Power of Perspective

Perspective is everything. It is the context we create and choose.

Life is happening.
Within, you will experience sensations and emotions: pleasure, curiousity, joy
And some of these will be the flavor of hardship: pain, suffering, grief/loss/death

And nothing you experience will be free of context. Every single experience will take place through a lens by which you see the world. Even evaluating your own experiences, or evaluating the lens itself, will happen through a lens of perception.
As human beings, this is both our curse and our gift. Depending on how we wield this ability, we may continuously suffer, reaction after reaction, or find gratitude in the face of great pain. Everything on that spectrum is available to us.

So how do we travel on that spectrum? How do we flex the lens to our own experience for a better, more intentional experience of life?

What Is the Power of Perspective?

How big is your lens?
Let’s take a couple sample perspectives into consideration. In both scenarios, the same events occur, and two different perspectives are offered.

Through Lens #1:
“Everything seems to be falling apart around me. At the moment I woke up today, I stubbed my toe! And since then everything has gone wrong. At work my boss gave me more tasks than I can handle. My spouse is upset that I didn’t put the groceries away when I got home. I’m so busy I don’t even have time to clip my toenails, which, OF COURSE, made stubbing my toe even more painful. God! I can’t believe it’s still throbbing! Everything is terrible!”

Now, let’s see through a different lens.

Through Lens #2:
“This morning I woke up and remembered what an existential wonder it is to be alive, even if for one day. The thought filled me with such awe and gratitude, that when I stubbed my toe, I found the pain laughable and curious. And anyways, I broke my arm once…I know this is nothing serious. At work, my boss gave me more work than I am likely to finish. She seems to trust me, and I’ll do my best. Thinking about my career over the years, it’s been a positive thing overall to receive more responsibility, even when it means small failures. My spouse expressed frustration about the groceries I left on the counter. Such a long and varied relationship makes us comfortable with holding one another accountable. I was tickled to have yet another reminder of our standards of cleanliness. Before going to sleep, I sat up in bed and reflected on the fullness of the day. My toe still throbbed, and I hadn’t even noticed. It reminded me this morning…remembering being alive. Hmm…maybe tomorrow I’ll finally choose to clip my toenails.”

Which life would you prefer to live? Both are the same life, in a way, as the same things happen to/around you. And yet, these lives are not the same at all.

So what is the power of perspective? The point isn’t gratuitous positivism. It’s choice.
It is the power that you have in every finite moment to choose – in the same way that you can compare and choose between these two scenarios – how to experience life.

These pages will give you a deeper dive into the choice you possess in every moment over your perspective.

The Red Balloon Analogy

Perceived misfortune can habituate easily. It can be like a red balloon in one’s mouth: the more air (perceived misfortune) we blow into it, the less we can see of the world. Too much air, and all we can see is red…as if all life is suffering and nothing else exists. Sometimes the view gets overwhelming and we’ll let some air out by venting or whining about our bad experience.
Luckily, that’s not the only way to take air out of the balloon.

There are many quick tricks we can use to help us scale.
One that’s gained popularity in recent years is the practice of 10/10/10. Another useful tool is listing. Both are below.

This mental trick of remembering the Red Balloon Analogy can work for very real situations. Ask yourself, “How much air am I putting in this balloon? How much do I want to put in? How much energy do I want to give to my suffering?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Victor Frankl

Scaling

So, how to shift? Along with the many other tools presented on this site, like freedom from suffering and shifting between reactive and creative brain, a simple-yet-powerful method can be found in scaling.

The concept is actually very simple.

  • You have an experience. This can be a sensation, an emotion, a thought…anything.
  • Observe this feeling and recognize your power over its context.
  • Frame a wider, more inclusive context. Broaden the context to consider more: more time, more of life, more of you.

Our scale is often small. Like tunnel vision, our reactionary habits can slim our perspective to narrow our experience.

An Exercise: Your Own 1-10 Scale

The point of this exercise is to lend perspective to your suffering. It can be invaluable, humbling, and empowering to step back from our experiences and compare them with a life-sized, world-sized scale.

Step 1:

Write down examples of your scales of discomfort/suffering on scale of 1 to 10. Try listing three examples of each using something like the below tables:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
How does it look? Maybe a number 1 is a bad hair day, and a 10 is a supernova.

Step 2:

Now, Consider the top 10 on a Global Scale.

The global scale is an opportunity to think of pain OUTSIDE of our own personal experience. How can you imagine pain generally, in a non-personal way?

Write down a 1-10 scale of what you’d imagine as a global scale.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10

Step 3:

Take a look at these examples. What do you think?

Make sure you’ve written your own top 10 list before looking at these example. The point of this exercise is comparison.

1
2
3
4
5
Paper Cut
Bug Bites
Bit My Tongue
Injury of semi-serious nature
Fired from Job
Slightly too Hot Day
Headphones Broken
Caught out in the Rain
Getting shot
Minor Car Accident
No Tea in the House
Allergies
Financial Stress
Sore Muscles
Losing Items of Meaning
No Showering
Gassy
Road Rash
Only Dirty Clothes
Natural Disaster
Something in Teeth
Nosebleed
Empty Phone Battery
Gum in Hair
Moving
6
7
8
9
10
Fight with a Friend
Bad Breakup
Death of a Friend
Lost in the Wilderness
Rejection of my Society
Arguing with Family
Fail Out of School
Disabled muscle
Feeling unsafe physically/sexually
Death in Family
Destruction of Ocean
GF Cheats on me with Best Friend
Extreme Confusion
Entire Family Dies
Body Cast
Lost Wallet
Bad Back
No Money at All
Genocide
Heights
Ear Infection/Hearing Loss
Dehydration
Lack of Choice
Cancer
The Unknown

The important thing to notice here is that your own personal scale is flexible and ever-changing, and you have control over it.
If you’re interested in scaling your concept of suffering with more examples of loss, you can visit our section on Grief, Loss, Death, & Dying, where we have The Loss List, which shows how losses are associated with secondary losses.

When we are reactionary, our scale becomes narrow. ‘Small stuff’ can become the focus of all our attention, and our attachment to outcomes of simple matters can become the source of much suffering.
Creatively, we can scale our perspective on the events of our life, reasserting some things that happen ‘to us’ at a 10, to ‘by us’ at a 4. (See Creative vs. Reactive Brain).

Making Decisions

10 – 10 – 10

Yes, decisions can be difficult. And perspective is like an x-ray that enables our discernment and wisdom.

10 Minutes, 10 Months, 10 Years. This idea by Suzy Welch is simple-yet-powerful: before you make a decision, consider what the impact of that decision might be in 10 Minutes, 10 Months, and 10 Years. Click the image of her book to grab a copy.

It’s easy to skip, being so simple in concept. But consider the advantage to habitually asking ourselves this question.
It serves us by separating our impulses from our long-terms ideas of self actualization. And, as we’re ever-striving for, puts our decisions and our current perspective into a wider framing.

Some examples:

1. A friend has just propositioned me for a sexual connection. I’m in a monogamous relationship, and so are they, but there is no denying the chemistry…

In 10 minutes…things could feel really, really good. 😉
In 10 months…I may still be regretting this decision. We will have caused severe heartbreak, and probably the end, of our respective relationships.
In 10 years…I may still be with my current partner. If I decide to do this I probably won’t, and I won’t be with this friend either…

This was easy to clarify. I may ‘want’ this now, but when I consider it in a wider context, I don’t want this at all.

3. My spouse wants to paint the house bright blue, and just arrived home with the paint. Are they crazy?! I need to stop this now.

In 10 minutes…The conversation will be over and I’ll be calm, or the first brush strokes will be on the house.
In 10 months…Hmm, well I might get used to it. I do like the color. I’m just worried that it will de-value the house…
In 10 years…I may paint it again. We want to live here for at least that long, and that’s time enough to paint the house again if need be.

Ok, blue it is! Even if we decide to paint it again in the future for financial reasons, it will be worth it to live in a house that’s a color we both enjoy for years.

2. I’m currently in college, majoring in Biology. But I’ve LOVED my Chemistry class so much that I’m considering changing my major to Chemistry…

In 10 minutes…if I choose to change, I’ll get a rush of a sense of progress.
In 10 months…I’ll have all new classes, new classmates, and new career ideas forming in front of me.
In 10 years…In all likelihood, I’ll be working in a Lab instead of a forest. Whoa, I didn’t realize how important that was to me until just now.

I’m going to see what the working lives of chemists is like. And I’ll talk to some peers working in both fields before I make such a big decision.
(Note that in this case the ‘answer’ was to ask more questions. That’s still an extremely valuable offering from a perspective exercise.)

4. Everyone around me is laughing in my face! That guy at the bar pushed me over and made me look like an idiot! It’s time for a fight…

In 10 minutes…I’ll have regained my status and sense of pride.
In 10 months…I could be facing court for assault.
In 10 years…This could be the night I remember for what made me a felon, unable to vote or find a job.

Yikes…I’m going to let it go.

Try engaging in this practice in retrospect.

What are some big things that have already happened to you, what decisions led to that, and how do they appear through the rear-view mirror now?
Were you thinking about things on this scale? Would you have acted differently?

Now, how about your life right now? Are there any decisions facing you currently that you’ve been wrestling with? View this practice as a way of stepping back and getting a different angle on the problem you’re solving. Try using this method for the next 3 decisions you have to make. If it goes well, try again for the next 10.

Note that you can adapt this scale for insight as-needed. Sometimes minutes won’t do the trick. Try 10 days, 10 months, 10 years. 🙂

Listing

Our brains simply weren’t evolved to store more than a handful of parcels of information at a time.
This is a less-than-ideal circumstance for creatures who are sentient and who, at any one time, can act or think in an infinite number of ways.

Often, it seems like we only have 1, 2, or a handful of options. Even on really big decisions, we tend to limit ourselves with dichotomies, we can be crippled by fear, and our memory can only go so far. That is why, hear us out…

Lists are awesome.

Language has served humanity well, as have our brains. And, it wasn’t until we started writing that we used language to outsource our cognitive functions.
Lists are a perfect example of our unique ability as a species to extend our memory using tools. You’ve probably experience the utility of this when it comes to shopping lists or to-do’s. And decision-making is equally viable.
Consider an important decision you needed to make recently. How many options did you give yourself? How about that one option you chose…did you think of other versions of that option?

Next time you’re faced with an important decision, take some space and time (a day?) to come up with at least a dozen options for how to handle the situation. If the challenge is large enough, endeavor for 25 or more in the span of a week. Unless deeply extreme, it is hard to think of situations with only a handful of options, right?

If you are interested in software that can help, we like Evernote, which syncs across your devices and makes listing a breeze.

Stories

Our lives are an experience of stories. Hand-in-hand with Scaling (focusing on relativity of reactions/emotions) is Your Storied Life, which is about framing and context.
For example, consider the below. Each scenario shows the objective occurrence, the person’s context, then the effect on the person’s life.

 

What happened
Story
Life
It’s raining I hate it when it rains, ugh. Depressed, sad, unhappy
Cut off in traffic Stupid driver, asshole! Pissed off
Breasts are a given size They are too big (Brazil) / They are too small (US) I am not loveable / I am not loveable
Spit in face Jerk! / What brought this poor soul to doing this? Pissed off / Compassion and empathy
A dog A loveable pet / Something to eat Companionship / Nourishment
Climbed tree as child, fell, got hurt Climbing trees is dangerous Don’t climb trees.
Don’t let my children ever climb trees

Everything is the Middle

Concerning stories — especially the ones that form our lived experience — there can be a tendency to wrap things up and put a bow on top, saying “That’s that. That’s how it is.” or “I’ll never _____. That’s the end. So much for _____.”

There is equanimity in remembering that everything which happens, even an event that seems conclusive, happens within some larger context.
Think of Harry Potter. If you’re familiar with the tale, you know it’s a well-wrapped tale, well-concluded and full of lessons and inspiration. And, it’s easy to forget that the protagonist, Harry, had a full ten years of life before the story begins. Likewise, after the grand conclusion, Harry continues living. So what then?
The point here is that the conflicts and the resolutions of the Harry Potter books are not the be-all-end-all of Harry Potter’s life.

Just so, your life is not defined by the single or few events that happen within it. As you’re having an experience, even if it’s something life-changing or serious, remember there was more that came before it and it will pass. Having a bad day? This is going to change. Broke your back? Your life’s story will continue on, as it changes.

Even while facing death, we can wonder how our life was a part of a story, in the middle, of our family, our country, planet or galaxy.

Note that the goal with this mental exercise is not to dampen the degree of our peaks and troughs of experience. The point isn’t to water down your joys.
Rather, the point is to put them in a wider perspective. It is to promote peace of mind in how we relate to our experiences.

Some stories can be like tunnel vision. It helps to remember that every story is a part of another one, which is only a part in yet another.

  • At 50, I’m not going to set a world record for a marathon, yet being fit remains a possibility.
  • Dying is the end of one’s life, yet not the end of the relationship/impact. Mourning over someone’s (very real) death, is a story, and part of a larger story that may include years of love, memories, etc. The love and lessons, and the specific memories of joy, challenge, and tragedy remain part of us as we wish them to be.
  • A broken neck may paralyze a person, yet how one knows oneself, expresses oneself, serves, and loves have infinite possibilities remaining, even though all possibilities are not possible.
  • You may be fired from a job, and how you can experience Bliss may change, yet Bliss remains a possibility.

Remembering the Past

In especially sharp relief can be how we relate to the past.

Though our past doesn’t define us, it sets stories on course, which we habitually repeat. With rumination as an extreme example, remembering the past can be risky business. So it’s important to remember our tools when we reflect on the past: scaling, 10-10-10, etc.

To put the your recent past into perspective, consider how little of our lives we can actually remember.

Try This:

  • Think of 10 significant memories from 1 year ago.
  • 5 years ago: come up with 5 memories from each month.
  • 10 years ago: 3 memories from each month.
  • Two weeks ago exactly: what was memorable about those 24 hours, 1440 Minutes, and 86400 seconds.

Strangely difficult, huh? Maybe impossible for many.

Our lives pass us by and we get caught up as it’s happening. We stew and foster limiting narratives, even if we’re unlikely to remember any of it in 10 years.

As you remember the past, consider detachment as your traumas and triggers scream out to you, inflating themselves for attention.

1970 was only 50 years ago. That’s less than a human lifetime, which is less than a cosmic blink. And look how much was different.

Final Exercise: Scaling Visually

You’ve had an experience. You’ve reacted.
1. Now, reflect upon your reaction. How did you receive that experience. Did you treat it like a 5-out-of-10 on a scale of suffering?
You are at one point on that line. Consider that line itself as one dimension.

2. Now, consider your life as a whole. As in the exercise above, you can imagine your own 1-10 scale of scenarios of suffering, edified by a ‘global’ scale, that broadens your first axis. Where do you put your dot on that line?

3. Lastly, add a third dimension: time. How will the story experience you’re currently having change its context when considered against weeks, months, or years?

This method may help you, after reacting to an event, to visually imagine it, not as the only thing in the world that has ever happened, but as one instance in a sphere of possible experiences, ranging widely in their feelings and impact. When you have a challenging experience, reflect on it mindfully as soon as possible, and imagine that experience with a sphere of context inflating around it. Breath an insightful breath, and sigh.

Practice this. Any experience can be experienced differently, with experience. 🙂

Related Concepts

On scaling time

We have a fun page that’s specifically devoted to this. The videos, thoughts, and links on that page can help anyone zoom out and widen their context through considering time.

Memento Mori

A timeless tradition, and a page honoring it. ‘Memento Mori’ is the practice of reminding oneself of our own mortality. It is Latin for ‘remember that you will die.’

Your Storied Life

Every life is an experience not only of objective reality (that person said hello to me), but also of the stories we attach to them (they’re being passive aggressive). Interpretation is OUR reality. What does that all imply?

Freedom From Suffering

This page is a directory of the many tools, big and small, offered on this site that enable one to live as a master of awareness and joy.

Remember, We’re All Going to Die

And, we have a page devoted to bringing you comfortably closer to the inescapable fate we all share. Some have said “If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?” Another way is “Knowing that we will all die, how would you like to handle this experience?”

On scaling Life on Earth

Also from our section on getting in the mood for considering life, you’ll find Earth in Context. The contents on that page will humble you by humbling the very planet that you happens on. It’s easy not to sweat the small stuff (all of it) when we remember we’re flying around on a pale blue dot.

100% Responsibility

What does it mean to make the most of every opportunity for autonomy, power, and choice? 100% Responsibility is a philosophy of radical willingness to grow, taking responsibility for all of our emotions as rooted in ourselves.

This Too Shall Pass

A tribute to Impermanence, this page will be a pleasant reminder of the unchangeable: change.

Grief / Loss / Death & Dying

One of the most important applications of perspective is how we handle suffering. When we imagine the very worst (a 10 on a scale of 1-10) form of suffering, it can miniaturize and humble our often-inflated reactions to everyday suffering.
“She dumped me. This is the worst day of my life!” can easily become “Okay…that’s too bad. And, I’ll live with that and move forward.” when compared to, let’s say the death of a family member.

So what about genuinely tragic? Sometimes scaling our perspective simple isn’t the best or most appropriate thing for the matter. Luckily, it’s seldom, but most of us experience tragedy at some points in our life. The death of a loved one, sexual trauma, being diagnosed with a terminal illness…these things are indeed real.

We’ve devoted a large section to the subject of Grief; what it feels like, myths about it, Grief therapy and exercises. We’ve also curated an extensive list of resources (organizations, articles, tools, videos, etc) on dealing with Grief and Loss, all of which you’ll find in the section.

  • Map Crunch – This website lets you click a button for a random google street view location. What a fascinating roulette of world perspective!
  • Native Lands and Land Mark– These maps overlay native people groups’ lands over our current borders. It’s a fresh, visually reminder that our world is not made of countries…it’s made of ideas. And many ideas came before these.
  • Drake’s Equation – This perspective-widening thought experiment is famous for starkly showing the unlikelihood that we are the only life in the universe. HERE is an article about it. And HERE is another.

Awe can offer context and connection”
Google has some sweet interactive tools to do so!
Thanks to satellite technology and Google’s audacious mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” we have access to detailed, interactive maps of entire celestial bodies. Click around and widen your perspective!

Videos

Powers of Ten (1977) – A famous video showing the scale of the actual Universe we live in. If you haven’t considered this before, it will change your life. 9 min

Cosmic Calendar – Neil DeGrasse Tyson takes us on a voyage across a metaphorical calendar: if a calendar year represented the lifetime of the universe… 12.5 min

The Pale Blue Dot – This famous video by Carl Sagan presents life and the Earth in a more realistic context. Insightful and poetic. 3.5 min

The Beginning of ‘Up’ – The famous first few minutes of Pixar’s ‘Up’ brings us to a swift awareness of death and life as inseparable. 4.5 min

Your Time in Jellybeans – If the days of your life were represented in a pile of jellybeans, would you better feel the finite-ness of them? And feel gratitude3 min

Empathy – This video shows what’s underneath for people, in a simple walk through a hospital. Suffering and Grief are normal…remember you’re not alone. 4.5 min

Jill Bolte Taylor – A Stroke of Insight
A phenomenal story of her perspective dramatically changing as the result of a stroke.

Books

A powerful book giving perspective to the human experience and culture. Each page profiles one child from somewhere in the world, showing where they sleep. From very poor to very rich, the comparison is striking and humbling.

One of the most popular books out there currently, Yuval Noah Harari wrote Sapiens to share insight into us, Humans, as a species. The writing will shake you to the bone, and the facts will change your mind dramatically. This is one of those ‘must-reads’ that makes history fascinating even for those who don’t normally enjoy history.

Bill Bryson is known as an author that can write on any subject as to make it exhilarating, elegant, and humorous. After reading this book, you will not only feel tickled, but well-educated on how what ‘the world’ is and how it works.

Your Lens is Yours. Own it.

Taking control of your perspective is your right. The ability has belonged to you since childhood, and as you grow in maturity it is more and more within your grasp. It’s part of taking responsibility in life.

Remember, your story is your life, and yours alone to live. You may always choose what brings you joy.