The event ended, and they were sitting in the car trying to get home. They were one of hundreds of cars – all trying to get out of the event area, so it was going to be a while. My friend Jon, who was driving, took stock of the situation and of the other six people in the vehicle (yes six – they were packed in pretty tight), and realized it was likely to lead to feelings of frustration. So he decided to instigate a preemptive perspective shift.
He said, “Let’s play a game. The game is… how many answers can you come up with to complete this one sentence – This would be worse if…”
When something happens to us, we have a way of looking at it – a perspective of our situation. And usually the emotions we feel are attached to that perspective, which then leads to our reaction or behavior in response to the experience.
Experience –> Perspective –> Emotions –> Behavior
An example of one situation and two different perspectives
When a girl gets dumped, her perspective might be that it is the end of the world. That she may never love again or find a person better suited for her than the one who just left. She probably feels sad, hurt, and doubtful of her own worth. Feeling that way, she may let her responsibilities go unfinished because she doesn’t get out of bed when she normally would, or she may eat bad foods that she’d normally avoid because she’s in a ‘what’s the point?’ mindset. She may even isolate herself from her other relationships or lash out at others who don’t deserve it.
Now, lets look at the same girl going through the same break up, but with an alternative perspective. This time, she thinks she is better off without her ex. If he didn’t want to stick around, then that is just proof that he is not the right guy for her. And him leaving was just what she needed so she could move on and find her soul mate. This perspective is more likely to lead to feelings of contentment, empowerment, and excitement for new opportunities. The resulting behaviors could include a new commitment to time with friends and a re-evaluation of the traits she’s looking for in a partner.
The only difference in these two examples is the perspective with which she looks at her situation. The emotions and behaviors follow the perspective, not vice versa. Our perspective or frame of reference is, in fact, a CHOICE. The way we look at our situation IS within our control.
Perspective shifts past and present
A perspective shift can be done for a situation happening in real time, such as my friends who played the “this would be worse if” game. In that moment, rather than having a car full of unhappy, frustrated, whiney people, Jon made it a car filled with people laughing and having a good time – using their creativity to come up with outlandish answers.
“This would be worse if one of us had diarrhea.”
“This would be worse if the parking garage was on fire.”
“This would be worse if we ran over a bee hive and the pissed off bees attacked us through the air vents.”
A perspective shift can also be done with an experience you’ve had in the past. If something brings up negative emotions when you think about it, it would be helpful to make a perspective shift on that memory. Take the way you currently look at the situation and shift it so it is helpful, not hurtful. Ask yourself, “how can I make that experience beneficial?”
Some experiences are easier to shift a perspective on than others, but no matter how challenging, it can be done.
I met a woman who was brutally raped and suffered with devastating emotional issues for years. When she worked with a professional, who suggested a perspective shift as a starting point for healing, it made the difference. When we spoke, she had successfully shifted her perspective. She went from being a powerless victim of a horrible crime – stuck in the “why me?” loop (old perspective) to being a person who went through a horrible experience so that she could impact others who’ve gone through it from a place of understanding and authenticity (new perspective). She became a person who helped other rape victims work through their trauma, and she felt was more successful because she could speak to them from a place of true understanding.
Why make the effort to shift your perspective?
Going back to our example of the break up; Wallowing in break-up grief rarely, if ever, benefits the wallower. I’m not saying people should never be sad, but the time to move on does come. The girl who felt her world was over can reframe her new singleness as an opportunity to find an even better relationship. When she thinks differently about it, she will feel differently about it. When she feels more optimistic, the likelihood of good things coming her way increases.
There are many examples and studies of how people’s views of a situation plays a major role in their happiness and ability to move forward effectively despite any damage they’ve suffered. Since we are in control of how we choose to look at our experiences, we are also in control of how they make us feel and ultimately our reactions to them.