron deftly walks us through the science of why the scramble to be extraordinary is built into our DNA and ruthlessly reinforced by our culture, normalizing the universality and inevitability of the inflation-deflation in how we compare ourselves to others and to our own internal standards, wanting to be above average in everything. 

All this striving stressed everyone out and made then unhappy, since nobody succeeded for long. It also cut them off from sources of satisfaction that would have been much more meaningful, fulfilling, and reliable if only there weren’t so busy judging themselves or worrying about how the compared to others. 

And why feeling ordinary can feel so terrific.

Strangely, one feels extremely lighthearted once one has accepted in good faith one’s incompetence in a particular field. – William James, father of American psychology

There’s a special thread throughout the book of the importance of safe, trustworthy connections to buffer the stress of our own relentless negative, self-judgements.

While psychologists used to focus on how to foster autonomy and independence, the science now points clearly to safe, social connection as far more important for lifelong well-being. It’s so central to our well-being that our nervous system evolved pathways by which safe social connection can quiet our stress response.

And then many very practical suggestions and practices, all the way through the book:

Mindfulness (Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9% of everything you think and everything you do, is for yourself. And there isn’t one. – Wei Wu Wei) 

Self-compassion  (Separating shame associated with a self-esteem collapse from guilt about our misbehavior can help us rejoin the human family.) 

The positive effect of pro-social emotions. (Take a few moments to welcome your next disappointment as a chance to open your heart to everyone else who might also be hurting.) 

And my favorite overall: Make a connection, not an impression.

All of which I’m weaving into my teaching on The Resilience Mindset this week at the Cape Cod Institute. 

Even though reading the book may trigger mini-shocks of revelation, the “Oh, no! Oh, shit! Oh, wow!” is eased by the many, many stories Ron tells on himself, with compassionate wisdom and well-placed humor. 

Ron began writing this book in his 60’s, astonished that, even though he had a loving family, a good career, with plenty of practice from 40 years serving others as a clinical psychologist and as a well-respected mindfulness meditation teacher, his self-esteem still rode a daily roller coaster of ups and down, his “boosts and crashes.” This book explores what he learned in his “self-treatment” program, to the great benefit of all of us ordinary folks.

The Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary is one of the most brilliant, accessible and ultimately very useful books on the subject to come along in a long time. Check out Ron’s hour-long interview about it, with many excerpts and examples, on Discover the Extraordinary Gift of Being Ordinary

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