Changing Perspective

Sep 28

Changing our perspective is often one of the most difficult tasks we face. We are often so busy we don’t have time to stop and think about anything from an angle other than the one we’ve already got set in our minds.

The New World Dictionary defines perspective as a way of regarding situations, facts, etc, and judging their relative importance . I see our society more and more as judging relative importance and this generally involves ranking our own importance/views/etc. above those of others. We’ve lost our ability to respect and value differing opinions. But isn’t that what makes our world so fascinating? Thank goodness, we aren’t all the same. How dull would that be?

The Middle English origin of the word is the past participle stem of perspicere to look at closely . I prefer this definition as it really tells you that you need to pay attention at look at the various aspects. In order to look at something closely you must look up/down, left/right, close/far and every other way possible.

Sometimes it is hard to think in this abstract way about changing your point of view. I am a visual person and it helps me to think about it as a artist does. For example, the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has wonderful examples about teaching yourself to draw by choosing a different perspective and using a different part of your brain. This is good for your brain in art, so why shouldn’t it be good for your brain in life. Look at it from a different angle.

This blog has a good discussion and some examples:

Another good visual example is demonstrated in this photographer’s website discussion of understanding perspective. It includes a sequence of photographs in various perspectives – in particular, I like the one of the bench. At first, you aren’t even sure what you are looking at and THAT makes you look closely so that you can see.

If as they say, life imitates art, and some of the most interesting art is usually done from a different perspective, then wouldn’t our lives be better served if we tried a new perspective on a regular basis?

I started trying to change my perspective a number of years ago but it wasn’t easy. About four years ago I hired a coach, Dr. Sharon Melnick, to help me be a better leader and to help me find my true passion in life. Her method of coaching is a lot about changing your perspective or the stories you tell yourself. I didn’t realize it at the time but this work was instrumental in changing my life’s perspective and getting me to where I am today. I have changed my perspective dramatically and am a changed person with a whole new career and outlook on life.

One of the first exercises Sharon did with me was designed to help me understand the “stories” I create in my mind from judgements I have already made about people or situations. For example, something as simple as driving down the road and being cut off by another driver. My story is all about “what a jerk they are and how inconsiderate, they might have caused and accident, blah, blah, blah”. What if I looked at if from another point of view. Suppose they had just gotten a call from the hospital that their spouse was in an accident and they were rushing to get past me and off the exit to get to the hospital? That perspective makes a huge difference in the way I see what happened. I have no way of knowing if either of these stories is true but it’s certain that both of them are just “stories” I am telling myself. I am assuming but I don’t know. How many ways does that happen in our everyday life? We tell ourselves a story that probably isn’t accurate and all we need is a new perspective. Let me just say that it’s a slow process. If I can do it, you can do it – change your perspective.

I have had a couple of additional coaches in these past four years that have also pushed me to change my perspective. Brian Gast, often pushed me outside my comfort zone so much that I really didn’t like him. But I think that was the point. It forced me to really rethink my old ways of thinking. And finally, Karen Sherwood, who most recently helped me change my perspective to one of gratitude and openness to the possibilities. I was often too focused on trying to find my passion to notice that it was right in front of me. She helped me see by letting go.

Having a coach or mentor to help you see things differently is very helpful. Serendipitously, there was a story about this on NPR, just yesterday. Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was talking about his article in The New Yorker wondering why athletes have coaches but others don’t. He is a surgeon and asked one of his retired professors to coach him after he had been practicing medicine for eight years. The professor pointed out minute changes he could make that made him a better surgeon. He was able to point these things out because he was watching from a different perspective. He noticed things that Dr. Gawande wasn’t able to see from his vantage point in the operating room. Listen to the story here :

I volunteer with SCORE to help small business owners improve their business. In a way, I guess, I am a coach too. It really is all about changing your perspective and looking at things closely so that you can truly SEE. If you are feeling stuck in your old ways of thinking, can’t find your passion, can’t see anyone’s point of view but your own – think about getting a new perspective – turn the page upside down, walk around the corner, stoop down and look up, listen, stop, think – get a coach.


  1. Karin Farquhar /

    Hi Martha. We have never met, but I am a long time friend of John’s – we used to “date” back in ’85 in Midland, Texas. I always thought the world of him and his family – went with him to Cleveland to his sister’s wedding. Anyway, came across your blog through John’s FB (we are FB friends). I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all your stories and this one in particular. You have such a wonderful way with words and I admire all your passion! I did not realize John had PD – how is he doing? I will keep all of you in my thoughts and prayers! But with your fantastic “research ability” I know that he will live a long beautiful life!

    I look forward to looking outside my comfort zone and having new and different perspectives! Good luck with your novel and please tell John hello for me!

    A fan from afar,

    • mcarlin /

      Thanks for the kind words. John is doing fantastic 9 years post diagnosis. We attribute it to a positive attitude, exercising and staying in a shape and myriad alternative therapies that he does. Glad to have you as a fan. I have had this blog for a long time but only recently started writing regularly and actually trying to get other people to read it. If you know anyone else who you think would enjoy it please pass me along.

      Maybe we will meet some day.

      Warm regards,

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