How to Reframe Your Perspective

You always here these pithy statements like, “if you can’t change your circumstance, change your attitude” and “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,” and in the past I typically thought that these were pretty useless. They sounded motivational, but they didn’t really didn’t work in reality. 

Things started to change last April when I went to a conference to hear Graham Cooke speak. If you haven’t heard him speak, it’s hard to describe what it’s like. A lot of the stuff he talks about makes it seem like he’s on a completely different level than everyone else. It’s like he’s playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. 

At the conference, Graham started talking about how you can reframe your perspective. He told the story of being at a dinner and sitting across from a woman who was dreading a new job she was about to start. She felt unqualified and worried she would have to quit soon after joining. Graham decided to ask her some leading questions to help her see her circumstance in a new light. Here’s a paraphrase of the conversation: 

  • Her: “I really am terrified. I can’t believe I took this job.”
  • Him: “What if you’re not terrified about your job? What if you’re just scared?”
  • Her: “…Well yes, I suppose that’s true. I’m not really that terrified – I really am just scared.”
  • Him: “And what if you aren’t really scared, but just really nervous.”
  • Her: “Well yes, in fact, I’m not really that scared. You’re right. It’s something new, and I’m scared.”
  • Him: “What if your nervousness is actually….more of an excitement. What if you’re excited about this new job?”
  • Her: “Yes…you’re right again. I’m not really nervous, I’m more excited and looking forward to it.”
  • Him: “And what if you were not just a little excited, but a lot! What if you’re thrilled about this new job because you can see the possibilities of growth and change?”
  • Her: “Wow, that is so true! I really am excited! I couldn’t be more excited!”

Everyone clapped when they heard this. It seemed like something out of this world. I clapped too, but I went home largely dismissing the idea. I’m not on the same level as Graham is. 

I largely forgot about that talk until a few months ago when I heard a personal development coach say something similar. I was listening to a podcast where he said, “there are just certain perspectives and beliefs that are not beneficial to me. If it’s not beneficial, I change my perception so that it is.”

This made everything click. This coach offered a thought that bridged the complex idea to the simple practice.

For the longest time, I thought that my perspective was just something that happened to me. I had no choice. But this was now raising a new question:

What if we have more control over our perspective than we think? What if we can choose how we want to view our circumstances?

Along with changing how we see things, this principle also suggests that we have more of a choice in our emotions than we think.

A month or so ago, my roommate and best friend sat me down for a talk. He said that his office was closing down, moving to another state, and that he would be joining them. He wasn’t moving per se, but he would be commuting a lot and living part of the week several hundred miles away. This had come as a complete shock as we had just moved into a new apartment a matter of weeks before. While I knew our relationship was going to be transitioning a lot this year, I wasn’t quite ready for it to start so soon.

While I was initially happy and excited for him, my joy turned into doubt which turned into sadness. I felt a sense of loss that threatened to overwhelm me. Though we live together, we weren’t seeing each other as often, and this big change in his life meant that there would be even less time together. 

The next day, while I was on my way to work, I felt a strong urge that I was supposed to reframe my circumstance. So there and then, I made a conscious decision to be thankful. I made a choice that I would be full of joy and excitement. I prayed to God and told him how happy I was – how this was great for my friend and his career, and that it would also be great for our friendship, even though I couldn’t quite understand how.

I got a text from my friend later on that day that said that it was good to catch up.. I wrote back,”I’m excited for you too. I’m still processing everything changing, but I think I’m reaching a point where I realize that change in life and transition in relationships are good things.”

To be honest, I still wasn’t sure how I felt, but I decided to draw a line in the sand and make a choice. I was not going to let my perspective choose to me. I was going to choose it.

Here’s some final thoughts for how to apply this practically:

  1. Realize that there are other ways you can perceive your situation that could be more beneficial both to you and those around you.
  2. Choose the perspective that encourages you to be thankful, joyful, and positive.
  3. Spend less time with people who default into negative perspectives. It’s hard to reframe when no one around you is doing it.  
  4. Look for allies. Find people who are able to approach any life situation from a positive perspective and start spending time with them.
  5. Reduce your intake of sources that encourage you to be fearful and negative. Try cutting out network news for a week and see how it changes you!
  6. Visualize how other great leaders in history would deal with your situation. Imagine how Jesus, Aristotle, Gandhi, or Mother Teresa would see your circumstance. How would they advise you to act?
  7. Remember that any challenge that you face is a great opportunity to learn and grow.

What if the key to positivity and gratitude lie in choosing a more helpful perspective? Where can you start today to apply these principles? In your home or your relationships? At work? At my job, I’m constantly shifting how I see things. I constantly am choosing to believe that things are happening for my benefit. You can too.

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Why I Don’t Read Books on Other Religions

When I was in college I got really into Christian apologetics. Apologetics is basically a branch of Christianity that focuses on the logical and rational arguments for Jesus. I was initially drawn to it because it offered me confidence in my own beliefs, but the more I got into it,  the more I realized that much of the field was about having good arguments as to why other people’s beliefs were wrong. You were expected to study up on other belief systems so that you could deconstruct them. The basic idea was that people would not become Christians if you first didn’t take away their initial beliefs by proving them wrong. 

I was recently told of a video circulating around Christian circles. It’s of a Christian African-American preacher that went up to a Muslim woman reading a Qur’an. He said to her, “did you know that your holy book doesn’t allow Black people into heaven? I can’t follow that religion!” The unsuspecting woman apparently didn’t know that, and the video indicates that this conversation opened the door to when she finally “converted” later on. The person that told me about this video talked about it with a bit of pride – it was a “gotcha” moment for the Muslim. ‘They didn’t realize how crazy their own holy book was!’

This method of “evangelism” has recently started to bother me. It seems we’re using shame and or guilt to motivate people. You start out by tearing down someone else’s beliefs and then when they’re on the ground, you share how your beliefs in Jesus are so much superior and how they should join you.

This is rather ironic.

In the Gospels, it’s the Pharisees and religious leaders that try to either trick Jesus or to shame him into agreeing with them.

Jesus deflected these “gotcha” moments and turned them back on the questioners.

When you look in the Bible and examine how Jesus got people to follow him, you’ll see that he didn’t try to trick people or to guilt them into following him. He didn’t even tell them all of the terrible things they believed.

People followed Jesus because he loved them. 

Jesus knew that love leads to Truth.  

What if it’s hard for us to love other people because we let our minds get in the way?

One of my favorite authors and speakers is a guy named Carl. Carl was a missionary in Lebanon for many years and is now a very influential individual throughout the Middle East. I was listening to a sermon that he gave and I was truck by his statement that he avoided reading books on Islam. In fact, he avoids reading books on most other beliefs.

He said that over the years, he’s discovered an important principle:

Learning information about people can make it harder to love them.

Carl knows a lot about Islam – he’s even taught university courses on it – but his information has primarily come from actual Muslims.

What if instead of reading books on Buddhism, we made some Buddhist friends? What if instead of watching cable news that talked about Muslims, we spent some time with some Muslim immigrants?

And what if we did all of this under the guise of love?

Remember, Jesus didn’t read books on humanity. He became human and spent time with humans, loving and serving them.

What if we did the same with other groups of people?

It’s Time to Re-Humanize Politicians

Complaining seems like an easy way to connect with people, and when it comes to politicians, we seem to have a lot to complain about.

Politicians seem to earn their bad reputation. They flip-flop on issues. They say mean, offensive, and downright idiotic things. They make promises and then go back on them. Sometimes they cheat or outright lie when confronted. They have affairs. They lie before Congress.

But has it ever occurred to us to ask why politicians are like this in the first place?

I think it begins by recognizing that if our leaders are chosen by us, they are a reflection of our values.

I would even go so far as to say that politicians are created by us and therefore are created in our own image. Creations always have to share something with their creators.

The next time we’re tempted to point at how bad they are, let’s first pause and look inward. If they’re such poor leaders, why is it that we keep voting them into office?

I also wonder if we would get better leadership if we allowed them to be a little more human?

Politicians are under constant pressure. Think about how difficult it would be to please an entire group of people. Even if it’s just a small town, it can be nearly impossible. As John Lydgate wrote:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”

If it’s difficult to please a small group of people, think how exponentially difficult that becomes when you’re a presidential candidate trying to please 300 million Americans, half of whom see you as an existential threat.

How hard would it be to have every single thing you said and did recorded and scrutinized? Personally, I say a lot of stupid and offensive things, but people have grace for me. If everything I said was recorded and cut down into clips, I can imagine how easy it would be to paint me as a bad person. What would it be like to have everything you do be broadcast to the entire world?

Many politicians inevitably break promises. I’m sure they make some promises that they can’t keep and other promises they end up compromising on for the more important issues. Here again, the public doesn’t  allow politicians to be human. I often change my mind. As I get to know people and hear their stories, my views become more nuanced. Politicians, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to change their minds – not even if they get more information on an issue or if an opponent makes a valid point. They just have to sit back and stick to their guns.

What if it doesn’t have to be this way? What if we could treat our politicians like we treat our friends or family?

Here are some practical things I think we can do:

  1. Assume the best about the people we disagree with. Try giving them the benefit of the doubt. If we hear that they said something that seems crazy, let our default be to assume that it was taken out of context.
  2. If we hear or see something that is just blatantly wrong or against what we believe, let’s try or just have some grace. Remember, we don’t have to vote for someone to have grace for them.
  3. Honor them. I read the Bible sometimes and there’s this passage that talks about how Christians should honor everyone, even really bad Roman emperors (1 Peter 2:17). How can we treat politicians better than we think they deserve?
  4. Remember that it’s really easy to make good men look bad. We all have dirt. We all say and do stupid things. Political campaigns are experts at exploiting phrases or actions, even though they don’t reflect the whole person.
  5. Be slow to judge and form opinions about people you don’t actually know.

Every time politics is brought up in a conversation, we are faced with an opportunity. We can talk bad about them and complain, or we can choose to love them and spread hope.

What will you do?

The Question I’m Asking This Election

I’m filled with mixed emotions and beliefs whenever election season comes around. I typically start out with hope. I realize where we’ve come as a country and can see just how good laws have benefited us throughout the years. But then as politicians begin to talk and cell phone videos are captured behind closed doors, I become deeply frustrated and disenchanted with the whole thing.

I look at my friends, neighbors, family members – people I see all around me – and it seems like politics often brings out the worst in us. We’re not politicians, but still we devolve into disrespect, anger, and downright hostility for other people.

If that’s not bad enough, when I look at the candidates who are most likely to win, they are from one of two parties – both of which increasingly do not represent how I think and feel. I can’t vote for a candidate who I can feel good about. I now have to vote for the lesser of two evils, or more often, against the greater of two evils.

“Most people would vote Mussolini over Hitler even though Thomas Jefferson was on the ballot but polling poorly.” – Unknown

Besides, would sane people even want to be president? Can you even get to that level of politics by being honest and kind? Even if a candidate went into politics to serve the greater good, it seems likely to me that throughout their career, they found it necessary to lie, cheat, or bend their ethics in order to advance themselves. I wish this was the exception, but more and more this seems like the rule. Normal people who I would like to see run seem to either don’t enter or end up getting weeded out early on.

As a person who is trying to follow Jesus, voting can be absolutely mind-boggling. We’re led to believe that a candidate not only has to have the same views on things like foreign policy, immigration, and finances, but they now have to be more Christian than the other candidates.

Recently I had a conversation with a Christian family member who was lamenting this difficulty. He wanted to vote for the person who would do the best job, but has found it difficult to vote for someone who didn’t share his views on abortion. He felt it was his Christian duty to put more weight on that issue than on others.

In a sense, I think a lot of Christians feel like they have to vote for Jesus. ‘If we can only get a good Christian leader back in office, our country will finally turn around.’ – is the popular narrative.

But the more I think about, the more I start to wonder:

What if trying to vote for Jesus is the cause of my frustration?

In fact, what if Jesus cares more about how I vote than who I vote for?

Don’t get me wrong – who we vote for is important. But what if it’s only like 20% of what’s important?

Consider three things:

  1. Jesus did not bring about change through political power. He was offered political power on more than one occasion and rejected it (Matt 4:8-10; Jn. 6:15).
  2. God was not thrilled that the Israelites wanted a King and warned what they did when they’re in charge (1 Sam. 8).
  3. God warns us about putting too much hope in powerful nations (Isa. 30:1-5).

What’s the 80%? What might God care more about? What about:

  • Honoring those that disagree with us
  • Honoring those in authority
  • Listening to other people and hearing their stories
  • Turning enemies into friends
  • Finding peace and common ground
  • Serving others

Didn’t Jesus say that aside from loving God, the second most important thing to do was to love other people?

I think we know what will happen if we keep doing things as they’ve always been done.

What if we decided to change? What if we stood for love?