Our perspective in life can be shaped by us and in turn, shapes us
Our perspective is ours. No one can dictate to us how we will interpret the world, how we will let it make us feel. Our perspective, our internal state of mind is under our control. You can change it and make of it what you will.
This can’t harm me—I might not have wanted it to happen, but I decide how it will affect me. No one else has the right. We decide what we will make of each and every situation. We decide whether we’ll break or whether we’ll resist. We decide whether we’ll assent or reject. No one can force us to give up or to believe something that is untrue (such as, that a situation is absolutely hopeless or impossible to improve). Our perceptions are the thing that we’re in complete control of.Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
Yet we often take our perspective for granted. We assume it is a “fixed” part of us. It is not. It is ours and as such malleable and capable of changing. Modern research on brain plasticity has shown that our brain can be reconfigured in adulthood. Our perspective, our attitude or our mindset shapes us. In shaping us it can shape our lives. Something Carol Dweck, with her growth mindset makes clear:
The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.Carol Dweck, Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues. Maybe they haven’t found the cure for cancer, but the search was deeply meaningful.Carol Dweck, Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way—in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments—everyone can change and grow through application and experience.Carol Dweck, Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
Darwin and Tolstoy were considered ordinary children? That Ben Hogan, one of the greatest golfers of all time, was completely uncoordinated and graceless as a child? That the photographer Cindy Sherman, who has been on virtually every list of the most important artists of the twentieth century, failed her first photography course? That Geraldine Page, one of our greatest actresses, was advised to give it up for lack of talent? You can see how the belief that cherished qualities can be developed creates a passion for learning. Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you? The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.Carol Dweck, Mindset: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
We are free, we can re-invent ourselves. Our perspective is central, not just to what we are, but to what we become. As such it is much more profound even than this old saying would suggest:
The optimist says the glass is half full. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. The project manager says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. The realist says the glass contains half the required amount of liquid for it to overflow.
Our perspective in life can be shaped by us and in turn, shapes us. Our perspective truly makes us what we are now and will be tomorrow. But it can also make the “here and now” better:
What matters is that right now is right now. The implications of our obstacle are theoretical—they exist in the past and the future. We live in the moment. And the more we embrace that, the easier the obstacle will be to face and move.
Problems are rarely as bad as we think—or rather, they are precisely as bad as we think. It’s a huge step forward to realize that the worst thing to happen is never the event, but the event and losing your head. Because then you’ll have two problems.Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
Scott Adams of Dilbert fame highlights how powerful a shift in perspective, from being goal orientated to system focussed can be:
Goals are a reach-it-and-be-done situation, whereas a system is something you do on a regular basis with a reasonable expectation that doing so will get you to a better place in your life. Systems have no deadlines, and on any given day you probably can’t tell if they’re moving you in the right direction.Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
Goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you.Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system.Scott Adams, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
Changing perspectives or mind sets can be central to obtaining an accurate image of what’s happening:
When your brain spins negative scenarios, remind yourself that you may not be getting an accurate perception of reality. Your brain might be following its negativity bias, playing up some elements more than others, or omitting some positives entirelyOlivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
It can help us regain mental equanimity and return to full functioning:Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
We can step back and remember that situations, by themselves, cannot be good or bad. This is something—a judgment—that we, as human beings, bring to them with our perceptions. To one person a situation may be negative. To another, that same situation may be positive. “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as Shakespeare put it.
It is also worth remembering that seemingly bad situations may be good. As Friedrich Nietzsche said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”. We are antifragile creatures. We need stress and struggle to grow, to reach our potential:
The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
Olivia Fox Cobane has written on how we can turn difficult experiences to our advantage:
Skillfully handling any difficult experience is a three-step process: destigmatize discomfort, neutralize negativity, and rewrite reality… rewriting reality and getting satisfaction, you can choose your perception of the situation—one that allows you to be both effective and charismatic.Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
I decide to interpret everything favorably toward myself. It’s not just that I’m optimistic, I’m actually conveniently deluded.Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
Deception may not be necessary for the placebo effect to take hold; it may work its wonders even when people know full well that they’re taking a placebo.Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
Take a deep breath and shake out your body to ensure that no physical discomfort is adding to your tense mental state. Dedramatize. Remind yourself that these are just physical sensations. Right now, nothing serious is actually happening. This only feels uncomfortable because of the way your brain is wired. Zoom out your focus to see yourself as one little person sitting in a room with certain chemicals flooding his system. Nothing more. Destigmatize. Remind yourself that what you’re experiencing is normal and everyone goes through it from time to time. Imagine countless people all over the world feeling the exact same thing. Neutralize. Remind yourself that thoughts are not necessarily real. There have been many times when you’ve been certain that a client was disappointed, only to discover that the exact opposite was true. Consider a few alternate realities.Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism
Your perspective, attitude or mindset are central to what you are and will be. It’s worth putting some thought into it:
You can look back and say, “I could have been …,” polishing your unused endowments like trophies. Or you can look back and say, “I gave my all for the things I valued.” Think about what you want to look back and say. Then choose your mindset.Carol Dweck, Mindset – Updated Edition: Changing The Way You think To Fulfil Your Potential
It can also be worth having the ability to shift perspectives. To examine situation with different mindsets. Doing this can help you get a better handle on what is happening. Something which can be surprisingly difficult, if not impossible. Often it will be enough that you have a better perspective on a situation than others you are competing against or working with.
Winston Churchill delivered a characteristically powerful epitaph to the House of Commons: It is not given to human beings – happily for them, otherwise life would be intolerable – to foresee or predict to any large extent the unfolding of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes.John Kay, Obliquity: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly