Through the Looking Glass

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Noun: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

The whole idea of perspective has been at play in my brain recently.  The idea that there is no absolute truth but rather only our interpretations of the events and situations occurring in our lives. We all have a lens through which we view the world. It is shaped by our lived experiences, both our nature and our nurture. My beliefs and perspectives have been gained through each and every single one of my experiences. This is a significant way of “knowing”, a powerful way of knowing. My perspective, my knowledge, grows, shifts, or is reinforced by being exposed to behaviours, through a collection of experiences, making up my own personal history.

Perspectives are flexible. Often I feel my interpretation of an event or a situation changes as I navigate through the experience.  As more and more information becomes available to me and as I become more aware of the outcomes and the end results, my perspective and my interpretation of that situation changes.  The luxury of knowing how it all turns out has a major impact on my perspective of that event and can alter the previous versions of my interpretations. I feel that is a major component of the “everything happens for a reason” mantra.

I’ve recently been reading a book, The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.  The author, Kelly McGonigal, challenges our perceptions of stress as harmful and bad for us. She challenges the idea that stress should be avoided at all costs.  This is a perspective and belief that I have bought into, likely endorsed by my experiences in the medical field and my experiences as, well, a human. In her book, McGonigal discusses Mindset Research and how a shift in mindset produces physical changes in the body.  A simple intervention that almost imperceptibly shifts mindset, in this case around stress, has caused stress hormones such as cortisol to be released differently in the body. What the fuck? My mind and the way I think about something can change my physical world.  My physical world is not as concrete or static as I may believe, it too is dynamic.


Noun: general attitudes, the way someone typically thinks about things.

Our mindset refers to the beliefs that shape our reality.  About ourselves and the world around us. It is the filter that we see everything through, the lens. It is our beliefs that bias thoughts, feeling and actions. Mindsets are core beliefs that reflect your philosophy of life, how the world works. It is personal, subjective, and the result of our mindset is our perception of the world at large and of specific situations or events.  It provides the context, it is the grounding for our perspectives. And we all have a different mindset. Have you ever attempted to change someone’s mind about a belief they hold?

In my experience that has never worked out well.  Changing a mindset is possible. Perspectives can change.  A perspective is just that, a point of view, an attitude, a belief. That can change. All it takes is a decision to see the world, the situation, the experience, differently. A choice to flip the script. But the only person who can change my perspective, my mindset, is me. That decision, choice, desire can only be mine and is born of new experiences, of growth.  And not every mindset or perspective needs to be changed.

Consulting Google has revealed that there are two basic types of mindsets, and a vast amount of research on this whole notion, done by Carol Dweck from Stanford University.  There is a fixed mindset, one in which we believe that our traits, such as intelligence or talent are just that, fixed. In a fixed mindset the belief is that our traits are set and there is no ability to change them.  There is also a growth mindset. In a growth mindset, we believe our most basic abilities can be developed, cultivating a love of learning, resilience and motivation. It seems simple. It feels like learning and growth.  But what if you don’t believe that you can change.  We’ve all heard, “people don’t change”. I believe differently.  I believe that if my mindset, or perspective, is no longer serving me, I can change it.

My perspective belongs to me, to my history, it’s a part of me and who I am in this moment. But in every moment I have a chance to see things differently.  McGonigal points out in her book, it is not stress itself that is dangerous, it is the BELIEF that it is dangerous that is making it so. The trick is to remain curious about your mindset, your perspective, question why you see things the way you do.  Alia Crum, a stress mindset researcher at Stanford University, stated in McGonigal’s book, that she believes the most powerful mindset to have is one that is flexible.  A mindset to look at both sides of a situation or event and choose to flip the script, choose to see the upside. The action of choice, choosing the positive, is more powerful, more empowering, than a default positive view.  I am choosing the upside, to see the benefits, to change my perspective to a more positive one, and release the one that no longer serves.

If we can adopt flexibility, if we can decide to change our mindsets, why not choose to see the upside? After all it’s all just a matter of perspective.

McGonigal, Kelly. The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. , 2015. Print.

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