Objectivity vs. Perception

My sister and I attended a personal development seminar together recently, at which the instructor declared, "There is no suffering in reality." This declaration struck my sister and I just so, that we jested with each other regarding the placement of my next and her first tattoo. 

What I heard in the declaration of the instructor was more along the lines of, "There is no suffering in objectivity." Though it doesn't sound as pretty as what the instructor originally said, I have been stuck on the idea for weeks now! "What a concept!" I've exclaimed to myself in awe of the idea that when we stay in the present moment we can recognize that every meaning our mind is making is merely perspective! And if what you think is indubitably your reality, then changing your thought, changes the perspective. This means that when we are present with our thoughts we can rid ourselves of suffering. Huh.

Did I make that clear?

In case I rambled on or over-explained, as I sometimes do, let me break it down for you. Today can be a wonderful day or a terrible one, based on the way my mind directs my thoughts. Now, I'm not seeing clients today and I own my own business. That is objective. Other objective information is that I have an overuse injury in one of my subscapular muscles (The pain its causing me is my subjective reality, and pretty intense.), I am home alone, and I did not choose to be off work today.

Here are examples of two possible perspectives that can be created from the happenings of my day:

1.) "My business is not busy enough for me to succeed. I'm going to fail at this. I'm a joke. A beautiful day outside and I can't even go workout because my shoulder hurts so badly. I might as well just stay at home and lay in bed because the world is against me. No one is here to help me. I'm so lonely. Why don't I have more friends? What's wrong with me?"

Yikes! You might think that's sad to read, but consider that most people actually think those things! Whether aware of those constantly streaming thoughts or not, there they are, and the presence of them affects our mood. Just consider how you felt after reading that first perspective.

Now consider the second:

2.) "What a beautiful day! I get to sleep in and do whatever it is I want. No obligations, the sun is out: complete freedom. And home alone! That means my activities are totally up to me, without compromise! My shoulder feels like it needs a little TLC... perfect day to have a bit of time to myself."

Does reading that passage feel differently to you? It sure does to me! I'd much rather choose the second outlook if I could!

So, what if I told you you could?

Now I, like one third of the rest of the population, have suffered the strangling hold of depression in my lifetime. I have also experienced great tragedy. I do understand that it isn't always easy to identify the objective in order to push through dark subjectivity and choose the brighter perspective. I also know, based on my personal and professional experience, that consistent and regular practice makes it much easier.

So how do you practice that?

  • First you have to learn to be present with your thoughts. You can't change your perspective if you're not even aware of what it is! Meditation can help with this. Meditation teaches you to be an objective observer of your thoughts and the world around you.
  • Secondly, you must become aware of the difference between the objective and subjective. Our individual and subjective perspectives are so real to us that we can easily get what's actually happening mixed up with the constant stream of subjective thought. Try writing it out! Make two columns on a sheet of paper and generate a list of FACTS and a list of THOUGHTS/FEELINGS. Then let yourself be open to the idea that only one of those columns is actually true.
  • Finally, recreate your perspective. Imagine what that annoyingly happy, peppy person you know would say to you if your shared your struggle. Allow yourself to be open to possibilities outside of what you see initially or would ordinarily consider. Run with the thoughts and ideas that really create a spark in you: the ones that inspire you. 

Now, looking back on the objective happenings of my day, which perspective do you think I chose?


Today was a wonderful, restful, active, and productive day! I slept in, cleaned the tub while the coffee pot brewed, read a thoughtful and well written book while i sipped, did laundry, went to Bikram to heat up and stretch out my muscles, painted in my jammies, did the dishes, wrote a blog to aid in the progression of my work, and now I will dress myself up and head downtown to volunteer in helping others see my perspective too (It's a really great one.).

On Goal Achievement

I was on the final question of my exam when my heart started pounding. As I wiped my sweaty palms on the thigh of my pants and tapped my nervous feet, I realized just how frightened I was. “Shit. I’m about to find out whether or not I passed this test,” I thought to myself as I pondered how to best assess the effectiveness of a therapy group.

Over the course of the previous 6 weeks of studying for the NCMHCE, the passing of which would earn me the ability to bill insurance independently as a mental health professional, I had not been so anxious for this exam as I was in that single moment - not when I registered, not when I failed my first practice exam, not when I failed my twentieth practice exam, and not even when walking into the test that morning. I worried, not only that I would be heading to Cancun two days later feeling like a massive failure, but that I would return from my trip looking forward to a repeat of the hellish roller coaster that was the past two months.

I selected the best response to that final group therapy question and sat patiently in my seat, hand raised, awaiting the proctor who would relieve me from my testing cubicle. I considered how good I felt about the test--barely any incorrect answers it seemed. “Pretty easy, in fact,” I thought, “but I must’ve missed something!” I also thought all of the practice exams were “pretty easy” but failed nearly all of them! Only one way to find out how I did… I walked up to the front desk of the testing center and was handed my score: 118. Passing score: 101...

“Wait..so I passed?” I asked of the proctor.
“You passed.” She replied monotonously. She must deal with a wide range of testers’ emotions more often than she’d like.

I screamed and shouted and jumped up and down, stomped my feet and waved my arms in the air-- exactly as I had imagined myself doing the two days leading up to the exam. I was shushed by the proctor just before she whispered congratulations, and I was on my way. Heading to work for the first time as a Clinical Professional Counselor.

Now, why is it I feel I need to share this story with you? Somewhat because the weeks leading up to this exam were grueling and I just want to vent about it and pat myself on the back. But mostly and most importantly, I studied and prepared for this exam the same way I teach my clients to reach their goals: at a slow and steady pace, with consistency, and with belief in themselves.

Slow and steady wins the race!

My clients, I'm sure, get sick of hearing about the infamous turtle who beat the hare by not exhausting himself. That tortoise knew what he was doing! In weight loss, I teach that going too hard in exercise leads to burnout and injury, so I knew I had to study for my exam the same way. I focused on either reading 10 pages of my study guide or 1 hour of other studying each day. I did a bit more when I had the time and energy, but I knew that if I tried to do 8 hours a day on weekends, I would dread my days off and probably not retain much information. I would also likely procrastinate what’s necessary and wind up cramming, filled with anxiety the day before the test. Not a good recipe for success.

Consistency is key!

Of course, there were days that I just could not fit in studying because I was too busy, but 4 days of not studying out of a total 45 days is not too shabby. Similar to what I teach my fitness clients, if you want success in what you're doing, focus a little on it each day. The goal at hand does not need to consume your life. But if you skip a week here and there, you'll never get the results you want. If I couldn't fit in an hour of studying, looking through my flash cards for 20 minutes on the train kept my brain in the game and kept me focused on my goal.

Believe you can!

It's pretty safe to say that I failed 70% of my practice exams, and the ones I did pass were close calls! I was convinced (and telling everyone around me) that I was going to fail. I would take a practice exam and feel that I did really well on it just to find a failing grade at the end. I was at a point in my final week when I didn't even know what to study anymore! And then it hit me: what would I tell a client who was trying to lose weight and continuously told me it wasn't possible for them? I'd say, “Of course it isn't with that outlook!” So why was I sabotaging myself? The last two days before my exam I began visualizing myself receiving a passing score. I’d imagine myself screaming and shouting and jumping up and down, stomping my feet and waving my arms in the air. I began telling everyone I crossed that I was going to pass, even after another failed practice exam, and another, and another. I began telling myself, “It's okay, I'm going to pass. Just keep practicing…The practice exams are harder than the test, of course!” And what do you know? Turns out I was right!

I can apply this same methodology to anything and get the desired results. And if those results don’t come right away-- say, for example, had I failed that exam-- my commitment would carry me through to the next success. For now, it’s time to take that commitment, consistency, and belief and apply it to the growth of my private practice. I’m so excited for all of the failures and successes that I will be encountering along the way!