There's a well-known adage that perception is reality. How
something becomes our truth, which can
sometimes be self-limiting.
Every day in both our professional and personal lives, we face
challenges, decisions, and situations that cause our stress levels
to escalate. The ability to step back and take a different view is
a crucial skill for our time. What if by changing our perspective
on situations that upset, challenge, or frighten us, we could be
happier, more confident, and less stressed? Carrying negative
viewpoints saps our energy; it weighs us down both mentally and
spiritually. Imagine how you could use that energy in other ways.
Perceptions are influenced by a number of factors: experience,
personal values, judgments, information (as well as lack of
information), and our needs and desires. Yet, it is possible to
expand our perception of situations, events, and behaviors by
changing our perspective. Changing perspectives is relatively
simple, but not necessarily easy. To some extent it is what an
enlightened friend of mine called a trick of the mind.
The concept of shifting perspectives is a tool that will give you a
wider view of most situations you encounter and, with practice,
expand the options for how you perceive your world. Research has
shown that positive attitudes produce brain chemicals that give us
a lift. You'll naturally be calmer and more relaxed when your
perspectives shift to a more positive viewpoint.
What is a perspective? One of the definitions offered by the World
English Dictionary is the proper or accurate point of view or the
ability to see it. How do we know if our perspective is proper or
accurate? I believe that the answer is in the pain quotient. If
holding that particular perspective is causing pain, distress, or
anxiety, something is clearly amiss in how we are viewing the
situation—or viewing ourselves in relation to the situation.
In her book, Its Easier Than You Think, author Sylvia Boorstein
explains the practice of Buddhism in laypersons terms. She captures
the First Noble Truth of Buddhism this way: Pain is Inevitable,
Suffering is Optional. What this means is that by accepting the
truth that pain is inherent in life because there is always change,
and the loss that goes with change, we can free ourselves to
experience life in all its many facets. And we also can free
ourselves from suffering if we are willing to stop struggling and
accept what is. This is not an easy task; rather, it is an ongoing
quest that requires a major shift in perspective.
Think of a time in your life when you were suffering over
something: perhaps unfair criticism from a boss, or loss of a
friendship, or death of a loved one. What happened to make the
suffering lessen and eventually end? Most likely over the course of
time you came to a different view (perspective) of the situation.
Perhaps you realized that the criticism had a ring of truth and you
were able to use it to make a positive change. Or you saw that the
friendship you lost had not been at the level you wanted or needed,
and were able to accept that it was over. Even in the death of a
loved one we can find solace by changing our perspective that
although the person is gone he remains in our cherished memories.
The oft-quoted cliche that time heals all wounds is, in essence, a
statement about how perspectives change over time. It is possible
to accelerate this process by conscious action.
Tricking the mind
The World English Dictionary offers another definition for
perspective that fits well with the concept of tricking our minds
to see things differently: a view over some distance in space or
time; vista; prospect. Imagine that you are standing at the top of
a tall mountain. What do you see before you? Perhaps you see blue
sky above, snow on the distant peaks, and a valley far below where
everything looks tiny.
Now shift your view to standing in the valley looking around the
lush greenery and then up at the mountain. This is quite a
different view from the one at the mountaintop. You may see some of
the same sights—the snow-capped peak and the blue sky—but your
perspective of those sights is different.
Tricking the mind to shift perspectives is a bit like being able to
move between the valley floor and the mountaintop without walking
or driving there. Think special effects in a movie where characters
appear and reappear in different places. Or what about that famous
picture that looks like a young woman in one perspective and an old
woman in another. This is the trick of the mind.
So fasten your seat belt and get ready to shift. Take out a blank
piece of paper, turn it sideways (landscape view), and make three
columns of roughly equal width. Label the first column Brief
Description, the second column Current Perspective, and the final
column Alternative Perspectives.
Step 1: Briefly describe the situation. Capture the most important
details to gather your thoughts and lay the foundation for crafting
your current perspective statement.
Example: I'm well-paid for my work but it's a 24/7 proposition—and I
end up working instead of enjoying time with my husband,
exercising, or just relaxing.
Step 2: State your current perspective. Framing your view of the
situation in proper perspective language is what opens the way to
viable alternative perspectives. Your perspective will always be
about you, not the other person or people involved.
Example: I'm stuck in this job/company because I make too much money
Step 3: Develop three to five alternative perspectives. Start with
something that is at least a shade or two more positive than the
current perspective. Try to have at least three alternatives. Ask a
friend or colleague to help you if you get stuck. Avoid writing
about actions you could take; those will come later after you've
experienced the perspective for a time.
Example: 1) This is an opportunity for personal growth to challenge
myself to set better boundaries between work and home; 2) My
assumption that I can't make enough money anywhere else could be
based on misinformation or fear; 3) My personal values are a
foundation for the choices I make in my career and life.
Step 4: Choose one alternative perspective to use for the next
week. Think of it as trying on a piece of clothing to see how it
fits. Walk around and see how this perspective feels on you. What
changes when you look out at the situation through this new
perspective? When the old perspective pops up, mentally put it
aside and bring the new one to the forefront of your thinking. What
new actions or behaviors result?
You've got the power
Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien studied indigenous peoples
around the world and found a number of commonalities in their
worldviews. She captured her findings in her book, The Four-Fold
Way. One key commonality was that none of these groups strove for
perfection the way we do in modern, Western cultures. Instead, they
strove for excellence. Each day, in each situation that unfolded
before them, they focused on being excellent and, when possible,
being more excellent than the day before or in a previous
Tomorrow morning start your day with this thought: Today I will
strive for excellence in my [work, behavior, relationships]. Notice
what happens when you design your day around that concept. Are you
more at ease, less pressured, or perhaps more energized?
By seeking alternative perspectives, we take control and enlist the
power of our own mind to make significant changes. When we change
our perspective, we change our mind—and our actions and behaviors
change in tune.