Practicing Perspective: Life’s Curveballs vs Your Self-Regulation

If you’ve been taking on the challenges proposed through this written journey toward enhancing your emotional intelligence, I’m betting you’re already beginning to feel more capable in your life and career. My two recent articles hopefully pushed you over the self-regulation threshold by demonstrating how to visualize and develop your response flexibility in low-stakes situations, and then how to take that self-regulation out for a spin in high-stakes business meetings.

But the fact is, not all high-stakes situations are career-related. But they do affect our focus and capability nonetheless. We’ve all found ourselves in circumstances that are extraordinary in a manner that we don’t wish on our enemies. During these times, the brain is managing despite its state of fog brought on by a blast of cortisol. The result is your perspective is hampered. The adage that “perspective is like mindfulness” is easy to say but becomes hard to practice in these instances, and just like your eyeglasses, perspective becomes so easy to lose. Let’s take a closer look at those tough circumstances as a preface to the practice of retaining perspective in the face of intense and sometimes unforeseen pressures.

Breaking It Down

High-stakes life situations can be thought of as those unpleasant, often chaotic events that impact us so heavily that it becomes temporarily difficult to keep our lives in-check, and thus, additional self-regulation tools are needed to retain perspective and pull us through. Such situations can be divided into three general scenario types:

Stressful Life Events: These are the events that will inevitably occur and will likely require more emotional energy than we have stored up at the moment of impact. Some are predictable and for the good (A move to a new home, one’s own wedding), while some are dreadful to the core and sometimes unpredictable (the sickness of a loved one, a family death).

Out-Of-The-Ordinary Occurrences: These are the unfortunate situations that are impossible to predict but that we need to be ready for. A recent example for me took place during a client on-site presentation when a digital malfunction prevented me from using PowerPoint during my delivery, prompting me to reinvent my presentation on-the-fly. Another took place when I owned a restaurant and my entire front-of-house staff just didn’t show up for work one day. Left with no choice but to assume their roles at the spur of then moment, I found myself seating guests, waiting on and clearing tables, bartending, and answering the phone, all while trying to manage my composure and maintain a hospitable environment.

Tipping Points: These are reached when our stress has been heavy for too long without being addressed, and perspective is vital immediately. A suitable lesson on the power of perspective and mindset was illustrated by a college professor of Marc and Angel Chernoff, as documented in their book Getting Back To Happy. As that professor raised a glass of water over her head, this exchange unfolded:

“Everyone expected her to mention the typical ‘glass half empty or glass half full’ metaphor. Instead, with a smile on her face, our professor asked, “How heavy is this glass of water I’m holding?”

Students shouted out answers ranging from a couple of ounces to a couple of pounds.

After a few moments of fielding answers and nodding her head, she replied, “From my perspective, the absolute weight of this glass is irrelevant. It all depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute or two, it’s fairly light. If I hold it for an hour straight, its weight might make my arm ache. If I hold it for a day straight, my arm will likely cramp up and feel completely numb and paralyzed, forcing me to drop the glass to the floor. In each case, the absolute weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it feels to me.”

As most of us students nodded our heads in agreement, she continued. “Your worries, frustrations, disappointments, and stressful thoughts are very much like this glass of water. Think about them for a little while and nothing drastic happens. Think about them a bit longer and you begin to feel noticeable pain. Think about them all day long, and you will feel completely numb and paralyzed, incapable of doing anything else until you drop them.”

Thought Becomes Action

Perspective means seeing things from all angles and requires putting yourself into another’s shoes. The question you should be asking yourself is, “How will my words, thoughts, actions and reactions affect this person? In my follow-up article, I’ll explore this outlook using a celebrity-packed anecdote, and I’ll provide for you real steps for quickly gaining perspective in high-stakes situations, which you can carry with you through the trenches of life and career!