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Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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About the Author

"Dr. Phil" (Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D.) is the host of America’s number-one daytime talk show and is perhaps the most well-known expert in the field of psychology and human functioning in the world today. In his 16th year on television and his 11th year of the Dr. Phil show, he has devoted his international platform to delivering common sense information to individuals and families seeking to improve their lives. Passionately pursuing such topics as family functioning, domestic violence, anti-bullying, addiction and the myths of mental illness, he works tirelessly both on and off the air. Dr. Phil has carried his message from the senate chambers of Washington, D.C. to the suburbs and inner cities across America. He and Robin, his wife of 38 years and counting, along with their "wonder dog," Maggie, reside in Southern California, as do his two sons, Jordan and Jay, along with daughter-in-law, Erica, and two grandchildren, Avery Elizabeth and London Phillip.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Prep Talk

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
-- John Lennon

If we are fortunate in our lives, somewhere along the way we encounter at least a few special people who change us in powerful, positive, and sometimes unexpected ways. These individuals, although wise, are sometimes not at all persons you would consciously seek out for counsel. One such person I was blessed to have in my life was a flight instructor I met back in the sixties, a man from whom I expected to learn how to get airborne and nothing more. I could not have been more wrong, because he proved to be one of the great "gifts" in my life.

Bill was, by his own account and all appearances, just a good ol' flying cowboy without a lot of formal education who happened to love anything that had to do with flying. But his contributions to my life ultimately proved to include much more than flying, as this very book will attest.

I was just a teenager when I started taking lessons, but he "saw" into my future in that airplane. About the time I was finishing my training, he told me that I had checked all the boxes, done all the drills, met all of the requirements, and could certainly go get my license and wing happily off into the wild blue yonder. He then paused and said something that really got my attention. I have never forgotten that moment standing next to the plane on a grass landing strip outside a small town in north Texas. "Phil," he said, "you've got the basics, you know how to get 'er up and down and around the 'patch,' and frankly you ain't half bad. But I have come to know you, and I know just as sure as I'm standing here that you are going to need more than you got. You won't play at this flying stuff, you will attack it and make it a big part of your life rather than flying to Grandma's house on a nice clear Sunday afternoon. You're going to be out there 'mixing it up' come rain or come shine, daylight or dark, and that's okay, but the truth is things just happen when you mix it up. Maybe it will be your fault for being too aggressive, or maybe you will just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but chances are that somewhere along the way this plane will carry you into a crisis. When you are airborne, all you've got is yourself. You'd have to depend on who you are, and if you aren't prepared for it ahead of time you can die in this airplane. So it's up to you -- but know that it may come and if it does, you will be one of two types of pilots: one who was ready and survives to tell the story, or one who wasn't and doesn't."

He didn't wait for a response; he had spoken his piece and that was that. Even then I realized the significance of that exchange, mostly because he had just spoken more words than I had ever heard him say at once in the entire time I had known him. Now, you have to understand here that I was a teenager in the worst sense of the word. I suspect a lot of people who knew me then probably figured I had eaten a lot of paste as a child! Boy oh boy, did I have ants in my pants to "sky up" and go for it. Yet for some reason (and certainly out of character for me), I actually listened to his wise counsel. We weren't even almost done because I wasn't even almost prepared for when things would go wrong, and though I didn't know it then, they would in fact go wrong -- way wrong.

Fast-forward four years and several hundred hours of flying later. I took off in a high-performance single-engine airplane just before midnight (some would call such behavior crazy) and on the heels of a strong winter storm that had blown through the Midwest like a freight train (some would repeat themselves). The flight started like every other I had flown, but it ended very differently. I was cruising at 10,000 feet when all of a sudden the engine just quit -- and I mean quit. It didn't sputter, it just quit. The sky was pitch black without even the tiniest sliver of moon to illuminate it, and there were two feet of fresh snow blanketing the ground so that everything below me looked one-dimensional. I couldn't tell the difference between the houses, fields, and roads, and there was no horizon to use as a guide. The silence was deafening, making me feel utterly and totally alone. I couldn't pull over as I could if I had car trouble, and I couldn't grab a life preserver. I had just five minutes to work with -- that's 300 seconds. The clock was ticking, I was going down -- no negotiation, no maybe, I was going down. Whether I lived or died would be determined by the grace of God and what I did in those 300 seconds. There was no time to panic or call someone on the ground. Looking back, I realize that I probably went into a kind of "internal autopilot." All my training and preparation kicked in. During those additional training exercises I had completed at Bill's behest, he must have had me simulate emergency dead-stick landings dozens and dozens of times, some during the day, some in the black of night. And in that cockpit, as I quickly came to grips with my situation, I heard his voice in my mind: Fly first, navigate second, and communicate last...the clock is ticking. I felt very alone, but I calmed myself with the fact that I had prepared completely for this exact situation -- my emergency just meant that all those practice drills were for a purpose. It was now "showtime." Let me tell you, that night I learned that there are just some things in life that come down to you and everything that's inside you. That's it; that's the deal.

An old joke among pilots (which wasn't very funny that night) is that any landing you walk away from is a good one. I flew that airplane-turned-glider for those 300 seconds with more purpose and focus than anything I had ever done in my life. It was a "good" landing because I did walk away. I'd love to say I swaggered away like John Wayne in The High and Mighty, whistling and slapping the wing as I left. But the truth is, I was so shaken and scared I was having trouble getting either one of my feet to cooperate in any way that even resembled walking. That five minutes of my life changed me forever, but it was all the preparation that led up to those five minutes that allowed me to make the right choices when it counted. If Bill hadn't cared enough to tell me the truth as he saw it, if he hadn't inspired and helped me get ready for what was ahead, I have no doubt I would not be here now, typing these words.

I know now that the outcome on that cold and dark winter's night was determined long before I ever took off. I survived not because I was lucky or because I was some great, macho pilot, cheating death with flair and panache. I survived because I had listened, because I had done my homework; I was prepared for the crisis before it happened. That night built into me a sense of confidence that if I prepared myself for the emergencies and crises that I would most likely face in life, I could at least influence their outcomes as well.

I hope that you never find yourself in a crisis like I was in that night. But we both know that while your crises will probably be different in both form and substance, they may already be on your schedule. The question is: Will you be ready? Will you have done your homework for yourself and those you love? Just like my night in the airplane, the outcome will probably be determined by what you do or don't do between now and then. So this is as good a time as any to start thinking about those days in life we would rather skip.


Sometimes I wish I could predict, and even control, the future but I can't, and neither can you.

Nobody has a "Get out of jail free" card. Although I have identified seven of the most common crises, you may have a list of five or ten more. There is no magic number, but I wanted to focus on the ones that, in my experience, you are most likely to encounter either yourself or through a loved one. They are likely to happen whether you've got an eighth-grade education or a Ph.D. They may happen whether you walk the red carpet or clean carpets for a living. They may happen whether you're in a big city, living life in the fast lane, or in the woods, moving at a snail's pace.

That means we are left to manage, adapt to, and survive what does come. Unfortunately, some people just knee-jerk react to what pops up in front of them. Some choose to live in stark denial, deluding themselves into believing that if they just don't think about the inevitable and undeniable crises of life, maybe they just won't happen. I think Scarlett O'Hara expressed it best: "I can't think about that right now -- if I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow." Well, frankly, Scarlett, my dear, those tomorrows do come, and if you haven't prepared for them, those tomorrows can kick your butt. You will see that these strategies (or more accurately, non-strategies) can come at a very high price.

Even though we may not like to think about it, we all know that life is unpredictable. We can't expect that, just because yesterday was sunny, it won't rain today or tomorrow. A part of us always maintains a watchful eye, and no matter how well things seem to be going now, there can be the underlying nagging thought: Will the "other shoe" drop? And the truth is "yes," the other shoe probably will drop at some point. I say this not as a pessimist, but as a realist and a coach, so that you may decide to do what it takes to have the peace that comes from being ready when it does.

If I had waited until that night at 10,000 feet to make a plan, it would have been way too late. When one of these seven days does arrive, I would want you to be able to say, "This is a crisis that I have prepared myself for. I'm at a fork in the road, and I can either panic and fall apart or I can use all of my skills and preparation to manage this day. The choice is mine." Of course, the only way you can say that is if you are the person with a plan, the person who did their homework. The time to think about what you're... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; English Language edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743264959
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743264952
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #732,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D., has worked in the field of human functioning and strategic life planning for over twenty years. Dr. McGraw is co-founder and president of Courtroom Sciences, Inc., America's leading litigation consulting firm, and has been associated with some of the highest-profile cases in the country, including Oprah's highly publicized "Mad Cow" case. A professional psychologist, he appears regularly on Oprah as her resident expert on human functioning. He lives in Dallas.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

128 of 129 people found the following review helpful By Little Miss Cutey on September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While I'm not quite at the end right now, (38 pages left) I find this book brilliant. It is such a big help and great tool for practically everybody. It's a little bit like a manual for your life, just like you'd get a car manual in your new car or a manual on how to operate your computer etc. It's well written like his books always are and easy to follow and comprehend.
From the loss of a loved one, or general heartbreak or addiction etc, there is advice and information on how to cope in these terrible situations and crises. There are 7 days that are coming to us all and he tells us how to cope and what to do when they hit. It's about planning and preparation for what is ahead. He breaks the chapters into three different parts - here's what the day is; here's what to expect and getting back to better days. He helps you deal with guilt (like if you have burried someone you love and then some time later comes your first laugh and you feel so bad for laughing when your loved one is gone).
He also talks in the book about fear and adaptability breakdown (for example not being able to deal with stress at work or in your marriage or with the kids etc and you say that you are so overwhelmed that you can't adapt anymore) and how to move on and get on with life one step at a time and one challenge at a time. He talks about going to the doctor and hearing bad news and then what to do after that (keep your self image strong and powerful so you know you have the ability to move forward) and how to reach out to friends and family for support.
I do love how he isn't preachy. He really is just helping us get prepared for inevetable days that are definately coming because he knows how hard they are to deal with.
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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Jorge Lazaro Diaz on April 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I work with a nonprofit helping out of work people and I've scored this a recommended read in my resource library (see [...] Losing your job is traumatic. You lose your ability to provide for your family. It brings on financial stress. It comes with feelings of betrayal, shame and guilt all at the same time. If you relied on your work to bring purpose and significance to your life, that was taken away from you. You are now left with finding a way to fill the emptiness. You may be asking yourself. "Who am I? Why am I here? Why am I alive?" All these can lead to anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.

Dr. Phil has NOT written a cliché "feel-good" book filled with platitudes. He has written a practical guide for dealing with very difficult times and the feeling and attitudes that typically accompany them. You can sum up the book with the following statement, "As tough a time as this may be for you and as bad as you may feel right now, there are others that have gone before you. And they can serve as witnesses that not only can you survive this, but you can become a better person for having gone through it."

From surveys he has taken, Dr. Phil has selected seven days that in his opinion provide the biggest challenges you are likely to face in your lifetime. I expected them to be concrete, but they are more like states your reach in your life as a results of life events. And I believe the seven are right on. Of the seven, four ring very familiar to those that have lost their jobs and are looking for work. These four are:

1. The day your heart got shattered by the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a friend, life dream or career.
2. The day you realize you lived your life as a sellout.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Constance Reed on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As with all Dr. Phil's books you always see a part of yourself in them. Sadly I have already lived some of these "most challanging days" & this book helped me to understand them more.
Thanks Dr. Phil!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Thomas M. Loarie VINE VOICE on January 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Dr. Phil" McGraw is blessed with common sense and the ability to communicate to the masses about life. He does not disappoint in "Real Life: Preparing for the 7 Most Challenging Days of Your Life." In it, Dr. Phil has brought to bear his experience, wisdom, and that of many great philosophers and psychologists in coping with the seven most challenging days of life. These include: the day your heart shattered; The day you realize you have lived your life as a sellout; the day you realize you are in over your head; the day your body breaks down: the day the mind breaks down; the day addiction takes over; and the day you have lost your purpose and have no answer to the question "Why?"

Dr. Phil's stated goal of this book is "to do two things: one, believe in yourself enough to know that these days might make you bend but not break...; and two, provide certain specific skill sets and mental and emotional strategies to make the most of our God-given gifts, traits, and characteristics."

McGraw reminds us throughout the book that life is about choices made and choices to be made - we have the privilege and ability to choose a path that leads to joy and purpose. He urges us to begin now - become informed, and develop clearly thought out coping strategies for difficult times now.

Each section of the book contains exercises to identify your life status, and strategies to prepare for and/or deal with the seven great crises of life. He notes that religion can provide a sense of being part of something greater than yourself, and that in and of itself can help you discover a deeper part of life, and help you move through any crisis.

"Real Life" provides a common sense approach to finding one's way back to a life of joy and purpose. There is something for everyone and with the present global economic meltdown which will be a catalyst for many of these crises, the book could not have come at a better time.
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