A year or so after I started my business I finally accepted that I needed a break. So I took the plunge and booked a holiday – a week long dive expedition on Ningaloo reef in far north WA. Convincing myself a holiday meant a holiday, I left the laptop at home. And with no mobile coverage, it would be my first real break from the business since I started. After a day’s travel I arrived full of excitement and anticipation in Exmouth, to be greeted by a message from the dive company telling me the trip was cancelled due to predicted bad weather.
I was devastated, how could this happen? The trip had meant significant time away from the business and had cost me a small fortune. Now I was stuck in a place with not much going for it other than a now inaccessible reef, nothing to do, virtually no communication with the outside world, and since I don’t drive due to my vision impairment, no ability to go anywhere else.
Wasting time and wasting money are two of my major sources of angst in life. Being bored and not having the freedom to drive come a close third and fourth. In this context, I had 4 more days to form the opinion, stew over, and magnify out of all proportion, the fact that this was the worst thing that could ever have happened to me.
With plenty of time to think, I started to reflect on things that had gone wrong in my life that were actually much worse, and other things that had gone right. I thought about difficulties that other people faced, and I thought about whether or not I would care about, or even remember, this experience in one, five or twenty years. Then I remembered that I specialise in the field of positive psychology, and I better figure out a way to feel better about my situation, since short of the arrival of a Tardis to get me out of Exmouth (saving me the arm and leg it eventually cost me to change my flight and leave early), I was stuck with the hand that I had been dealt.
So I took myself and my journal to the empty wind swept beach, and using nature to channel a little inspiration, I created my Perspective Scale. I wrote the numbers 1 to 10 down a vertical line, and I labelled each of the numbers from ‘very minor transient irritations’ at number 1, through to ‘major life injustices’ at number 10, then created labels along the scale to reflect increasing degrees of annoyance, frustration and anger. I put some examples against each number of the kind of thing that would warrant that rating. For example missing the bus, a minor irritation, was only ever going to be a 1 on my perspective scale. The neighbour’s dog, slightly more annoying, was really only a 2, and objectively putting my current situation into perspective, being frustrating but time limited, I gave it a 4. This immediately changed the way I thought about my circumstances, and changing my interpretation changed how I felt in myself.
With my mood already improving (contrary to the weather which was getting worse), I was feeling a little creative, and made up a second scale for grief, sadness and disappointment. I labelled number 1 very short term disappointments, worked my up through minor sadness, moderate despair, significant loss and named 10 life tragedies. Again I put some examples on the scale to help me distinguish between ratings, and discovered that sometimes the things that upset me were not nearly as significant as I sometimes interpreted them to be.
I do tend to catastrophise or over exaggerate the impact of negative events, so I now use the two perspective scales to help me objectively put into perspective things that annoy or upset me. Challenging my thoughts by changing my perspective changes how I feel, and this in turn helps me take positive actions that either change my situation or help me manage my own reactions better.
Have a go at creating your own perspective scale. Make up your own labels for the scale, and add your own examples. Next time you find yourself reacting badly to something, take a look at your perspective scale and objectively rate the situation. Thinking about the event in the context of your life as a whole (past and future), the circumstances of others, world events or even the unfolding universe, might just help lessen the impact and allow you to move more quickly back into a more positive state.