Coping skills & self-soothing · Uncategorized

Perspective: seven ways to change your future

“If you don’t like your perspective, change it.”

I've decided he's a cat

What’s reality, and if there is a reality, why does each person see it so differently?

For example, one man sees his dog sitting on an old couch and thinks “Oh, wow, I need to buy a new couch, and that dog needs walking.  I don’t have the money or energy or time.   This is horrible.” 

The next sees the same thing and thinks, “Oh, wow, that dog makes me so happy, and he’ll be at my side tonight when we curl up on that dang ol’ couch and watch the game.  I’m the luckiest man alive.”

Reality is surprisingly malleable — or, rather, our interpretation of it is.   Perspective is a subjective experience.  It also influences every aspect of our lives, from emotions to thoughts and behaviors.

Malleable interpretation?  Subjective experience?  This means we can change everything in our lives by altering our point of view.

How does it happen, this changing of perspective?  Can we just get up one morning and decide, “Today is the day I’m going to change how I think about things?”  There’s no clear answer.  Maybe, maybe not.  But if you really want to bring about positive change in your life, consider the following techniques.

(1) Place your problem in context.

This is a cool trick that works wonders for some people.

Imagine Time as a continuum, a massive line drawn across the empty scape, an infinite line in front of you.

Time as eternal

If you look to the left, you see the Infinite past, everyone’s and everything’s past.  That line stretches more than a million miles in that direction, encompassing everything from what you ate for breakfast yesterday and who attended your grandparents’ wedding to Columbus’ trip across the Atlantic, the death of the last dinosaur, the firing of the first stone in our solar system, and the birth of the universe.

To the right you’ll find the Infinite Future, everyone and everything’s future.  This line also stretches farther than you can imagine, embracing where you’ll be this time next week and next month, as well as mankind’s first step outside the solar system, distant civilizations that’ll emerge a billion years from now, and the birth of countless new stars.

Now focus on the middle, the very moment where you stand now: there’s a tiny circle there called “your situation.”

Your dot in time

Do you see the context?  That tiny dot is our dot in the universe, an important but small moment in a vast and amazing timeline.  We’re surrounded by tremendous events, some horrible (the destruction of galaxies) and others so beautiful they can bring tears to our eyes (the first flower to bloom on Earth or the future discovery of life on another planet).  Compared to these tremendous events, our problems are miniscule, nothing to worry about.  Time is immense, and we’re here to appreciate our little dot in the universe.

How does this change your perspective?  The goal is to find relief, not fear.  If this approach bewilders you, try a different method.

(2) Observe your life from the perspective of a kind stranger

Most of the time our lives are so close to us we can’t see a thing.  We’re overrun with thoughts and emotions.  There are too many alarms, calendars, schedules, and deadlines.  Time runs by at a furious rate, with cell phones and work and trips to our kids’ school taking up so much of our existence that… well, it’s impossible to step aside and say, “What’s really going on?”

Imagine a stranger examining your life.  Maybe he’s from a distant century and knows nothing about your culture and language.  He doesn’t understand the function of a cell phone or TV.  He might not even grasp the concept of formal education or broad government politics.  The stranger knows only objectivity and compassion, and he offers you these as gifts.  How would he view your problems?  How would his perspective differ from yours?  What could he see that you don’t?  What advice could he offer?  Stay with these questions and their answers for a while and see what you find.

How does this change your perspective?  Another version of this method is to simply ask someone you trust:  “Is there a different way to see my problem?”

(3) Evidence for and against

Self-help cognitive therapyIf your thoughts have you trapped, consider using cognitive therapy to change your perspective.  First, catch the toxic thought on paper.  A “toxic thought” is an emotion-laden, negative belief that you can’t shake.  It usually sounds like “I’m a failure because…” or “No one likes me because…”

Second, write out the evidence that supports the thought and the evidence that goes against it.

Next, use the new information to rewrite the thought in a more positive, healthy, realistic way.  This isn’t about fluffy talk.  You’re not lying to yourself.  You’re just examining the situation a little closer, reviewing more information, then drawing an informed and balanced conclusion.  There’s more to life than just the bad stuff, and cognitive therapy reminds us of that.

For example, imagine the thought is, “I’m a weak person because that man yelled at me, and I ran away.” 

Evidence that supports the thought: “I’m not good at conflict, which means I’m a weak person.” 

Evidence against the thought: “I’ve overcome many difficult things in my life, which took a lot of strength.  Besides, I stood up to my sister the other day when she wanted to take advantage of me.” 

New thought: “I might have felt weak after today’s fight, and maybe I shouldn’t have run away, but if I look back on my life, I’ve dealt with conflict when I needed to, and I’m definitely not weak.  Besides, I can always learn new ways to deal with conflict in the future.”

(4) Brainstorm solutions

Grab a sheet of paper and pen, and write out your problem across the top of the page.  Maybe it reads “Pregnant and not sure what to do,” or “Drinking too much and could potentially lose my job.”  Whatever the case, get it down.

Next, instead of perspective-hunting, focus your energy on problem-solving, because finding solutions to tough situations changes point of view.   Once you’ve got a list of potential solutions, consider the consequences of each option, then choose a plan and do it.  As you take steps to solve the situation, reality will shift, and so will your perspective.

For example, imagine your problem is a noisy new neighbor.  They live upstairs, and they play loud music late into the night, even during the week.  Changing perspectives might seem difficult: it’s loud music, it keeps you awake, and there’s nothing more to it.  So brain-storm solutions instead.  You can:

  • thump loudly on the ceiling
  • play YOUR music louder than they do
  • ask them to turn down the music (risk their knowing where you live)
  • call the apartment front office and complain
  • call the police
  • move out

Next, choose a plan of action.  Imagine you decide to call the apartment front office.  In the best case scenario, they ask your neighbors to turn down their music, and they oblige.  Worst case, there’s no change and you anonymously get the police involved.  Whatever the outcome, your perspective has shifted.  You’re no longer a helpless bystander.  You’re taking steps to solve the situation, and there’s power in that.

(5) Rewrite reality

If you’re a writer, this technique is for you!  Life’s stressors are great fodder for fiction.  Is your perspective keeping you down?  No problem, just use your pen to restyle and reword your day-to-day life.  Has a traumatic event seeped into everything you say and do?  Take the calamity and give it a positive ending.

dragonIf you write adventure, create an escape route from an inescapable tragedy or kind stranger who teaches your main character Kung Fu to overcome his internal demons.  If children’s fantasy is your thing, introduce a friendly dragon to fly you away to safety.  Romance?  Create a love story where there’s no love.  Legal drama?  Consider the courtroom-savvy super hero who defends the neighbor you can’t defend in real life.  Whether or not the story makes millions of dollars, if it gives you another take on life, it’s a tale worth writing.

I had a good friend who broke his back and found himself in the body of a quadriplegic, 17 years old and devastated.  While I couldn’t fix his problem in real life, I did in my writing.  A “suddenly paralyzed” main character in a science fiction story I was working on was rescued by a living contraption that walked into the room, wrapped itself around his body, and helped him regain fluid movements by reading the character’s thoughts.  I never shared the story with my friend, but I found solace in knowing that, in my world, things had worked out okay.

(6) Positive thinking

Positive psychology is a stunning tool to have in your arsenal.  Unlike cognitive therapy, which creates a new interpretation based on reality (taking into account the good and bad), positive psychology focuses on creating uplifting, inspiring perspectives.

Positive thinking proposes there’s something magical and wondrous about being alive, but there’s a second message here: if you rewrite your story with a positive outcome, reality often follows.  That is, your new, positive perspective doesn’t have to be something you believe; you just have to revisit the perspective everyday, give it time, and accept the possibility that the universe might cooperate with this new point of view.

But positive thinking isn’t all about magic.  It’s also a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Positive regard towards self, world, and future tend to change one’s approach to life.  Kindness and optimism begets kindness and optimism, opening doors and providing easy-access ladders.  Belief that something is possible feeds the goal, making it more likely to happen.  The very decision to use positive thinking alters one’s life course.

Next time you hear yourself broken-recording a toxic thought, catch it and examine what you’re saying.  But, this time, instead of reviewing the evidence for and against the thought, seek out the exact opposite.  Elaborate with expanded positivity.  Allow yourself to dream.

For example, imagine you’re in a bad place. “It’s a dreary day.  Life is plain misery.  Everything is filled with disappointment.”  The next step is to write the exact opposite, whether or not you believe it.  “I’m the luckiest person in the world.  Life is filled with laughter and passion.  My mind is a place of fresh stillness and a clean slate.  I’m free to soar.”  Do this everyday, and in time your psyche will catch on and follow.

(7) Gratitude list

If your reality is overcome with sadness or anxiety, you’ll probably find that everything in life seems darkened by your mood.  It’s possible the negativity is real.  Life can be miserable sometimes.  If you’re too worn out to try imagery, fiction-writing, cognitive therapy, or any other method listed above to deal with your situation, there’s another easy but very effective approach: a gratitude list.

Whether you’re sitting in a psychiatric hospital, on a train on the way to work, or at a beach with a fishing pole in hand, this method is easy to do.  Simply think of a list that includes (1) things you’re grateful for and (2) things you find beautiful.  You don’t need to write them down.  Just name what comes to mind.

Negative thoughts will crop up.  That’s okay.  Take a breath, and go back to your list.  Sometimes it’s hard to come up with positive ideas.  Take your time.  Here are a few ideas.

Things that you might find beautiful:

  • the sunset and sunrise
  • puppies with waggling tails
  • kittens when they purr
  • the taste of a good drink when you’re thirsty
  • the taste of good food when you’re hungry
  • beautiful paintings and music

In love with lifeThings you might be thankful for:

  • that love exists
  • ability to walk
  • have food to eat
  • people who’ve helped you
  • good memories
  • having a friend
  • have roof over your head

What can you include in this list?  Some people keep a written list they review and update everyday.  Whether you keep it documented or mental, a gratitude list is a surprisingly effective way to counter sadness and anxiety.

In conclusion

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t change your perspective on a problem.  No worries.  You still have options.  Consider changing your emotional or behavioral response to the situation, consciously putting the issue aside and re-evaluating later, or talking to different friends about possible solutions.

If all else fails, reach out for professional help.  Seeing a psychotherapist is an excellent way to get an objective take on what’s going on in your life.

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