When it comes to the struggles that we all face in our daily lives, a little bit of perspective can go a long way. Perspective contextualises our experiences. It can reveal the normality of what we're going through in our lives, and make us more grateful for the good things we have. It can also help to deescalate stress levels and improve our sense of control.
Human brains are wired to fixate more on negative experiences than positive ones. This "negativity bias" allowed our ancestors to stay aware and then sharpen their focus when a predator was near. However, in today's age, a heightened negativity bias can keep us in a constant state of alertness and also hamper our ability to find creative solutions to modern-day problems. The trick is to strengthen our ability to draw upon and more regularly use perspective as a resilience skill!
Finding more meaning
Life is a roller coaster, and it can make you feel as though you’re constantly bouncing between highs and lows. The beauty of perspective is that it helps us find that contentment between the peaks and valleys. Perspective definitely goes hand-in-hand with reflection. To gain it, you need to be able to step back from things and take the time to think about them – either in the moment or retrospectively. Deeper learning comes from this process of reflection, and once we've moved through the issues that we face, we can find a broader life-context in which to accept our experiences.
The value of perspective
I have always had a lot of expectations about what I wanted to achieve, but it wasn't until I got my work-life balance sorted that I could actually see the bigger picture - literally. I spent so much time down in the weeds working hard on all the little stuff, that I actually lost sight of the greater strategic opportunities around me. Consequently, I would also overreact to situations rather than letting things wash over me with time. But, by taking the opportunity to step back and find perspective, I actually became more efficient and much better at what I did – both personally and professionally.
By taking the opportunity to step back and find perspective, I actually became more efficient and much better at what I did – both personally and professionally.
How to gain perspective
When we talk about perspective, part of what we’re talking about is gaining greater understanding. But, on another level, we are also looking for more control in difficult situations. Tapping into some great exercises, or using tools and skills that will improve your perspective, will help increase your resilience and ability to enjoy the ups and downs of life.
Use the ‘three Ps’
One technique is regulating. If you’re in a challenging situation, think of the ‘three Ps’ – permanence, pervasiveness, and personalisation. Ask yourself, "Is this situation permanent or is it something that will change with time?" Next, "Is this issue pervasive, or is it an isolated incident?" If it’s a one-off thing, you may be able to let it go. Then, finally, personalisation: "Is this about me, or is this about other things?" This process of asking yourself questions, will move you away from emotions and help you see the experience (and you reactions to it) more broadly and rationally. A great final question to ask is, "What’s the worst thing that can happen here, and will I be able to cope with that?"
Accept help from others
Other people also play a vital role when it comes to perspective. It’s helpful to contrast our experiences with those of others to achieve some objectivity. There’s a connectedness that we share with our support networks, and talking things through can help you find a different vantage point as well as receive support. The people in your life might say, “Why are you caring so much about this?” Or, “You’re going to be good with that, don’t worry about it.” Sometimes that’s all you need to hear. Often, we’ll coach our friends through things – so we should be open to allowing others to do the same for us.
Perspective and timeframes
When I find myself in a situation where I need some perspective, there’s another tool I use based on the concept of time. I ask myself “Will I care about this situation in five days?”, and “Will I care about this situation in five months or in five years?” These timeframes are useful for qualifying whether you’ve got the right perspective.
Ask yourself, "Is this situation permanent or is it something that will change with time?", "Is this issue pervasive, or is it an isolated incident?", "Is this about me, or is this about other things?"
Even if a challenge feels insurmountable – it can be helpful to try and reflect on the value this experience will bring you in the future. It’s likely that whatever is going on will become part of your journey, and there’s value in that. Every experience provides an opportunity to learn and grow. Ultimately, I know that if I can keep working to put things in perspective, it will increase my wellbeing and overall contentment with life.
Creating history in 2002, Alisa Camplin AM, was the first Australian woman to win Winter Olympic Gold in the sport of Freestyle Aerial Skiing. After 18 years as a global corporate executive, Alisa now juggles a portfolio career as a human performance consultant, company director and co-founder of charity Finnan’s Gift. No stranger to overcoming adversity or delivering results, Alisa is an in-person and virtual keynote speaker who’s passionate about helping people build resilience and achieve sustainable success. Alisa works closely with a community of renowned academics and leading psychologists to bring practical mental wellbeing programs, tools and techniques to the world. Connect with Alisa.