Putting Our Problems Into Perspective
A simple, daily exercise to live a better life.
“If you struggle with putting things into perspective, just ask yourself two simple questions: What’s the worst thing that could happen as a result of this? Will this matter in five years? Your answers should put a stop to cataclysmic thinking.”
It’s no secret that when we reflect on past problems, equipped with the time and space to do so more objectively, we don’t tend to react in the same harsh ways (with pain, fear, doubt, etc.).
When encountering problems, whether they be in our work, our relationships, or our physical bodies, many of us are well versed in turning them into a really big deal.
Yet when we look back on them years, or even only days, later? Not so much.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look at our problems this same way in the moment?
A simple reflective exercise can help us do just that.
Remembering our individual insignificance (whether by noting the size of the universe, the sheer number of people occupying Earth, or something like the law of impermanence — that everything changes) we all know, at least conceptually, that our problems aren’t all that significant in the grand scheme of things.
We’re all going to grow, progress, change, and yes…die.
Just like our problems. But in spite of this knowledge, they certainly feel real.
“Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.”
By reflecting on past problems and their subsequent resolutions from are perspective today, we can more consistently maintain moment-to-moment awareness that lessens our reactivity.
Revisiting one of those seemingly “end of the world” moments helps us to experience what we’ve only known conceptually.
Every day, typically during a meditation or a commute, I try to think back to a problem that I experienced which seemed, at the time, like a do or die moment.
Here’s the problem that I encountered this morning:
When I was around 10 years old, my family moved from suburban Massachusetts to India. I’d been to third world countries many times, even enjoyed my trips, but the thought of moving to one was horrific.
I didn’t want to leave my friends, my house, or the woods, lakes, and mountains that I’d come to love.
It seemed like my world was being turned upside down.
I began attending an international school where my entire grade consisted of 6 children, including myself, and I didn’t really get along with my classmates. With no other choice, I started to befriend people many years older and, as most children do, desperately wanted to be liked. Governed by my developing social skills, I decided that putting on a British accent was the best path to acceptance.
Several months into this impersonation, it became a serious personal issue; I felt like a fraud, didn’t like doing the accent anymore, and was terrified about being found out.
It seemed like the biggest deal in the world. And I let it become that.
This morning, I dove back into this problem — I remembered where I felt the terror of being found out in my body. I recalled the mental roller coaster that I rode, hypothesizing about how my life would be over if I was discovered.
Years later, I’m smiling at the hilarity of the whole ordeal. I’m also finding joy in the fact that I can find joy in what was once somewhat traumatic — I can sympathize with little me, knowing that he only wanted to be loved and accepted in a place where he felt alien, uncomfortable, and lonely.
I also remember that no one really cared. I recall one girl discovering my accent was fake, putting the all-too-obvious pieces together, and confronting me about it.
I was mortified. But she smiled and, *shock* *shock*, didn’t hate me,
Looking back, everyone was too caught up in their own problems to care. The root of all my suffering was only my perception of others’ perceptions,my reactions that I could and still have the power to control.
Bringing Perspective Into the Moment
As I recalled this episode from my past, I remembered the silly-ness of the problems that felt all too real and asked: isn’t that the same thing that’s happening now?
Today, my problems are fairly conventional: I worry about my career, financial well-being, familial health, discovering purpose, etc.
While our problems in adulthood may seem far more serious than what we experienced as children, they’re really not. We’ve probably just gotten better at convincing ourselves that they are.
It’s easy to rationalize the magnitude of whatever we’re going through, but we can always return to that universal truth of our problems being rather insignificant.
What’s more? Everything will eventually come to pass.
How Did You Grow From These Experiences?
Problems are the gifts that make us dig out and figure out who we are, what we’re made for, and what we’re responsible to give back to life.”
It generally follows that the seemingly worst moments of our lives actually become catalysts for growth and more authentic ways of being — looking at the problem I just alluded to, I am reminded how much I grew from it.
One of the biggest takeaways?I realized that people loved me for me. It was no longer just intellectual knowledge, but experiential wisdom.
I encourage you to travel back 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, or even to yesterday…and revisit one of those “end of the world” problems.
Feel the sensations that you felt. Feel the relief that came about when everything worked out. Cherish the perspective you now have, and the knowledge that everything will eventually come to pass.
I’m always excited to hear others’ perspective on this so, please, do share yours.
Thanks for reading!