Here Are 3 Simple Perspective Shifts That Will Inspire A Better Life

Girl laughing in front of graffitied wall

Do you ever feel differently towards a problem depending on your mood?

I have. Take, for instance, my writing process. My attitude towards the blank page changes along with my mindset, most prominently before and after exercising. Ditto pre- and post-alcohol as well.

But the circumstances themselves don’t really change, do they? Only your point of view does. It’s a miracle, really, how difficulties can change just with a slight shift in perspective.

And that’s what today’s post is about. To explore my limiting perspective, and perhaps yours. Because who knows? Someone may need to read this. Maybe even future me. So let’s jump right into it.

1) I only cared about goals

When I graduate college (at the age of 29), all my troubles would be over.

That was one of the worthless yardsticks I had stuck in the mud that was my life. For some reason, I thought that graduating automatically meant the end of all my problems. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.

I had tons of goals, all scrawled onto pieces of scrap paper, but what that ever did was encourage me to keep my eyes on the horizon, and to ignore all the other blessings I had in the present.

I was young, healthy, and didn’t have many responsibilities. Why was I looking into the future? So that I could get a piece of paper to land a job that I hated?

Of course, you could flip the script and call me a useless, broke, and lost thirty-year-old. And you’d be right. In fact, that’s what I thought of myself the entire time I was in college.

Looking back from a different angle

Now I see the error of my ways. I see the youth I had wasted, and all the free time I had squandered, even when it seemed like I was living through a low-grade hell at the time.

I had my sights set on my arbitrary goal, and once I achieved that, I was promptly shoved into the worst year of my life. So much for that, eh?

This theme would repeat as I’d create one goal after another—finish writing that novel, actually publish it, get interviewed on the radio. But you know what I felt after I crossed each goal off my list? Nothing.

Seeing my book in print didn’t delight me as much as I thought it would. Hearing my voice on air did nothing either. The worst part was, every completed goal left me with an emptiness that I now needed to fill. And that’s when I realised I needed to change the way I looked at life.

If not goals, then what?

I’ve since looked at my days as opportunities to build the foundations of my future. So instead of focusing on goals, I now have systems that I can act upon.

It’s no longer sufficient to write down ‘become a prominent Malaysian novelist’ in a notebook. Instead, I work backwards and determine the steps that lead to said goals.

Being a novelist involves pitching, which requires books, which need words. And so, what it all comes down to is to write every day.

I may not be able to control the slush readers’ moods, or the progress of another talented writer, or whether or not a publisher rejects me because of a genre quota they need to fill. But I can write every day.

This new perspective has changed the way I look at my future in general. Goals are great to keep you oriented and all, but it’s the systems that’ll actually get you there.

And through my systems, I’ve learned the importance of judging ourselves daily by the seeds we’ve sown and not the harvest we’ve reaped.

Woman in black watering a bunch of vegetables in her farm

It’s more about the sowing than it is about the reaping. Photo: Tony Pham

2) I was all about the easy life

I had been a travel writer for a bit, which sometimes meant staying in five-star hotels in exchange for a good word or two. To say I got sucked into the lavish lifestyle was an understatement.

Bathtub overlooking the lively cityscapes of Shanghai? Check. Yoga retreat in Koh Samui? Nama-stay! Warmed futons in the calm winters of Hokkaido? Ariga-totally. At least once a month, I got to experience what luxurious living meant.

Couple that with pain avoidance and you had all the trappings of a lazy life. All my free time was spent playing video games, drinking, or just watching the days go by.

Work? That could wait. Goals? I could always get started the next day. Exercise? Hah. Why try so hard? We’re all going to die anyway. Might as well enjoy my time on Earth. Besides, hadn’t I suffered enough going back to college as an adult?

It’s taken a while to come to this conclusion, but I’ve since learned that pleasure doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. All those days spent bingeing on Netflix series actually felt worse than a busy day at the office.

All the playing, the eating, the substances, they didn’t feel good, despite their initial allure.

Turns out, relaxing isn’t as fun when you haven’t earned it. As Jocko Willink would say, discipline is freedom, and no truer words have ever been spoken.

So, should you suffer?

The truth of the matter is that life is suffering, regardless of your social status or genetics.

Rich people have rich people problems, and poor people have their own set of issues as well. A loved one is going to die, we might contract a disease, our friends could betray us.

So essentially, a happy life isn’t one that’s free from pain. Instead, it’s the ability to withstand anything life throws at you. That’s the true meaning of gaining freedom through discipline.

And you don’t get that by sipping Mai Tais or waking up whenever you please. You do that by seeking challenges that interest you (because purposeless labour is equally silly).

Yes, said challenges might involve some discomfort, but anything worth pursuing often involves a little pain. You wouldn’t want the easy stuff after all, would you?

After having stuck to something as simple as an earlier wake-up time and an everyday workout routine, I can safely say that challenging myself really does allow me to enjoy my recreational time more.

Man with beard holding a thumbs up in front of laptop and mobile phone, having a coffee

Relaxing always feels much better once you get some work out of the way. Photo: DocuSign

3) I let others determine my worth

I used to be a pretty shy person—still am, actually—and I could never look anyone in the eye. In fact, my happiness relied heavily upon what others thought about me. I would constantly fish for praise, letting even the slightest of slights keep me up at night.

Everybody else always had their say in group settings. Me? I was content to lay low and just follow the crowd. And don’t even get me started on confrontation. It’s more like non-frontation for me.

Is it because I can’t stand the thought of people disliking me? Or is my self-worth so low that I’ll always think I’m lesser than everyone else? I don’t know. I still can’t find the answer.

But what I’ve learned is that the amount of self-worth I rightfully deserve depends on how much I can prove myself… to myself.

Does looking within really work?

All my life I’d looked outward to rid myself of this affliction, of hating being around others because I hated myself. But you know what? Sometimes you need to be proud of yourself before others can do the same.

So how exactly did I do that? I started doing things that I couldn’t do.

I’d always been a lazy person—still am, too—so I started my journey of self-improvement by waking up much earlier than I typically would, and I used that time to write, exercise, and contemplate my day.

Even during my workouts, I made sure to blast past the finish, always adding extra sets to my previous record. The harder the task I overcame, the better I felt about myself.

The thing is, you’ll always know if you’re cheating yourself. You know how much you have left in the tank, or if you’ve truly made full use of the day. So if you find yourself not feeling worthy enough, it’s probably because your conscience knows you’ve cut corners, and it can’t respect someone who does that.

Didn’t mean to get all motivational guru here, but I’ve learned that the more honest I am with my efforts, and the more I’m willing to do things people aren’t, the more confident I become.

A monk called Nick Keomahavong once said that you shouldn’t seek to change the world. That you should instead seek to change yourself, and by doing so, affect the world around you.

In essence, you need to light your own candle first.

A bunch of white candles that are lit

Once you have that spark, it becomes much easier to light up everyone else around you. Photo: Tina Witherspoon

The basics always work

You’ll probably have noticed that the one thing tying all this together is hard, introspective work. But it’s not just that. It’s the pursuing of hard things that mean something to you, and we all have our own way of doing that.

Some people like Wim Hof find it by walking stark naked on the ice caps of Mount Kilimanjaro. Others, like Courtney Dauwalter, run 100-mile races.

Sure, those things may seem silly to you, but I’m sure that you have a hard pursuit that’s uniquely you. One that presses all your buttons, checks all your boxes.

Your purpose in life is to find what that is, to spend as much focus and effort as you can in pursuing your purpose. Because in those hard things, lies the confidence of overcoming yourself.

And once we do that, we gain the best outlook we can ever hope to achieve in this life, that is the realisation that we’re much stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

The best thing? We don’t need much to get started on this journey. All we’ll need is a slight shift in perspective.


Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

61 thoughts on “Here Are 3 Simple Perspective Shifts That Will Inspire A Better Life

  1. This is full of so much wisdom. I especially related to this point –> ”So essentially, a happy life is not free from pain. Instead, it’s the ability to withstand anything life throws at you.”

    Up until recently, I have naturally been able to handle life obstacles fairly quickly. The pain of my sister pushing me out of her life has tested me to the fullest extent. Some obstacles take more time than others but focusing on the positive and moving forward is the best thing you can do.

    • If you don’t mind, could you share how you’ve been able to handle your obstacles so quickly? There could be a thing or two I could learn (as could everyone else), and I always love to hear stories from across the world.

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Suzanne. Your good vibes are felt all the way here, thanks to the power of the internet!

      • I wish I had a more helpful answer but I honestly think I overcome most obstacles quickly due to a combination of my personality mixed with how I was raised. I’m a very logical thinker and I’m not very emotional. When a problem comes my way, I immediately start thinking about finding a solution or simplifying it. I am also quick to make decisions so I don’t let things dwell and fester.

        Most importantly, I grew up with a dad that handled obstacles with ease and I learned a lot by observing. No matter the circumstances, my dad always would point out the positive. He saw a happy solution before we even started to work towards it. This allowed him to remain calm and confident.

        It’s a lot easier to find a solution with a clear mind and positive thinking.

  2. “Pursuing hard things that mean something to you”. That’s perfect. Everything I value now was or is hard. My favorite thing might be snuggling with my dogs on the couch, that doesn’t sound hard, but walking them three times a day every day no exceptions is hard. Parenting is like that times a thousand and it’s awesome. Art is very hard and absolutely wonderful. Thanks again Stuart for another wonderful and inspiring post!

    • It’s the ‘no exceptions’ part that do us good. It makes us find ways to overcome our daily obstacles, and that muscle is definitely useful in other areas of our lives.

      And don’t get me started on the difficulty of art. Here’s to finding our creative path!

      p.s. thanks so much for stopping by. Always appreciate seeing your name.

  3. Very profound article! “Judging ourselves daily by the seeds we’ve sown and not the harvest we’ve reaped”- the importance of this cannot be stated enough. I also agree that staying with the “basics” always guarantees a solution. A theme with good depth, so well-presented! 👍

    • That’s the only way I get to fairly judge myself. If we judge our efforts through our stats, or prize we’ve won, it wouldn’t be fair to ourselves. But it’s super hard to do that sometimes though, lol, because I’m still somewhat affected by external effects.

      Love your comment. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your kind words, Sam!

    • That sounded rude, I’m not meaning to call you lazy! but I just truly relate to what you said in your post and I was echoing your own words. Ever since I was a kid I disliked my lazy tendency, and thus I have always been obsessed with self-improvement and challenging myself. But I definitely have a long ways to go, which is why I always learn something from your posts.🙂

  4. Some serious reflection and self-awareness in this post Stuart!
    I can relate to being shy and not being able to look people in the eye. And the whole non-confrontational thing too! You sound like you’ve grown to know your self-worth and understand what real happiness is, so kudos to you!

  5. Thanks for this man. Your 3rd tip is one I hope I will always ‘steer away’ from, in the sense that never again (unlike when I was young) must I let others determine my worth! It’s akin to chasing after the wind — pointless! As always, such a gift to read your posts bro. Keep sharing your wonderful life hacks Stu!!

    • Oh yeah. I still have issues with that though. It’s a slow journey, but I’m happy as long as I keep moving the needle in the right direction. Thanks so much for visiting, Kelvin! Here’s to getting over what others think of us!

    • Aww those are such kind words to say, Lisa. And you know what? Now it’s ME who looks forward to your comments :)

      Anyway, I’ve read your message and will definitely get back to you yeah? Thanks again!

  6. I like this post. A lot of good points about inward-looking.
    Yes, life is a learning process. Successes and failures have taught me not to take myself seriously.
    The best part of aging for me is – – I have learnt to be kind to myself – – I have earned it.
    And, with this newly-found realization, I feel liberated. And able to take on new challenges without worrying about the outcome!

    • Not worrying about the outcome is such an amazing state of mind to be in. It actually gets you more results too, since you tend to be action-oriented when in this state. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I enjoyed reading it!

  7. Outstanding post! I needed to hear that today, thank you. Internal validation is much more important than any other. I also loved “judging ourselves daily by the seeds we’ve sown…” All of it is so relatable.

    • I say that, but I’m still affected by external things sometimes. It’s a work in progress, one that never ends, but it’s great to know there’s something for us to pursue, right? Thanks so much for your lovely comment. I appreciate it!

  8. Well put, Stuart — such an encouraging post! It reminds me of a piece I read yesterday by Bruce Feiler, about pileups.

    Feiler uses the word “pileups” to describe how sometimes (often?) when one aspect of our lives goes haywire, two or three other parts of our lives do as well. What he concludes rings true to me and could be filed under perspective-changing: “Pileups are common, and like all lifequakes, they offer just as many opportunities for growth as they do for misery.” (https://brucefeiler.bulletin.com/263635205687237)

    There’s a mantra: I’m growing, I’m growing, I’m growing!

    • Wow, your comments are super thoughtful, both on your own blog and on others. I am really loving your style, Sarah. And yes, I believe everything in life offers both opportunities for growth or misery. Like a wise person once said: “Life happens FOR me.”

      Keeping that in mind does help keep even the worst events in perspective. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  9. I’ve a long, tortured history with warped perspectives. I share these and many more. The shifts I’ve made that helped me the most were to say F It and to give the benefit of the doubt to other people.

    • Giving people the benefit of the doubt is so liberating, because it doesn’t make sense for us to carry those negative feelings—feelings that people are blissfully unaware of. Here’s to not giving any Fs!

  10. Hi Your wrote ‘The truth of the matter is that life is suffering, regardless of your social status or genetics”, so spot on. That’s what I had been thinking this whole time. Life is fair after all. If only we could all be fearless and be more open and have more empathy towards fellow humans and be kind to all beings. It is a matter of perspectives and attitudes. But having said that, when I am angered, I do find it hard to be kind when someone happens to be vexatious or mean. I think being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses and knowing who you are will help us to lead the purposeful life we hope for. Thanks for another good post.

    • Oh yeah, anger, envy, ingratitude, and laziness, are all lower-frequency moods that taint our lenses, which can turn everyday tasks into much bigger problems than they are. The good thing is that you’re self-aware enough to know that, and that you can avoid taking action while in those states. Of course, that takes a lot of understanding to do, and sometimes it’s not the easiest task too.

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Always a pleasure having you here.

      • Incidentally this week I wanted to listen to a podcast on my drive to work, and I chanced upon the Youtube talk by Nick Keomahavong about productivity and the monk’s morning routine. One of the things he says is not to rush into our activities but to still our mind before starting our day. I must have missed the part about your mentioning the monk and now that I just read your post again and that is the same monk I listened to this week. It is so true, our moods and attitudes decide how we view the world. I’m not sure if challenges are always good.LIke it or not I think life will throw all kinds of challenges at you. I usually shy away from conflicts but as a lawyer, you see conflicts all the time you either try to prevent them by getting parties to agree on terms or when there is a dispute you want to make them go away but it is almost impossible. That’s when I feel I need the anger to compel me to act or react, consolidate and get the right perspectives. Perhaps gravitating towards challenges can only be done wisely with some self- knowledge about what one is made of. We are all multi-faceted. I agree, we should only compete within ourselves, and must not feel entitled in any way but to take small steps each day to try to improve one’s mindset. Thanks for your reply. Likewise, it is a pleasure reading your post. Thanks for sharing.

      • Whoa. Your comments are awesome. And yes, I love listening to Nick’s thoughts and experiences. The power of the internet really is something, because without it, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from all these valuable perspectives, and I wouldn’t have ‘met’ you!

        Today I’ve learned a new thing, and that’s you being in law.

        And yes, small steps each day is the way to go, especially when we have free will, and can choose to spend our days however we want.

        Thanks so much for this wonderful and thoughtful comment. What an enjoyable read!

  11. Great post! I resonate with so much of this! Have you read, “Atomic Habits” by James Clear? It’s a great resource on how to create habits and systems based on the identity you wish to maintain. Cheers to you! Keep doing the hard things and pursuing your dreams. As Mel Robbins has said, “When it comes to your dreams, you have two choices: pursue them or be haunted by them.”

    • Oh yeah, it’s because of Atomic Habits that I actually take consistent, little steps towards my goals. I find it much easier to achieve great things through tiny steps instead of taking big leaps towards my goals.

      This was an amazing comment, so I thank you for taking the time to craft it. Love it!

  12. Wonderful insights. We’re on personal journeys and each step, the triumphs and mistakes, teach us about ourselves. Being able to step back, see where you’ve been, and make choices for the future is the epitome of growth. Enjoy.

    • We’re all on our personal journeys indeed, and that’s an important thing to remember, that we can only reliably compare ourselves to ourselves, and no one else. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

    • There are very few people like you indeed. Even though I too don’t expect anything easy, I do admit that I sometimes wish it were, lol. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

  13. “And through my systems, I’ve learned the importance of judging ourselves daily by the seeds we’ve sown and not the harvest we’ve reaped.”

    Great line! You summarized this so well!
    I’ve been going through this same transition and I’ve been seeing that creating these systems also helps you reduce so much of your anxiety because you’re not worried about things that are out of control.

    I watched an interview of Kobe Bryant where he said that on some of his basketball practice days the basket felt like a keyhole, and like a swimming pool. Some days it sucks, some days you’re in a flow state. But the most important thing is for you to just show up to the court each day. Time, practice, and refining your methods, will take care of your growth.

    I wish you the very best on your writing journey!

    • Wow, what a lovely comment. And I’m loving the Kobe Bryant example, because life has its ups and downs, and everything becomes easier when we acknowledge that. Sure, some days will suck more than others, but if everything were easy, there’d be no meaning to life because we’d just get everything we want. Anyway, thanks again for such a thoughtful reply. Love it, Faiza!

      • Thank you for the kind words!

        I must say, I really appreciate the fact that you take your time out to write out positive replies to everyone who comments under your posts. Gratitude and appreciation are beautiful qualities indeed.

  14. Had some typos in my other comment… Here’s the edited version.

    “And through my systems, I’ve learned the importance of judging ourselves daily by the seeds we’ve sown and not the harvest we’ve reaped.”

    Great line! You summarized this so well!
    I’ve been going through this same transition and I’ve been seeing that creating these systems also helps you reduce so much of your anxiety because you’re not worried about things that are out of your control. You are only focusing on something that’s in your control.

    I watched an interview of Kobe Bryant where he said that on some of his basketball practice days the basket felt like a keyhole, and on other days, like a swimming pool! Some days it sucks, some days you’re in a flow state. But the most important thing is for you to just show up to the court each day. Time, practice, and refining your methods, will take care of your growth.

    I wish you the very best on your writing journey!

    Interview link: https://youtu.be/g2cQ2kD6lzs

  15. Thanks for your perspective shifts. I could probably use all of them, repeatedly. 😅

    Ah, that “If _______, then all my problems will be over” trap is such an easy one to fall into. I constantly do that, even when I know it’s not true. Sometimes I get a brief rush when I actually meet a goal, but I wonder if that lift is worth the much-longer-lasting crash when I don’t achieve my little goals. It’s a bit like how, when I was in college, I thought I had to be seriously stressed out or I wouldn’t meet any deadlines. In hindsight, I probably just made things harder for myself.

    • Amazing insights, Ceridwen, and I’m glad you shared your perspectives. We’re the only creatures on Earth to live a lot in the future or past, so it’ll definitely do us well to be in the moment, as cliched as that is. Anyway, I appreciate you stopping by!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s