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Say Cheese!

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” John Lennon

I was at a birthday dinner last night with some of the finest people I know on earth. As is customary during these things, photographs were taken. I said to one woman, “You are SO photogenic!” She replied, “Oh, I hate the way I look in pictures.” Everyone started chiming in. “Me too! My _______ looks so ______ in photos.” (Fill in the blanks with whatever relevant body part is your least favorite: nose/big, hair/frizzy, face/fat…)

Pretty much everyone I speak to hates the way they look in photos, including me. Don’t get me wrong; there are those rare moments in which the photographer captures the one second when my body looks acceptable and my facial expression is somewhat consistent to what I think I look like. But, more often than not, I (like many others) run around and go “I don’t really LOOK like that do I?”

It’s funny how you can have two photographers take pictures of the same person at the same event within one second of each other, and one photograph looks great and the other looks awful. It’s just a different angle or the subject’s eyes are momentarily closed…

Or you can have two people looking at the same photograph who have completely different perceptions of it. “I look horrible in this picture” (because you’re focusing on your muffin top), “No you don’t!” (because they are focusing on the loving look in your eyes and your great hair). It’s all about what is framed and what we focus on.

But let’s think about it a little deeper. What does a photo do? It freezes and “frames” a moment in time. To the viewer, everything that is not in the photograph doesn’t exist. If it’s a face shot of someone we don’t know, we have no idea what they are wearing or what their body looks like. The frame of the photograph defines our focus, and our focus is what defines our perception.

Life is just like that. So many of us look at circumstances in our lives and say, “Oh I hate that. My ________ is so _________.” (job/boring, marriage/stressful, financial situation/bad.) But what we don’t realize is that our frame and focus are determining that perception. Someone else can look at the same circumstance in your life and say, “Are you kidding? You are so lucky!” They say that because their frame of your situation is different and that causes them to focus differently and have a different perception than you.

What we see in our lives–our relationships, our finances, our health–is simply a “frozen” moment in time that is determined by the frame that we are viewing it by. We focus on one thing and, like a picture, everything else disappears. The key to a happier life is to focus on something different. Don’t like your job? Find something you DO like to do and focus on that. The rest will disappear. Unhappy in your relationship? Focus on what you ARE happy about and you won’t see the other stuff. The ability to reframe what you’re focusing on might just be the single greatest key to happiness.

Perhaps the best way to start practicing this is to try and look compassionately at yourself in photographs. Don’t focus on whether you look fat or old or whatever. Look at your smile, the warmth in your eyes… Find something to focus on that you really love about yourself in the photo and see what happens. You stop focusing on the negative! Once you develop the ability to stop censoring your photographs (Don’t post that, I look terrible in it!), you’ll develop the ability to stop censoring your life.

“When I say I want to photograph someone, what it really means is that I’d like to know them. Anyone I know, I photograph.” Annie Liebowitz
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