What is the ‘perspective of plenty’ method?
Many of us are in the habit of ‘Binary Thinking’. Events, things and people are either good or bad, right or wrong. Everything is either black or white. This is a tough way to think about things, especially yourself, because a negative judgement can deplete your resources. It can also lead to stereotypes as there is no room for anything other than two options.
For instance, recently my partner was late for dinner and I was annoyed. I said to myself, ‘He is always late’. This is a generalisation. He isn’t always late, just sometimes. The alarm bell is the word ‘always’. Other generalisation words include; every (every time, everyone, every day), never, none, all, no one, should, must, good and bad. These words suggest something or someone is either one thing or another.
What if there were more than two options? Rather than only good and bad or black and white, there is a range of perspectives. Taking a ‘perspective of plenty’ allows you to look at things from multiple angles and see all options and alternatives.
Can the ‘perspective of plenty’ help me develop a positive mindset?
A perspective of plenty is being able to see a situation or issue from multiple perspectives with multiple solutions. In doing so, you can identify the perspective that adds to your resources, rather than depletes them. You might see lockdown as ‘bad’ (binary viewpoint) or you could say, ‘there are some aspects of lockdown that are not good, but there are some that are not so bad; I can write a book, learn a language, get to another level on FIFA 21, or complete the health and safety e-learnings I was supposed to do three months ago.’
In choosing the latter, you are changing the narrative about lockdown in a way that preserves your resources by making the situation less scary.
At work, perhaps there is a merger taking place. Scary stuff. There is uncertainty everywhere. You can take a binary approach, ‘I will either have a job or I won’t because they will fire me,’ or you take a perspective of plenty, recognising that there are more than two options. ‘What opportunities could this bring that I might want to take advantage of, such as moving departments, a promotion or redundancy?’ (Yes, redundancy can be, and often is, an opportunity.)
6 principles of the ‘perspective of plenty’ method
There are some key principles that can help you adopt a perspective of plenty.
1. Trust that everything happens for a reason
We might not know the reason now, next week or even next year, but everything provides a lesson to help us grow and reach our potential. As a child, my family moved to different regions approximately every four years due to my dad’s job. At the time, I hated it. Being the new girl with a strange accent sometimes made school challenging. But now I can see that it taught me valuable skills, such as being able to start conversations with strangers and switch accents easily. I have also learned that you can make a home anywhere, an attitude that helped me live and work all over the world.
2. Setbacks and mistakes are just feedback
If things haven’t gone to plan, it’s just a message telling us that we need to do something differently. Our job is to discover what that is and try again, even if we still don’t get the outcome we wanted. It’s all just feedback. Take my cooking. Every hard-in-the-middle baked potato teaches me what I need to be doing differently (usually patience and planning). Mistakes I made at work are all lessons that have made me better at my job.
3. Embrace challenges
A challenge may involve doing new things, or it may mean building upon something you have done before. And yes, this may take you to the limits of your capability, outside your comfort zone. That is where the magic stuff happens; we learn, grow and gain more resources.
Learning and developing new skills to overcome challenges will take you beyond what you are currently able to do. If you only did things that you knew you could do, staying in your comfort zone, you would never learn to drive, never learn a new sport, never get a job… never live.
4. Effort is essential
Moving out of that comfort zone, learning something new doesn’t just happen. We can’t get to the top of our game without the effort of getting up when we fall down, trying again and carrying on. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Ask any top sportsperson, businessperson, actor, singer, anyone, and they will say success takes hard work. There are no shortcuts, and thank goodness, because the effort is essential to learning and growing, and…
5. Skills come from hard work
Effort and skills are connected. The good news is that if skills come from effort, we can all improve our skills in whatever we do. When I started my PhD, I was terrified of statistics. Having decided I was ‘no good at maths’, I was afraid of the amount of statistical analysis I needed to do to get my doctorate. But I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I got a book on statistics and worked my way through it page by page. It was hard. Sometimes I was confused and had to ask for help, but I persevered. I now have more statistical analysis skills than I had when I started. Would I now call myself a statistician? Nope, but I stepped out of my maths comfort zone and gained more skills. And if I needed to do it again, I know I would.
6. Everything can be fixed
Well, death is pretty final, but everything else can be undone or at least fixed. So things didn’t go as planned. Make amends. Change the outcome. Got on the wrong train? Get off and turn around. Accidentally ‘emailed-all’ your boss’s holiday plans? Apologise (a lot), fix it, reflect on what went wrong, learn from it and don’t do it again. Lost your temper with your friend and called him a pompous negation? Apologise. Nothing is permanent.
Adopting a perspective of plenty through these principles will create positive resources for you to cultivate a more positive mindset.
Dr Sam Mather is a neuro-practitioner and author of RISE: The science and practice of creating and developing your cognitive resources for resilience and wellbeing (ReThink Press, £12.99).