THE LATE Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist
and survivor of Hitlers concentration camps, often helped
his patients gain perspective, and when he successfully did this,
it changed their lives. When you know how to gain perspective,
your life will be changed, and youll be better able
to help others.
For example, because Frankl knew how to
gain perspective, he was able to help an elderly and severely
depressed man who came to him for therapy. The mans wife
had died and she had meant more to him than anything in the world.
How could Frankl help this man gain some
perspective on such a tragic event? What would have happened,
Frankl asked the man, if you had died first, and your wife
would have survived you?
The man answered: Oh, for her this
would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!
The man was beginning to gain a new perspective, wasnt
You see, said Frankl, such
a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared
her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving
and mourning her.
The man didnt say anything. He shook
Dr. Frankls hand and calmly left. Hed gained an entirely
different perspective on his situation in an instant.
Frankl wrote, Suffering ceases to
be suffering in some way at the moment it finds a meaning, such
as the meaning of a sacrifice.
Frankl changed the mans perspective,
and it had a profound affect on the mans feelings. When
you know how to gain perspective, you know how to change the
meaning of a circumstance. Your new perspective changes
the meaning of the event, which changes the feelings you have
in response, which changes what actions you take.
Heres how to gain perspective in
the simplest and most direct way: When something happens, ask
yourself, What perspective would help right now?
My wife just went on a 12-day trip. I couldnt
go. And I was sad about this. I miss her when shes gone.
But I asked myself, What perspective would help right now?
I realized I would be alone and entirely
uninterrupted by any consideration of another person, and this
is, of course, potentially useful for a writer, and I thought
I should take full advantage of it.
The question shifted my attention in a
new direction, totally changing my feelings about the upcoming
event. Ask yourself the question. Thats how to gain perspective
quickly and easily. My wife has been gone four days now and Ive
been doing some great writing. Im able to really concentrate
and organize more complex material than usual. All this attention
to my work has also kept my mind from dwelling on my loneliness.
When youre facing an upcoming event
you really dont want to happen, try asking yourself, What
perspective would help right now? If no answer comes immediately
to mind, thats not the end of it. Ask the question over
and over. Or sit down and write out a list of ten answers to
The question works for events that WILL
happen, and it also works for events that have already
happened. For example, right after I self-published my first
book, I called bookstores to ask if I could fax them a blurb
on my new book, and about a third of the people I called had
a negative reaction. They were probably bombarded by ads, which
wasted their fax machines paper (this was before fax machines
could receive the fax without printing), and besides, I may have
interrupted the person with my phone call.
For whatever reason, I got some negative
reactions, and when I did, it brought me down. When I had several
negative reactions in a row, I felt dejected and I thought negative
things like, This is hopeless.
But I asked myself, What perspective
would help right now? Almost immediately I thought, The
world needs this book! The negativity I heard on
the other end of the phone line didnt make these people
happy or healthy or more successful. Their negativity was the
result of the four negative biases, and they needed
help! I couldnt give up now.
With this new perspective, I shifted from
dejected to determined and motivated a nice shift. I went
back at it with renewed resolve.
You dont have to ask this particular
question. Other questions could work just as well. For example,
I once had an appointment with the dentist for the following
day, and I wasnt looking forward to it. So I asked, What
do I want to feel? Of course, my answer was: I wanted
to be glad I was going to the dentist, or at least no longer
My next question was, What would
I have to think that would make me feel good in these circumstances?
One of my answers was, I would have
to think I was grateful that I live in a time and place that
has dentists to take care of my teeth. I thought about
the fact that during all of human history prior to the development
of dentistry, people got painful cavities, lost their teeth,
and suffered tremendous agony, and here I was ungratefully wishing
I didnt have to go.
And the truth is, I didn't have
to go. It was my privilege to be able to go. With this
new perspective, I felt genuinely glad about going, and
no longer dreaded it.
I changed my perspective without asking
What perspective would help right now? but the two
questions I asked essentially produced the same result.
In fact, many of the most effective techniques
for self-improvement help you gain a new perspective without
using the word perspective. The three biggest ones
are comparison reframes, gratitude, and setting goals.
Comparison reframes take advantage of the
fact that your mind naturally and automatically compares your
situation to something else. Usually to something better, so
it makes you feel bad.
But you can, of course, deliberately compare
your situation to something worse, and feel better. Read more
about how to do that here: Comparison Reframes.
Gratitude is another way to gain a new
perspective. And this simple act can make you measurably happy.
In one study, spending a mere five minutes a day writing in a
journal, answering the question, What am I grateful for?
made people happier. Even after they stopped doing it, they were
still measurably happier for some time after. Learn more about using gratitude to gain perspective.
And setting a goal can automatically
change your perspective on events. It casts the event in a new
light. For example, Nelson Mandela had been in prison for much
of his life. He was fighting for the end of apartheid in South
Africa and the government had locked him up. He still had his
One day they moved him to a new area of
the prison, away from the people he knew. He was now isolated.
He was in a dark, damp cell instead of the sunnier cell he used
to have. All of this made him feel bad at first.
But then he started thinking this might
be a good time to begin negotiations with the government
away from the eyes of his fellow political prisoners (many of
whom would have tried to dissuade him from negotiating). because
of his goal, he had a different perspective on his new circumstance.
In a sense, the goal changed his perspective. Learn more about goals.
Use comparison reframes, gratitude, and
your own goals to gain a new perspective on an upcoming event,
on the past, or on a situation youre dealing with right
in the present.
Or you can simply ask, What perspective
would help right now? And start coming up with answers.
A mastery of perspective can reliably, authentically, and dramatically
change your life.