He was being chased.
He had something he was trying to keep safe.
He was desperate, scrambling, fighting, climbing, trying to keep it from his pursuer.
He was going to fail. How could he protect it? He was big, slow, and not up to the task.
They each fought desperately for it.
In an epic struggle he lost his grip and it sailed out of his hands.
It landed on a ledge high above him and out of reach.
He froze in despair.
He was so tired.
His enemy was closing in. He was going to lose it.
How was he going to reach it in time? He couldn’t see a way.
Then, he decided to reframe the situation.
Instead of seeing the Dragon Scroll, he pictured a tasty snack nestled on the ledge above him.
He instantly sprang into action and found a way up the ledge and recovered the scroll.
This gripping scene comes from Kung Fu Panda, one of the greatest movies of all time (fact). Among the many life lessons the movie provides, the message from this scene is subtle but important.
Po chose to see his situation a way that completely altered his perception of what was going on, how he felt, and what he could do. It was a simple choice. He hadn’t moved an inch. He paused his frantic efforts and chose to see a different version of reality that empowered him to move forward.
The Power of Perspective
In every situation you find yourself in, you take on a perception of reality that gives you:
- A story with meaning
- An emotional response
- A direction to go
If you learn to reflect regularly on the perception of reality you have unintentionally chosen, you can change it. You can choose a perception with a different story.
A different emotional response.
A different direction you can go.
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” — Henri Matisse
This Does Work In Real Life
I hit a pretty low low yesterday. I was frustrated with my business. I’ve been eating the wrong foods for good mental health (tis the Halloween season). I had let my stress send me into escapism, adding wasted time to my list of things dragging me down mentally.
I felt like a failure. I felt like a big fat mistake. I felt a heavy load of emptiness and ambiguous sadness. I felt mentally and emotionally oppressed and hopeless.
After connecting with my wife and son, I decided to go for a run because I read somewhere that it’s cheap therapy. I started my run listening to a book I was mildly interested in.
While running, a thought came to me that I learned recently from Cal Newport’s book, ‘Digital Minimalism’: you can’t make mental and emotional progress if you don’t make time to be alone with your thoughts. So I paused the book and tried to just think.
I started thinking about this article and the underlying message. When you feel stuck with strong negative emotion, you can continuously reframe your situation until you feel powerful. If you’re feeling a sense of helplessness, your perception of reality is not serving you. You don’t have to keep it!
How could I reframe this situation? How could I look at my challenge in another way? What other perceptions of reality could I take on?
You’ll know when you land on a good one. If you are feeling especially down, it can hit you like a slap in the face. For me, after the initial shock it settled into my mind like a warm hug:
This is my path. This is how I get to where I want to go. I will be able to tell others that they can make it if they just don’t give up. Because if I can with all of my failures and short-comings, then anybody can. It’s going to get better, and I have to go through this to get there.
I immediately felt the emptiness and hopelessness begin to fade. I started feeling powerful. I even pictured myself as a guest on my favorite podcast telling Tim Ferriss that everyone feeling like giving up should keep going, embrace failure, and realize that their path is unique. It can still lead exactly where you want to go. In fact it probably had to lead you where you are now before it can take you where you want to go.
Learning To Reframe Your Perspective
You may find this concept of reframing the way you see things to be empowering, but you won’t instantly be able to use it just by reading this article. You will have to practice.
Here are some ideas you can try implementing:
- Inspect your emotions regularly. If you have a negative emotion that you can’t seem to work through, it’s a great opportunity to explore other perspectives.
- Seek for a long-term view. Strong emotion blinds us from this type of contextual information. Interrupt your hopelessness by thinking about where you want to be months or years from now. Time continues to give us new chances to try again. That’s always a hopeful thought!
- Explore all the good that could come from your current challenge. What could you learn? Will someone you love likely go through something similar in the future?
- If you’re having a particularly difficult time thinking things through, journaling about any of the above steps will give you an additional boost in focus and freedom from the tyranny of your emotions.
- You can reframe after the fact. This is good practice and will make you more likely to be successful in reframing in the moment next time.
Strong negative emotions can make you feel powerless. But that feeling of powerlessness is a lie. The first step to leaving that lie behind you is believing that you can improve how you feel.
Try choosing a reality that empowers you. You can do it right now without even moving.