With expert help, I’ll shrink this topic into digestible bites and help you gain a better understanding of the details.
What Does it Mean to Have Perspective in Life?
Perspective can mean different things, depending on how you’re using the term.
You can think of it in a couple of ways:
Elisha Goldstein, Founder of the Mindful Living Collective, explains that one method is to imagine that you’re walking through a forest. You see tree trunks and plants in front of you at ground level, with the soil underneath and branches and leaves above.
However, if you jumped in an airplane and flew 300 feet over the same area, you’d see the sky and clouds above and treetops below. In other words, you’d have a completely different physical perspective—what you view through your eyes.
On the other hand, B Grace Bullock, Ph.D., explains the self-written stories we tell ourselves frame our mental perspectives, and influence how we interact with the world. They’re also “the roots of our biases, and the underlying assumptions that we have about how the world works,” she states.
Which Factors Influence a Person’s Perspective?
We’re all interconnected, so the influential factors upon our perspective are endless. Elisha explains some standard components include our friends and family, as well as how we grew up.
Another factor influencing our brain’s perceptions at any given moment is emotions. So, “if we feel angry, we’ll perceive an event one way,” Elisha explains.
“But if we feel joy, we’ll perceive the exact same event totally different!”
Why is it Important to Understand Others’ Perspectives?
Grace says that learning to understand others’ perspectives better allows us to have a relationship with people as they are, instead of how we perceive them.
“This can also help us avoid living in an echo chamber, where we think that everyone agrees with the way we view the world,” she says.
Elisha adds that connection is the epicenter of wellbeing. And we can’t connect with others if we can’t take their perspectives into account.
Consequently, “they won’t feel understood or cared about, so they won’t allow for vulnerability or trust to develop, and a connection won’t happen.”
Bottom line: We need to remain open to exploring others’ perspectives, so we can ensure they feel understood and cared for.
Grace says that understanding others’ perspectives expands our worldview, which can help us address the systemic racism, discrimination, and other dynamics that harm individuals in our communities.
“Particularly in polarized times, people gravitate to like-minded others, so they’re not required to challenge their assumptions and perspectives. This leads to reinforcing narratives and worldviews, without questioning their veracity,” she explains.
Whether the recent election results, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, or hundreds of other examples, this is something you’ve likely experienced firsthand during this shit-fest of a year (2020)!
What Skills Can We Improve to Help Develop a Malleable Perspective?
Elisha explains that we can develop a malleable perspective as long as we “pause, practice, and repeat.”
In other words, by developing, practicing, and repeating “the skill of curiosity about other peoples’ perspectives and how they see things,” you’ll automatically create more flexibility.
Name Them, Tame Them
To better understand our stories, Grace emphasizes it’s important that we take time to examine and reflect on our perspectives and biases carefully and then assign them a name as they emerge.
This gives us “the opportunity to examine and respond to life’s circumstances, rather than allowing them to shape our experiences, actions, and reactions,” she says. “We have to name them to tame them.”
In this state, you can remain aware of your joy, anger, self-criticism, excitement, or pain as it occurs, without allowing a particular one to overtake you completely.
“You’ll have a wider sense of what’s here, see the whole field,” Elisha says. “You can peel the lens back and have an awareness of it all,” he concludes.
Willingness to Do the Work
Grace points out that our perspectives are only as malleable as our willingness to thoroughly examine them. “This requires you distinguish between your identity and perceptions, and recognize that you are not your thoughts—just the person who thinks them,” she states.
Then, when you can separate your perceptions, stories, and thoughts from your identity, you can more objectively examine them and “ask whether or not these ideas are true, valid, or beneficial,” Grace concludes.
Sticking with It
Grace outlines that we often carry around stories about ourselves developed early in life. Still, they have little to do with who we are in the present moment, a topic she delves into in her book, Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success.
Because of these stories’ tenacity, maintaining a malleable perspective isn’t a one-and-done situation—it’s a life’s work, rather than a finite task. And success requires repeated effort.
How Can You Teach Others to Observe Their Perspectives Mindfully?
Speak from Experience
Elisha says that everything starts with mindfully observing our perspectives and then eventually teaching the skill to others.
He recommends broaching the topic using something along the lines of: “Hey, I don’t know if it fits for you, but here’s what I’ve learned about myself.”
Always use ‘I’ from a first-person perspective, though. “You’re not trying to place blame, give them advice, or tell them it should be this way because it was that way for you,” he says. “Instead, speak from your experience.”
Recognize that Not Everyone is Ready for Their Revolution
“We can encourage others to examine their stories and assumptions,” Grace explains, “but that can be challenging work.”
Furthermore, we’re not all built the same. For example, genetics plays a role in our ability to maintain an adaptable perspective, which determines “whether our mind is rigid or chaotic, or more malleable,” Elisha says.
Fortunately, he also points out that the laws of nature and biology work the same. “Just like a muscle, you can stretch your perspective over and over, and it’ll eventually become more malleable and flexible,” he states.
Still, building these skills is a function of personal choice—one that you should honor if your friend or family member isn’t open to the discussion.
Move on to Formal Training Options
Elisha recommends formal training as the next step, which not only outlines how to fold the skill of perspective into your own life but into others’ around the world as well.
There are hundreds of options where you can obtain training on mindful perspectives. It’s worth noting that Mindful Living Collective offers structured courses and groups that allow you to take a deeper dive.
You can sign up here (note: PedalMind has no financial relationship).
Bottom Line: Shaping Your Perspective Requires Effort
The fact of the matter is that our deeply ingrained beliefs are difficult to shed, even when they clearly don’t match with reality.
The good news is that repeated mindfulness can help us understand when our perspective moves us in the direction we want and when it doesn’t.
Go easy on yourself. Compassionately address your biases.