“I see every thing I paint in the world, but everybody does not see alike.  To the eyes of a miser a guinea is more beautiful than the sun,  and a bag worn with the use of money as more beautiful proportions  than a vine filled with grapes.”
– William Blake, 1757-1827 English poet and artist.

Imagine that I placed a 20’x 2′ board on the ground and said that I would give you $1,000 if you could walk from one end of the plank to the other. Could you do it? I have no doubt that you would be successful – if – you were in good health and physically capable of completing the task. So right now, go ahead and visualize yourself walking, step by step across the board on the ground. Easy, right?

Now imagine that I suspended the same board 50′ in the air, supported on either end by a 50′ high pole and make you the same offer. Would you be motivated enough to give it a go and, if you did, would you complete the 20′ walk? I doubt it unless you were a circus performer trained to have the laser focus of a jet fighter pilot AND had – no fear.

Go ahead and play in your mind. Visualize yourself attempting to walk across that board suspended 50′ up in the air. What do you feel and what do you see happening? I suspect you see yourself freaking out, losing your balance and falling to your doom.

So, what’s really going on here? What changed in the two scenarios? Certainly not the board. Of course the positioning of the board was altered, but the actual board remained exactly the same.

What is it that would influence the outcome of your performance? The answer is – your perspective.

The truth is – perspective is everything. When you lose perspective, your view of reality will almost always tip into the fear zone, and you will lose your ability to see creative solutions to your challenges. That gives rise to your feeling out of control, anxious, stressed and, probably, hopeless. Lose your perspective and the glass truly does appear to be half-empty. Sound familiar?

I saw the first stock market 800-point nose dive while working out in a gym on a ship anchored off the Greek Island of Mykonos. My wife and I were on a much needed and long planned holiday. It was only the second vacation I can remember where neither of us had saddled ourselves with writing projects. The last thing I expected was a whack from the universe. But oddly, I wasn’t affected nearly as negatively as I’m quite sure I would have been while dealing with the wonderful chaos of my life at home or at the office.

That distance provided me with the big picture, and I was able to see clearly that I am not my money and that I have always been able to survive. In fact, I felt as though I had been through this before. I got my journal out of my bag and scribbled like crazy. I needed to hang on to my perspective. And, it worked. As I weather the financial storm now, back in Connecticut, I refer to those notes often to help me keep that perspective.

As a human being, it is inevitable that something will happen in your life to make you feel out of control, anxious, hopeless, angry or even depressed. You might have lost your job, seen your clients drift away, been part of a failed relationship, have a serious health issue or witnessed your 401K shrink beyond comprehension. Problems are the price we pay for the gift of life. Learning to manage our fear is another gift we can give ourselves.

There is nothing that will pull you out of fear faster than realizing what you are going through isn’t the end of the world. Intellectually, I’m sure you know that many other people are worse off than you, but seeing what is really going on in the world is a very effective strategy to gain perspective. I say the following with full knowledge that you may turn your anger towards me but … you and your problems are not as important as you think they are. Notice that I’m not suggesting that your problems will go away, but rather, I’m suggesting that you gain perspective. A mountain climber cannot get a sense of where he is at by staring at the ground immediately beneath his feet. He or she must look up or down to get a sense of what to do next.

Now while you may not be able to gain perspective by being out of the country on a cruise or soaring in a glider far above the earth, there are a few things you can do to help yourself see clearer:

  • Get out of the environment that is causing you the stress. Leave the office. Take a walk or turn off the television with its never-ending news bulletins. The important thing is to break your pattern of thinking by doing something different. Gain distance.
  • Read a book or article that will help you see life from someone else’s perspective, perhaps someone reflecting back on a long life or someone reaching the end of their own road. For example, you might want to read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen or Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.
  • Volunteer to help someone. Maybe it’s taking dinner to a less fortunate friend, working at a homeless shelter or simply listening to someone’s issues without judgment. There are people all over the world – probably in your own community – that need help. Gain perspective by taking yourself out of your problems and focusing on someone else.
  • Talk to someone who has been through rough times and come out the other side. Perhaps it’s an older relative who has weathered financially tough times, health issues or loss of a loved one.
  • Take an inventory of what you have. Think about your past successes and triumphs. Reflect on your talents, strengths, qualities and skills that have helped you come as far as you have.

The bottom line is: when events that are happening are out of your control, you need to do everything you can to manage your mind and keep your perspective. As the Swiss psychiatrist and father of analytical thinking Carl Jung said, “It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.”

James Mapes is a speaker and personal excellence coach. He is the author of Quantum Leap Thinking: An Owner’s Guide to the Mind.

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