One of the four possible ways to cope with any difficult situations is to change your perception of the situation (Linehan, 1993). Changing perceptions can be done in different ways.
One way to change perceptions is to learn to appreciate the way things are instead of the way you wish they were. Marsha Linehan (1993) gives an example of a man who had a beautiful lawn. He loved to sit on his porch and look at the green, lush grass in his yard. One day he saw a daisy growing right in the middle of his front yard. He pulled it up. The next day there were more daisies. He pulled the flowers again and again but the daisies kept returning. He hated those daisies messing up his yard. He went to a local store and bought something to kill them. That didn't work either. Then he wrote to a national expert on plants. After a long wait, he received a response to his letter asking how to get rid of the daisies. The letter read, "Dear Sir, we suggest you learn to love the daisies.”
Wishing life to be different than it is when changing it is beyond our control can create misery. A teenager once told me that he would often wish for things he didn't have and that caused him to feel upset most of the time. He found a way to change that. Instead of wishing for what he didn't have, he started wishing for what he did have. For example, he's say to himself "I wish I had money for a hamburger. Hey, I do!"
In The Mindful Child, Susan Greenland tells a fable about an old man who lived with his son on a farm near a tiny village. One day the farmer's horse ran away. The neighbors told him how sorry they were to hear about his misfortune. The farmer said, "We'll see."
The next day the farmer's horse came home, accompanied by two strong, wild horses. The neighbors said, "How wonderful!" The farmer again said, "We'll see."
The following day the farmer's son tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown to the ground and suffered a broken leg. The neighbors said, "How tragic." The farmer replied, "We'll see."
The next day, military leaders arrived in the small village to draft all the young men into service. The farmer's son was exempt because of his broken leg. The neighbors congratulated the farmer and the farmer said, "We'll see."
The fable illustrates that events may have both negative and positive consequences. Finding the middle of the road and not thinking in extremes is another way to change your perceptions and help decrease your suffering.
A third way to change your perception is to wait until your views are less influenced by emotion. Practicing mindfulness can help you watch your emotions without acting on them. In The Mindful Child, Greenland gives an example of mindfulness as being like a cylinder of clear water. You can look through the cylinder and see the other side. If you pour a cup of baking soda into the water and shake or stir it, the soda clouds the water and obscures your vision. Just like the baking soda in water, thought and emotions can create uproar in our heads and cloud our minds. When you let it rest and don’t take action, the soda settles and the water becomes clear again. The longer you rest in steady breathing and mindfulness, the more your thoughts and emotions settle and the clearer your mind.
If you can solve the problem and change the difficult situation, that’s the first choice. If you can’t, then changing your perception to decrease your suffering is an option. There are many ways to change your views of situations and some will be more effective for you than others. Practice helps.
Greenland, S. The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Mange Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate. New York: Free Press, 2010.
Linehan, M. Cogntive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press, 1993.