The way you see something can easily keep you stuck and stressed—or it can free you. In other words, your perspective is powerful in creating the life you want to live—or not.
For instance, if you think you’ll never find a fulfilling job, you’ll feel demoralized, and you won’t do the very things you need to do to find a fulfilling job. That is, you likely won’t create an effective resume, brush up on your interview skills and write a compelling cover letter.
That’s because, as psychotherapist Megan Gunnell, LMSW, pointed out, our perspective affects our feelings, and these feelings affect our behavior. This also means that if you change your perspective, you’ll change your feelings and then you’ll change your behavior for the better.
For example, you’re starting your day, and you’re already thinking, There’s not enough time! There’s never enough time! I’ll be late! Today is going to be awful. You start feeling anxious and rushed and stressed. “Then you behave in a way that makes you forget things and lose your focus and consequently, you are inefficient, scattered, late and not able to complete what you’re doing,” said Gunnell, also a speaker, writer and international retreat leader in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Your body also starts reacting based on your anxious, overwhelmed thoughts: You release adrenaline and cortisol, she said.
However, if you reframe your perspective—I’ll do my best, one task at a time—then you’ll feel calm and confident. “Your behavior isn’t rushed or erratic, and you find you are efficient and effective in your approach to completing your tasks.”
We adopt all kinds of unhelpful perspectives that keep us stuck. We think we don’t have control over our circumstances and our lives, and we think our ability to grow and accomplish certain goals is limited (when it actually isn’t), said Diane Webb, LMHC, a psychotherapist and self-development coach in private practice in Clifton Park, N.Y. “If you think there are limits, the limits will present themselves.”
We think in terms of “always” and “never.” “You’re unemployed and unhappy today, so you start to think you’ll always be unemployed and sad,” said Ryan Howes, Ph.D, a board-certified psychologist and writer in Pasadena, Calif. “You’ve dated 10 men and haven’t yet found a great fit, so you start to believe that you’ll never find a solid relationship.”
Thankfully, our perspectives aren’t permanent, and sometimes they don’t take much to shift—a simple (and profound) question can alter our viewpoint, and help us create incredible change. These questions can help you see things through a healthier, more effective lens:
Is this perspective an old tape on replay? According to Webb, an old tape is an old way of thinking—about deficits you thought you had but outgrew, or definitions you gave yourself that no longer fit what you’ve become and achieved. For example, an executive still sees herself as inadequate because she struggled with math in school, she said. What do I want? How do I feel? “Many people get so involved in the needs and wants of others they fail to check in with their own wants and feelings,” Howes said. You still might need to consider others, but your desires are just as important.
Does this perspective prevent me from abundance, happiness and peace? Webb suggested asking this question, which is vital because we regularly think things that don’t serve or support us.
What has this perspective cost me? What have I missed out on because of this perspective? Webb said. These questions speak to whether you’re clinging to negative, limiting perspectives that have led you to decline positive opportunities (or make unhealthy decisions). Because if a perspective is poisoning your life, why are you holding onto it?
If I were twice as strong and twice as confident, what decision would I make? Howes asks his clients this question when it seems like fear is clouding their judgment. “This doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice, but it does show how much power they’re giving to fear.”
What am I grateful for in this moment? According to Gunnell, gratitude moves us from a mentality of scarcity to a mentality of abundance. It moves us from being filled with fear and worry to feeling empowered and maybe even seeing possibilities where before we saw none.
For instance, Gunnell’s client is the breadwinner of her family, while her husband stays home with their young kids. Her job involved long hours, grueling deadlines, demanding expectations and frequent global travel. The stress was sparking significant health issues. For months she dreamed about finding a new job, but she thought she didn’t have the time for a comprehensive search, and felt pressure as the primary earner to stay. Then she was let go—and felt shocked, angry and devastated. However, she quickly shifted to a grateful, hopeful perspective: This gives her “a break to catch her breath, reduce her stress and start a comprehensive job search for a new position in a company [that’s] a better fit for her family, life balance and health.”
Does this perspective belong to someone else? Do I want to adopt it myself? For instance, we often internalize our parents’ perspective about ourselves, who we’d become in the future and their approach to life, Webb said. We also often internalize societal expectations and standards. But, as the latter question illustrates, just because we once took on a perspective doesn’t mean we have to keep it; we have a choice in whether to adopt a viewpoint or not.
What would my mentor or hero do? “We have role models for a reason, to model bravery and character for us,” Howes said. “Sometimes it’s easier to get in touch with their motivations than our own, and this is worth exploring.”
What can I learn from this? You can gain insight even when you feel terribly stuck, Howes said. For example, when you ask this question, you might realize that you should trust your gut, that you need to better control your anger, or that you’ve been pursuing the wrong relationships, he said. “Sometimes just knowing there’s a nugget you’ll take away feels empowering.”
Is this perspective in alignment with what I want in my life? Webb said. Reflect on what you want your life and your days to look like. Does your mindset match these desires and dreams? Does your mindset match these specific images?
How will I want to remember this chapter of my life when I re-tell the story? When you’re feeling paralyzed, it’s hard to see the bigger picture—and to see potential solutions. Which is why Howes suggested imagining yourself “some time in the future telling the story from this time” and wondering how you’d like the narrative to sound. For instance, you might come up with: “I kept pushing until I found a brand-new solution,” Howes said.
“Just imagining this helps you realize you won’t be in this predicament forever, and starts you on the road of problem solving as you write your own story.”
Because, remember, you are the author of your life.