“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.” —Steven Covey
A few minutes into a morning flight from Johannesburg to Harare, the passengers were startled by a sudden jolt. The captain came on the intercom and announced, “No need for alarm, folks. We lost an engine, but that just means we’ll be an hour late getting to Harare.”
The passengers grumbled, but then settled in for the longer flight . . . except for the guy in seat 12D. “Oh, great,” he said loudly. “I’d better not miss my 3:00 p.m. meeting!”
A short while later there was another jolt. “Nothing to worry about,” said the captain. “We lost another engine, but that just means we’ll be two hours late.”
Again, the passengers took the news quietly . . . except for the guy in 12D. “Outrageous!” he exclaimed. “As soon as we land, I’m calling customer service!”
A few minutes later there was another jolt, and the captain announced,
“Uh . . . sorry to tell you, folks, our third engine just quit. But don’t worry—we’ve still got one good one, and we’ll still make it to Harare. The only thing is, we’re going to be three hours late.”
Still, everyone remained calm . . . except for 12D. “If I miss this meeting,” he said loudly enough for everyone on the entire plane to hear, “this airline will be hearing from my lawyer!”
Ten minutes later there was an even bigger jolt. “Oh my God!” shouted the captain, “we just lost engine number four!”
“Well, this is just great!” the guy in 12D grumbled. “Now we’ll be up here all day!”
Of course, this is the worst possible scenario; the guy is doomed. But he doesn’t realize he’s doomed because he’s measuring events with the wrong metric—his schedule instead of his life. That kind of myopia is pervasive in all of our lives.
It’s easy to get sucked in by the small stuff and miss the bigger picture. Things may actually be rosier than you think—or they may be darker. But you’ll never know unless you take a step back every once in a while and see what’s going on.
BEYOND THE PUNCH LINE
Learning to see the big picture is no different than developing any new skill. You’re developing a new way of thinking, and that takes practice and patience. If you’re going to give it a shot, you’ll need a place to start. See if one of these ideas works for you:
- Seek out a friend or mentor whose life history is completely different from yours. Tell them about the challenges you’re facing. Ask if they’ve had similar problems, and if so, how they’ve dealt with them. That might help you see things from a different perspective.
- Set aside an hour or two every week to disengage from daily concerns. Take a walk or hang out in a coffee shop; use the time to ponder the week ahead and make plans. If you find you’re off course, this is a good time to make changes.
- Every few days take some time—ten or fifteen minutes is plenty—to write down your thoughts. Don’t make it a to-do list. You’re reflecting on what’s important to you, not on what you have to get done.
- If you’re the kind of person who tends to get discouraged by the things you haven’t done, make a conscious effort to notice the things you have Doing that will give you a bigger—and truer—picture of your life.