Not the slope must change — you must!

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!”

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 a gen­er­al wis­dom. If we replace ‘slope’ with ‘sit­u­a­tion’, we have a good exam­ple of a a gen­er­al pearl of wis­dom: Not the sit­u­a­tion must change — you must!

Most pf us expe­ri­ence sev­er­al sit­u­a­tions each day we would like to change or rather not lived through alto­geth­er. Typ­i­cal­ly, we find expla­na­tions why this sit­u­a­tion emerged and why other peo­ple or cir­cum­stances are respon­si­ble for a poten­tial 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.

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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