4 Key Steps to Help You Gain Perspective

Start the process of defusing reactivity and increasing your ability to hear what's really going on with yourself and others.

November 16, 2016

Adapted from The Living Clearly Method 

Perspective gives us a chance to ask, How do I want this to go? And in the space we create by asking that question, we can influence the course of events. But what is perspective, exactly? It's commonly defined as a specific point of view or a way of seeing something. There can be multiple perspectives on a given situation (if you need examples of that, check out our politicians). But for me, it's--unsurprisingly!--more active than that. Sure, perspective is something that happens, but only if you decide you want it to. There's innately some momentum behind it, some umph and focused attention; it's not a passive state of being.

More: 7 Ways To Create a More Powerful Mind-Body Balance

The first step to bringing more perspective into your life is acknowledging that you need it. If you sense that you're more reactive than responsive (like if you find yourself spending more time apologizing for things you've said or done than you'd like to), or if you're dominated by feelings of worry or anxiety, or if you feel generally stuck and stagnant in your body, job, relationship, home life, anything, you could probably use some more perspective. And I've got a simple four-step process to get you there. To practice perspective and start the process of defusing reactivity and increasing your ability to hear what's really going on with yourself and others: 1) Pause. 2) Zoom out. 3) Reframe the situation with a key question. 4) Choose a new direction.

The next time you feel the stress rising—if your body is aching, if your heart is hurting, if your child is testing your patience or your partner is testing your compassion--bust out the perspective 1-2-3-4.

pausing during busy day
1. Pause

It starts with a pause. This is the muscular aspect of the Perspective Process. In the beginning, it takes strength to slow the reactivity train. When your emotions have been in the driver's seat for a lifetime, they can easily snowball, quickly gaining speed and momentum.

More: 10 Warning Signs of Burnout & Excessive Stress

Most of us are like puppets being manipulated by our strong and reactive feelings. At the first inkling of hurt, craving, anger, frustration, disappointment, or sadness, we give up and allow ourselves to be tossed around by our emotions. But when we pause just for a moment—it can be as brief as 2 seconds—we create a subtle but powerful space that allows for a fork in the road where there was once only one direction to go. The next time you feel your defenses rise or notice that you are longing for something or someone, practice catching yourself in the moment before you take action. By simply recognizing that you are experiencing strong feelings, you reclaim the pause and regain the ability to alter the course of events.

More: 4 Ways to Master the Art of Slowing Down

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that you stop feeling what you're feeling. You're not trying to stuff a cork back into an already popped bottle of champagne. You want to maintain your passion, but just like a bottle of bubbly that's opened slowly and thoughtfully, you can acknowledge the emotions you're experiencing without them exploding all over the place. That acknowledgment is the pause.

woman concentrating
2. Zoom out

Once you've steadied yourself with the pause, you're ready for the next step in the Perspective Process, zooming out. Just like a camera, we have the ability to hone in on the tiniest details of a situation—often our own feelings about what's happening—or to zoom out and take in more of what's actually transpiring, which includes the other person's experience and what things could possibly look like once the moment is over. Zooming out is the heart of perspective. When we pause and then zoom out, it's like we are hovering above the situation, empowered with the gift of broad-reaching sight.

3. Reframe the situation with a key question

Once you've paused and zoomed out, it's time to reframe the situation with a key question. For example: If I follow through with this current desire, how will I feel later or how will my life be influenced?

More: The 3 Most Important Questions to Help Clarify Your Goal

A key question can also help you take in the scope of your life instead of honing in on one aspect that you're not that into—like your dress size, your relationship status, or the number in your checking account. You may also find that from your zoomed-out position, you can ask a question about the other person's experience, like, What could it possibly feel like to be in her shoes?

Reframing questions can look a lot of ways. here are a few examples.

  • How will I feel later this afternoon if I have a doughnut for breakfast?
  • What will my stress levels be like tomorrow if I put off the work that I have to do today?
  • What am I appreciative of right now, in this very moment?
  • How will I feel later if I react angrily to my toddler's meltdown?
  • What will screaming at my husband really accomplish?
  • What could be happening in my friend's/sister's/mother's/child's life that is motivating her to act this way?
  • How will my body feel if I skip my workout today?
new direction
4. Choose a new direction

The fourth and final step of the Perspective Process is choosing a new direction. This is the fun part! This is where you really feel what it's like to steer your ship toward a bright and welcoming new land. You get to decide how you will navigate your way through a challenging moment, and how you'll feel after it's over. You are no longer dragged around by your emotions.

In my life, and I hear the same thing from moms all over the country, I find that my toddler is particularly adept at providing me with opportunities to practice Step 4 of the process.

More: 8 Ways to Build Hope Every Day

By understanding that we each have our own point of view—even 2-year-olds see things in their own unique way—we open ourselves up to deeper connections with others, increasing our empathy and compassion and bridging the gap that feeds misunderstanding and misalignment. By pulling the camera back and disentangling ourselves from a micro view of a situation, we liberate ourselves from the confines of a singular point of view. Things no longer have to look one way to be good or right. Perspective helps us understand that we respond differently when we are caught in the hurricane of emotionality. 

Now, steadied with perspective, you are ready to slow down and fill your body with the transformative power of breathing. Let's go!

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