Four blind men were standing in front of an elephant and trying to figure out what was in front of them. The first man touched the trunk and said: “This is a thick snake.” The second man who was touching the elephant’s leg, remarked, “This is a tree trunk.” The third man placed his hands on the elephant’s side and said: “Surely, this is a wall.” A fourth touched its tail and announced that it was a rope. Instead of listening to and sharing their perspectives, the blind men began to argue and fight about what was in front of them. Each of them had found a slice of the truth, but they needed each other to “see" the whole picture.
Many of us go through life seeing the world only from our own point of view. It’s challenging to be able to step back and see life through someone else’s eyes, but when we do, we see that we too are seeing only a part of a much larger picture.
Here are four ways to see things from a new perspective.
1. Don’t follow the wake of the boat. We mostly rely on our past experiences and memories to view our present, but focusing on yesterday is like using the wake of a boat to guide us forward. Of course there are lessons that we can learn from the past, but every day is a new day. None of us is the same person today that we were yesterday.
The present moment has so much to teach us if we pay attention to who we are and what we are doing right now. We don’t need to define ourselves or our lives by our pasts. Look around at the vast ocean of possibility and look forward to the path ahead. The wake only tells us where we have been.
2. Step back and find a horizon. Stress narrows our focus so that in the times when we most need perspective, it’s difficult for us to see anything except for the problem in front of us. Facing our challenges is easier when we take a step back from the situation so that we can expand our focus again. This is why we often hear the advice to take a walk when we can’t find a way past the obstacles in front of us. But even without a walk, looking out a window and finding a horizon to gaze at can open up our eyes again to a new perspective. Horizons remind us of open spaces and new ideas.
3. Bookend your day with a positive perspective. When we wake up in the morning, many of us reach immediately for our phones to check our emails and social media. Even if we aren’t faced with any negative or stressful messages, reaching for our phones right away means that we are shaping the beginning of our days with other people’s images, demands and opinions. Instead, even if it’s only for a minute, we can close our eyes, take a deep breath and say thank You for a new day. And then we can ask ourselves: What’s the ideal version of myself that I can see myself being today? Even just asking this question gives us a clear direction and intention before we start the day.
Similarly, at the end of the day, right before we go to sleep we can ask ourselves: What was the best thing that happened to me today? If we do this every night, then we will be mentally reviewing everything that we are grateful for that day in order to find the best part of our day. This bookends our perspective of each day with positivity and gratitude.
4. Don’t believe everything that you think. The average person has over between 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. Eighty percent of our thoughts are usually negative and ninety-five percent of our thoughts are repetitive. And as anyone who has tried the experiment of “try not to think about a white elephant” can tell you, the more we try to control or resist our thoughts, the more powerful they seem to become. What we resist persists.
But that doesn’t mean that we need to believe everything that we think or accept our thoughts as reality. We can ask ourselves: Is this thought actually true? Is this thought useful? Is there another way that I can see this situation?
These tools can help us gain a new perspective and see a more nuanced, complex reality. They can also help us shift our attention from focusing on ourselves to becoming more aware of the world around us. There is so much we miss out on when we forget that there are myriad ways to learn, to see and to grow. And there is so much that we will see when we lift our eyes to the horizons in our lives and open our minds to the people and spaces around us.