If you’re like me, you have seen this picture many times. I think I first saw it in high school and that was many years ago. For those of you who somehow missed it, the picture is an optical illusion. Depending on how you look at it you will see either an old hag or the profile of a beautiful woman. In every class it was shown, the teacher or professor was trying to prove that “perception is everything.” As a new therapist I thought that was really cool. I am embarrassed to admit that I used it as a diagnostic tool, thinking it would give me insight into the inner workings of my new clients. I learned something very interesting, but not what I expected. Fifty percent of the people who were coming to see me for depression initially saw the old hag, and fifty per cent saw the beautiful woman. The same was true for those who came to see me for life coaching; it was fifty, fifty. The picture was completely useless, so I tossed that idea and went back to a more conventional interviewing style.
A couple of years ago I came upon the picture again. This time I had a different experience, and it was a light bulb moment! While perception is important, there is a deeper lesson to be learned from the old sketch: both images are in the same picture. “Wow!” I thought, “Now that is something to ponder.”
It is a truism in life that you have to take the bad with the good, and the good with the bad. There is duality in all things right down to the cellular level. Some examples of this are: “Yea! The guy I’ve been dreaming about asked me on a date… but he wants to go to a horror film, and I hate horror films.” Or, “I love chocolate cake, but hate the calories.” Conversely; “I abhor driving in the snow, but I’m happy it is snowing in the mountains, providing much needed water for the coming spring.” Or, “I dread going to the dentist, but taking care of my teeth is important to my overall health.”
In my office, I have heard versions of this statement numerous times: “Yes I’m depressed, but I’m more realistic than people who aren’t.” Au contraire my friend; not true. People who say this are implying that their depression allows them to see the negative side of things, which others can’t, and somehow this makes them more informed. That may be true, but I say, “If you are only looking at the negative side of things, you are not seeing the ‘whole picture’.” To truly be accurate you have to look at both sides, because they sit side by side or are entwined just like the sketch of the old hag and the beautiful woman. You can choose to focus on the negative, but that doesn’t mean the positive doesn’t exist; and you can choose to focus on the positive, but that doesn’t mean the negative doesn’t exist.
Certainly it is more balanced to look at the whole picture; but given a choice, there is plenty of evidence proving that looking on the bright side is better for your overall health. You do the math. Positive means to add. Negative means to take away. Which do you prefer?
Tip: If you are having trouble seeing anything positive, you might be in the “habit” of only looking at the negative. You can change this by: 1) Proactively looking for the positive until you find it. 2) After finding it; write it down, because writing it down reinforces the positive in your mind.
You might feel awkward to begin with but before you know it, your brain will get the hang of it. Soon you will discover it getting easier and easier and your mood will begin to lift.