Choose Your Lens: Choose How You See the World

How do you see the world? Cup half-full, half-empty, or a bit of both? And what if someone does something really annoying or thoughtless — are you immediately angry?

While most of us cannot stop our immediate reaction of being angry, frustrated or resentful, it is very likely that we can “get over it.” In other words, you can choose to not stay angry or not keep up your resentment. It’s all about choosing the lens through which you see the world.

In The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, Tony Schwartz offers many valuable insights about what individuals need in order perform, and he suggests that corporations should be systematically meeting those needs to energize and inspire their employees to bring their best selves to work. In the chapter titled “The Facts and the Stories We Tell” he offers three lenses that we can choose to see the world from: reflective, reverse and the long lens.

The Reflective Lens

The reflective lens offers a way of looking at ourselves. At work, perhaps your department failed to meet its goals. While I’m not suggesting anyone shirk their responsibilities, I agree with the two questions that Schwartz says we should ask: 1. What are the facts? and 2. What is the story I’m telling myself? So, what are the facts behind the missed target? And then beyond the facts, try to uncover what the story is — are you taking blame or being self-critical where it is not warranted? Or is it the opposite, and you are trying to shift the attention and not take your share of the responsibility?

At home, maybe you forgot to pick up your son from school, arriving 30 minutes late (again) or you didn’t get home in time to make dinner like you said you would. The story you tell yourself (about being a good/bad parent or partner) will change your energy levels and your perspective. If you look at what happened and notice a recurring pattern (facts), and notice that you are always making excuses (story) then you can decide what to do. Or maybe it’s just not possible for you to get home in time to cook and you can have an honest conversation about what’s possible. No matter the situation, it starts from understanding that there are facts, and then there are stories that we tell ourselves. It’s about reflecting and knowing whether we are seeing a reality or are we seeing a distorted version?

The Reverse Lens

Reverse is looking at a situation through another’s eyes. If you’re on the sales team, can you see it from the perspective of the customer? Or if you’re in sales and battling with the production team to meet the needs of your client, can you see it from their perspective?

Or maybe it’s closer to home and your partner isn’t helping out around the house — rather than jump to conclusions, perhaps you could try and find out what’s going on for him or her, or if you don’t want to ask, at the very least you could try to imagine what someone else’s life might be like.

What will you get from this? You might find some gratitude for how hard someone else is working. If you see how hard their job is, you might even show a little appreciation. And with the gratitude, you might find yourself a little less angry. And so goes the cycle. But it can be more than just a tool to help us feel grateful — it can also help you to feel less angry at someone, be more productive (because you’ve shelved your anger) and potentially work better.

The Long Lens

The long lens takes the long term view and can be very valuable in grim scenarios. In the case, the question to ask is what might be learned from this situation — it’s a way of looking at the silver lining.

A client of mine, we’ll call her Jane, was in a demanding job — actually it was more like overwhelming. She was given a job formerly handled by three people and told to “figure it out.” Her remote manager offered some support (practical and emotional) for a couple of weeks, but then Jane was on her own. In our coaching sessions we explored a variety of options: asking for more help, working more effectively, meditating and exercising as sources of energy, and working even longer hours until there was light at the end of the tunnel. None of these were enough and over several months the situation never eased. We also discussed whether it was time to look for another job but Jane decided to stay in her job for several reasons, primarily because she didn’t want to be job hopping too often.

In this grim scenario, the silver lining for Jane was:

  • recognizing that she was gaining some invaluable work experience (real skills were being developed)
  • gaining some personal insights (her depth of commitment, her work ethic and her ability to work really hard)
  • knowing there would be an end — for Jane, getting through 12+hour days and weekend work, while never feeling like she was making any headway was disheartening and exhausting to say the least. But it was never a “forever” – it was only until the timing was right for her to leave.

In Jane’s case, and in many overwhelming situations, the best perspective and the one that might provide a little boost to morale, is knowing that the state is impermanent — this too shall pass.

I’d like to think that the long lens is not needed very often — for many of us it is not, but I think it’s needed for more people than we think. It’s a good reminder to me to use all of my lenses — reflecting on facts and the stories I tell myself, thinking about others and what might be going on for them, and then if I cannot see any short term change to a tough situation, take the long lens and know that this will pass. Our reality is very much what we make of it. It’s the classic glass half-full or half-empty dichotomy. I choose the glass half-full, and I’ll be looking at my glass from all three lenses.

I am always happy to hear from you, with any insights from my writings, or just to connect.  You can reach me through my about page or find me on LinkedIn.