How to use alternative perspectives to fuel a positive and constructive
mindset when you need it most.
You know when you get so immersed in something, you lose sight of all else? In a bad way. Like an issue you encounter on a project in work. And you can only see the problem. No sign of any ideas or solutions.
Or you have an argument with someone. You replay it over and over in your mind. It keeps gnawing away at you.
Or maybe you just start to worry about something. It starts to consume you. It somehow takes up way more headspace and focus than it should.
Then you get a different perspective. You see it for what it is. You wonder what took you so long.
Now flip this around for a second.
A friend comes to you with a problem. You immediately see it for what it is. You share your viewpoint and they feel better. That’s happened to you many times before, right?
So let’s explore how you can be that friend to yourself. Let’s see how you can gain a fresh perspective to see beyond your own problems and challenges. Your own alternative perspective is more valuable than anyone else’s.
Let’s do so in four stages.
When is a shift in perspective most useful?
What shift in perspective works best for you?
Whose perspective would be most useful?
How can you engineer that shift in perspective?
1. When is a shift in perspective most useful?
There are too many ways to list here. So I’m going to help you focus in on 3 key scenarios that my clients and I have found perspective to be most useful.
a. Unfamiliar territory
It’s a new situation for you. Kind of like having a big jigsaw with only parts of the finished picture to work with. You’re just looking at all of the individual pieces. It doesn’t all fit together.
Think of starting a new project or business initiative in work, with more variables than you’ve had to manage before. At the start, it can be confusing. It can even be tricky to define exactly what the challenge is. You might not even have a clearly defined goal yet. So you’re not sure where to begin.
A shift in perspective can help you break things down more simply. You see the critical parts of the equation. You manage to make a start. You begin to map it all out.
b. Stuck in a rut
In this situation, you need perspective to help you out of a muddle. You’ve become immersed in something. You’ve developed a fear-based mentality that is catastrophising everything else. You’re getting nowhere thinking about this on your own. It can be stressful. You can feel overwhelmed or preoccupied. Your confidence can begin to wane. You become less productive in other areas as a result.
Perspective here can help you see the challenge for what it is. All you needed was a bit of distance. You just needed some relativity to help you see the challenge objectively. And to see how fortunate you are overall.
I see this in clients who are unsuccessful in a job or promotion application. They weren’t unhappy before the process started, but the sense of rejection or failure they feel becomes suffocating.
c. Downward Spiral
This is a domino effect. The sooner you’re aware of this one the quicker you can stop it!
There’s a trigger that starts the process.
Subsequently, you focus on the problem or the perceived failure. This leads to further negative emotions and a narrowing of choices. Your performance suffers due to short-termism, pessimism and fear. This can ultimately cause you to feel helpless, isolated and filled with doubt. Hopefully, you don’t let it get that far.
Like I said, the sooner you nip this in the bud, the better. Perspective helps you do exactly that. So let’s explore exactly how in the next section.
2. What shift in perspective works best for you?
You can use perspective to your advantage with
- Relativity – appreciating your relatively strong position compared to less fortunate alternatives, resulting in a change in attitude and approach
- Freshness – raising awareness of new alternatives not previously considered, resulting in an injection of energy about possible solutions.
Both lead to you seeing the initial challenge differently.
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
3. Whose perspective might be most useful?
One of my clients had an organ transplant in his early 20’s. As a founder/CEO of a tech start-up with VC investment, as well as having a young family, he’s not short of challenges. He uses his recollection of his relief and new-found energy post-operation as an anchor. Whenever he feels under pressure, he releases the pressure by gaining relative perspective….. “I’m here, this is what life is about…..focus on the way forward”.
An alternative strategy I use is to consider a human atrocity that disturbs you. Remember the image of the Syrian boy who couldn’t have been more than 2 years old. He was lying face down, dead, washed up on the shore. Harrowing. That kick starts me into a more positive and resourceful state, most of the time. How bad can my problems be?
This is at the core of what coaching is. Coaching helps you address your challenge or opportunity from multiple angles. You, therefore, see numerous paths forward, before selecting the most suitable one for you at that point in time.
A simple way to create this perspective is to consider how other people you deem to be better-equipped to manage the challenge would approach it. Or to consider how you might advise others to approach it if they came to you about it. Finally, how you would approach it if you were at your best right now.
At no point are you engaging outside opinion, you’re just tapping into your own database of information. You’re making the unconscious conscious. Nothing is more empowering than finding your own way through your own challenges.
4. How can you engineer that perspective?
For those of you who receive my regular emails each week, you’ll know that I failed to engineer this myself recently.
It ain’t easy. Ultimately, perspective can lead to improved performance. So if that’s important to you (and presumably it is or there is no point in reading this), then try one of the following, regularly and consistently.
Take time now to note down one of the following (a & b achieve relative perspective, c achieves fresh perspective):
- a defining event that, having moved beyond it, provides you with a lease of life, e.g. past illness, bankruptcy, job loss, the death of a loved one; OR
- a human atrocity or plight that you find upsetting, e.g. famine, refugee crisis, wrongful imprisonment, victims of crime, lack of care for the vulnerable; OR
- a Panel of Experts, whose traits you use individually or collectively to gain a new perspective, comprising of
- Wise old sage (high profile figure you admire, fictional character)
- Inspirational professional (eg, old boss, senior partner etc.)
- You at your best
- A friend who can make light of the situation.
Whatever you choose, get a sense of the event, plight or the person. Don’t become embroiled in it/them. Visualise the exact situation now where you imagine yourself using whichever alternative perspective. Play it out in your mind, over and over. You should clearly visualise yourself moving from frustration to clarity as you imagine this.
Now you have a tool anchored in your mind. A very powerful one. It will only work if you use it. At every opportunity.
Whenever you become aware of being
- in unfamiliar territory,
- stuck in a rut, or
- in a downward spiral,
then you have an opportunity to flex the mind’s muscle and run it through a valuable exercise. The more you use the tool, the more you’ll train the mind to use perspective habitually.
There’s always a different way forward. Raising your awareness of these options is one of the key benefits of coaching. This article gives you an insight into how you can generate some of these options yourself. You can use the tools to rise above the subjectivity of any set of circumstances. You can view the same challenge more objectively as a result.
Shifting to that more positive mindset enables you to get back on the horse and perform at or near your best. That’s precisely what this is all about.
Regular face to face coaching provides an opportunity for you to challenge your prevailing perspective regularly and consistently. Whether that is for you as a leader or for your team, it’s incredibly valuable in today’s fast changing world of business.
I’ve written a Special Report for leaders of highly skilled millennials called Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. It provides some perspective on the nature of business today, leadership that is fit for purpose, and ways to optimise your performance and that of your team.
Please feel free to access a complimentary copy here: