Creating opportunity for a wider perspective helps us recognize when there is more than one option, choice or way of perceiving any given situation.
Because we’re wired for negativity bias, we humans have to be intentional about cultivating a broader perspective. We think of this as putting on our perspectacles — an imaginary pair of oversized glasses that bring more of what’s before us into focus. What’s hurtful or disappointing doesn’t disappear, but what’s uplifting, positive or pleasant is also included in what you see. So how can we do this?
Notice Your Negativity Bias
The first step towards a wider perspective is to notice when you’re stuck in a negative feedback loop. Humans are wired to notice and dwell on the negative.This was a necessary skill back for basic survival but most of us aren’t running from saber tooth tigers or other immediate dangers on a daily basis. However, the part of our brain that sustains this negativity bias is plenty active. Next time you’re experiencing challenging emotions like disappointment, frustration, sadness or anger, acknowledge those feelings and notice if you’re dwelling on them.
Notice the Good
Although we can practice noticing the good at any time, this is a great next step once you realize your negativity bias. Make a point to notice what is working and not just what isn’t. A simple practice is to notice and record three good things each day. When we do this consistently, we can actually train our brain to recognize the positive more often.
Switch to Distanced Self-Talk
You know when you make a mistake and there’s that disapproving voice in your head saying, “I can’t believe I did that!”? That kind of self-talk narrows our perspective. When we reframe our self-questioning away from “I” to our first name or “you,” we’re able to distance ourselves from negative situations or hurt feelings enough to gain a wider perspective. Think about what you might tell a friend who made a mistake. Generally we’re much more compassionate towards others than we are towards ourselves. When we practice distanced self-talk, we can be kinder, more curious and less judgemental.
Reframe with "Yes...and"
Broadening our perspective doesn’t mean ignoring what doesn’t work or challenging feelings. It’s more about providing room for additional truths to coexist. You can practice opening your perspective by framing a situation with “Yes…and.” For example, yes, the store is out of my favorite chocolate chip cookies (totally disappointing) and they still have plenty of my other favorite snack, yogurt covered raisins (hurray!).
Focus on Awe
Experiencing awe, whether it’s the vastness of the sky, the wonders of nature or the expanse of the universe, is a great way to alter perspective. We literally see the bigger picture. According to research from the Association of Psychological Science, experiencing awe can even change our perception of time, giving us the feeling there’s more of it. When we broaden our perspective through awe, more seems possible.
Practice the Power of Yet
It’s easy to get caught up in what we can’t do or what we haven’t achieved. But what if we just haven’t reached our goal…yet? Adding that one word to any defeating refrain widens perspective from hopeless to hopeful. Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, the power of yet is about cultivating a growth mindset or the belief that with practice and effort we can develop our basic abilities.
Multiple perspectives can and do coexist. Broadening perspective isn’t about ignoring what doesn’t work or doesn’t feel good; it’s about creating space for an additional, more positive perspective, to live alongside what’s challenging. By intentionally seeking out the good, practicing self-compassion and giving ourselves some distance from our emotions, we’re rewiring our brains to take in a wider perspective.
The Science Behind the Smiles
Not All Emotions are Created Equally: The Negativity Bias in Social Emotional Development (Psychological Bulletin)
Does Distanced Self-Talk Facilitate Emotional Regulation Across a Range of Emotionally Intense Experiences? (Clinical Pschological Science)