A lot of the art of life is about perspective. The ability to change our perspective based on the situation at hand is a key part of creating a life worth living. There is the old saying that we can handle the big things, it’s the daily irritations that kill us. And daily irritations are very often a matter of perspective.
I find that most of my distress day to day comes from too narrow a perspective. I have narrowed down my field of view to only this ONE thing. I have become extremely myopic and can’t see anything beyond this problem or desire.
Taking a wider perspective almost always helps.
There are three main filters I use to widen my perspective:
- Personal Importance
Time- The Time filter is pretty straightforward. I can choose at any time to view the situation from a wider time perspective. Will this matter in 5 days, 5 months or 5 years? This helps very quickly get back to a workable perspective. Since I know that everything is impermanent and all things shall pass, the act of taking a wider time perspective helps relieve that anxiety. Is this issue going to matter next week or next month?
Personal Importance- In this situation I need to consider the stress in the bigger scheme of my life as a whole. Oliver Burkeman is his excellent book “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Hate Positive Thinking” advises that we ask our selves “What is the worst thing that can happen?” If we answer that question honestly, in a lot of cases it will give us the perspective we need. For example if I am stuck in traffic and getting angry asking myself that question leads to the fact that I will be 10 minutes late getting somewhere or have 10 less minutes to do something else but beyond that nothing bad is happening.
Distance- Distance is harder to describe but no less important. It is about seeing more than I am seeing in my myopic moments. In this case I need to take the situation and consider it in light of the world as a whole. This is the classic “There are lots of people who have it worse than you”. While this does not always help, and pain is relative to a great degree it is important for me to at least run the situation through this filter. By and large I have a life that is free of major challenges and issues and most of my “problems” pale in comparison to real problems that many face.
When I remember to take the situations I’m facing and run them through these three filters more often than not I can get them in better perspective and make better decisions.