If you are stuck with something you don’t like, take the time to immerse yourself in a distracting experience. Walking in nature is great for this, so is swimming, especially the wild kind in a lake, river or the sea. Use all your senses to engage with the experience. As you do this you’ll be starting to train your mind to let go of things that limit how we see the world.
Here’s how it works
When we like or dislike something with a passion, we have made a judgement. Judging is vital to normal functioning, and survival even, but it has a downside; judgements render us partially blind (see Hayakawa).
When we have made a judgement we filter out any information that doesn’t fit the judgement. So, when we feel passionate about something we seek information that supports our viewpoint, and dismiss anything that doesn’t.
If you find you you are unhappy with a situation a change in viewpoint can make it more bearable, or even acceptable, so here’s how to change a strongly held point of view (by the way, I’m talking about our own views here, this is not about persuading others).
Since judgements involve all-or-nothing thinking the first step is to loosen up our thought patterns. Start by stepping back and making a detailed appraisal of the situation or person (you are finding hard to accept). When you make yourself describe something in detail, eventually there will be something we appreciate, or at least understand differently.
If you get stuck with this at first, persist. With practice you’ll learn how to break down the judgement. And here’s where engagement with nature comes in. Imagine that you are standing by a tree, looking at it. A tree is just a tree, right? It is also a judgement of sorts (I know what a tree is like so I don’t need to think any further). But think again!
As you start to examine the tree, in detail, notice its many different aspects like size, which way the it casts a shadow, the sound it makes, colours, textures, network of branches and twigs… Notice too your relationship to the tree, distance from it, perspective… What does the tree feel like if you touch it… The list is endless and you can take a few seconds to a few hours doing this. As you do, you are teaching yourself to view things differently.
Remember that we learn at both conscious and unconscious levels simultaneously. Have faith in the process, however weird it seems right now, try it. By the way, you can do this with anything, including people.
This post was inspired by:
Hayakawa, S, (1991), Language in Thought and Action.
Langer, E., (1989), Mindfulness.