“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” ― Aldous Huxley
One of our most significant challenges as humans and leaders is the inclination to maintain equilibrium. In other words, we like to stick with what has worked for us in the past and hold on to beliefs and perceptions that make sense to us based on our life experience. The risk, of course, is that while this may be a more comfortable and less demanding way to operate, our habitual patterns may get us into trouble when they are applied incorrectly.
Another challenge with clinging to our established script is that we become very limited in our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. Most of us have known people who complained of being stuck in their career development when new workplace demands left them behind or railed against changes they were unwilling to entertain while the rest of the organization moved on without them. We can see that they have created a self-limiting way of being and are blaming others for their own inflexibility and progress. Yet, before we judge, we might want to take a look in the mirror.
Every day, without thinking much about it, we wake up, eat our bagels and switch on our operating system. The programs we use have been developed over time, through trial and error, to help us reduce our decision overhead and operate more efficiently. They allow us to quickly assess, judge and choose a response to the situations we encounter during the day. This is all well and good, but it is important to be aware that just because our programming suggests a response, emotion or reaction, we are not required to act accordingly. We can ignore the program, choose a different program available to us but perhaps not as easily accessible, or decide to rewrite the program altogether. This is our greatest gift and source of personal power as a human being.
Certainly there are routine decisions and interactions where our programming works effectively, but it is important to remember that the world is much bigger and more complex than our program. True reality is never quite in line with our perspective. Problems may appear, at first glance, to fit one of our standard solutions, but we may be missing something important that lies just beneath the surface. Some of our mental and emotional programming may have developed in response to pain or fear that is no longer present in our lives but still drives our behavior. To improve our ability to provide an appropriate response, we must cultivate the art of creating a fresh perspective. Not just once but as an ongoing practice.
6 Practices for Cultivating a Fresh Perspective
- Develop Self-Awareness – Gather feedback on how others perceive you in an effort to identify your patterns and beliefs. Take the time to reflect honestly about your life, what you are experiencing and your role in these outcomes. Share your observations with people you trust and who care about you to try and balance self-criticism with opportunities for self-improvement.
- Invoke the Power of the Pause – Practice the art of non-action. Unless it’s a life or death situation you usually have more time for reflection than you want to admit. Most of our rush to action is due to the feeling that we need to get this thing out of the way so we can move on to the next thing. Of course, we spend even more time later picking up the pieces. Take a breath. Think about it and see what other options are available to you and which of those options most closely align with your values and what you really want to see happening in the long-term.
- Welcome Discomfort – Try to routinely put yourself in situations you normally try to avoid or that push your normal limits. When you get out of your comfort zone to a place where your old habits don’t apply you learn about yourself and become more aware of how your mindset may be limited. You also develop more self-confidence, curiosity, and flexibility.
- Invite Disagreement – If you try to avoid people who think differently or bring a different perspective to life it makes it easy to become attached to your ways of thinking. You don’t learn by listening only to yourself. That’s like listening to an English language program and hoping to learn French. To expand your mind and take on more of the current reality, you must learn to encourage and honestly process criticism. While it may not feel good in the short-term it will help you make better choices over time. Seek the people out who aren’t going to just accept your opinion and let them give you another way to view the situation.
- Stretch Your Perspective – Read books about other cultures, times, places, contexts. Attend a conference that isn’t directly aligned with what you do. Travel to a place that challenges your cultural and social norms. Go out into your community and spend time with people who are not like you, don’t think like you, weren’t raised like you. The list goes on. If your perspective is limited to the same, small, known universe it is very difficult to imagine how to see the world differently. Stereotypes, labels, and categories may make decision-making easier, but they are a lazy approach to operating in an extraordinarily diverse world. Choose curiosity over complacency.
- Ask Powerful Questions – Don’t settle for asking questions to get the answer you want to hear. Ask questions that invite alternatives, options, opinions, and critique. There is so much untapped knowledge available in the many unique experiences of the people around you. Tap into this great wealth. This applies to the questions you ask yourself. Are you prone to making pronouncements and statements-as-fact through your inner dialog? Ask yourself more what-else-could-this-mean or is-that-really-true type questions. Better questions equal better outcomes. Questions are the most powerful tool in our language, use them well.
Someone once said, “when we stop growing we start dying”. A fresh perspective keeps life interesting and always evolving. It is the soil in which we grow and the more we expand and cultivate this soil the more we will flourish and provide a resource for those we love and serve.
Your thoughts and feedback are welcome.