A Longer ViewOct 31, 2023
The older I get, the more I see the value of taking a longer view. When I was first learning to drive, my father told me to look farther down the road to keep me from weaving around. It was good advice and applies to life as well.
If you spontaneously react to every good and bad situation in real time, you will find that you are in constant motion: happy, sad, bored, angry, jealous, and so on. This emotional roller coaster is exhausting at best and can damage your mental health if left unchecked.
A longer view - in terms of time - will smooth the bumps and straighten the curves as you navigate the highway of life (to bludgeon the metaphor).
Think back to an event that seemed to be traumatic when it happened but in retrospect is relatively trivial. The time you got a D on that paper and lost your mind, or the remark from a jerk in 7th grade (we are all jerks in 7th grade) in front of the whole class. Your life seemed to be about to end at the time, but now it’s not a big deal.
If you had the benefit of perspective, you could have said, “In a few years, none of this will even matter,” and tempered your emotional response.
Time tends to teach us the relative importance - and lack thereof - of these events. But wouldn’t it be helpful if we could learn to shift our perspective earlier in life? What if we could combine our memory with our imagination to create a more distant, third-party view of troubling circumstances as they happen?
Sure would save us a lot of grief, anxiety and exaggerated responses - that lead to more grief and anxiety.
It is possible to master (well, at least learn) the art of emotional perspective without decades of practice. Like so many incredibly useful skills, we seldom learn this from watching our caretakers and we definitely do not learn it in school.
Here’s how it works: When you are not in a tense situation, think back to a time that you were hurt or embarrassed about something that now seems to be a non-event. That’s the memory part. This part of the exercise will remind you that - with time - painful events lose their sting. (The fact that women ever have more than one child is proof that even physical pain is tamed over time.)
Now see yourself in the future as you look back at some slight or disappointment that happens in your current life. Picture yourself reacting calmly because you have the filter of hindsight to remember that “it’s all small stuff.” That’s the imagination part.
This doesn’t mean that you stop caring about impactful life events; it just gives you a perspective to choose a mindful response as opposed to a conditioned outburst.
As you develop this skill, you will realize the source of all the applicable clichés.
You Already Knew This
“Don’t sweat the small stuff - and it’s all small stuff.”
“This too shall pass.”
“Water off of a duck’s back.”
These overused phrases and many more remind us to keep things in perspective and not overreact. Now that you know how to use emotional perspective, you can become the monk-like “calm in the eye of the storm” when others lose control in the chaos.
Here is an exception: “Time heals all wounds.” At first read, it sounds like it belongs with the other clichés, but there’s an important difference. It’s a lie.
There are many situations that elicit - and warrant - an emotional tsunami. The loss of a loved one, the collapse of a life-long pursuit; the horrors of war. In these cases, the lack of an extreme emotional response indicates pathology.
If time healed all wounds, there would be no PTSD; no need for a multi-billion dollar anti-depressant and anxiolytic industry. Some wounds never heal (nor should they), but even then, time can lessen the shock and allow it to become a dull throb.
Perhaps my favorite truism is a phrase over the examining table in my physician’s office: “ALL conditions are temporary.” (Emphasis original.) This chillingly existential reminder summarizes in four words the mindset that allows professional health providers - mental and physical - and first responders to maintain their own perspectives in the face of daily catastrophe.
There is a trick to the mastery of emotional perspective. A longer view of time must inhabit an appropriate scale. To say, “In a million years, no one will remember Beethoven” is incongruous. Equally absurd is the expectation that you can easily achieve emotional regulation 30 seconds after a significant, traumatic event.
When you look forward in time to provide perspective to an emerging situation, it is best to imagine a time frame of months or years, not seconds or millennia. Your rationale should be that if the event is not earth shaking in a year, there is no need to overreact now. Think, “In the bigger scheme of things, how important is this?”
A Longer View
This rationale speaks not only to emotional management but also to life and career planning. A life spent in pursuit of whatever job pays a bit more is a life bound to engender regret. A mindless hunt for hedonistic pleasures needs to be tempered by a quest for purpose at some point. Or risk the hell of retrospective meaninglessness.
Long-term plans beat short term reactions, every time. Intentional contingency policies are life savers when everything goes sideways. Without them, pandemonium is sure to prevail when SHTF.
Of course, the best way to implement a longer view is to practice it every day, not just when things blow up in your face. Mindfulness, intent, meditation and gratitude work together to bullet-proof your emotional resilience. See your life in a wider perspective to gain clarity and stability when you most need them.
Once this mindset becomes habit, you will be able to honestly say, “Everything’s Zen.”
I am a creator (musician, writer, live-streamer and podcaster), entrepreneur, counselor and professor.
To learn more about how to use these concepts or to inquire about working with me, you can contact me through my website, the comments section on my Substack or Medium accounts or The Authentic Life Blog page. If you have found value in this article, consider following my Instagram and Twitter (now called X) accounts. To support this community, you can even Buy Me A Coffee or donate through my Patreon account. Subscribe to my River of Creation podcast - The Podcast for Creators, and my associated YouTube channel, coming in 2024, wherever you download your podcasts.
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