When I’m anxious about something, this is what I often ask myself. Almost always, the answer is that it won’t matter in a week, let alone in five years.
Some days – even some moments – are life-changing. You’ve probably been through some of these – like exams, job interviews, the decision to get married, or buying a house.
Most of what we worry about, though, is fleeting and trivial. Maybe you’ve made a mistake at work, or you’ve had a dinner crisis which means your family is eating pizza for the third time in three days. It’s really not worth stressing yourself over.
Maybe you’ve got a big decision to make, or a big problem to confront. It might have been on your mind for days or weeks; it could even be something that you’ve talked about (or argued about) with your partner.
The problem is, you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. You’re just as uncertain or anxious as you were before.
This is a great time to grab a pen and paper. Either write about the problem – perhaps in the style of a journal entry, or as a list of ideas – or draw something which represents the current situation. By doing your thinking on paper, you automatically start creating structure and order, allowing you to see things from a new, clearer, perspective. Chances are, you’ll find several possible solutions.
Whatever your current situation, you’ve got loads of great things in your life too. Some of us (me included!) find it all too easy to moan about stuff which isn’t going well – but pretty hard to spot the everyday good things which we take for granted.
Spend five minutes writing a list of things which you’re grateful for. They can be big (“my parents’ love and support”) or small (“fresh coffee”). This is a powerful exercise to do on a regular basis, perhaps every week. You can also do it as a family.
When I’m feeling a bit fed up or out of sorts, I try to get outside for a walk. Often I don’t feel like doing it – but as soon as I’m out and moving, I find my mood dramatically improving.
Walking is a great way to get yourself physically away from whatever’s stressing you (your work, the state of the house…) and to give yourself a chance to think. If you can head somewhere relaxing, like a local park or area of woodland, you’ll find that your thoughts quieten down and that it’s easier to get things into perspective.
Getting away from home – whether that’s for a few days or a few months – can be an incredibly powerful, even life-changing, experience. Just staying in a different city will jolt you out of your usual routine (and perhaps help you figure out what you’d like to add into your daily life).
If you go abroad, you’ll be able to experience a completely new perspective. You’ll see how life can be lived in hundreds of very different ways. You’ll have the space and time to reflect on your own life, and you may well be motivated to make big changes.
Even the duller bits of travelling can be powerful: a long airplane ride might be a rare opportunity to read a whole book in one sitting, for instance.
Next time you’re struggling to get perspective, ask why you do something. Channel your inner child here – be tenacious in pushing for a real answer!
If you’re working a job you hate, why are you doing it? Perhaps it’s for the money – but do you really need that money? (You may well do. But it’s possible that you’re trying to support a lifestyle that’s actually making you miserable.)
It can be uncomfortable to look at the reasons why we’re pursuing the goals that we have. But by being honest with yourself, you can open up the possibility of change.
Most of us have deeply held beliefs on some subjects – perhaps religion, politics, morality, social justice, or similar weighty issues.
You might find it very hard to understand how anyone could be so crazy as to support the “opponents” of your particular viewpoint. It’s an interesting exercise to read or listen to an argument put forwards by a group which you’d normally totally disagree with.
I’m not suggesting that you should change your views or compromise your values. But I am suggesting that you recognize that there are intelligent, thoughtful, good people who have different opinions from you. You might well disagree with them – but it’s useful to see where they’re coming from.
This can be a powerful and even upsetting way to change your perspective, so proceed with caution, and don’t get drawn into arguments yourself: just listen and make the effort to understand.