What is perspective?
Your perspective, in psychological thinking, is the way you have chosen to see the world. This includes the way you see yourself and those around you.
Even if you think your thoughts on your life and on the people you know are ‘facts’, they really aren’t. They are a series of beliefs you have chosen to live from – your perspective.
You could liken it to standing and looking at a statue, where the statue represents your life. Think about how many other places you could stand and still see that statue. Of course if you were standing on the other side, you’d have a different idea of what the statue looked like.
Your perspective might feel permanent, but it isn’t. Whether you realise it yet or not, your perspective is actually a choice you have made. And like any choice, it can therefore be changed.
Why does my perspective matter?
The way you choose to see things directly affects every choice you make. So your perspective ultimately determines how your life turns out.
For example, if your perspective is that people aren’t worth your effort, you will likely not get married or have a family, and will likely work a job that doesn’t involve too much social interaction. You might suffer from loneliness but at the same time not have to deal with too much conflict.
If your perspective is instead that people are great and everyone likes you, you might have many exciting relationships or get married, have children, and have a job that means you interact with many colleagues. But you might have rocky relationships when people don’t like everything you do and challenge you, and have constant conflict that causes you trouble at work and home.
Note that neither of these above perspectives are necessarily balanced ones. They are too much to one side, choosing to see life as really terrible, or really good. Both of these perspectives are what is known as black and white thinking.
Seeing the world from such a one-sided place leads to ‘cognitive distortions,’ an term used in Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to describe thoughts that don’t necessarily match up to the reality of what’s going on. CBT is a great form of therapy if you suspect you might be living your life from a skewered perspective and would like to start challenging your viewpoints and thoughts and choosing ones that lead to a life you are happier with.
How does my perspective affect my moods?
Your perspective determines your thoughts, and your thoughts create a chain reaction that leads to taking actions that make you feel either good or bad about yourself and your life. In Cognitive behavioural therapy this is called a ‘behaviour loop’ or ‘maintaining process’. A thought creates feelings and bodily sensations such as muscle tension. These combine to dictate your behaviour, which then triggers another thought, and the cycle continues again.
Of course if that original thought is negative, you will tend to choose behaviour that leads to another negative thought and so you get stuck in a negative pattern, leading to low moods. If that original thought is positive, you will go on a positive loop. So your perspective is really a main force driving your moods, whether you know it or not.
How can I change my perspective?
There are many ways you can begin to change your perspective, not the least of which includes working with a coach, counsellor, or psychotherapist, all of whom are trained on the art of learning how to shift perspective in a safe and positive way.
One of the ways you can begin to at least notice your perspective is to start asking yourself powerful questions about your opinions and choices. Try questions such as:
- why do I think/feel this way?
- where did I learn how to think/feel this way?
- who else do I know who thinks/feels this way?
- what would my life look like if I thought/felt the exact opposite way?
- why do people who think/feel differently than this think/feel the way they do?
- how do people opposing how I am thinking/feeling right now think/feel?
To try what it feels like to change your perspective, it can be fun and illuminating to practise seeing life as someone (or something) else entirely. For example, think of three people or characters, dead or alive (or fictional), who you admire or are fascinated by. Then try to see a problem you have through their eyes.
So if you have to go to a party where you are convinced nobody likes you, you could imagine how the Queen might handle it (she’d act as if you were all honoured to know her at all). Or how a Ghandi would handle it (he’s be kind to everyone, speak his truth, and not worry at all what they think). This exercise even works if you get a bit silly; what would Mickey Mouse do? He’d probably have a great time, flirting and dancing and getting into mischief.
The point is to see how many options you actually have for seeing a situation, and how many choices you also have for how you handle a situation.
But I like the perspective I have. Why should I change it?
There is nothing wrong with keeping your perspective if you feel it has led you to create a life in which you are truly content.
Even so, it pays to learn how to at least try shifting your perspective, as this leads to the following:
- A greater ability to understand others
- stronger relationships with friends and partners
- get along with colleagues better at work
- more able to stay calm when others challenge you with their viewpoint
Furthermore, if you don’t question your perspective, you’ll never know if it’s actually yours at all. Often, we grow up with the perspective of our parents or guardians and without realising it continue to live our life as an adult from their viewpoint. Or, we might be so heavily influenced by long-term friends, or so intent on co-dependently pleasing a partner, we again are living out their viewpoint and assuming it is our own.
What if I find it too hard to change my perspective?
Sometimes it can be too hard to see what is our perspective by ourselves. We are too mired in our need to please all those around us we might just have no idea if the way we see things is our perspective or not, or just be sure of our perspective in some parts of our life but not in others. A life coach will be versed with tools to help you gain clarity.
If trying to see your perspective causes anxiety, makes you have feelings of helplessness, or a sense that you have no real self to speak of, it’s wise to seek the assistance of a counsellor or psychotherapist. Having the courage to learn who we are and begin to live from our own choices can be a real learning curve, and a professional can create a safe, non-judgemental and supportive place for you to try on new ways of seeing your world and yourself, as well as help you find strategies to live from a new perspective that leads you in the direction of a life that works for you.
Has changing your perspective worked for you or improved your moods? Share your story and tips below and start the conversation.
Photos by Andrew E. Larsen, Let Ideas Compete, Chris Isherwood