My local running spot is the canal that runs from Berkhamsted to Tring. It’s always a slightly different scene as the canal boats change up every few weeks (insight into how often/little I run!). And this week one little boat caught my eye because it had a lovely stained-glass window at the front. This window meant no matter where the boat went and what was going on outside, the owners always had a view that made them feel good.
This got me to thinking, how nice it would be to have the power to project something positive onto the world no matter the reality. And the thing is, we do have this power.
It’s been said by many a stoic and philosopher that it’s not what happens to us or around us that matters but rather how we perceive it. And I often share this with my therapy and coaching clients too.
Here’s an example:
You’re about to do a big presentation at work to 10 senior colleagues. You sit down in the sterile meeting room with everyone facing you. It’s that moment between their small talk stopping and your presentation starting and in that very moment you have a choice. You can perceive the room as a threat or not.
The threatened perception might look like this: they’re all frowning, they mustn’t value what I’ve got to say. They’re heads down so clearly bored. One’s eating his lunch because he’s that disengaged. She’s writing down what I’m saying – shit, make sure you don’t make a mistake!
The positive perception might appear like: ooh they’ve got their thinking faces on so they’re clearly interested in this topic. Wow, that person is so busy that they haven’t even stopped for lunch yet but they still made it here so they must value it. And that one is taking notes because what I’m saying is resonating so much. Great stuff, this is going really well!
In these two examples the reality of the situation doesn’t change, and to a certain extent it doesn’t matter which one is closer to the “truth”. What matters is that in the moment you get to choose an outlook which will serve you better.
If you choose to view things as the positive perception described you are far more likely to perform the way you want to because you’re priming yourself to see things that tell you it’s going well. You therefore avoid getting emotionally hijacked and can show up as the person you want to be.
On the flip side, if you look for reasons that something isn’t going well, you can guarantee you’ll find them. Your mind is then so busy analysing the state of the threat that it can’t stay rational and focused on the task at hand. Your attention becomes split between handling the threat in your mind and delivering your content in the room and so you don’t perform as well, and you certainly don’t enjoy it.
Your perception is your stained-glass window. The window on the canal boat didn’t change the fact that outside it was parked right by a giant builders’ merchant and their associated rubbish dump. The owners chose to put something up between themselves and the reality that made them feel good.
Having a positive outlook doesn’t mean you’re any more in control of the world around you, but it does prime you to see the good and the positive, which can only serve to help you show up and be you without being under the influence of emotional hijacking. With this clearer mind, you are able to be fully present and use your energy to have a greater impact, all leading to an increased chance of a successful outcome.
Do yourself a favour. Next time you want to perform your best, look out for the positive reinforcers and paint them onto your virtual stained-glass window. Look through this lens and you’ll be surprised to notice more and more things that help you feel good. You have more power over what you see than you often realise. Because it’s not really about what’s out there but rather the way you see it that counts.