Book Excerpt: Back To Utopia

By Dr. Terry Lyles Ph.DReprinted with Permission

It's not what happens to us in life that defines us, it is our response to what happens.

So many of us are searching for a better life. We think the answers to more happiness, more


love or more success lie outside of us. We lament that we don’t have the job we want or a better relationship or simply enough time in the day to enjoy our lives, and we wait for someone or something else to save us. In reality, we have the answers. We hold the key to our wildest dreams by changing our perception.

Life is full of stress and it’s not going away anytime soon! In fact, it shouldn’t go away because we as people are forged in these moments of crisis, failure and disappointment.

The challenges and stresses of life are Gifts waiting to be unwrapped.

How you manage stress will determine whether you simply survive life, or whether you thrive in life. Stress itself is not the problem. Your response in the face of that stress is what matters—and it also happens to be the only thing you can control.

The Gift is as simple as rising to the occasion, each and every day, no matter what life throws your way. Life isn’t fair. When you learn to accept the facts and limitations of your life, you begin to transform that life into something greater. There is no shortcut. We must go through our tough times to emerge from them and find the life that’s waiting for us. We are the architects of our journey.

The Gift is designed to help guide you through this process of reaching your full potential. Your best self is in there! It’s merely waiting to be cultivated. This book is based on what I’ve learned from years of helping people achieve better lives, whether they’re professional athletes seeking to maximize their performance or couples in marriage counseling hoping for a better relationship. Ultimately, the principles are the same.

Each Chapter takes you through a dimension of life that puts all of us to the test, at one time or another. Mastering these dimensions by changing your perception will yield the key to changing your life.

I hope you enjoy this book as much I’ve enjoyed writing it. Ultimately, how we respond in the face of life’s challenges is The Gift, to ourselves, to others and to the world. Ready to get started?

Chapter 1:

Back to Utopia

“The world breaks everyone and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

–Ernest Hemingway

Infants are all born the same. When you look at a baby, you understand that a baby needs regular rest, regular food and a similar type of care. Babies may differ in their temperament, but what they need is the same at a basic level. You never meet an infant who wants a steak dinner or a beer to take off the pressure!

It sounds funny, but this truth belies a deeper truth: Adults are also wired to need the same things. All adults—men and women—have similar needs on a physiological level because we’re all born the same. An infant cries when he or she is hungry, tired or physically uncomfortable. As adults, we suppress these “cries” and stop listening to our bodies. We don’t train our bodies to meet these similar basic needs and we suffer the consequences, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

In other words, we are wired to survive and especially thrive, but our programming gets in the way.

We are all products of our conditioning and it’s important to recognize the bad programming we’ve become accustomed to and not go on automatic pilot, simply because that’s the way we’ve been (mistakenly) taught to live. How many of us eat two or three times a day? Or skimp on proper rest and relaxation because we simply have too much to do? The problem with this “program,” which is the one most Americans live their lives by, is that it works against our basic needs.

As women and men, we respond to bad programming after we’re born having these needs, or wiring. We only eat 2-3 times a day, when we need to eat 5-6 times a day. We may need less sleep than infants, but we neglect the rest we need, which doesn’t change. As adults, rest is how we grow mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically in energy, though we don’t grow in our bodies. Rest is spiritual and sleep is physical (more on this later).

I always say my kids are older than me now—my son Brent is 20 and my son Brandon is 22. What I mean is that kids grow past you eventually, but then they come back around and realize they don’t know as much as they think they do.

There can be a similar journey for all adults. How infants function should be the template for adults, too, in more ways than not. We can go back to the beginning, when we were wiser. Adults have stopped doing what they’re wired to do and that’s when functioning drops.

Health, happiness and productivity all stand to benefit when we realize this simple truth.


When we’re born as infants we’ve left a utopian state. A mother’s womb is the perfect environment. We’re never tired, never hungry, never thirsty. We have no relationship issues. We’re alone, totally connected to what we need and the most important thing. A developing baby must think, Hey, I own this thing! I’m totally controlled, happy and taken care of…and I’ve never known any different.

Then we’re born! We’re cold, slimy and spitting mucus out of our lungs and it’s like—what happened? My automatic “drive-through” umbilical cord is detached, That moment we’re born is the first experience of crisis in our lives.

As a result, we’re wired for crisis. We’re born into the most volatile state you can imagine. Birth for human beings is like throwing someone off a cliff and saying swim! The body interprets this exit from the womb as tragedy and as death, until it realizes it can handle this new and changing environment. The baby can learn to breathe, get warm again and find nourishment. Food, comfort and oxygen now come from the environment, not the mother’s womb.

However, we will spend the rest of our lives looking for that utopian experience in the womb. We search for it in achievement, in love and in virtually every other way. We seek Comfort and Perfection.

Think about how many times you’ve said, if only I had this, my life would be perfect. The object is different for every one, and some of us have more than one object at different moments in time that we believe will lead us to the perfect life.

We want perfect love. We want to be monogamous and be the most important person in another person’s life. The Greek word ‘genes’ (genesko) is the root of the word ‘know.’ Genesko means to ingest or impregnate. So to know and be known is akin to being inside of somebody. When we idealize that perfect partner—whether having high expectations of our current partner or longing for the perfect partner we don’t currently have, we are desiring to be known completely. We want to be inside of this person almost. It’s the difference between to know of someone versus to know someone. You feel it from inside you.

We want perfect health. We think, If I could just afford a personal trainer or if I just had more time to workout or if I just didn’t have this health problem, everything would be…perfect.

We also want perfect stability, whether financially, in our careers, as a person, or in our relationships. We don’t want things to change. We want to hold onto the moment instead of spending it freely, even when the moment isn’t so great. But change is inevitable, even in the perfect environment we started out in. (After all, we were all born weren’t we?)

In fact, the tragedy and pain of change is what creates life. If we stayed in the womb indefinitely, we never would’ve been born. We never would have loved. We never would have achieved. We never would have lived our lives and discovered our potential as a person in the world with all of its stresses and imperfections. Stress is the gift, but only if you appreciate what it can do for you, not what it does to you.


People are obsessed with living longer and looking younger. Just look around at all of the anti-aging products and information out there. Every day there is a new get-young gimmick that people think is going to be the magic key to more success, more happiness or more self-esteem. All of these surgeries and cosmetic procedures promise to fight off the progression of time and the toll life takes on our bodies. We’re literally trying to fight gravity.

Gravity keeps us on the earth, both in a physical sense and in a larger, metaphysical sense. Gravity is anything that has the potential to bring stress or negative events to us. We first learn about gravity when we are young. We may try to jump off a ledge or the bed and we fall, hurting ourselves. A child may think the thrill of the fall was fun, but hitting the ground was not. Hopefully the child does not hurt him or herself badly, but still learns an important lesson: When you jump, you are going to fall and eventually land. Falling can be exciting, but landing is the challenge. That’s gravity. We may not understand it by name at the time, but it’s a lesson that must be learned, over and over again throughout our lives.

As adults, gravity expands in its meaning. Gravity becomes anything that may cause us stress as we navigate our daily lives. It could be rush hour traffic, floods from too much rain, a difficult family member, bills or your ex.

Normally we say, oh, if I could just get rid of these things, everything would be ok. People try to avoid stress in the hope that their life will come closer to the state of balance and happiness they seek. But it won’t! Stress is not only unavoidable, it’s also what makes us who we are, because it forces us to respond and build strength in response to it. We become who we are because of the stresses in our lives if we use it correctly.

Whatever we can’t change in our lives is gravity. For me, it’s having a special needs child. My son, Brandon, has been a quadriplegic since the age of one, and twenty-one years later we still don’t know why. It’s a fact of my life that is never going to change. The way I respond to it and learn from it is what’s made the difference in my life and continues to make me a better person every day.

Brandon has been one of my greatest gifts in helping me become a better man and do the work that I do. Just like the child jumping off the ledge, as adults we need gravity to continue teaching us about life and our potential strength in the face of it.


I have a client who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The cancer is Stage III, possibly Stage IV, and she may not have more than a year to live. Her tumor is the size of a baseball. She’s devastated because her life as she knows it is over. It’s a tragedy, no question; however, I’ve tried to tell her there’s something positive that can come out of it. If she takes her disease as an opportunity to live her life to the fullest in the time she has left, she’s allowing the diagnosis to affect her in the most positive way possible. It’s a change in awareness.

That’s gravity—you can’t totally stop disease. You can fight it, but you can’t stop it. All you can control is the way you respond to it. Sometimes is takes the urgency of a terminal illness to bring us to this realization. Remember before when I talked about stress as the greatest opportunity for change and growth? It’s true, but it doesn’t have to be life-threatening stress if you can change your perception sooner: You’ve got to create your world, every step of the way, no matter what, because life is not perfect. It’s not utopia here! This is the world and the beauty is that it’s out there for the choosing. The bad news is you can screw it up. That delicate equilibrium is the difference between a good life and a bad life, and the power is in your hands.

Living life with the awareness that you’re never going to find perfection, but rather that you have to create it, is “The Gift.” The English word ‘perfect’ comes from an old Greek word that literally means ‘complete.’ To seek completion instead of perfection is the gift!

Everybody has the gift—it’s in our DNA, but most people don’t unwrap it. We’re carrying around this Christmas gift for years and we don’t open it. What’s in it could be the key to your happiness and your wildest dreams, both of which you create.

So why don’t most people take advantage of the power that’s inside of them? Past failures or bad experiences with our parents can make us scared to open this gift, because our expectations haven’t been met in the past. We’ve looked for utopia over and over again, but feel so let down when we don’t find it that we stop trying. We stop believing. But it’s still inside of us.

The bottom line is life stinks many days. You’ve got to make it something. Common people become great people because they navigate life differently than others. What many fail to realize is that tragedy and disaster are the greatest vortex for learning. Stress is the real mechanism to cause people to make real change. People just don’t like change. We’re creatures of habit—that’s our wiring.

My son’s handicap is a gift. It ultimately ruined my marriage. I felt angry. I felt guilty. I finally decided that I could either wallow in it and allow it to destroy every aspect of my life, or I could kick it and turn it into something positive. Everything that’s right with me, there’s something equally wrong that I’ve converted. What makes me good, makes me bad, and the same is true for every person on this planet.

I’m attracted to crisis because I’ve had crisis in my life and it’s the most potent source of change. When I flew halfway around to world to work with tsunami victims in Thailand, I was forever changed by the strength of the people I encountered there. These were people who’d lost everything—loved ones, their homes, all of their possessions—but they managed to go on. We’ve already forgotten about the tsunami, a cataclysmic event that saw 250,000 people killed in 90 minutes and devastated the lives of millions of others; however, it was a life-defining event for millions of people who could find life-meaning in the midst of tragedy. Once again, the gift must be unwrapped to discover and appreciate it.

I teach people how to become more aerodynamic and deal with these “gravities” in their lives so they’re sources of strength and transformation, rather than negative drains. Today we have so much more gravity pulling us away from our balance in a negative way. So many distractions, whether the pressure to own the right house or car, wear the right clothes, or all of the modern diversions, designed to make our lives easier or more enjoyable, which end up doing the exact opposite, from email to video games.

All the while we’re looking for that utopian perfection in relationships, in health, in love and in life, but all of these things in our world pull us the other way. Bad foods, bad people and diversions that feel good in the moment, but are ultimately bad for you in the long run because they pull you even farther from that balance into a free fall with a rough landing.

Every one of us will spend our lives looking for that utopian state we lost so long ago. Will we ever find it? Probably not. But by learning how to avoid the distractions and effectively respond to what is (the gravities, particular to your life!), you can make the journey a whole lot more enjoyable and productive.