Half empty or half full?
Good or bad?
The way we answer these questions is based on our perception. Perception is the mental faculty that enables us to assign meaning to something. Nothing has meaning in and of itself – no situation, no action, no comment, no circumstance – nothing has meaning in and of itself. Everything is neutral. Everything. The only meaning something has is the meaning we give to it based on our perception.
For most of us, this idea is totally foreign. For example, most of us would think that winning the lottery is good, while becoming paralyzed is bad, right? But consider this fascinating bit of research conducted by Dr. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and her colleagues.
The researchers compared 22 lottery winners to 22 average people as the control group, and also to 29 victims of sudden paralysis. They found that after a temporary rush of jubilation, the lottery winners were no more happy than the people in the control group, and in fact, they had lost much of the joy that comes with small pleasures. On the other hand, they found that once the paralysis victims got over the initial shock of their misfortune, they had a greater capacity for enjoying the small pleasures than lottery winners, and believe it or not, were even more optimistic about the future than the lottery winners!
One of the most freeing concepts for me has been to realize that nothing is bad unless I call it bad. This doesn’t mean denying our circumstances, but it does mean denying the power of our circumstances to control us. There is a big difference between having a circumstance and that circumstance having you.
At first blush, you might think losing your job is bad, then I am reminded of Walt Disney who was fired from the Kansas City Star because he was “not creative enough” and the rest is history.
One might think that a stage IV diagnosis is bad, then I am reminded of my friend Denise DeSimone, who was given a stage IV diagnosis and three months to live on her 50th birthday. Denise became an inspiration to us all when she decided to ‘treat’ her cancer with love rather than fear. Two and a half years later she sang the national anthem at Fenway Park to open the Red Sox game. This year she published her book, From Stage IV to Center Stage.
Most of us would think that losing our home is bad, then I am reminded of a client whose home was destroyed in the San Diego fires. As a result, she and her husband were forced to relocate. But the home they are in now is much closer to their grandchildren and now they can’t imagine living without the joy of their grandchildren in their home everyday.
Nothing is bad unless we call it bad.
When we change our perception, we literally change our whole life. So how do we change our perception? How do we train ourselves to see things differently? Here are a few suggestions…
Consider this experiment. When something happens that seems bad, give yourself three days to before you decide if it is good or bad. Make a decision to delay judgment and when everything in you wants to hit the panic button, just tell yourself that you can panic in three days if you want, but for now you are believing that nothing is bad unless you call it bad.
Mary Morrisey tells a story about her husband coming home form work one Tuesday announcing that he had lost his job. Mary’s immediate response was to panic. After all, they had four young children to feed. But prior to this happening, someone had suggested that she enter into this same experiment – and so she practiced delaying judgment and told herself that she could panic on Friday if she wanted to, but until then, she was going to stay open to the possibility that nothing is bad unless you call it bad. On Thursday, her husband was offered a new job he liked even more, that was closer to home, and that paid better. Next time something happens that seems bad, I invite you to consider delaying judgment for three days.
Our paradigms, the filters through which we apply meaning, are ruled by our logic. One way to begin training ourselves to think differently, and with a new set of eyes, is to consciously make decisions that feel illogical. When we do this, we shake up our logical mind, and open ourselves to a different way of looking at the world and the circumstances and situations in it. Think of Christopher Columbus. The only way he could sail off to sea in search of the new world was to think illogically. The logical thinking of his day said that the world was flat and that to sail toward the ‘edge’ meant certain death as it was thought they would literally fall off. But because he was willing to think illogically, he not only changed his own perception, he changed the perception of the world.
Look for the opportunity.
One of the most helpful tools I’ve found to help shift my perception when something seems really bad, is to ask myself – and the Universe – What’s the opportunity here? What’s the opportunity in this for me? By looking for the opportunity, rather than focusing on the situation, it helps me ground myself in the understanding that God is on my side, that there is a Truth bigger than the facts, and that there must be something greater seeking to emerge. The answer to the question may not come right away, but my experience has been that, as I continue to look for the opportunity, the opportunity always emerges.
Put it down on paper.
This is a trick I learned from Bob Proctor that will enable you to literally, give yourself a different perspective. When you are facing a circumstance or condition that feels challenging and where there appears to be no solution, write the circumstance down on a piece of paper and describe it in as much detail as you can. Then place that piece of paper in the middle of your dining room table. Stand on one side of the table and look at the problem you have written down, and listen for and write down possible solutions that come to you. Then change to another side of the table, giving yourself a different perspective, and again listen for and write down possible solutions that come to you. Continue doing this until you come up with a solution you would like to pursue. You have just trained yourself to literally look at a circumstance from a different perspective.
Surround yourself with people who are not impressed by your circumstances.
Have you ever found yourself saying – this is really BIG. This is a huge. It doesn’t matter if the thing we are talking about is perceived to be good or bad – we are impressed with the enormity of something – a new opportunity that has come to us, the amount of responsibility on our plate, the amount of debt we owe, the thought that the person we met at the party last night might be ‘the one’. Whether something is big or small is simply a matter of perception. Is the room you are in right now big or small? Is your income big or small? Is the amount of responsibility on your plate a lot or a little? The truth is neither. It just is. But we charge our circumstance with the energy of being big or small based on our perception. This is when it is helpful to surround ourselves with people who aren’t impressed by our conditions – someone who can make a million seem small, someone who is not impressed with the tasks on our to do list, someone who can remind us that there is a Truth that is bigger than the facts. Jesus did this with the paralytic who had been hoping to be healed for 38 years. Jesus was not impressed by the man’s condition. Jesus was more impressed with the power within him. And so instead of making agreement with his condition, Jesus simply said take up your bed and walk. One of the ways to shift our perception, is to surround ourselves with people who are not impressed by our conditions and do not make agreement with our perception.
I don’t know what your conditions or circumstances are today, but I do know that the meaning you make of those circumstances is completely up to you – based on your perception. You get to decide if something is good or bad. You get to decide wither something seems big or small. You get to decide whether something closes the door on hope or opens the door to opportunity. Perception is one of the most powerful tools we have available to us. I encourage you to use it to step into the larger Truth of who you are and what is possible in your life.
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