This week’s post is about the importance of shifting perspective through a process of open-ended, curious exploration. It applies to just about any situation in which you feel stuck, whether that be in a job, in a relationship, or in the search for ways to expand your life (for example by adding new activities, or developing new friendships).
The title of this post is a quotation attributed to Albert Einstein. The eminent physicist made his greatest discoveries by setting aside the incontrovertible “truths” that governed the thinking of his time. Instead, he allowed his imagination to roam, accessing the inherent creative power of the brain. He allowed for, and sought, different perspectives. He said: “A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way. That means it is not reached by conscious logical conclusions”.
The difficulty so many of my clients encounter relative to all manner of issues, but particularly to the career problem of “what do I want to do that will fulfill me?” is that they overemphasize linear thinking. Career testing can give them a good idea of their strengths (although they are usually already at least somewhat familiar with most if not all of them), and can point them to the careers where those strengths would be most valuable. But, except very early on in one’s career, often the testing only points to paths already considered and rejected as unsuitable. That’s why I work so hard to free my clients from the mindset of “I’ve got to find the answer” (a pressured state of mind that tends to close down creativity).
The way to discover answers to questions that continually stump is to enter into a process of curious exploration. What exactly does “curious exploration” mean? It means looking, listening, and thinking without the filters that normally constrain thought: “I’m not smart/talented/creative/young etc. enough, “It’s too risky,” “It would cost too much money” “It would take too much time”. This doesn’t mean jettisoning entirely basic common sense; it wouldn’t be terribly productive for a 50 year old man to explore paths to becoming an Olympic diving medal winner. But if the exploration were broadened to the world of diving in general (mentoring, coaching, sponsoring, training, etc.) a path might begin to reveal itself.
Truly open-minded exploration can be fun, but depending on one’s mindset, also scary. Think of entering a hedge maze like those that exist in the stately homes of England or the chateaux of France. If the focus is on needing to get to the other end as fast as possible it would be a pressured, anxiety-producing experience. If, instead, the focus is on wandering and noticing the shifting vistas, perhaps the shape of the hedges, or the birds, insects and foliage, it could be quite enjoyable.
Open-minded exploration allows the creative part of the brain to take in new information and connect seemingly unrelated ideas in new ways. That can’t happen if too many “common sense” filters are in place. That’s the problem with a technique I see so many clients employ: the Pros and Cons list. A logical way of looking at a problem, but one that virtually never resolves it because it’s TOO logical and doesn’t allow for the fluidity of emotions and externalities. For example, a client considering a move from Washington to another city might place much greater value on the weather there during a DC January snowstorm or a DC July heat wave than during April or October.
How to move into a different level of consciousness? De-pressurize by meditating, exercising, nature walking, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie that shifts the way you normally think about things. For almost any problem, Google until your fingers ache. For career issues, talk to people who’ve wound up in a place that you admire; go to places where you can interact with people knowledgeable about the field (trade shows, lectures, Meetups); ask friends and family where they see you heading; dialogue with a career consultant who can suggest new avenues to explore or new ways of looking at areas of interest. For relationship issues it is of course valuable to meet with a counselor, but barring that (or in addition to that) try shifting your perspective to that of the other person (I wonder how it feels to her when I…..), or to the perspective of someone you deeply respect (e.g. “how would my grandmother, or my favorite college professor, look at this?”). Another (classic0 way of shifting perspective and moving to a different level of consciousness is to imagine yourself delivering an oration at your funeral. Which aspects of you do you want them to talk about? What would you want to be remembered as having done?
Having just returned from a trip to Norway I can also recommend travel as a way of moving to a different perspective and level of consciousness. More on that next time (Labor Day weekend …..already!?). Enjoy the rest of your summer.