Which dot is bigger? It looks like the right dot is quite a bit larger than the other one. But they are the same size. Go ahead, measure them.
The framing around each dot changes our perception of its size. When hanging a painting on your wall, the size and color of the frame or matting can make it look larger or smaller, brighter or darker, or tinted with certain colors.
We’ve all seen those photos where it looks like someone is holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the setting sun is inside a glass lantern, or somebody’s holding a building in the palm of their hand. Close one eye, hold your thumb close enough, and you can block out a full moon at night.
The relentless barrage of negative news can be an optical illusion causing us to lose perspective. We can bring a big problem up so close we don’t see much else. This often leads to what psychologist, Steven Stosy, calls “headline stress disorder.” That’s rooted in the Availability Heuristic; our tendency to estimate risk and probability by the most recent anecdotes, examples, and attention-grabbing news (especially when it’s dramatic and negative).
Our brains have been hard-wired over hundreds of thousands of years to look for danger. We shrug off positive events and zero in on negative ones. That’s what makes doom scrolling so addictive.
Apparently, Max Planck said, “when you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.” As the founder of quantum theory, he radically shifted our understanding of the observer’s role in affecting outcomes. We now know there is no objective reality.
I’ve used the two-minute video clip, Lost Generation, with hundreds of audiences over the years to show it’s all about how we frame our dangers and possibilities. It features a clever poem written by Jonathon Reed for a “U @ 50” contest sponsored by the American Association of Retired People (AARP) for 20 to 22-year-olds on what future they see for themselves in 30 years. The exact same words read in two different directions carry diametrically opposite meanings.
Time for a Corrective on a Defective Perspective?
In The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, Shawn Achor writes, “Because our brain’s resources are limited, we are left with a choice: to use those finite resources to see only pain, negativity, stress, and uncertainty, or to use those resources to look at things through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning. In other words, while we, of course, can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brain to change how we process the world, and that in turn changes how we react to it.”
In Antidotes for the Pessimism Plague, I linked to a few sources I find very helpful for a broader perspective when I feel the onset of headline stress disorder. If you’re looking for a perspective corrective to be more effective in dealing with today’s stream of doom and gloom, you might find these links helpful:
From the beginning of civilization, the pessimistic — even fatalistic views — of “human nature” held by countless philosophers, religious leaders, rulers, academics, and politicians have created, and continue to spread, untold misery and needless suffering. What if this isn’t reality at all? What if these widely shared beliefs are warped views of humanity’s true nature?
Eleven particularly powerful, short quotes from this well-researched and engaging book.
Our explanatory style forms the frames through which we create our reality. If we build the skills and habits of using an optimistic or leading style, the three Ps (permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization) are a stairway to ever higher effectiveness in our personal and professional lives. If we’ve habitually chosen a negative or wallowing style, we slide ever deeper into the swamp of unhappiness, despair, and ineffectiveness.
An outline of an approach deeply grounded in extensive research. PERMA emerged from evidence-based approaches and is a central framework in positive psychology. Thinking about our thinking — becoming mindful of our inner dialogue — is the first step in reframing our explanations to move up the pessimism-optimism scale and increase our happiness and effectiveness.
In Japan, the Daruma Doll is a good luck charm with a rounded bottom. When knocked down, it bounces back upright. Bouncing back is vital to getting through tough times. These approaches I’ve found useful for me, my family, and our Clients.
A selection of short quotes from compelling research on why we need to balance our hard-wired bias for focusing on what’s going wrong with what’s going right. People who are flourishing and the strongest leaders leverage hopefulness and learned optimism to overcome despair and learned helplessness.
This issue of The Leader Letter is dedicated to understanding and dealing with the most powerful force of the dark side — fear. It starts with Yann Martel’s insight passage on fear, his mega-bestseller, The Life of Pi.
In one of my favorite books, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, Steven Pinker writes, “Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas.”
How are you framing turbulence, adversity, or changes in your life? Are you making them bigger or smaller? What color or tone are you accenting? What is the reality that the frames you’re using create for you?
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