3 Questions to Help You Exercise Your Strength of Perspective

By James & Suzie Pawelski
two girls hiking together

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

I just celebrated a milestone birthday a few weeks ago and am still savoring the great time I had. I'm grateful for my friends and family who helped me celebrate the birthday that I almost let slip by.

I clearly envisioned how I'd celebrate my big birthday weekend: Friday night drinks with girlfriends at sunset on our balcony on the eve of my birthday followed by a big Italian feast with family on Saturday, the actual day of my birthday. It was all set. Friends and family were contacted. Plenty of prosecco was purchased. Catering booked. And then life happened, as it always does, which we could not have planned.

First, our 8-year-old son's baseball team made it into the championship series, which of course, in itself is terrific news. The thing is, the first game fell on Friday night, the very same evening I had planned to usher in my big birthday by toasting with friends.

Next, the caterer for my family party suffered a freak accident two days before the big party. In the middle of the night he suddenly got a charley horse in his leg, caught his foot in the comforter, and slammed head first into his dresser drawer, resulting in a broken nose and a broken bone in his neck. (Yes, this actually happened.)

At first, I felt deflated that all my were plans were shot and that perhaps my big birthday wasn't meant to be celebrated. I moped around the house griping to my husband, James, that maybe we should just forget about my birthday this year despite my best efforts things were just not coming together. The only type of party I thought I'd be capable of having at that point was one I was already experiencing: a pity party.

Put Things into Perspective

Fortunately, my rational-minded husband wouldn't let me wallow in the mire feeling sorry for myself. Instead, he acknowledged my feelings and the unforeseen circumstances, and then helped redirect my attention to what I could control in the moment.

He helped me shift my perspective by using a tool from positive psychology that involves asking yourself three questions when your mind starts racing out of control and dwelling on the negative:

  • What is the worst possible outcome?
  • What is the best possible outcome?
  • What is most likely going to happen?

How the Questions Shift Your Focus

I thought about these three questions:

  • Worst possible outcome: My birthday would be a complete disaster demonstrating that no one cared. No one would visit or call me. My birthday would go unnoticed and my friends and family would never talk to me again.

Okay, that's a little crazy and unrealistic, right? That's the point of the exercise! To answer in a way that has about zero chance of happening which helps you to realize that our worst fears almost never happen so there's no use worrying about them. I startled chuckling a bit realizing how outlandish my thoughts were and how the mind can really play tricks on us making us feel worse.

  • Best possible outcome: On the eve of my birthday, we’d joyously pop open the prosecco at precisely the exact moment the glorious sun would set for a perfect toast with friends while Beethoven’s 9th magically played in the background.

I realized this idea was unrealistic, since we already knew that we couldn't proceed as originally planned given the latest developments. Finally, I thought about the third question, and after giving it some thought the tension released from my shoulders and my face relaxed. I noticed a broad smile appearing across my face. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Most likely outcome: I'll always have another night to meet up with my friends to celebrate. I'll never have this same exact moment to watch our son's first baseball championship game. I know I will have an amazing time with him and will savor the memory forever.

Finally, I had emerged from being consumed by my pity party and was now able to usher in my celebratory weekend by cultivating a positivity party.

A New Perspective Brings a Positive Outcome

Fast forward. I ended up having a marvelous time at my son’s championship game. I was in awe of his pitching skills, and thoroughly enjoyed watching him engaging with his teammates.
And more good news: The caterer ended up being okay, thank God. He not only made it to the party, he didn’t miss a beat. I ended up writing him a glowing testimonial emphasizing how despite a broken neck bone and nose, he not only delivered, but hit it out of the park.

One week later, although a bit behind schedule, I finally had that sunset get-together on my balcony with my friends. The monsoon-like weather even managed to hold off for at least the first hour, so we could sip our prosecco without getting soaked.

This milestone birthday was yet another opportunity to realize the importance of our relationships, and that celebrating one another and the good times together are what is most important to well-being. It’s not anxiously orchestrating plans for momentous occasions, but rather celebrating and savoring the moment with others that matters.