Perspective. This one word holds so much power, not just for people with chronic illness, but for everyone. If we can change the way we choose to view ourselves, the world, and everything in it, we can transform the way we experience life.
Sounds simple, right?
In reality–as I’m sure you know–it’s not. Successfully changing our perspectives is hard work. We get so ingrained in the way we see things that breaking away from those viewpoints can be like trying to change a bad habit. And to be honest, sometimes perspectives are bad habits we need to break, especially if they don’t benefit our happiness or wellbeing.
So if you are currently maintaining a frame of mind that’s detrimental to any aspect of your health, I’m challenging you to change your perspective.
The importance of perspective
I began reflecting on the importance of perspective on a recent run along the East River in New York City (where I now live!). On one side of the path is, obviously, the East River, with beautiful views of bridges, skylines, and the river itself. On the other side of the path is a multiple lane highway congested with traffic emitting a chorus of blaring car horns.
Talk about the complete opposite of one another!
Now think about it this way.
If I chose to only focus my perspective on the side of the path with the overcrowded highway and all the horns and mufflers and excess noise competing for my attention, how enjoyable do you think my run would have been? Not very.
In fact, I probably wouldn’t have felt as motivated to keep jogging because who wants to stare at a highway for 40 minutes? Maybe I would have cared about someone in their vehicle seeing me run at my slow tortoise pace and judging me for that. Or maybe I would’ve felt self-conscious and ashamed of calling myself a runner. Maybe I even would have given up and walked the rest of the way.
But all of that is no good.
Maintaining that perspective is detrimental to my wellbeing, and it distracts me from my goals. It’s trying to make me doubt myself, my worth, and my abilities. It’s trying to confine me to this perspective of negative thinking and the avalanche of bad vibes that comes along with it.
This perspective is not where I should be choosing to focus my energy, and it’s not one you should be wasting any energy on either.
If we choose to focus on the bad and the ugly, then we’re going to absorb all that negativity and attract more of it to ourselves. We want to attract positivity!
So guess what I did?
I simply turned my head the other way and focused my attention on the beautiful river, the bridges, the sun glinting off the buildings in the distance, and the blue sky above it all. Boom–perspective change. I altered how I viewed the world around me, and it consequently transformed the way I experienced my run.
Not only was I able to finish my very slow jog (my goal was 40 minutes at my base pace heart rate), but I was happy while doing it. I was proud of myself for finishing, no matter how many times I stopped to walk or how slow I went. I was motivated to come back in two days and do it again.
And it was all because I made a perspective change.
If you only look at life through one perspective, you’re missing out on the view(s) that can be seen elsewhere. You’re limiting your happiness, growth, creativity, potential, wellbeing, intelligence, success, and so many other things.
But you have the power to not let that happen. You have the power to take control of your thoughts. You have the power to change your perspective and transform your life.
How the stresses of grad school warranted a perspective change
Let me share another personal example with you to further emphasize the importance of perspective changes in how we experience life.
During one particularly rough semester of grad school, I was very stressed out. All. The. Time. I had to read 500-700 page books in two weeks for just one literature course. I was enrolled in two other writing-intensive classes as well, plus working a part-time job on campus. Oh, and I was traveling back and forth to Cleveland multiple weekends to get testing done for my POTS diagnosis.
One night, only a few weeks into the semester, I felt particularly overwhelmed. No, I was beyond overwhelmed; I was about to have an emotional meltdown. I’d just realized that it was physically impossible to get all my assignments done for my classes that week–despite working nonstop. I’d realized this right as my dad walked into my room to ask how my day went.
I burst into tears. I could barely get the words out to explain my predicament–that there just weren’t enough hours in the day, nor juice left in my tank, to finish my coursework for the upcoming days.
In that moment and in the days to come, all I could think about was how stressful school was and how miserable it made me. I questioned multiple times a day why I was putting myself through this torture.
That’s when it finally hit me. My perspective was all wrong.
In all the pressure, lack of sleep, and endless work, I’d skewed my perspective toward my education. I had started to look at grad school as a bad thing bringing only more negativity into my life. And look at how that perspective affected my ability to cope with the inevitable challenges of grad school?
“If you don’t like the way something looks, change the way you look at it!”
Change your perspective, transform your life
I knew I had to make a change. I needed to remember why I even applied to grad school in the first place: to further my education. To have the opportunity to do what I love as a career. To grow as an individual personally, professionally, and intellectually. And most importantly, to become a better writer.
All these positives–all these goals and aspirations of mine are what I should have been focusing on, especially during those difficult times when I’d question myself or veer dangerously close to tears.
So I reframed my perspective toward grad school. Anytime the stress overwhelmed me or I’d want to throw in the towel, I’d remind myself why I was doing this and how much I’d accomplish by the time I got my degree. I thought about how much I’d learn and how much stronger my writing would be. I thought about all the opportunities that could come my way by finishing what I started.
And you know what?
My stress didn’t magically disappear. Of course, it didn’t. I’d be lying if I said that I never felt stressed for the remainder of the semester. Hah–in retrospect, that notion is laughable. No, my stress was still there, as faithful as ever.
BUT, the difference was it didn’t bother me in the same way as before.
Yes, I recognized that I was overwhelmed and counting down the days until the semester’s end. However, the way I handled that stress changed.
How you may ask? Because I constantly reminded myself of the bigger picture at work. I reminded myself of my goals and accepted that challenges were just part of the process of attaining that bigger picture–aka, my degree.
I wrote inspirational notes to myself on sticky notes and pasted them to my desk. My background on my phone became a quote that embodied my new perspective. I envisioned how proud I’d be holding my diploma in my hands less than a year from then. My best friends (also in grad school) and I supported each other whenever we felt our perseverance falter.
So I kept plugging away, one day at a time. And I got through that difficult semester one day at a time with the transformative power of a positive perspective.
Don’t let your perspective allow you to forget your passion
Here’s a quote I found during that difficult time in school that helped me maintain my perspective change:
— Simon Sinek
“Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
Sometimes, our stress can make us forget our passion. To be passionate, and to work toward an end result we are passionate about achieving inevitably invites stress along for the process. The key is to not let our stress overshadow our passion. Always remember the bigger picture at work.
Perspective and chronic illness
The same rule applies to our health. Even though it can be hard to find the positives while living with chronic illness, you have to train your brain to find them.
There are many days where I feel sorry for myself or hate my body for being different. For example, I’ll wish that I could run like other people instead of being limited by my high heart rate. I’ll wish that I could be faster, or run long distances. Sometimes, I’ll wish that I could sign up for a race and actually do well.
But I know with POTS that all those wishes may not come true to the extent that I dream up in my head. It will probably take a very long time for me to become fast and work up the endurance to run high mileages. I may only ever be able to run in 5ks and only with some walking breaks.
I’ve learned to be OK with all of that. And I got to that point because I’ve chosen to focus my perspective elsewhere. I focus now on how grateful I am to even be running at all. When I first started walking and jogging intervals back in August, I couldn’t run for longer than a minute at a time without my heart rate jumping into the 170s. There was also a time a few years ago when a pinched nerve in my back prevented me from even walking.
Now, whenever I lace up my sneakers and strap on my heart rate monitors, I don’t dwell on how bad I am at running. I change my perspective to focus on how grateful I am to be heading out for a run. When I am running, I enjoy it wholeheartedly every single minute, even when it gets uncomfortable. I am grateful for what I CAN do.
To wrap it all up, we have the power to choose our perspective and how we view everything we encounter in life. Be open to other perspectives. Challenge yourself to see things from another point of view or from a different mindset. Because if we only ever choose to look at the ugly highway, we’re missing out on the opportunity to see the beautiful river.
Comment below on how perspective changes have transformed your life!
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