Looking at situations differently

A year ago I did a post here about positive thinking. The crux of this post was that trying to always be positive or see the best in every situation is really unhelpful and denying reality. To paraphrase a quote “try and always speak the truth, no matter how bitter”.

A year later I still agree with this post, but I feel there is more to be said about how we deal with challenges.

In my working and personal life, I have found preparing for and often expecting the worst has been a useful tool. When I worked as a union advocate, preparing for a difficult negotiations mean I had the tools and plans in place to deal with this. With campaigns and project management, having a risk analysis and back up plans to mitigate these is vital.

Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is often very wise. How we prepare for the worst is the real test. One of the key things I’ve picked up through mentoring and coaching is to try and look at problems or challenges from a fresh perspective. It is very easy to look at a jigsaw puzzle from a certain angle and not see how it goes together. Turn the same puzzle upside down, or start doing the pieces on the other side and you may find that the pieces come together.


Controversial position maybe, but the reason many artists and creatives take mind altering substances (legal or otherwise) is altered consciousness changes one’s perspective and arguably unlocks creativity in the brain. A slightly tamer version of this is when you are trying to write a blog post. Mid way through this I’ve stopped to make a cup of tea. 10 minutes later the words are flowing much more freely.

The brain has survival instincts that have developed over centuries of evolution. Part of our survival techniques can be to really focus and stress about something that is a perceived threat or risk to our survival. Unfortunately I, like many in our society have a fight or flight mode that regularly kicks unnecessarily. At times it can motivate to action and be a push to get something done. Too often though it creates a mindset of feeling pressured and trapped. The result is looking at the problem from only a certain way, and struggling to see alternatives or different perspectives.

Dealing with situations like a death, a relationship break up, the loss of a job or source of income inevitably causes stress and anxiety along with other emotions. It is normal and healthy to feel this, and trying to “be positive” in such situations is bullshit and harmful. Seeking help, counselling and support is a good thing to do. One of the key things this does is help us gain perspective or maybe see the current issues differently. This helps our minds manage the situation, and look for paths forward.

In life things often aren’t where we want them to be. We aren’t in our dream job or our love life isn’t that we desire. Again, bollocks to being positive. But be clear where it is that you do want to be. Then really assess the options that are available to you, all of them, not just the “obvious” or “sensible” ones. And from there decide which options are more likely to get you to where you want to be. This may not always be the easy short or medium term option. You may make decisions your friends and family don’t understand or try to dissuade you from. But if you make the right choice and are clear where you want to go, this is very empowering.

Tough decisions are stressful. Gaining perspective on the source of the stress brings clarity, which in turn can lead to feelings of empowerment and dare I say it a positive outlook. A positive outlook isn’t the tool to improve your life, clarity and perspective are. Finding a way to look at things differently is a crucial part of this.

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