Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Perspective, achievement and happiness

Let me tell you about my afternoon. I had lunch with a friend and one of the things we talked about was Monet's water lily paintings and the difficulty of knowing the difference between staying on the surface and going deep. Then my sister sent me a text to say my niece is crawling. And not long after that I began to watch a TED talk that suggests happiness is a matter of perspective and control.

There seems to be a theme here.

We sometimes talk about things slowing to a crawl.  Once you can walk, crawling is cumbersome and slow and undesirable.  But. . .  when you have been stuck in the places other people choose, then crawling means freedom and movement and fast, fast progress.

When I am working with clients, I listen to what they say and often offer back their own words, sometimes with an opportunity for amplification. I'll take them seriously and literally, and clients will suddenly hear themselves differently because I have sent back what I have heard. They will look "inwards" (have an "insight) when I reframe (but not reword) their own language. Although it seems like they are doing the work of going deep, I am really just repeating what is tangible and observable in the conversation. Is that adding depth or staying on the surface?

The TED talk puts the two ideas together: like Hamlet, it suggests that "nothing's either good or bad but thinking makes it so." We are what we think we are, and that depends on points of comparison. If we want to think of an idea as "deep" we just change our point of view - we can be "deep" by looking at the surface (if we think like Monet) or we can be deep by echoing (after all, an echo transforms distance into sound). If we want to go fast at a crawl, we start by being unable to move.

Think about this for a moment. It means that if you want to be happy where you are, all you have to do is move your point of view.  And if you want to achieve more (which means being dissatisfied with where you are now), you can also do that by changing your perspective. Both stability and motivation are determined by your starting point.

A baby learns to crawl, and nothing is ever quite the same again. You can change the reality of your life in ways that are tangible and sustainable. Often the best way to start, is to simply observe what is real from a new distance in time or space. Practice moving closer and farther away; practice being content and discontent. Decide what you want next, then choose a new set point and move towards it.

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