You hear about gaining perspective a lot but what exactly is “perspective”? According to the online dictionary perspective can be defined as:
1. a way of regarding situations, facts, etc., and judging their relative importance
2. the proper or accurate point of view or the ability to see it; objectivity
3. (Fine Arts & Visual Arts / Art Terms) the theory or art of suggesting three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, in order to recreate the appearance and spatial relationships that objects or a scene in recession present to the eye
4. the appearance of objects, buildings, etc., relative to each other, as determined by their distance from the viewer, or the effects of this distance on their appearance
5. a view over some distance in space or time; vista; prospect
In general it is a way of looking at things from a new angle or in relation to something else. Things look different when they are standing on their own or put in a greater context. When we are caught up in the trials of life it is very easy to be consumed by them and I find that I can very quickly become short sighted and inwardly focused. Have you ever had thoughts like this: “This is the worst”
“No one understands what I am going through” “I don’t know how I am going to manage” It can be easy to think that our pain is “set apart” and that we are alone in the difficulties (even when you have a loving family and friends). Maybe because we are afraid of being vulnerable and are protecting ourselves from disappointment. Or because holding on to the pain and injustice is comforting and if we recognize it in a larger context we might feel compelled to let it go. Sometimes the whole situation is just completely overwhelming and it is hard to even know where to start.
Please bear with my extremely shaky perspective analogy.
But as I was writing this I was thinking about TV shopping. Have you ever been into an electronics store and see the massive wall of TVs? It makes my head hurt with all the flashing lights and pictures. There are TVs of every size, color, brand and with a variety of different features. Inevitably the size you thought you wanted looks too small when it is on that wall. You have an endless amount of options and you need to decide what features are important to you. Finally you make a decision and bring your set home. I don’t know about you but a TV that looked smallish in the store looks massive outside it. It’s the same TV but it looks different because the context is gone. I no longer have to compare features but try to understand the features of the TV I purchased. My focus is narrowed and I can become more critical once I lose the perspective of the other options. The positives and negatives seem to be more glaringly obvious and I can sometimes even forget why I chose one feature over another. Make sense? Basic premise – Everybody has their own unique features (gifts and hardships) but they look different depending on the context. OK I know it’s a stretch…I warned you the analogy was shaky.
This isn’t meant to tell people to comparison shop their pain…or start the my life is harder than yours game but just put things in a larger human context. Lift your head up and recognize that we (unfortunately) live in a world where there are a lot of hurting people…nobody has a corner on the pain market. When we withdraw and focus only on our lives the hard things can become bigger and more powerful than they really are.
- Find your context. It doesn’t happen by accident. You need to be proactive. Don’t overwhelm yourself with sad stories but expose yourself enough to know that you aren’t the only one facing a difficult period. Talk to people at work/church. If you are more private, blogs are a good place to start. Even doing specific internet searches were helpful for me. One warning – be careful of the tone of the stories you read. Some people can be very negative and that is probably not very helpful.
- Turn off Facebook and other social media – SERIOUSLY. I mentioned this before. While I believe taking an honest look at the world and people around you can help with perspective…trying to find it by looking at the digital highlight reel of your friends’ lives can be VERY damaging. Especially during a difficult period. Always remember that people typically only post the positive.
- Do things for others. It doesn’t have to be something major but I found thinking of other people to be one of the best ways to gain perspective. Write a card, make cookies, make dinner, volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. I personally made my trees for people whose stories touched my heart. It helped me tremendously because I was no longer an isolated tree in the desert. But we were a forest of people just trying to survive and thrive.
- Join a support group or something similar. Anything that helps you internalize that you are not alone in this difficulty. You are not the first to experience it and you probably won’t be the last. Reach out to the resources that are available.
Feel free to leave any other recommendations in gaining perspective in the comments section. Til next week.
It’s Wednesday again and time for another “Storm Survival” tip. This one can be tough to put into practice but I found it dramatically adjusted my perspective. I wrote down 5 things I was thankful for and looked at it every day…sometimes many times a day. In the midst of the chaos of emotions it can be difficult to shift your focus from everything that is going wrong to thankfulness. It takes a decision and an intentional effort. But at least for me it helped to keep me from sinking deep into a pity party and actually moving towards being overwhelmed by everything I do have. In the midst of all the hardships I have been blessed by A LOT this year and it is very humbling.
There is a reason why “thankfulness” is considered a discipline…you start out slow. Just like if you were just starting with running. You don’t go from couch potato to marathoner instantly. You build up over time and the first few weeks of training can feel like you are doing the most unnatural thing EVER. But the more your body adjusts to running the easier it becomes to go the distance and then even further. I found the same thing to be true with thankfulness.
The first few times I tried to transition my thoughts “Ugh, life is not fair. Why do I have to deal with this? Cancer and chemo and radiation!! I wasn’t supposed to have to face this at my age. Life just keeps getting worse! My marriage wasn’t supposed to face these hardships…EVER” to…
“Yes, life is unfair. But I am so thankful that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my family and friends love me. I am thankful for a job that has given me support and the space to heal and recover. I am thankful for a roof over my head and that I don’t have to worry about going bankrupt with medical bills. I am thankful for the hard truths that came out in my marriage because I would rather be dealing with the truth than a lie.” I could almost feel my brain physically rebelling in the exercise. It is not a natural state. Especially in our “me-centered” consumer focused culture where we are trained to be discontent unless we have _______ (health, family, job, relationship, iphone 5, etc)
I will add one caveat: it is OK to say that things are still HARD while you are practicing thankfulness. There is nothing magic about it. Everything that was difficult isn’t suddenly fabulous…it is probably still difficult. This is training yourself to focus on what you HAVE rather than what you don’t which will help you see the difficulties in a different perspective.
- Write your 5 things down and tape them somewhere (bathroom, front door, kitchen)
- Set an alarm on your phone with your 5 things
- Buy a bracelet or ring that will represent your intention towards thankfulness…every time you look at it let it remind you of what you do have
Inevitably there will be people out there who can’t think of 5. You don’t need to think of 5 (that was just a round number for me) but challenge yourself…sometimes being thankful requires changing the way you think about a particular circumstance.
- Gas prices are SO high it is too expensive to fill up my car > Be thankful you have a car
- Work is SO stressful > Be thankful you have a job in this economy
You get the idea. Here’s to a thankful Wednesday!