In times of conflict, overwhelm, or disappointment, we can find ourselves stuck in survival mode. Our world contracts onto what we perceive as a threat, and our focus may be consumed by whatever is making our lives difficult. If someone is shouting at us, for example, we don’t have any awareness in that moment of how beautiful the weather is or how much love we have in our lives. Anger or sorrow can keep us in loops of negative thoughts and feelings, as our narrative feeds into our stress and our emotional response feeds back into our thought patterns.
To break the cycle, get a wider perspective on a problem, and invite other input into the equation, asking ourselves some focus-shifting questions can give us access to our strength and hope, and allow us to take a solution-focused approach to the situation.
1. What would (X) do in this situation?
Insert the name of someone who’s a natural at what you’re struggling with. If you have social anxiety, recall a friend who seems effortlessly adept and skilled in social situations. If you’re feeling insecure in a work situation, imagine a confident friend or mentor, or even a celebrity you admire. What would they do right now?
2. What is in my control to change right now?
There is much we can’t control, including the opinions and behaviours of others and anything that’s already in the past. And yet, we may expend significant energy focusing on these; energy we could use more wisely for things we can take action on. Where could you better put your energy right now?
3. What can I do to improve this situation?
It’s easy to get stuck in resentment about what other people are doing wrong, how circumstances are unfair, and what should be happening instead. If a friend or partner is behaving in ways that feel unacceptable, for example, our instinct may be to fight. If your end goal is harmony and resolution, what steps can you take that are likely to mean progress in that direction?
4. What advice would I give a friend in this situation?
This question allows us to shift our perspective to outside the situation, and can provide some objectivity on what’s going on. If we can imagine a friend describing what we’re going through for themselves and asking for our input, we can get an outside view of things that may offer important insights.
5. What can I learn from this experience?
Making meaning of a negative situation is a way to change our inner narrative and introduce some optimism and purpose. One way to make meaning is to focus on what we’ve learned from the situation and how this might help us moving forward. This question brings value to circumstances that might otherwise seem pointless and entirely negative.
6. What am I grateful for in this moment?
Taking a moment to acknowledge what is good expands our perspective and helps us remember that while the present situation is hard, it’s not our entire reality. Avoid using a gratitude practice to deny or dismiss what’s happening or what you feel, but see if you can hold both at the same time. I can be angry about something that’s happening to me and also grateful for the support and resources I have to approach it.
7. Will this matter a year from now? What about 10 years?
Zooming out and putting things in this perspective can help us see whether we really need to invest extensive time and energy into what’s going on, or whether we can simply let it go. Whether the answer to this question is yes or no, asking it is informative for evaluating how we should move forward.
8. When I look back at this, how do I want to remember it?
It’s often the case that when we recall a challenging time, the biggest regret we have is how we behaved or managed it. If we respond to challenges in ways that are in line with our values, our goals, and who we want to be in the world, we may even be able to remember this moment as an important turning point or something we’re proud of. I like to imagine myself in the future telling a friend about whatever is happening right now, and notice what I want to be saying. This can provide insightful information for what I want to be doing in the present.
Once you develop a list of questions that are helpful for you, keeping them accessible in written form means you can access them easily when they’re needed. I think of this as a form of self-care, similar to making sure your first aid kit is stocked. It’s much easier to grab a bandage or painkillers from the bathroom cupboard than to drive to the pharmacy when you’re already sick or injured.
When situations are ongoing, compounded, or particularly difficult, it can be hard to shift perspective without support. If you’d like to talk to us about connecting with a qualified gestalt therapist who can help you move through life’s challenges, get in touch for a free consultation call.