You might have heard the phrase perception is reality. But is that true? Not quite. Your perception is only your reality, not anybody else’s.
Let’s do a quick exercise. Don’t worry, you don’t have to get off your seat or even move an inch. All you need to do is take a few moments to think.
To begin, recall the best experience you had with visiting a restaurant. For those who cannot pick one favorite, choose any among the top few. Once you have a name in mind, think of the reasons why you loved it. Was it the cuisine, the ambience, the service?
Once you’re done, try to remember a city you hate. You can pick a location from a vacation, a neighboring place, or the very city you live in. Whatever your choice is, identify the reasons why you hate it.
Do not read further until you complete the exercise. After all, it shouldn’t need more than a couple of minutes.
Now, if you recall the restaurant, you’ll feel your tongue turning moist from the thought of mouthwatering food. If the place is in your vicinity, you might consider visiting over the weekend too (Thank me for the idea later). But, when you think of the city you hate, you remember all the bad aspects of the location.
What if we had performed a different exercise instead? If you had to think of a few reasons why you dislike the same restaurant and a couple of positive attributes about the city you hate, your brain would think differently.
But both the events, the visit to the restaurant and the city are now in the past. What you feel about them right now is defined by your emotions. But have you realized that what you think or feel has no impact on reality? You love the food at your favorite restaurant, but some person would’ve hated it on the first visit and decided never to step foot there again. Likewise, what you believe about the city you hate doesn’t make the place good or bad. Another person would love to live there.
Your emotions only determine your perception of an object, a place, a person, or a situation.
- How perception is reality – Examples
- How to use your perception the right way
How perception is reality – Examples
You have a tendency to believe that your assumption of a person, a place, an object, or a situation is what the reality is. But no matter what you think or feel, it doesn’t change anything other than your own thoughts. Your emotions only determine your perception of things and you have no influence over what others feel about the exact same entity. Sure, your words can influence people, but you cannot control their thoughts.
To clarify the point, let’s go through some examples where different people can have differing opinions about the same thing. As you go through each one of them, pause and evaluate how your opinions influence your perceptions of different aspects of life.
1. Perception of people:
Have you noticed how the same person is admired by some and hated by some others? You might assume celebrities have such a diverse set of fans and haters, but even a normal person has a different affinity with different people.
For example, not everyone will love your best friend as you do. Some would have a neutral opinion and some others might despise him/her. Yet, in your opinion, that’s the go-to person with whom you’re comfortable to share your darkest secrets or seek help in the direst circumstances.
When you succeed, you feel proud of yourself for your skills and hard work. But, your true character shows up when you encounter setbacks and failures.
When things go wrong, do you hold yourself accountable or point the finger elsewhere? A person with the right mindset always looks for areas to improve within oneself no matter how circumstantial the result was. Mediocre people find external things to blame instead of holding themselves accountable.
Two people going through the same circumstances can have stark opposite opinions about what they’re going through.
A famous story from history is that of Viktor Frankl, the survivor of 4 concentration camps during the world war. During his torture, he observed that the people who found a purpose amidst all the suffering had the highest chance of survival.
In his book, Man’s search for meaning he mentions a pattern he noticed among all the prisoners. Every year, during the time of Christmas and New Year, many of the prisoners would die. Over the years, he understood that the ones who died at that point were the ones who had strong hopes of being home by the end of the year. But when those hopes didn’t turn into reality, they could no longer cope up. It appeared as if their body had worn out, but it was their mind that had given up.
Though you won’t face a struggle for life like the concentration camp prisoners, how you look at a situation defines how you feel about it.
- Do you complain about a problem or are you thankful for what you have?
- Do you look at what you don’t have or appreciate what you do?
- Do you envy people who live a better style than you or express gratitude for being at a better place than the lesser privileged?
4. Reaction to an obstacle
How do you react when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone? Do you face the challenge head-on or do you chicken out at the first instance of discomfort?
If you have given up on your goals because you had to endure difficulty to get there, you have allowed your brain to settle into complacency. Whatever reason you came up with is an excuse to settle into the comfort zone. But, if you stretched your limits to achieve the target despite the challenges you faced, you have a resilient mindset.
5. Reaction to a situation
How do you react when you face a difficult situation? Do you look at the negative circumstances and panic, or try to find a positive aspect and spot an opportunity for growth?
No matter how bad the situation, if you shift your perception, you’ll find an element to capitalize on.
6. Perception of a place
When you did the exercise of thinking about a place you disliked, you picked a city. Now, does everyone hate the city as you do? Not at all. Another person would have loved the same place and look forward to visiting it again. The person may even like the exact same aspects of the city you despised.
If you take any place, object or thing, the same logic applies.
How to use your perception the right way
By now, the point of the article must be loud and clear – your perception is your reality. Therefore, if you look at things with the right spirit, you can not only grow as a person but also achieve better results for yourself. Here’s how:
1. Find the good instead of the bad
No matter what the situation, you’ll have positive and negative elements attached to it. For example, every sports event will have strokes of brilliance and glimpses of errors. You can find mistakes in a victorious game and splendor in a loss.
Likewise, when you succeed, identify the areas you did well and things you could have improved. And when you go through a bad incident, look for improvements as a person instead of denying accountability and placing the blame on others. Do not allow negativity to take over your emotions. Whenever they’re about to, remind yourself:
- You’ll only feel worse by going deeper into the spiral of negative emotions
- If you choose to find one positive element from a negative incident, your mood lightens up
A situation doesn’t inherently make you feel positive or negative. It’s your response that affects your emotions and more often than not, you have the choice to decide how you want to feel.
2. Use positivity to make the situation better
Consider the following situation. You send an email to your coworker asking for assistance with your project, but, you hear no reply. “He’s ignoring me on purpose. After all the time I spent helping him last week. Never again will I do that,” you mumble to yourself. Your thought determines your future behavior, which in turn influences your coworkers’ reaction to you. For example, you decide to avoid eye contact and go non-responsive to some of his emails. Soon, he senses some hostility and reciprocates the same behavior.
Instead, all it takes to shift the whole situation on its head is one positive thought from your side. “Oh, he must have been busy,” or “Looks like he missed the email,” or “Maybe he wanted to help and forgot to get back.” More often than not, the true reason for the lack of response is something along those lines, but your mind goes haywire and hunts for negative reasons first.
Related article: How to prevent negative intentions using the Hanlon’s Razor
3. Cultivate a culture of no excuses/no blame
- If the market had not collapsed, I would ….
- I did my best, but ….
- The project failed because …
Whenever you’re explaining a negative outcome with the words, “if, but, because”, watch out if you’re avoiding accountability and making excuses. Take ownership of bad results and own your mistakes. Excuses are a silent way of sweeping your mistakes under the rug. Instead, accept your mistakes, identify areas of improvement for the future, and move on.
4. Operate within your locus of control
Locus of control is an area within which you have the power to make changes and influence the outcome. For example, choosing what you eat for lunch lies within your control. Choosing what your coworker eats, doesn’t.
Each person can have a different perspective of what falls within and what lies outside his control. People with an internal locus of control believe their actions lead to a negative outcome. People with an external locus of control believe that other factors such as market, luck, or circumstances caused a poor result.
For example, a person with an external locus of control blames the traffic for arriving late. A person with an internal locus of control considers himself accountable for not leaving early.
Take ownership of areas within your locus of control and don’t allow the ones outside to negatively affect your emotions.
5. Remind yourself that negativity hurts you
When you’re hurt due to the actions of another person, the negative emotions in your mind can urge you to retaliate.
For example, when your girlfriend respectfully breaks up with you, no doubt your feelings get hurt. If you start assuming she ditched you because she found another person, you soak yourself in even more despair. You even start gossiping about all her negative attributes which hurts her in return and she responds in a similar fashion.
Instead, if you accept the situation, and digest it(won’t be easy), you’ll not only move on faster but also remain respected.
Your negative emotions not only hurt the other person but also yourself.
Your perception is your reality. You cannot control what happens around you, but you have a fair amount of control over how you choose to feel about it. Others can trigger negativity within you, but whether you fall for it or fight against it is your decision. How you perceive the world influences the emotions you feel and the decisions you make.
If you change your mindset, your life will change and so will you.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.