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The Power of Perspective

The Power of Perspective

14 August, 2016

How we structure the circumstances in our life has a great deal to do with the happiness we obtain from them.

According to Shawn Anchor, “90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.”

Perspective is defined as our individual way of looking at things, events and people. Do your students see a rainy day as gloomy or as a chance to play in the puddles? When they see a glass, is it half empty or half full?

What makes perspective so significant is that students can learn they have an option as to what perspective they will adopt in any given situation. This is an effective tool for helping them learn that they actually have the power to affect their own happiness from within, simply through the perspectives and choices they make. This impacts not only their own happiness, but also that of the people around them, whether in the classroom, the playground or life in general.

There are four levels that influence perspective, and each one builds upon the other. Feelings and thoughts lead to the expression of words. Words influence actions, which result in either negative or positive choices. Depending on the choice made, the results will be either positive or negative.

Let’s look at these levels one by one:

  1. Feelings and Thoughts

Dr. Carol Dweck refers to fixed and growth mindsets. Let’s say a student does a class presentation and it does not go well. Does the student regard him- or herself a failure and tend to give up (fixed mindset)? Or does he or she adopt a more resilient perspective (growth mindset) and understand that more practice and effort can help him or her do better in any area? Motivating effort rather than just results contributes in a big way to long-term success. Dr. Dan Siegel, in his work with the Wheel of Awareness, explores another aspect. Do students get trapped in ruminating about familiar negative patterns of thinking (I’m afraid of . . .)? Or can they determine that fears are always there, sometimes for a good reason, and that their emotions don’t have to be the boss of them? There are many other good things to focus upon.

  1. Words

Words can either help a situation or fast-track it to a negative outcome. When a new student enters the class, do members of the class whisper that the newcomer is weird, or can they say something welcoming? The words or labels we use also mold the way we look at something. For the teacher, if a subject is relatively dull, can he or she take another perspective and look at it as a challenge to activate creativity? A basic question is: “Are the words or labels I am using making a situation better or worse?” The idea of looking at how something is being structured holds a lot of power in and of itself.

  1. Actions

Words lead directly to actions. Mean words show up in bullying behavior. Words that are helpful fuel actions that are caring, which in turn reinforce a positive perspective. Often students (and people in general) default to a patterned reaction. The child whose parents are physical with him or her may replay that behavior in the schoolyard. Actions are sometimes done automatically. Yet there is always the choice to change perspective — to adopt a new approach that yields a positive outcome and more happiness for the student and the group. “What actions make you feel better and help the situation, too?” Which leads us to the next level:

  1. Choices

Even if an automatic response is negative (such as interrupting in class), students can decide not to react the same way (they can raise a hand when they want to talk). The transition to a positive choice is faster if the student receives positive recognition for the behavior (positive consequences).

Perspective comes into play for teachers, too. Sometimes teachers can judge themselves too harshly for not meeting all their goals. A more supportive perspective would involve recognition of the pressures being faced, and some self-compassion for how challenging that all can be. That’s where choice comes in — more specifically, the choice to carve out a little more free time to decompress vs. the choice to ignore it and soldier on. With teacher burnout on the rise, which perspective serves you better in the long run?

Perspective counts! While we cannot necessarily change the circumstances in our lives, we can absolutely affect our attitudes and perspectives towards them. The lens through which our brain sees the world shapes our reality and impacts others. And students can learn that they have the choice to reframe their lens for a more empowering and positive view.