Instant Perspective – Part I

The “All Purpose Stress Management Cleaner”

I call Instant Perspective the stress management all purpose cleaner because you can use it in just about any situation in which you feel stressed.

More specifically, you can use it in situations where you feel:

  • frustrated
  • irritated
  • embarrassed
  • pressured
  • nervous
  • self-pity

When you’re feeling stressed – regardless of the “flavor” you’re experiencing – the Instant Perspective Technique can reduce your stress and shift you into a more pleasant emotional state. By shifting into this more positive emotional state, you also increase your ability to respond more effectively. It’s just like how elite athletes develop the ability to get into “the Zone” so they can perform at their best.

Instant Perspective also helps you become more adept at “not sweating the small stuff.” Since research shows that it’s daily hassles – rather than major life crises – that have the biggest influence on our stress level and health, learning how to put them in perspective will help you reduce your stress level.

While I teach three types of Instant Perspective, in this  brief article, we’ll explore the first one:

Instant Time Perspective

Think of experiences you’ve had where, at the time, it felt like a big deal, but now as you look back, you see that in the scheme of things, it really wasn’t. Think of situations that at the time left you feeling mortified, but now you tell your friends about it with laughter.

Now, think about reoccurring situations that you stress yourself out over – like being stuck in a traffic jam or in a long line at the grocery store. Many of these situations are quickly forgotten and become a non-issue within minutes after they’re over.

But…. While they’re happening, you’re making yourself miserable. Even more problematic, because you stressed yourself over them, your body has created stress bio-chemicals such as cortisol that are now coursing through your veins, damaging your body.

Will You Say “I’ll Pass On The Misery?”

Now ask yourself this: How smart is it to make yourself miserable and damage your body over something that, in the future – maybe as soon as an hour – will no longer be a big deal? Rather than go through the miserable stage and then get to the “In the scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal” phase, why not skip the miserable phase and go right to “seeing it in perspective stage?”

You do that by using Instant Time Perspective. You establish Instant Time Perspective by asking a simple question:

“Will this be a big deal a year from now?”

If the answer is “Yes” then make the time frame longer. If  the answer is still “Yes” then this isn’t the right tool for the situation. But for 99% of the situations I’ve stressed myself out in, the Instant Time Perspective snaps me back into a rational, more emotionally mature state.

In reality, for many of the situations we stress ourselves over, we could ask “Will this be a big deal an HOUR from now?” and the answer would be “No.”

Think “indifferent clerk waiting on you”, “slow driver ahead of you”, “long line at Starbucks,” “boring meeting”, etc.

So when you ask yourself that question, and you answer “No, it’s not going to be a big deal”, ask yourself this next question:

“OK, then… do I want to be miserable in the meantime or… would I prefer to skip the misery phase?”

Hopefully the answer is a rueful “OK… I’ll get a grip here…”

That being said, I’ve found that if I’m in a frustrating situation – or more accurately, a situation where I’m allowing myself to be frustrated – using this technique doesn’t mean I suddenly turn into a placid, one-with-the-universe Zen master. Using this technique also doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll break out in a laughing fit because this infuriating situation will make a great story someday.

What it does do, though, is act like pouring a base into a beaker of acid: it neutralizes the unpleasant emotional state. So the embarrassment, frustration, irritation – or whatever stressful feeling – diminishes dramatically or disappears.

Try it. It’s simple and it works like a charm.

In a future posting, we’ll discuss two other types of Instant Perspective.

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About the Author: David Lee is the founder of HumanNature@Work and has worked in the field of stress and resilience for over 25 years. He is the author of Managing Stress and Safety as well as numerous articles on stress and resilience, which can be downloaded at WhateverLifeBrings. His program Becoming Resilient has been aired on public radio.