Book Review: When Life Hits Hard

Book cover: When Life Hits Hard by Russ Harris

When Life Hits Hard by Russ Harris draws on acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to explore dealing with grief. I’m a big fan of the author based on his other writings about ACT, and this book didn’t disappoint.

The book is divided into three sections: regroup, rebuild, and revitalize. Grief is framed as a process rather than emotion, and that process occurs in different ways for different people. The book isn’t so much about changing that process as smoothing the way.

The author explains that we can’t control the past, future, or other people, and “we definitely can’t control our thoughts and feelings.” He’s very realistic and anti-toxic positivity, saying that your loss isn’t a gift, and pain isn’t going to vanish because you “somehow magically replace them with joy and happiness.” Preach! I like the ACT approach of allowing thoughts and feelings rather than trying to grapple with them.

He explains what self-compassion is and isn’t, and why it’s important. He also acknowledges that it’s not easy at first, and offers suggestions to practice, including going back and offering compassion to your past self.

Metaphors are used a lot in ACT to capture important concepts. To illustrate the importance of feeling the whole range of emotions, Harris likens feelings to the weather. He pointed out how much it would limit your life if you could only do/be what you really wanted on days with good weather.

Anchor-dropping is a technique that’s frequently referred to throughout the book. It involves acknowledging your thoughts/feelings, connecting with your body, and engaging in what you’re doing. This is to keep you centred, not to make problems go away; after all, “anchors don’t control storms.”

The book addresses psychological smog, an ACT concept that refers to all the mental pollution that we create that clouds up our inner world. Mindfulness and getting unhooked from thoughts are presented as a way to cut through the smog with openness, curiosity, and flexibility.

Values are another important concept in ACT, and in this book, they’re used as a way to orient yourself in moving forward. Harris also suggests looking at what you want to contribute rather than what you want to get out of life, which I thought was an interesting way of reframing.

Regarding behaviour change, I think Harris is spot on. “Whoever said ‘practice makes perfect’ was deluded. There’s no such thing as perfection. Practice will help you establish better life skills, but it won’t permanently eliminate self-defeating behaviours. You (and I, and everyone else on this planet) will screw up, make mistakes, and, at times, fall back into old habits. This will happen repeatedly.”

I’m a fan of ACT, I’m a fan of Russ Harris, and I’m a fan of this book. It’s genuine, it’s real, and there’s no BS. Exactly the way I like it.

When Life Hits Hard is available on Amazon (affiliate link).

I received a reviewer copy from the publisher through Netgalley.

You can find my other reviews on the MH@H book review index or on Goodreads.

The post Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Metaphors is where you can find all things ACT-related on MH@H.

23 thoughts on “Book Review: When Life Hits Hard”

  1. An excellent review: I’m going to check it out. I think I will probably have grief to deal with in the next few years. I like the idea of grief as a process. A great many of the things we consider nouns, like our emotional reactions, can also be verbs.

  2. “Anchor-dropping”, I like that expression. Hadn’t come across it before. I must admit, I kinda like ACT, too. I remember the pain therapist using it with me, then realising I was a psych grad and wannabe clinical psychologist so we ended up discussing the theory rather than applying it to me (which, I told her, would be a waste of time as I’m a hypocrite who can’t take her own advice). I wouldn’t mind giving this a read given the lack of bullshit, down to earth kind of approach. And anyone who defies the nature of perfection gets a tick in my book. Thanks for sharing, Ashley. Great review!

  3. This book sounds awesome – great review, Ashley. I’ve been noticing more stuff like this in mental health books, websites, articles, etc., lately and I love it.

    The idea that one can “transcend grief” or somehow make a shit-storm into something pretty and beautiful is mostly bullshit. And I also believe it’s closely tied to crap religious and spiritual beliefs that are still ingrained in us sometimes.

    I’ve been listening to the audiobook of “It’s OK If You’re Not OK” and the author makes many of the same points. I love the idea of just acknowledging and accepting that life really sucks sometimes and there’s not much you can do about it.

    For me, that takes a lot of the pressure off and expectations. It’s also a kind of acknowledgment that the world is a Dumpster fire right now. What can we do? I’m not sure. Maybe dance in the flames every so often lol.

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