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Choose Your Own Adventure: The Influence of Perspective

(This post was adapted from JCarter Counseling © 2023 by Jessica Carter)

Think of a roller coaster. Imagine boarding the roller coaster and sitting down. The seat beneath you feels solid. The safety bar makes a clicking noise as the attendant lowers it across your chest. There is that point of no return as the ride begins to slowly lurch forward. You can see the first drop in the distance. The roller coaster steadily climbs and the ground beneath you gets further away. Get ready! You’re about to be whipped around the track at an incredible speed as your body takes on the force and the rush of loops, turns, and drops! Here it comes! The first drop! Your head whips back against the seat and before you know it you're dangling upside down as the ride enters the first loop. Your breath catches in your throat. You...

A) Holler with a level of excitement and joy your body cannot contain! B) Scream with the fear of a thousand possible ways you could die. C) Feel the nervous rush of adrenaline. Gasp the safety bar and hold your breath. D) Laugh uncontrollably. This is so much fun!

Now take a moment to check in with yourself. How did you respond as you read this scenario? Has your heart rate increased? Could you feel a mini (or maybe not so mini) adrenaline rush? Were you holding your breath? Were you thinking “whoohoo” or “oh hell no”? During the imagery how did you imagine yourself? Were you hanging onto those bars for dear life, white knuckled and screaming? Were your arms in the air in pure exhilaration, hollering and grinning from ear to ear?

What's the takeaway here?

Perception is reality. On a basic, practical level nothing has inherent meaning and everything that exists in this world is neutral. If you had no knowledge or concept of a roller coaster and I described it to you as “an exciting adventure that makes you feel superhuman” or if I refer to it as a “panic inducing death trap,” I’m providing you with the foundation that will influence your conception of roller coasters. When you see a roller coaster for the first time, you might use my description to help you decide whether to run up and strap in for the ride of a lifetime or run in the opposite direction and pray for the poor souls already strapped in. Everything exists in the context of the meaning we give it. One hundred different people could imagine being on a roller coaster and have vastly different experiences. At the end of the day the roller coaster itself is completely benign. It is a mere representation of our collective experiences, beliefs, and ideations. Our brain has to put information into some kind of context to help us survive and interact with the world.

Think of the possibilities!

Let's explore this with another example. What comes to mind when you think of being cut off in traffic? Coming from a Western cultural perspective, you might feel anger or irritability. You might think of a few choice words or gestures you'd like to share with the other driver. You might begin to make negative assumptions about the other driver as a person- that they're rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate, or just plain reckless. But these are all just assumptions based on your beliefs about being cut off. If this scenario played out in real life, we can see how your perspective might have influenced your thoughts, mood, and behavior.

But let's take that a step further and completely re-imagine the scenario. Imagine if as a society we were taught that when someone cuts you off in traffic it is actually a good thing. That this is a sign of luck and the expectation is to politely wave at the person and thank them. In this scenario, we can see the influence of perspective. Our response to this situation is directly related to our beliefs.

Ok, ok. We don't live in that world. But what if we had the power to influence our own beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors in any scenario regardless of external influences?

Although we may not be able to necessarily change the reality we live in or the rules that govern it, the good news is we can change our perspective. At it’s core, life is endless with possibilities. If we limit ourselves to only one color the picture gets pretty dull and we get stuck re-living the same story. There is a whole box of crayons! Pick a different color next time.

Try this- REFRAMING Go into a familiar experience with a novel approach to see if you can gain a different perspective. Think of something you’ve done before and are likely to do again in the future. For an added bonus, pick a scenario that makes you a bit nervous or uncomfortable, something you struggle with or maybe just something you want to experience differently. A little advice: When you are first experimenting with this reframing exercise, start small! Try ordering something you've never tried next time you eat at your favorite restaurant, as opposed to trying to “reframe” your way through your next root canal.

Now apply these approaches to help you reframe the situation.

Let go of your first reactions. Drop the pre-programmed perspective. Imagine you have no prior knowledge of the experience. Pretend you are an alien from a different planet, learning about this thing for the first time.

Start questioning. Does this experience have to be bad, scary, uncomfortable, etc.? Does everyone feel that way? What are the other options? What are some good things about this experience? After all, there is something motivating you to do it.

Gather information from different sources. What are some other perspectives? What information might you be missing? Get curious, try to find out something you didn't know.

Play a different role in the story. In the past were you the terrified passenger gripping the bars on the roller coaster? Try being the adventurous free spirit. Put your hands in the air, if even for a second. Maybe even let out a little “whoo."

Try the opposite. Try laughing in a situation that might normally be scary. Try approaching instead of avoiding. Opening up instead of closing down.

Focus on a different aspect of the experience. Are you usually caught up in your own head? Try focusing your attention on the other people around you. What kind of experience do they seem to be having?

Are you the kind of person who has your "spot?" Try a new spot in a different part of the room. What's the view like from there? How is that experience different?

Take a moment to appreciate the different sights, sounds, and other nuances of the experience you might have missed before.

Sometimes our perspectives are outdated, inaccurate, and even harmful. Just like any other skill, changing our perspective takes practice and consistency over time. Take opportunities throughout your day to become aware of your reactions to things. What thoughts and beliefs come up for you in different scenarios? Question whether there is a different perspective that might be more beneficial to you, or perhaps even more realistic. Then try that perspective out for a while to see how it affects your thoughts, mood, and behaviors.

No matter what life throws at you, through reframing you always have the power to choose your own adventure.


© 2023 by Jessica Carter

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