You May Need a Different Lens

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."

-Henry Ford


"While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside of us."

-Benjamin Franklin

I'm on the bus heading home. I just left a happy hour with a good friend of mine. We had not seen each other in a while so we were there longer than we thought. We could have stayed longer, too, if we didn't both have to get home.


When buses pick you up downtown they make you get on as quickly as possible. And since paying eats up too much time, you pay when you get off. It's an express bus, meaning that it only travels from downtown to a station near my house. Everyone gets off at that station. Having to sit in the back and wait for everyone to pay can easily add five minutes to my commute; ugh...who wants that? I am lucky, though; I get a seat right up front - the first one off the bus. It's a good thing, too, because I'm hungry and my wife has dinner ready!


The buses are nice. They have comfortable seats. They're dark. They are quiet. They make it very easy to fall asleep. I fall asleep.


The bus stops. Uh oh! We're at the station, I'm in seat one, and I'm not prepared. I have to gather my stuff, get my payment ready, and get off the bus; there are dozens of people waiting for me. My payment card is in my wallet and the electronic reader can read my card through the wallet. So luckily all I have to do is take my wallet out and touch it to the reader as I leave.


In my hurried state, I grab my wallet out of my pocket and try to touch it to the reader as I'm throwing my computer bag over my shoulder and walking down the stairs. The wallet slips out of my hands. In a desperate attempt to catch it I lose my balance. I fall down all four steps and bounce on the cement.


Now I'm embarrassed, I don't know where my wallet is, and as I get up to look for it I see a bus full of people staring at me. I find my wallet resting on the guardrail, and as I try to walk away I realize something's not right; I can't walk. I didn't realize it hurt when I was embarrassed looking for my wallet, but now I can feel it. My ankle is the size of a softball. When I tried to catch myself on a lower stair my foot didn't land fully on the stair; it partially landed on the stair and the momentum of the fall twisted and broke my ankle.


This sucks! Now, since I can't walk normally, I have to pretend to make a phone call while every single other person on the bus - whom I held up - walks by and looks at me with their judging eyes. I hobble back to my car after they've all left. I have to spend the evening in the ER. I have to wear a boot for months. And I never did get that dinner! The universe hates me!




How You View the World


We all view the world differently and have different mindsets and viewpoints. The two we've all heard of are pessimism and optimism. Do you see the glass as being already half-empty with nowhere to go but down? Pessimists tend to have a mindset that looks for the negative in everything. In Minnesota, where I live, we have a lot of pessimist sports fans. Here is a common phrase I hear, "Sure, we made the playoffs but it doesn't matter because we're going to lose in the first round. We got so lucky this year."


Alternatively, you may see the glass as half-full, with room for more. You may have heard the phrase "viewing the world through rose-colored glasses." It's a way to describe someone who sees the good in everything. This is an optimist. The optimistic Minnesota sports fan (I've heard that one or two of them actually exist), says, "It doesn't matter that we lost in the playoffs this year because it was a fun season and we got to see some really great games!"


You may hear them as mindsets, but like the rose-colored glasses that optimists look through, I call it looking through different lenses.


Passive Lens


The passive lens, or passive mindset, is a way of viewing things that happen as not being your fault. It's someone else's fault. The person viewing the world through a passive lens says they were late because traffic was bad and people forget how to drive in the winter. It wasn't their fault they lost money in that investment; it was their uncle who gave them the tip. And it's the company's fault they were fired; they should have trained better and the boss had it out for them from the beginning.


It's not always bad events people view through a passive lens. Some people don't want attention, even if it's good attention. Perhaps you've heard people say "I just got lucky," "I was in the right place at the right time," or "I couldn't have done it without my team." Modesty is a form of viewing the world through a passive lens.



Active Lens


The opposite of viewing the world through a passive lens is viewing it through an active lens - or adopting an active mindset. People who use an active lens accept responsibility for the things that happen to them. They forgot to account for traffic and weather during their commute, they shouldn't have trusted their uncle's tip and should have done some research, and they got fired because they didn't make themselves indispensable. They also accept responsibility for the good things in their life that have happened. It's still okay to acknowledge luck, but the active lens shows that you took advantage of that luck.


Scarcity Lens


Adopting a scarcity mindset and viewing the world through the scarcity lens means that you believe there is only so much to go around. You are less likely to share information with colleagues or network with peers from other companies. You think if you help someone else, they will reap the benefit and you will lose out. People with a low socioeconomic status tend to use the scarcity lens, but then again, if you're in poverty there plenty of scarcity lenses to go around.



Abundance Mindset


An abundance lens helps you see the world with an abundance mindset. People using this lens see helping others as a way to "grow the pie," so to speak. By seeking to help others and add value, even if your proportion of the pie stays the same, you get more out of life. But, getting more isn't the reason for doing it.




Spinning the Story in Your Favor


Sometimes you have to choose to find the good in situations. Everything that happens can have both positive and negative qualities. Things happen in the world without judgment; they just happen - not good or bad. You can view all events as a collection of things that happened, the reasons they happened, and the consequences of them happening.


Each of these dots represents something that can be gleaned from any event happening.




Those dots just happen. It's us who assign positive and negative qualities to them. With each event, we view some aspects of what happened as good (shown in green), and some aspects as bad (shown in red).



Negative Lens


When an event happens and there are some positive things and some negative things, the lens we use will matter a lot. If we put on our negative lens, the negative aspects we assigned to the thing that happened will be magnified and the positive things we can take away from whatever happened shrink.


If you ever fall off of a bus and break your ankle, using a negative lens will make you think that it sucks that you have to wear a boot for a few months, you were embarrassed, you had to spend your night at the hospital, you'll be sent a hospital bill, and you had to miss dinner!


It was easy for me to find the negative lens.




Positive Lens

The alternative is to use your positive lens. With this lens, the positive aspects get amplified and the negative aspects start to disappear. It takes some practice to use this lens if you're not used to it. Our brains are wired to put more attention on bad stuff. That's why when people talk about others using rose-colored glasses, it's often because they are making fun of that person. Not many of us do that, so those that do are deemed "weird." Weird or not, getting used to your postive lens will make a tremendous difference in your life satisfaction, happiness, and temperament.




This is not meant to get you to ignore your problems or the things you need to fix. You still have to handle your life responsibly. But just because things many would consider "bad" happened, doesn't mean you have to be miserable.


Gratitude


It's more difficult to use a positive lens if you're like most people. Many of us permanently use our negative lens. One way to get used to using your positive lens more is to work on gratitude. This could be a gratitude journal, part of a meditation process, prayer, or just paying more attention to positive aspects of what's going on.


You might be surprised to hear, but even on your worst day; when you just lost your job and got evicted from your apartment; when you couldn't afford the mortgage and five transactions bounced; when you were lying face down next to a bus with a broken ankle and dozens of people staring at you; there are at least a billion people on this Earth who would consider their prayers answered if they could trade places with you then and there.


It can always be worse. Wise words to live by (but horrible words to tell someone who's suffering).


So I fell off a bus and broke my ankle. An alternative narrative, viewed through a positive lens, could be that I'm lucky I didn't land on my knee and shatter the whole thing. I could have landed on my face and broke my neck and been paralyzed. I had good health insurance to cover the risk and didn't have to go into debt for medical bills.


If I used the positive lens, I would have been more grateful, more happy, and more appreciative going forward. I would have noticed other areas where I was fortunate. Instead, I let my negative lens make me disgruntled and angry.


Lenses and Money


Imagine a person who, after never having been a saver before, managed to save $1,000. This is the first time she ever saved four digits. Not long after, her car needed to be repaired to the tune of $850. This wiped out her savings. Not being discouraged, she saved up more money this time, getting up to $1,500. But, not long after reaching the milestone, she got injured in a car accident and had to pay $1,400 for her health insurance deductible. This happened again and again and again. She would save up some money, then something would happen to wipe it all out. It was frustrating (story idea from Loaded).


Negative Lens: It got to the point where she wanted to stop saving. It felt like there was some force out there punishing her for having more than she needed. It was like the universe was telling her money is bad and she shouldn't have that much.


Positive Lens: How fortunate is she that she was prepared every time one of life's unexpected expenses hit. She didn't have to go into debt in order to pay for these things. She was prepared and ready.


Which lens will make her more confident and happy? What story are you telling yourself that is holding you back? View that story through a different lens.


You only have one life. Live intentionally.



Read Next:

Simple Is Not Easy

Information Isn't Enough

Focus on the Right Things

Changing Your Financial Life

Change Must Come From Within



References:

Dr. Brad Klontz Channel: Rich Thinking vs Poor Thinking

Farnam Street: Active vs. Passive Mindsets

Rick Hanson: Hardwiring Happiness

Sam Harris: Waking Up

Brad Klontz, Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money

William Miller: Listening Well

The Money Mindset Podcast: How Your Money Mindset Affects How You Handle Money and How to Change It!

Sarah Newcomb: Loaded

Carl Richards: The Behavior Gap

Carl Richards: The One-Page Financial Plan

Marshall Rosenberg: Nonviolent Communication

Seth's Blog: The possibility of optimism


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