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:
- Realize that there are other ways you can perceive your situation that could be more beneficial both to you and those around you.
- Choose the perspective that encourages you to be thankful, joyful, and positive.
- Spend less time with people who default into negative perspectives. It’s hard to reframe when no one around you is doing it.
- Look for allies. Find people who are able to approach any life situation from a positive perspective and start spending time with them.
- 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!
- 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?
- 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.