This is an amalgamation of what started out as 3 posts on a previous blog. I’ve edited it heavily and in the end decided to combine the whole thing into one longer piece, hoping that the resulting total is indeed more than the sum of its parts. Trust me, it’s going to make more sense and be easier to digest this way. Think of it like throwing the entire week’s leftovers into one pot and turning it all into a stew. Just goes down easier than the individual bits do.
Perspective is everything
I stumbled on an interesting piece on Placemakers some time ago that had a great, brief history of the NIMBY movement (Not In My BackYard). The article’s point was to pinpoint where the movement took a turn for the…for argument’s sake let’s say, worse, and it includes what I think is a fundamental life lesson about perspective:
“The burden now falls on you to stop telling them what you don’t want. And start telling them what you do want.”
In other words, if you go through life focused on the negative, you’ll likely miss all the positive that’s out there. This seems extra timely given the content of the 24/7 news cycle. Don’t become so focused on a negative, let’s say news story, (or worse all of them at the same time) that you miss out on all the positive ones that are also happening, often right under your nose.
Take a step back and see negative situations/stories as a learning opportunity. Learn about the importance of shifting your perspective. Instead of “you can’t do ABC,” try “I wonder if XYZ would work?” By reframing things in the positive you may be amazed that you can get results you’ll be proud of, results that get you something you want, rather than just NOT getting something you don’t want.
Back to the source quote and article for a second. NIMBYs focus all of their efforts and energies into blocking things they don’t want; bridges, trails, airport runways (to use some examples from Seattle) – that they often miss what they already have – community. What if these groups of neighbors got together more often than just every time there was a hearing where they wanted to oppose something and decided instead to build a community garden on a vacant lot? Or got together to help an elderly neighbor fix up their house so they could continue to live independently – and remain a part of their community?
Time to Flip It
“So maybe it’s time to flip our perspective upside down. Instead of talking about ‘lifestyle disease,’ maybe it’s time to start talking about ‘diseased lifestyles.’ This simple reversal will yield some new insights.”
– Frank Forencich
It seems so simple on the surface. All you have to do is flip your view on something 180 degrees and you get a whole different perspective. You might find that you’re able to see it from someone else’s point of view, making it easier to come to an agreement. So why is it so effing hard most of the time? Well, for starters there’s this thing called The Backfire Effect. At its most basic level, this idea says that no matter how much ‘fact’ you throw at someone, at best they will not alter their strongly held belief at all – and at worst you’ll actually strengthen said belief. So the chances of you getting this person to ‘see things your way’ don’t look so good.
In terms of what Frank is talking about above, our western medical system is the manifestation of a strongly entrenched belief system that says ‘treat the symptom.’ It says nothing whatsoever about the cause. If you present with a stuffy nose, you’re going to get a decongestant to dry out the mucus in your sinuses. If you have a fever, you’ll get a pill to bring your temperature down. Never mind that the mucus and fever are your body’s natural defense, its way of fighting off an intruder. By treating the symptom you never get to the point of finding out just what it is your body is trying to protect itself from, and you effectively cut off your own defenses before they have a chance to get started doing their job.
And to start treating causes, you have to look at the root cause, not just the immediate one. So if your symptom is that runny nose, the immediate cause might seem to be a seasonal allergy. If you look deeper however you may find that you’re leaving yourself open to that seasonal allergy because your immune system is taxed past its limits because of the amount of sugar and refined wheat you eat (yes, that one was personal experience). So we’ve gone from taking a decongestant for relief from the snot to examining a cultural assumption (wheat is part of a healthy diet) in order to find the root cause and eliminate it.
All that from what should be a simple shift of perspective.
This 180 flip from symptom to cause can be useful in other situations as well. Take many of the culturally based assumptions we make about consumerism, the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. What if, instead of trying to out-spend the Joneses, we focused on out-experiencing them? Instead of buying a bigger plasma TV (is that still the top of the line option? I don’t own a TV anymore) how about taking a trip with your family and making some new memories?
Or instead of that new car you’ve been eyeing, how about selling the extra car and trying a cargo bike? The conversation on the way to school will shift from what video they want to watch to what bird made that noise, or how much fun it is to fly past all the cars stuck in traffic. All this from asking, “what if I did this instead of that?” Or “what might the outcome be if I did XYZ instead of ABC?”
Next time you have a decision to make around consumption, stop for a second and flip things over in your head. The results might surprise you.
“If you change how you think about it, it’s impact on what you feel and do changes.”
– Walter Mischel
This quote is a nice, tidy summary of the whole idea of shifting your perspective. By definition – If you want to see something from the “other” side, you want to change how that something is impacting your life. What Mischel is saying is that the simple act of looking at it differently can be all it takes to accomplish this.
That takes us out of the realm of disease prevention and consumerism. In fact, it pretty well opens up any and all topics and situations for exploration. Having a discussion with your boss about when that big project needs to be ready for presentation? They say next week for the leadership meeting and you say 2 weeks later in time for the shareholder meeting? Instead of sticking to your guns, take a step back and look at it from their perspective. You may find that having a dry run for the leadership group could, in fact, be beneficial, plus you’d then have 2 weeks to make changes and tweak your presentation before it goes public.
In many ways, this is also connected to staying grounded in the present moment. When you get wrapped up in defending your perspective, what’s really happening is you’re focusing on the future – and just one possible future at that. What you’re seeing is an extra 2 weeks of procrastinating, of being able to focus on other tasks that you view as more important than the project presentation. When you pause and take that step back, you return your grounding to the here and now. This is what gives you the opportunity to shift perspectives over to that of your boss and see the future results of your actions now.
In staying focused on your side of the discussion (argument really), you’re also staying focused on just one possible outcome. Being able to see an alternative can be extremely helpful in many areas of daily life. From work to your commute, to asking how your partner’s day went (or knowing when to avoid asking). Even from crashing on the couch in front of reruns after dinner to playing a board game with the family, or reading a book, or maybe taking a quiet walk around the neighborhood.
All that from the seemingly simple act of taking a step back, staying present and shifting your perspective.
This piece took on a life of its own when I started editing. The idea was to show the wide variety of situations and topics where shifting your perspective can open up new vistas and possibilities. Perspective as a topic holds a special place in my heart since one of my traits is the innate ability to see things from multiple perspectives by default. I’ll address that trait and what it means to me in a future post, or possibly a series of posts.