We’ve talked around perception, but today we’re jumping into it. Perception is our interpretation of outside information we receive. We must first separate events from experience acknowledging perception as a two-step process, though it occurs fast enough to be interpreted as one.
Step one is the event, itself. The event is the facts of what took place like “I started my first business” or “She doesn’t read books”. These events are objective and don’t offer any information past what the statement reads, but we all have some form of previous experience with regarding starting a business and with people who choose to read, or not. These thoughts immediately leak into our thoughts after we hear the facts. Our previous experiences are are different and this is why we take in the same events differently. Think of it this way – we can all watch the same show, hear the same story, or listen to the same music, but how we interpret those events is different. And this is step two, internalizing information. How we internalize, or interpret events is affected by how we make sense of the world around us. And how we make sense of the world around us is based on our past experiences. This is why our perception of an event or information is so complex. Our brains unconsciously consider details of a situation much faster and further back in our memory than we can consciously.
Whether we can actively recall it or not, everything we have experienced influences how we perceive and interact with our world. For example, we know highly emotional and youth experiences are more likely to leave lasting imprints on our behaviors and habits (A great read on this is: Your Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk).
Have you ever explained your perception to someone, and they reply, “well that’s just your bias”? When we hear bias, it has a more negative feel. But our bias is the lens or filter we see the world with. It’s like bias is a pair of sunglasses everyone has, tailored for them to better maneuver in their world. Our bias is tied closely to our perception, and we are an expert of seeing things our way. We can easily blame our bias for not being able to see things differently, but acknowledge too how powerful of a choice it is to not be swayed by the perspective of others. Ultimately, we must shift our perception of bias (yes, change the perception of our perception) from negative to positive. Now those sunglasses are a superpower.
Our bias, or expertise now, can make us stand-off-ish, quick to temper, or impulsive. We might explain this as being fixed or unchangeable like “it’s just the way I am” or “it’s just how I react”. The way we are and the way we react is an adaptation that for us, has worked efficiently and effectively throughout the course of our lives. In other words, we keep getting away with it so we keep doing it. And since our reaction is a habit that is effective, it begins to take less energy so our reaction becomes the natural and safe response. Maybe you are aware of your react and are unapologetic about it, all good. If you are not aware, continue to learn about yourself.
So, we get that what we have been exposed to, our experiences, affects how we perceive and react to events. Our understanding and description of ourselves also reflects that perception. For example, instead of saying I am stand-off-ish, we switch that to I like to watch people before I engage. Quick to temper becomes I am passionate about what I believe is right. Impulsivity is now I like to act first. Changing how we describe ourselves in this case reshapes our perception of ourselves in a more constructive way, although the language implies similar actions. Now you are more cautious and not an asshole for not wanting to engage; the other descriptors make you more invested and energetic.
Then we can go a little deeper. Maybe we consider what experiences may have influenced us to perceive the way we do, beginning to dig into how our past experiences continue to affect us. Armed with this information and heightened awareness of self, we are no longer limited by our perspective. We can look from different perspectives; we call this crystallizing. Depending on how we look at a crystal, what we see may appear different based on our angle, although we are looking at the same object.
Going back to our examples this could look like:
if you are being stand-off-ish/like to people watch, you have had poor experiences with strangers and have hard time with trust;
if you’re quick to temper/passionate about what you believe is right, as a child you were punished for being wrong so you’ve become adamant about proving your point;
impulsive/take action: you learned that through watching your parents the world rewards those who get shit done.
Though these are all imaginary scenarios, they are realistic. Our perspective changes when we begin to see ourselves and our behaviors for the iceberg that they are. There is the surface, then everything below. We can choose to go deeper to understand and build self-awareness. This holds true for others and their behaviors as well, just remember only you think like you and have your experiences, everyone else thinks this same thing.
So now we’re here. We get how experience influences how we see the world and how we see ourselves. We change perception by addressing the basis of our experiences. By learning to understand our bias, we can alter our perception. In brief, when we become aware of our perception, we can change how we internalize the information and as a result begin to change our perception. I know it sounds lofty but take some time with it. It always starts with awareness.
Remember, as humans we like to be on autopilot, and awareness is slow and takes effort. So, the initial thoughts and actions of our reactions are automatic. We cannot make a deliberate choice on how we immediately react to anything. What we can do, though, is be intentional and mindful after the knee-jerk reaction. In the moments that follow we can reflect. This looks like considering our immediate reactions, whether thought or action. Then we work backwards to dig into what about our past experiences affects our initial perception. Breaking it down: an event happens, and our initial reaction is anger. Later (moments, hours, whatever the time span is until you feel able to reflect) we consider why we may have been angry about the scenario, what the underlying emotions were, and how we would want to respond ideally in this scenario. This is where we begin to challenge perception, bias, and the way we think about things. By working through our response, we will shorten the time it takes to be ready to reflect. This efficiency and effectiveness only happens through practice and we won’t win every attempt. Eventually shifts will take place when we notice our reaction then alter our reaction immediate. With progress, we get to a place where your reaction is patient and open, more response like.
Two things here I want to address:
The first point is that I am alluding to the difference between reacting and responding and I’d like to explain more. Reacting is the automatic response we have to anything. Its like 2+2 = _. Yeah, see it was already in your brain. Or whenever we see words, we try to say them like “themo”, not even a real word (but it’s a company, check us out if you are considering training). Similarly, immediate reactions occur with emotions, thoughts, and actions. Before we can consciously think of a response our brain has already inserted one. For example, emotions like, fear, anxiety, or aggression are a reaction to feeling unsafe, so we immediately become closed-off and go on the defensive. Most of this happens at a level below what we are conscious off. Unlike positive emotions that encourage creativity and openness, productivity.
We immediately react to an event or stimulus. Conversely, responding inserts a gap in between event and reaction. The space provides time to relax, rethink, and reframe after the stimulus. Now we are conscious and intentional about our choice to respond (ARA). This is more work for the brain, so it can be exhausting. If you want to know, more check out this book: Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is dense and research-based, but it’s a quality read on perception, judgement, and decision making.
The second point is this. We discussed the first step of perception is the objective event. Our reaction, or response is biased, but it is not good or bad. Judgement of good or bad is another element that we add. We can be quick to judge our thoughts or actions as wrong or right. Instead, try witnessing your emotions and choices describing them as such, just an emotion or decision. This is the basis of practicing mindfulness. It decreases the likelihood of becoming overly emotional, or thinking too critically of ourselves that eventually forms into regret. Like being anxious that we’re anxious, angry that we’re angry, thinking on the things we could have done. Acknowledge the behavior (emotion, thought, action), observe it, and create acceptance. There is are not many things regret is useful for. There is more productivity and peace in looking forward on how to improve.
How we feel, nor what we do isn’t inherently good or bad, positive or negative, or right or wrong. We put that judgement on ourselves and as a society. And as a result, it can affect the way we see ourselves by progressing our image of ourselves to being entirely good or bad. So, use those descriptors intentionally like “that was a poor decision, that went against what I stand for”. In other times sit with it and be more articulate with your language, “I feel angry right now about x”. Try it: “I feel” instead of “I am”. We are not anger, we use “right now” to indicate the mood is temporary, and “about x” to place our anger towards exactly what sparked the feeling. I know these may seem trivial, but how we talk to ourselves matters because our words shape our perception which influences thought and action. Although perceptions are seemingly natural and unconscious, we can control more. When our perception changes, so does our experience. Then that experience changes our perception.
There is always a choice in perception like saying, ‘let’s start over’. Now commit to it with yourself. Our bias manifests as FTA (feelings, thoughts, and actions) and this is our perception. Be intentional about using your bias to your advantage and putting aside your perspective when a different view may be more beneficial.
We talked before about metacognition, knowing we know and witnessing thoughts. Awareness of these paired with reflecting and adjusting, empowers us to do and see a whole lot more. The impact of awareness and reflecting is diminished unless we execute. So, act to change not because you have to, but just to show yourself you can. Act to show yourself you are who you say you are, or if you are ready for change, who you intend to become. Have urgency about you. Even if it is hard, show yourself you can do hard things
Challenge: The challenge is to perspective shift. In Think and Grow Rich (another classic), Napoleon Hill described during his decision-making process. He would call personalities of those he admired to committee meetings and discuss them. These would be who he thought were powerful minds like Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, and others. He would do all of this in his imagination, arguing and bringing points from each of their perspectives, based on how he thought they may be. After hearing them all, he would make a decision. This is perspective shifting. By placing himself in their shoes he saw arguments from all different perspectives. He felt he could make a sound decision from his crystallized perspective. So, the challenge is to embody that.
I want you to think as someone else would for a decision you have to make. Think through your own rational first and note whatever you are leaning towards, then pick someone from a committee that you would design. It could be Beyonce, Jay – Z, Kobe, Ian Dunlap, The Obama’s it doesn’t matter. Come up with the perspective they would have and the rationale behind it. Would they be for or against your choice? Consider what aspects of their personality and/or experiences might guide them to perceive this way. Really commit to thinking outside of yourself and like them. As always let me know how it goes.