Personal Development

5 Questions To Improve Any Situation

  1. What is your view of the situation?
  2. What is the consequence of your holding that view?
  3. What is the consequence you want?
  4. What alternate view would produce that desired consequence?
  5. How can you move your current view towards that beneficial view?

Example: I am writing an essay. My view of the situation is that I’m headed for failure: the essay won’t do justice to the idea at hand, because I don’t have the time or focus write everything I want to say. The consequence of holding this view is that I’m likely to abandon the essay. The consequence I want is that the essay gets published. An alternate view of the situation that would bring about the desired consequence is to believe that what I have already written is good enough. I can move move my current view towards the beneficial view if I remind myself that keeping an essay short and sweet does more “justice” to the idea than attempting to write a long, elaborate essay that never gets finished.

Background: Where did these 5 questions come from? The short answer is that they popped into mind a few mornings ago at the end of a coffee-and-meditation session. The long answer is that in 2018 I took a course in mindfulness techniques at the Benson-Henry institute at MGH in Boston and there was one aspect of the course material that shocked me. A central theme in the course was to use “perspective” to one’s advantage. The instructor defined a “distorted perspective” as any perspective that doesn’t serve you, any viewpoint that doesn’t help you cope with a situation. This shocked me because I would typically think of a distortion as an inaccurate idea, one that is out of whack with the reality of the situation, to whatever extent that reality is knowable. But in this framework, the reality or “truth” of the situation is not what matters; all that matters is the utility of your concept of the situation. A concept that helps you handle or adapt to the situation could be called an “adaptive perspective” and everything else is “distorted!” The course material focused on identifying “distortions” and trying to convert them into adaptations. The shock of sidestepping the question of truth (and treating utility as a substitute) was so strong for me that I never forgot it. To see this “move” performed in the context of abstract philosophical discourse would not have shocked me, but to be asked to actually perform the move in my own thoughts most certainly did. These 5 questions are probably the remnants of that experience as it has percolated in my mind for five years.

Discussion: I purposefully worded Question 5 to speak of “moving” one view “towards” another, rather than simply adopting the new view. I don’t have the ability to believe whatever I decide it might be useful to believe, and I think that having such an ability could be quite dangerous. But, acknowledging that my beliefs and outlooks are constantly being nudged one way or another by a host of forces and factors, the idea here is to be a more active and intentional participant in the nudging.

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