In therapeutic terms, taking perspective is a tool that helps to reduce emotional distress. In the beginning, it can be difficult to step outside of your own shoes to get another angle. We are too used to being in our own shoes. But with practice, and maybe a little humor to get you started, you will get better at it.
First, you need to decide if looking at the situation in another way is really necessary or worth it. If someone wearing a saucepan on their head told me they didn't like my hat, would I be offended? Probably not. I could easily decide I like my style of hat better than theirs, and go about my day. But let's say the stakes feel higher than that. For example, many people I know have social anxiety. They are often harshly criticizing of themselves and their social performance: Why did I say that? It must've sounded so stupid. I embarrassed myself. I can never face that person again. While complete avoidance of a person or situation might seem to help you forget this embarrassing thing ever happened, you still have to remember to avoid the person or situation. You may as well try to look at the bigger picture and try to make yourself feel better so you can face people and situations, no matter who or what they are.
You can do this - taking perspective - through asking some simple questions or making certain statements, such as:
Is it possible I'm blowing this out of proportion?
People think about what I've said and done a lot less than I do.
Can I really know what another person thinks, and are their thoughts really more important than mine?
People are a lot more forgiving of my mistakes than I am of my own.
There are some examples that can help you take perspective, and it is a process that can be used for a variety of circumstances; however, sometimes a problem is not circumstantial, but rather systemic and general. Many people who need help are not in emotional distress because of a situation or person, but because of despair. In fact, despair, self-loathing, purposelessness, resentment, guilt, and hate are Grand-Canyon-size problems that often globally affect a person's life and how they feel. Still, applying this same process of perspective-taking to the really big picture of one's entire life can help.
There is a phrase that has been passed through the ages among many Native American cultures: "Today is a good day to die." (Yes, fellow Trekkies, Worf said it in a Star Trek movie, too.) Sometimes it is attributed to the Lakota warrior Crazy Horse with the meaning of being willing before battle to die an honorable warrior death. If it did not mean more then, at least now it has come to take on a larger context. I like how Takatoka of the Manataka American Indians put it in his beautiful story on Manataka.org: "'Today is a good day to die' means that we are ready in our mind, heart and spirit to become one with the Eternal Spirit of the Creator." He goes on to say that dying is not in his conscious hands, but in the hands of whatever part of his Self has the greatest perspective - the "Eternal Spirit of the Creator" for him, but for others this will be different. It means that, though I cannot and should not know for sure, if by some chance today were my last day, I can genuinely say I did everything I could to live my values, seek my purpose, leave no stone unturned, make my mark, have no regrets. However it is phrased, it means I took charge of my strengths and summoned all the power and knowledge I have to live in a way that, were it my last day on Earth, I could answer the question, "So, how'd it go?" by saying, "It went very well, and I am proud."
So if despair is causing you pain that makes you question your very existence, be willing to stand on the precipice of your life, so to speak, at that place where the ghost image of your Self is looking back at you as if from a footbridge spanning far in the future. For a moment, put yourself out there into the future and look back on yourself "now." Be open to seeing the trail of footprints that leads you now into Future You. Imagine all of your actions in all of your days between Now-You and Future-You, and all the people you will have met, and all the things you will have done. Then, ask yourself these questions:
When I look back as Future-Me on Now-Me, do I like what I see? Was it so important and helpful to be hard on myself?
If not, can this be a foundation I use toward giving myself the gift of compassion the next time a difficult circumstance arises?
Can Now-Me use my imagination to allow me to know that the point of power is in the present, and motivate me to make at least one change that will cause Future-Me to be more content, or maybe even really happy?
Think about these things, and remember: no one else gets to decide whether you improve your enjoyment of life. Only you.
In the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and novelist William James, it is simple:
"To change one’s life: 1. Start immediately. 2. Do it flamboyantly. 3. No exceptions."
And, finally, as James also said and lived:
"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."