I recently attended a seminar on positive psychology. The words and wisdom of Dr. Martin Seligman (the founder of positive psychology) really struck a chord with me. The basis of positive psychology is what I believe as a clinician can help many individuals lead more productive, enriched and content lives. Positive psychology promotes acceptance, focuses on strengths, and embraces relationships. Living this way requires a great deal of effort. These efforts are largely focused on acknowledging and shifting our perspective.
Perspective is defined as a noun meaning “outlook” or “view.” By definition it is neither positive nor negative, but variable based on the individual and situation. In order to live a more positive life, a great deal of effort has to be put into shifting your perspective towards positive emotions, “big picture” attitude, and the greater good. So, how do we go about doing this?
I like to refer to this in my practice as “zooming out.” I define “zooming out” as intentionally taking a step back, and reflecting on whatever stressful situation you are in as an observer. As an observer, you take into account multiple angles and points of view, empathizing when possible to anyone else involved in the situation. That means if you are in an argument with your friend over who is right about something, you need to attempt to put yourself in their position to see the other side of things. In addition, attempt to see what positives exist or may result from this situation. Perhaps you and your friend will better understand each other after this conflict, thus strengthening your relationship. Finally, try to look at the situation, as if it is not yours, but something that a friend of yours is going through, and asking for your help with. How would you help alleviate the stress or advise this person if the stress was not yours. Be just as kind to yourself as you would a friend in the same situation (self-compassion).
There are many strategies and activities that will help you to “zoom out” and more easily maintain a “big picture” perspective. Here is a short list of suggested ways to get started:
Community service and volunteer opportunities – Seek out opportunities that are connected with your hobbies and interests.
Relationships and connections with others – Engage in social activities and make time and space for others.
Start or foster a hobby or interest outside of work – These are even more effective if this is a group activity or something you can share with a partner or loved one.
Mindful self-compassion/meditation – Kristen Neff is the leading expert in this area and has books and workbooks to guide you into a mindful self-compassion practice.
Exercise – Not only does exercise increase your endorphins, but also provides you with additional energy needed to take the extra step of acknowledging and addressing your perspective.
As we enter the busy holiday season, now is a great time to be more mindful of your perspective. The holidays can make us feel overwhelmed, stressed, frustrated, impatient, under appreciated, and lonely. However, they can also provide us with just as much opportunity to be appreciative, kind, generous, helpful, encouraging, comforting and included. You have the power to choose the perspective you take in every situation (and you get a fresh start every time). Challenge yourself to choose a different perspective that will allow you to feel better, not worse next time.