What do you see when you look at a pen? When I look at a pen, I see a tool for writing, but one of my 2nd grade students may look at the same pen and see a drumstick. Much to my dismay, my dog Sandy often sees a fun chew toy when she looks at the same pen. Even though we are all viewing the same object, our different perceptions of the object influence what unfolds.

This is a truth I am leaning into more and more. Our perception truly does shape our reality and this truth can benefit us greatly when it comes to life’s inevitable curveballs. Often times our perception of challenging situations and difficult emotions exacerbates our suffering. When one faces daily suffering, such as a bad review at work, missing a deadline or forgetting a friend’s birthday, it’s easy to judge oneself and perceive the event as evidence of one’s shortcomings or ineptitude. While it is true that we all have shortcomings as individuals, by focusing on our shortcomings and failings as an individual when we slip up, we often enhance our suffering by waking up lots of difficult emotions, like shame, anger and sadness.

One way to shift our perception of our mistakes and shortcomings, is to ask ourselves “what can I learn from this?”. By transforming errors into learning opportunities, we can not only grow, but shift ourselves away from more difficult emotions and minimize our own suffering. Additionally, instead of berating ourselves for forgetting plans you made with a friend, you may be able to think of a strategy, such as setting a reminder on your phone, to help you next time. You lose the ability to problem solve and think creatively when you are stuck in negative thoughts or glued to one perspective.

Mindfulness is a way to bring awareness to your habitual reactions and perceptions of events in your life. As you practice being aware of your thoughts, you can start to notice when you immediately perceive a situation as evidence of your failings. Then, you can step back and change the trajectory of your thoughts. So next time you notice yourself spiraling downwards, pause and take a moment to alter your perception. Ask yourself, “what can I learn from this situation?” and see what unfolds.

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