My home overlooks a beautiful field of gentle rolling hills. It is hemmed in by woods and creeks on all sides. For years now, my neighbors and I have taken turns mowing a path around the edge of the field to use as a walking path. For reasons that remain a mystery, I have always walked the path in the counter-clockwise direction, force of habit, I suppose.
Early this spring I received a text message from one of my neighbors alerting me to the presence of a Bald Eagle nest at the far end of the field. Excitedly, I headed out in search of the nest and, after much searching, returned home without even catching a glimpse. When I called my neighbor, he explained that you could only really see the nest if you walked the field clockwise. The next day we walked the field together – clockwise – and sure enough, at exactly the spot he had described, there was an enormous Bald Eagle nest in plain view. All it took was viewing the tree from a different perspective.
Major shifts in people’s lives are often the result of a relatively simple shift in perspective. The mere act of looking at a situation, a problem, or a relationship from a different point of view can lead to new attitudes and more creative solutions. I’m not talking about putting on rose colored glasses and pretending that a particular challenge doesn’t exist, nor am I speaking about “walking in someone else’s shoes”. I’m talking about shifting the underlying beliefs and biases that color how we perceive the challenge in the first place.
One of my clients, a recent college graduate, was struggling to make any headway at all in looking for a job. Every time he sat down to draft a cover letter, he froze. During a coaching session he discovered that he would consistently pick out at least a couple of skills in each job posting that he had little or no experience in. Because he did not meet every single criterion in the description, he believed that he was woefully unqualified and not competent . The end result was an inability to draft a cover letter and hence, to complete a job application.
I challenged him to shift perspective, to focus on the multitude of skills and experiences that he did have. As we chatted more, focusing on all his areas of competence, his tone of voice shifted, his facial expression relaxed, and his attitude toward the task of writing the cover letters took a positive turn. Instead of dwelling on the few missing pieces, he felt empowered to write about all of the skills and positive attributes that he could contribute. Within days he had a job interview and a week later he was starting work with his new employer.
I am not saying that things will always fall into place with a mere shift in perspective but, what is clear is that our perspective creates a belief system that molds the way we respond to a situation. That response often feeds our initial (flawed) belief resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle. It is a well known fact that humans seek out opinions and information that bolster what they already believe. In psychology this is referred to a confirmation bias, and it is observed most clearly in situations involving deeply held convictions and strong emotions. So, it’s no wonder that situations in which we feel completely stuck frequently result in remaining stuck. Breaking the cycle requires a perspective shift, a walk around the field in a different direction.