You’re Always One Perspective Shift Away

In 1915, Ernest Shackleton and his crew of 27 were in trouble. Their ship, The Endurance, was crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea. They were 1,200 miles from civilization, in an endless sea of ice. Alfred Lansing wrote a book about their struggle for survival called, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.” This book is a masterclass in perspective shifts!

In such extreme circumstances, we can learn a lot about the human condition. I found this excerpt particularly eye-opening.

“They were castaways in one of the most savage regions of the world, drifting they knew not where, without a hope of rescue, subsisting only so long as Providence sent them food to eat.

And yet they had adjusted with surprisingly little trouble to their new life, and most of them were quite sincerely happy. The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances. 

On November 4, Macklin wrote in his diary: ‘It has been a lovely day, and it is hard to think we are in a frightfully precarious situation.'”

~ Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

This tells me two things.

First, the power of perspective holds extraordinary power to change how we feel about our lives. It can overcome truly awful circumstances. These men were in one of the worst situations imaginable, almost certain to die, and yet, they were “sincerely happy.” How remarkable is that?

Second, extreme circumstances are a powerful trigger for a shift in perspective. Daily life and work can get so repetitive that we might get jaded and “locked in” to a stale perspective. These men were shocked. Their perspective of life was forced to change once their ship was crushed and their old lives instantly became irrelevant.

“Shackleton pointed out that no article was of any value when weighed against their ultimate survival, and he exhorted them to be ruthless in ridding themselves of every unnecessary ounce, regardless of its value. After he had spoken, he reached under his parka and took out a gold cigarette case and several gold sovereigns and threw them into the snow at his feet.”

~ Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

That moment was likely the one that forced them to create a wholly new perspective on life. Their leader had just demonstrated the worthlessness of gold, the meaninglessness of money! Many people spend their entire lives fixated on money, so the act of throwing valuable gold into the snow, never to be reclaimed, was significant.

I believe this forced a perspective change from a broad, worldly view, to a focused, survival view. It helped these men see the dangerous beauty of nature, the simplicity of being alive and present, and the fragility of life. They let go of pettiness, greed, and other unpleasant dispositions, because now only survival mattered.

One Perspective Shift Away

Whenever you don’t like an aspect of your life (or your life as a whole), remember that you’re only one perspective shift away from changing everything. The precise perspective shift needed in each circumstance is different, but what matters is that you realize how close you are to something better.

I spent a large part of my upper 20s feeling bitter about being single. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t found my special someone. Little did I know, that in my 30s, I would have a perspective shift that changed everything.

About two or three years ago, I started to see my journey in a different light. I saw others divorce, perhaps because they had forced or rushed the relationship, perhaps because they changed so much in their 20s that they became completely different people (I know I did). I saw myself growing into a real identity that could serve as a stable foundation for the rest of my life. And because I was single, I was able to get to a place in my career where I can now support a wife and family.

With this small perspective shift, I stopped being bitter and started being thankful for where I was. Being single hasn’t been a curse, it has been a blessing, and a very good path for me to this point. In my 20s, I was always one perspective shift away.

The Slump, The Recovery

After I purposefully slumped earlier this year, I felt bad about myself. I had gained 10 pounds of fat in one month, something I hadn’t ever done before. I lost self-confidence. I felt like I had lost a part of my identity.

Using my new habits system (book in fall 2019), I’m currently getting into better shape than I’ve ever been in before. The extra slump weight is almost all gone and I’m stronger now. I initially saw the regression—even though it was purposeful—as a blight on my life, but lower lows make for sweeter highs. The more I transform myself, the more significant it is because of the low point I reached.

I can’t imagine how the men of the Endurance felt when they reached civilization again. The smell of warm bread, the comfort of a home, the touch of a loved one, the ability to shower… I can guarantee you that they were more grateful for the simple pleasures of life than ever before, and more thankful than most. Importantly, their newfound appreciation for life began while still in harsh conditions, because that’s when their perspective shifted.

After the slump, my perspective shifted as my behavior did, and it was well before I started to see my body change. Though I admit, I kept looking in the mirror thinking, “Come on, body! I’ve been working hard!” It can take a while, but you can get there if you focus on the process. It’s worth noting that sometimes, the best way to change your perspective is to change your behavior first. This is especially the case with exercise since it affects our minds so powerfully. But often times, it’s a combination of changing your behavior and perspective together.

Wherever you are, know that you’re one perspective shift away from a better place. Not only can a perspective shift make you feel better about something, it can also make you act better. Your perspective has real power. How will you choose to see your life?

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