How To Regain Your Perspective On Anything
It is well known that the way you look at a situation can dramatically effect your response to it. What is less well known is that changing your perspective is a relatively easy thing to do!
Have you ever had a dream where something is chasing you, and then at some moment in the dream your perspective shifts, and you are no longer running, but instead are watching yourself running? It turns out that there are two different perspectives you can have on a dream and on a remembered experience.
The first way is called ASSOCIATION, where you are seeing through your own eyes in the dream or memory, as if you are in it. The second way, where you experience yourself from an outside or third-party perspective, is called dissociation. Remember what you did yesterday morning? How do you remember it? You can be inside the memory, reliving it by seeing through your own eyes and feeling the experience from the inside as if you are there again. Or you can be dissociated from the memory, watching it from a distance, while having thoughts and feelings about it.
People who are generally happy in life have learned to associate with pleasant experiences and memories, and to dissociate from unpleasant ones. People who are generally unhappy in life do the reverse. They identify with bad experiences through the power of association, and refuse to identify with more positive experiences by dissociating from them. I recommend that you dissociate yourself from unpleasant memories and start learning from them.
There are a number of dissociation techniques that you can use to step away from an unpleasant event or difficult person, and adjust your point of view:
- You can compare your problems at this time in your life to more difficult times in your life, or imaginary worst-case scenarios, like losing a leg, a loved one, or your mind completely.
- You can mentally go beyond the problem and project yourself to a future time, where the problem could not possibly matter anymore. I call this the Alan Kirschner technique, named after my Dad. He used it when I was a teenager learning to drive. After wrecking six vehicles, my Dad learned to stop reacting emotionally in order to engage with me in an intelligent and more meaningful way. He did this by projecting himself a century into the future to get the needed perspective to deal with his difficult teen. By doing so, he set a great example that in times of crisis, I can ask myself, “100 years from now, what difference will it make?”
- You can mentally edit the memory as if you were editing a film. Try this with a memory. Recall your last unpleasant encounter with your most difficult person, and watch it on a movie screen in your mind, from the last row in the theater. Make the memory smaller or further away. Remove the color from the image and make it black and white and see if that reduces it’s intensity! Play it backwards. Cut and reedit the memory into a new sequence. Trade it with your friends.
- With enough drive and determination, you can develop a part of you that is able to pop out of an experience, even as it is happening, and serve as a impartial and dispassionate observer, regardless of circumstance. Right now, see yourself reading this post, and notice your feelings and thoughts about what you’re reading. Pop out. Pop back in. Change your angle. As my little brother Gary says when he cocks his head to one side and then another, “Let’s look at this from another point of view!”
- You can reframe or change the meaning of an experience. A woman I knew years ago in Portland was waiting one day for a bus at a bus stop in front of a hospital. Suddenly a drunken man staggered up to her and, with a bottle of booze in a brown paper bag grasped firmly in his hand, and for no apparent reason began telling her his story. The gist of it is that he was miserable, and therefore entitled to drink, because his daughter had been in a motorcycle accident and lost her legs, and he blamed himself for the accident. “I’m the one who bought that damned bike for her,” he said, taking another sip from the bottle in the bag he was holding. Then he declared that he intended to drink himself to death, because he didn’t deserve to live.
The woman could have associated his meaning with his experience and bought into it. But she’d been through hard times of her own, and had learned that, in life, we have a choice about how we interpret events. So instead of taking pity, she got mad, and yelled at him. “Hey! What the hell is wrong with you?” That got his attention. She went on, “You just be glad your daughter has a head on her shoulders, that she can think and speak, and her two arms still work, she still lives. And right now she is going to need a father who can be there for her and be strong, not some drunk laying face down in the gutter. Snap out of it. Quit being so stupid and selfish. If you love your daughter, prove it.” Tears came to the man’s eyes, and soon he was sobbing uncontrollably, shaking his head and wobbling back and forth on his unsteady legs. Then he seemed to find his resolve. Without saying another word, he threw the bottle of booze in a trash bin, grabbed her hand and kissed it, and ran into the hospital.The picture remains the same, but the frame changes. With a new frame, the picture takes on new meaning. This woman showed the drunken father another way of interpreting the same situation. Realizing his daughter’s best interests and recognizing a better way to express his love, he acted consistently with this new point of view.
You can do this for yourself. Think of something that makes you unhappy, right now, and try reinterpreting it. What else could it mean? What would have been worse, and therefor makes this better? What good might come from it? Where might this experience prove useful? Every problem you find in your path in life, when placed in a positive frame of reference, presents you with the golden opportunity to grow and develop into a stronger and better person.
Your stories, comments and meanings are always welcome.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.