“There is no truth. There is only perception.”
– Gustave Flaubert, influential
French writer and novelist
“You’re wrong,” he said. “I see everything clearly.”
“You just told me that the world is a scary place.”
“And I’m right,” he replied. “Just look around you.”
With that statement, he began to list off all the observations that supported his assertion: world conflicts, economic upheaval, loss of jobs, crime rates, fractured families. I was speaking with an acquaintance on the topic of perception versus reality and how each of us sees the world through a particular lens of perception — through a uniquely personal set of filters. My assertion: no matter how unbiased we might attempt to be, our worldview is bound to be influenced by our past experiences and conditioning, our beliefs, values and expectations.
I went on to explain that I could ask another person about the state of the world and receive a completely different answer.
I’ve had people say to me that the world is finally waking up from a fitful sleep, breaking free from the shackles of old and outmoded ways of thinking and being, challenging the status quo, embracing our commonality rather than our differences.
“And those people would be delusional,” he said.
Sadly, most people have bought into their own viewpoint so completely that they won’t budge even when there’s ample proof to suggest a bigger picture. Without being consciously aware of it, many of us spend the lion’s share of our day (and life) immersed in our limited perceptions — seeing only what we want to see and experiencing only what we expect to experience.
Perceptions begin to form the moment we’re born when our parents share with us their concept of the world.
In addition, our culture quickly indoctrinates us into believing a variety of apparent truths which most of us buy into without judgment.
Once we develop a thought system of any kind, we tend to live by it and to teach it. But guess what; much of it’s just a big ruse.
Robert B. Cialdini is Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Arizona State University and author of the New York Times best-seller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.
According to Cialdini, humans naturally act in a way that is consistent with past actions and beliefs. The tendency is called congruency, which means we tend to act and perceive things in a manner that is in keeping with our beliefs and values — with what we “know” to be true.
But is it true?
To understand perception, we must first understand a little something about the human mind. When I took my training in hypnotherapy years ago, I was fascinated by a statistic: the conscious mind is able to process about 2,000 bits of information per second.
Filters in the brain control the flow of information and protect the conscious mind from overload. In contrast, the unconscious mind is busy processing about four billion bits of information per second; thus what we call reality is only one-half of one-ten-thousandth of one per cent of what’s out there.
While the subconscious mind is busy taking it all in, the conscious mind is only acutely aware of a tiny portion of it.
To make matters worse, we begin to further filter this limited information.
To put it into perspective, imagine walking into your local Chapters and reading one paragraph of one page of one book and then claiming to know and understand the content of the bookstore.
The truth is we tend to experience what we expect.
Our perceptions are influenced by what we have been conditioned to see.
As thinking beings, we continually try to make sense of our world.
That’s not a bad thing except (without awareness) any piece of information that doesn’t fit with what we know to be true is altered without us even knowing it.
Our mind filters and reinterprets events and, like a traveller packing for a trip, folds, squeezes and bends everything we experience until it finally fits into the tight and tiny suitcase of our limited belief system.
Perceptual filters are a gift when used appropriately.
They filter out the extraneous so that we may focus our attention on the pertinent. Without them, we’d accomplish very little — everyday distractions would overwhelm us.
However, filters that remove the joyous, the remarkable and the possible from our lives distort our worldview and can damage our self-esteem.
Consider the filters that distort your self-image. What filters are still in place from early programming and painful experiences of the past?
Most people who suffer with poor self-esteem have a set of filters in place that distort everything from their own appearance to their potential for happiness.
If you’re willing to set aside what you know for just 24 hours, I’d like to share with you a simple exercise that just might be life-changing or, if nothing else, perception-changing.
For the next 24 hours you are going to actively look for certain things.
And you’re going to begin with something simple — the colour green. I’d like you to make the following conscious intention: “I hereby intend, for the next day of my life, to look for the colour green.” Nothing special is required. Just keep your eyes open. And then simply notice if your conscious awareness has made a difference in the number of green items you see.
This simple experiment will prove that what you see in life is nothing more than what you look for and expect.
“Some people despair about the darkening direction of the world today,” wrote internationally acclaimed writer, speaker and teacher, Margaret J. Wheatley.
“Others are excited by the possibilities for creativity and new ways of living they see emerging out of the darkness.”
And I’m not suggesting that you become a pessimist or an optimist but rather that your conclusions be based upon the unbiased observations of an open mind combined with a healthy dose of critical thinking. It takes courage to challenge your perceptions. Give it a try.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca