Having enjoyed a few days of skiing in Italy, I was reminded of a pearl of wisdom by a ski instructor of my kids. After a downhill run, when discussing what to improve skiing, the instructor told my son: “Not the slope must change — it can’t — you must!” In other words: Change yourself before you try changing the world!
This simple statement by a veritable expert in this field (as opposed to my son’s father) had deeply impressed my son. Each time we go skiing and one of our family members is not satisfied with some external conditions, such as the slope or the snow, he quotes his instructor. The statement even turned into an earworm for all of us while going downhill.
As so often, simple, precise statements in a specific field of interest have a broader impact — some of them can be regarded as general wisdom. If we replace ‘slope’ with ‘situation’, we have a good example of a general pearl of wisdom: Not the situation must change — you must!
Most of us experience several situations each day we would like to change or rather not lived through altogether. Typically, we find explanations of why this situation emerged and why other people or circumstances are responsible for a potentially negative perception of this situation. Also typically, it’s not us who are responsible, but someone else. I’m not talking only about real problems happening in real life, I’m talking about our stream of consciousness that produces millions of different thoughts each day and creates this kind of (virtual) situations we then start assessing. Being honest with ourselves, we must admit that in most of these situations we don‘t feel responsible for any negative outcomes, but we blame other people, or the situation itself.
As we know from psychology, philosophy, and neuroscience, everything we experience does not have to happen in real life in the exact way we experience it. Each individual has a slightly different perception of what is going on around her. What we see isn‘t what we get. What we see is a mixture of what we are capable to see, what we remember having seen before and — perhaps most interestingly — what we would like to see. However, a situation per se is a neutral element of life — it is as it is. It totally depends on ourselves how we interpret a situation, how we experience it. In other words: there is a multitude of ways in which we can experience one and the same situation.
Change Yourself Before You Try Changing The World!
Just give it a try: think about a situation you have experienced lately and your original assessment of it. Now, take a different perspective and try to interpret the situation anew. Does it work? I have been using calendar entries to continuously remind myself of the simple truth that it’s me who has to change, not the situation. It works.
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