Even as a Harvard guy, I must admit they do one thing right at Yale: All first-year medical students are required to take an art class.
As I describe in Before Happiness, the class teaches the importance of perspective and considering different vantage points. After learning how to look for detail in centuries-old paintings, the students then attempt to diagnose health issues for their patients. As a result of “cross-training” their brains, they increase their ability to detect important medical details by an astonishing 10 percent. Multiple vantage points multiply the opportunities for successful action. This is an important skill for anyone, and one you can practice just learning about art online.
In addition, demonstrating awareness of the vantage point of others can essentially short-circuit frustration in others’ brains. Researchers in England have found that if a leader needs to add an urgent task to the workload of an already burned-out employee, offering even a mere acknowledgment like “I can imagine you’re swamped right now—I would be feeling overwhelmed” quiets down emotional centers in the brain and turns on the prefrontal cortex, which helps him or her approach the task with a more positive mindset and greater energy and investment. Empathy is all about shifting perspective.
Don’t get stuck with one reality. Practice looking at your life from multiple vantage points and use your friends to help, and you’ll find there’s more than meets the eye to creating positive change.