What do you see when you look at the featured image for today’s post? A duck? A rabbit? Both? If you see the image as one of these options — a duck, let’s say — are the other ways in which you could see the image — as a rabbit, or as both a duck and rabbit — somehow “not true”? If multiple ways of seeing the imagine are possible, which one of them do you prefer? Which one works better for you, in a manner of speaking?
While these kinds of questions may seem a bit silly when we’re talking about an image (“Do I see a duck, a rabbit, or both … what does it matter?”), the thought that I want to offer in posing them is that such considerations actually have significant implications in the context of our day-to-day lives. In my own experience, what I choose to see in myself and the world around me, including other people — what they say, and what they do — has a profound influence on the ways in which I’m able to respond and interact; seeing multiple possibilities for meaning gives me a wider range of possible responses, more flexible interactions.
Imagine, for instance, that I am standing at the counter in a coffee shop placing my order and paying for my purchase. The cashier doesn’t smile, greet me, inquire how my day is going, or thank me for my business. I could, in this situation, see the cashier as “rude” and feel slighted, or succumb to my anxious thinking in the form of self-doubt, and worry that I have done something wrong. With these interpretations as context, I might snap at the cashier for being “rude,” or keep my mouth shut and leave the coffee shop disgruntled, either way muttering under my breath as I stride out the door, vowing never to order from that person again. I might feel embarrassed, thinking that I did something to offend the cashier, and accuse myself yet again of being a “loser” in social situations as I shuffle back to my car, berating myself.
Alternatively, I could see the cashier as not having been as courteous to me as I would have liked. Perhaps the cashier is feeling unusually stressed, or distracted by her own worries. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I just don’t know what is going on for her. Even if I did know the cashier’s story, I wouldn’t know — without asking, anyway — how the cashier would explain her own sense of her behavior in this moment. If I could allow myself to see the cashier’s behavior as something less offensive to me than “rude,” I might wish her well — regardless of my discontent — and decide to address the issue of unsatisfyingly perfunctory service if I experience it again.
From my own perspective, one of these ways of seeing this experience at the coffee shop works better for me than the others. If I give myself the opportunity to choose the option of softening my gaze — not looking so harshly, or even looking kindly, on the cashier and myself — I will leave the coffee shop in a better mood, feeling good about myself and how I have responded, with a sense of calm and confidence, happier all around — with my whole world! While I will be aware of my disappointment in the cashier’s behavior, in the service that I received from her, I will not be consumed by the gap between this experience and the expectations that I had for the interaction, or by a negative way of seeing the cashier, her behavior, or myself that foments feelings of anger, indignation, resentment, or anxiety.
There is always more than one way to look at things. In any given situation, we can choose to see in the way that works best for us, given the kind of experience that we want to have, how we want to live our lives, the type of person that we want to be, and more.
In your life, who or what are you seeing in ways that don’t work for you? What would a different way of seeing be? If you saw differently, what would the benefits be? What would support you in making this shift in perception? Why are you waiting?
For more ideas about anxious thinking, and how we can respond in ways that help us foster a greater sense of calm and confidence in our lives, feel free to see other Thought Tonic posts by Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, ELI-MP, at thoughttonic.com; you can follow Thought Tonic via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed. Thank you for reading!