Changing Your Perspective
I have a really good friend; a brother from another mother; as one might say and we have shared a very similar outlook in life: we’re both, or at least we were both at one point, optimistic realists (a brilliant term he came up with). What is an optimistic realist? Optimistic realism is waking up each day; excited and with high hopes but ultimately being beat back down to the ground by reality; which for the most part, has worked for me - hoping for the best but knowing you’ll never get it (a nice way to soften the blow) and probably how I would have continued to view the world had this belief of mine not been challenged.
We all know life’s not fair and if you haven’t yet learned that lesson, I promise you will. We have absolutely no power over our car getting a flat when we’re already late to work ; or our car losing its AC on Interstate 95 two hours into a 20 hour road trip and now kids are vomiting uncontrollably as you barrel down the highway (true story); or when you spend an hour writing an entire newsletter on your vacation and the internet goes down and it gets deleted before saving (cough, cough); or any number of other crap blows… I’m sure you could add a ton to this list. My point is if you’re living, you will encounter at some point (and sometimes daily) less than favorable situations; except that I’m wrong and here’s where my idea was challenged:
What if all of your circumstances were neither good or bad but neutral? Flat tire? Neutral. Puke filled air-condition-less minivan? Neutral. Deleted newsletter? Also neutral. But why? Those are all crappy things, right? No, they’re just circumstances. They’re actually only crappy because my mind decided to view them that way - remember, what may be crappy to me may be awesome to someone else. Situations are neutral; it is your perspective that assigns the feeling; and on a side note, my perspective about the puke filled minivan has since changed from abject horror to amusement. ;)
Years ago I saw a documentary about a group of Buddhist monks making a pilgrimage across the United States. They walked the country from coast to coast; postulating as they traveled. While on their journey they were approached by a car filled with rowdy teenagers; a window was rolled down and a huge container of orange juice was hurled at the group of robe clad monks, covering them in a deluge of citrus just as the vehicle accelerated and the teens drove off; they laughed as their car roared down the road. The soaked monks looked at one another, one finally shrugged before chuckling, “a gift of juice with no vessel to partake.” The group laughed and continued on their journey; no one was disappointed in humanity or their fellow man; no one’s day was ruined; the monks simply carried on and were able to do so because of their perspective.
Now I don’t remember a single other thing about that documentary aside from the juice. The juice incident though, has stuck with me for well over a decade because I was so in awe of their unflappable-ness. I remembered thinking that I wish I had the type of personality that would allow me to remain so positive and unmoved in such a situation, but being bummed because I knew I didn’t possess that trait. When my optimistic realist belief was recently challenged however, I learned that these monks weren’t born unflappable; this wasn’t a given character trait, this was a way of thinking… a way of training your brain to view the world as neutral and also… that I was perfectly capable of training MY brain to do the same. Mind blown.
Your circumstances are always neutral. The thoughts which you choose however (yes, your thoughts are a choice), are not. The thought we have about a situation will then create a feeling. Had the monks had the thought that those teenagers were mean little shits they probably would have had some negative feelings about the entire encounter and if they were thinking negatively, they would have acted accordingly. Maybe they would have decided that they were having a horrible day and from there, they easily could have found evidence to support that thought… a rock in a shoe a mile up the road… a trip and fall… a bit of rain… any little situation (neutral by the way) that could have come up after the drive by juicing incident could have served as ‘proof’ that the day was indeed horrible. Worse yet is that when you let your thoughts and feelings go to negative-nelly-ville, your actions will follow. How often do you shut down because of your thoughts about how your day is going? Me? I let negative thoughts get in my way a lot and when this would happen, my actions would most often involve me not doing anything productive… which would then create less than desirable results and an even shittier day.
Now I’m not saying that changing your mindset is easy. It’s not. I am however saying that it is possible to view all circumstances as neutral and to really train your brain to be cognizant about the thoughts you assign to said events. As I said before, I used to let my negative thoughts dictate my outcomes (which were then also negative) because until recently I wasn’t even aware that I had the ability to control both my thoughts and results. True, I can not control many of the circumstances in my life and this is where one can easily get into the ‘woe is me and my luck’ rut but what I CAN control is how I decide to perceive the situation and for a control freak like myself; this new found outlook is empowering AF.
I’ve been an artist all my life and I’ve done many a perspective drawing as I’ve trained extensively in that department. What I recently learned though is that not only can I train my hands to create the perfect perspective, but that I can train my brain to follow suit and that once I do, just like my hands can make that beautiful piece of art my mind can and will also create beautiful results. I haven’t changed my optimistic realist mindset overnight; I’ve got a lot of work to do, but knowing that I can? Mind blown. Here’s to being able to make it through a drive by juicing with not only a smile on your face, but gratitude in your heart for the gift you’ve just received and I promise I will get there… so juice away world; I got this.