Unlearning Lesson #14: The Grass Isn’t Greener on the Other Side
“He who hesitates because he feels inferior is being surpassed by those who are busy making mistakes and becoming superior.” –Henry Link
Question #14: Are there more words that begin with the letter “K” or which have “K” as their third letter?
With words such as kangaroo, kitchen and kite readily springing to mind it is easy to assume there are more words beginning with the letter. This is incorrect. Surprisingly, there are three times as many words with “K” as their third letter. The reason many people get the answer wrong is because it’s relatively easy to think of words beginning with K. It is far harder to conjure up words such as acknowledge, irksome, unknown and wake.
In this same way, it is easy to understand our own situation. It is more difficult to understand the plight of others. This bias is one reason why the grass often appears greener on the other side of the fence.
In fact, there is a scientific explanation for the “greener grass” phenomenon. From a person’s viewpoint atop a patch of grass it is easy to notice the bare spots—just look down. When the grass is farther off, a person’s viewpoint will impose a slant on the grass and their angle will only enable them to observe the top blades of grass. (See image) The result is that bare spots remain obscured from their line of sight and they only see the tops of green blades of grass. Only as they draw nearer do the ugly blotches and bare spots become noticeable.
The same is true with other aspects of our lives. Obviously, a person has an up close view of the “bare spots” in his or her life—be it a lower balance in their checking account, mounting credit card debt, an aching back, family issues, etc. The view of a neighbor’s life—one who has a larger house, newer car, or perhaps a happier family—is more difficult to discern. Like spotting words with “K” as their third letter, it is trickier to assess other people’s “bare spots”—be they in the form of the internal house repairs, larger car payments or well concealed dysfunctional family issues.
The problem runs deeper than misplaced envy. Many times people will feel as though their patch of grass is cursed. For example, have you ever noticed how the line you are standing in at the grocery store is always the slowest moving? If you feel this way there is good news. You aren’t cursed. You simply notice such instances more often.
If you think about this for moment, this makes sense. Because you are waiting and since you have little else to do it’s easy to concentrate on those who don’t share your plight (i.e. the people in the quicker moving lanes). On the other hand when you are briskly moving along you are less likely to consider your good fortune. Instead you just move ahead—oblivious to the envious glances of those poor souls in the slower moving lines.
All of this is not to deny that there are bald spots on your grass and that sometimes you have chosen the slow lane. The challenge, in such situations, is to view your situation from a new perspective.
Over the past few years a numbers of companies which have done exactly this. For instance, when Yellowtail, an Australian wine company, recognized that many people were foregoing wine purchases because they intimated by their lack of knowledge in selecting a nice wine, they created and marketed a low-cost, quality wine. This took the apprehension out of buying wine for many people who had previously never purchased wine and sales skyrocketed. In essence, they converted a “bare spot” into a lush green pasture of opportunity.
By unlearning the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side you will stop chasing an illusion. The extra time you save can then be used toward making the grass upon which you are standing greener.
Homework assignment #14: Next time you find yourself standing in a slow-moving line at the grocery the time to gain a new perspective of your life by making a list of the things that are going well in your life or, alternatively, try studying a “bare spot” in your business or life from a different angle and figure out how to make it greener.
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