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Broadening Your Perspective

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A discussion of what perspective is and why having an enlightened perspective is important.

Dissecting Positive Thinking

think-positiveSome people say that positive thinking is nothing but a delusion. It is… to them. Yes, only to them. To those who think that positive thinking is just a fantasy, it is. What we think things are – they are. Our thinking shapes our truth. It is the brush we use to paint our reality. It doesn’t mean though that what we think about something is correct and is the absolute truth. The reality that our brush called thinking painted doesn’t apply to everyone.

To those who think positive thinking doesn’t work, it won’t. They’d better not try it because their efforts are deemed to fail. It’s unlikely though they would try, given the kind of mindset that they have.

Those who consider positive thinking as a crap also think of people who embrace it as not attuned to reality. Reality? Whose version of reality have the  positive thinkers failed to tune in to? Have the idealists, realists, pragmatists, and existentialists (insert more “ists” here) already settled their disputes as regards the nature of reality? What I know is that the debates on whether reality is absolute or relative have not ended conclusively yet.

It’s so tempting to ask the question, “Is reality real?” Well, I just did but I will no longer explore that topic. Let me just share how Ran Zilca describes reality. He said, “Reality is not outside of you. It only exist in your mind, and you view it through your own unique lens, filtered by your senses, your memories, your mood, and by your thoughts. A different person would look through his or her own perspective, and may describe a vastly different reality, as if the two of you are at not all in the same place and time.”

So, nobody should force on anyone the version of reality informed by his or her personal experiences and created by his or her own brand of thinking.

But is it really necessary to run the gamut from classical to contemporary philosophies to discuss and argue the essence of positive thinking? That is tantamount to analysis paralysis. Positive thinking is not an issue to be resolved but a decision to be made. Accept it if you think it works. If not – reject it.

There is no need to argue  the rightness and wrongness of positive thinking because it is not a moral issue? Positive thinking does not involve a difference of belief  but it is a matter of preference. There’s no moral dispute.

If for example I chose to be optimistic, hopeful , and cheerful, I am not disagreeing with the pessimists.  I am merely exercising my right to decide which mindset I would bear. My decision to embrace positive thinking would not affect the pessimists. It would not harm them. Would it harm me? How in the world could a mental attitude that expect good results and a successful future harm the person having it?

Critics better not say that positive thinking has no academic credibility, that no empirical evidence could be provided to prove that it works. It is not true that the proponents of positive thinking have nothing but anecdotal evidence to prove that it works. The critics simply ignoring the latest findings in the field of brain science  and are not seeing how practices related to positive thinking, like meditation and mindfulness, have been gaining wide acceptance. There are lots of studies conducted to establish a scientific foundation for this idea.

In an article I wrote on positive thinking, I cited the works of Marc Guidi and Hans Villanueva as examples of studies that have been helping positive thinking develop academic credibility.

Evidence proving that positive thinking works are difficult to ignore, unless the critics are intentionally turning a blind eye. A website called “The Pursuit of Happiness”  published an article entitled “Review of Key Studies on Mindfulness and Positive Thinking.” The said article is a list of links to several  studies conducted in the areas mentioned in the title (of the said article).

Simply type “studies on positive thinking” in any search engine and you’ll find a lot articles and studies conducted about it.

Positive thinking is more than the “Law of Attraction” – the basic idea of the controversial 2006 documentary film “The Secret.” The principle “like attracts like” is not the be all and end all of positive thinking.  The former is only one of the many ideas associated to the latter.

One strategy that advocates of positive thinking suggest is “fake it till you make it.” The critics call it absurd. But what if it works… the way a placebo drug does. Let people try  anything that would get them out of a funk. Anyway, the said strategy is only one of the many strategies available for those who want to try positive thinking. If it doesn’t work – abandon it and try other available methods. Nobody really knows it it works or not. There’s no harm if one tries it. Remember that Alfred Adler, the Austrian medical doctor and psychotherapist who founded the school of Individual Psychology, developed a therapeutic technique that he called “acting as if,” a strategy that gave his clients an opportunity to practice alternatives to dysfunctional behaviors.

The one thing that is difficult for me to comprehend sometimes is why some motivational speakers are discrediting positive thinking. The only reason I could think is probably they are trying to sell another self-mprovement method and the only way they could get the attention they need is to say something negative about positive thinking.

The more we really try to dissect the essence of positive thinking using all the isms of intelligent people as lens  the fuzzier it becomes. It is but a simple concept.

In Psychology they simply call it dispositional optimism.

Let’s simplify it further in a way that even the modest of minds could understand. Let’s call it hope.

It is as simple as  this – Positive thinking is expecting that good things, rather than bad things, will happen… that success is attainable. Positive thinking is always trying until you get (and you become) what you want. It is a refusal to have limiting beliefs. It is deciding to choose only the positives in the different frames of perspectives.

Don’t get me wrong though. Yes, I have asserted (a few paragraphs back) that positive thinking is a simple concept. But making it work is difficult.

Positive thinking has been misconstrued as just that – thinking. It is not. It is not as simple as you close your eyes, take a deep breath, think about the things you want – money, good health, good relationship, peace of mind and what have you – think you have them, as hard as you could then when you open your eyes you’ll have them in front of you served hot in a silver platter. NO! It doesn’t work that way. That is not positive thinking but rather wishful thinking.

Positive thinking is just a springboard. Nothing happens if a person just thinks and doesn’t act. Isn’t that common sense?

In  another article I wrote about positive thinking, I posited, “Positive thinking without positive action won’t work.” A plan of action is required – a plan of action that should be executed and vigorously pursued.

Thinking precedes action. People are (supposed to be) rational beings and whatever decisions they make, whatever course of action they take, they should think about it first. And which would be a better launching pad for the decisions we make and corresponding action we take – a positive frame of mind or a negative one?

Believing that good  things are bound to happen and that success is attainable would lead  people to know their purpose in life. If people  have no limiting beliefs they will be prompted to define clearly their goals and frame a plan of action to attain them. The process will help them develop self-discipline and become self-sufficient, organized, and focused.

Positive thinking is not as simple as it seems. Let me reiterate that for it to work, a corresponding plan of action  is required. And that would entail a lot of hard work, dedication, and discipline.

Actually, the believers and critics of positive thinking are both correct. It works and it doesn’t. Confused? Consider this – “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” That’s from Henry Ford. And here’s from Virgil… “Possunt quia posse videntu” (“They can because they think they can.”)

On Perspective

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I do have a friend who would usually be mistakenly identified as me. There were many instances that  people in the university where both of us are teaching called me by his name and him by mine. Why? None of us is a dead ringer for the other but very likely that our  similar built, height and rounded face would make people commit that mistake.

Seemingly bemused, he asked me one time, “Why would they think I am you? Do I look as old as you are?” I paused for a while, smiled then told him jokingly, “No, I think I just look as young and handsome as you are.”

As my friend laughed at my response, I thought that the contrasting way we looked at the issue has opened an opportunity for me to revisit the topic “perspective.”

That (perspective) is one of the most amazing things about us humans – our tendency to look at the same thing differently.

Anything in this world can be viewed from different perspectives. We get to decide at what angle we would look at circumstances, problems, events and even objects using lenses that are uniquely ours. We tend to measure the value of those things using our own sets of standards and label and define them according to our beliefs.  Those standards and beliefs are shaped by the way we were raised by our parents, trained by our  teachers, influenced by the people around us, and conditioned by our culture.

The sum total of the experiences we accumulated since birth and the amount and quality of information we gathered through the years from different sources are the factors that contribute to the kind of perspectives we develop as persons. Our way of viewing things depends on the belief system that those experiences and information impressed upon us.

Each person is entitled to embrace a particular attitude towards something. There are no specific measurement to determine the rightness and wrongness of perspectives. Only the consequences of a person’s action (or the lack of it) as a result of embracing certain perspectives could perhaps be labeled as right or wrong.

When we are about to take a perspective it’s like we’re positioning ourselves in the number scale and decide whether to go north or south.  We can either be positive or negative with our perspective. Those are the only directions we could take when we look  at issues and circumstances confronting us. It’s a matter of choice.

Perspective is said to be like a coin, it only has two sides. We flip the coin and choose either “head” or “tail.”

Our perspectives affect the decisions we make. They inform the things we think, say and do. Thus, while we are entitled to have any kind of perspective, in the same manner that we are entitled to our own opinions, we have to understand that we will bear whatever consequences there may be for embracing the perspectives we take.

We also need to understand that we could not assume that what we believe or see is definitive. Different people have different ways of looking at things. The perspective of the world that dictates the lens through which we see it is not the same for everybody. We need to develop the ability to see things from another’s viewpoint.

Perspectives can either be broad or narrow.

Having a broad perspective means being able to see the bigger picture.  `

I once had a conversation with  another friend about working conditions. He bewailed the fact that a truck driver in his country earns more than what he is earning in a year as an expat teacher. After listening to his litany, I told him to pause for a while and dig deeper into his comparison and consider other factors like number of required work hours and the physical demands for the job. When computing the number of hours, I reminded him that we as teachers are not actually working during winter and summer breaks but we get paid in full by the university as stipulated in our contracts.

He realized at the end that his pay per hour is actually higher than the truck driver and his working conditions are much better.

It is not really hard to train the mind to look at the bigger picture. It is easy to look beyond the obvious if only we’re open-minded. It does not require a special kind of training. All we need is common sense.

There are a lot more that could be explored in the discussion of perspective. At the end, the thing that matters is the answer to the question, “How do our perspectives affect the way we live?”

If the lenses we are using to view the world have brought us success and happiness, why change them. We’ve been told many times, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what about if those lenses are seemingly broken and  have caused us nothing but failure and misery?  Is it time to visit an OPTIMIST?

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