Perception is not something most of us give too much thought to. But look again, and you’ll find that perception plays a more major role in our lives than you may give it credit for…
Ever since a well-known global brand in the banking services industry launched an advertising campaign that highlighted the importance of local knowledge while playing on the idea of cultural differences, it was clear for anyone who cared to take note that the impact perception has on our lives stretches way beyond our standardized cultural norms, values and traditions, individual preferences, outlook on life and (inter-cultural) communication. Perception is a key element in the human experience. It influences our entire way of thinking, communicating and even being.
As a language junkie, when I first started my undergraduate degree, I was fascinated to realise just what impact perception has in structuring languages and expression. I mused over the fact that the French perceive themselves as becoming green with rage while we Anglo-Saxons tend to see ourselves as going red. But, perhaps a more familiar example of the role perception plays in our unconscious everyday worlds is when we perceive that the behaviour of our colleagues, friends, family, partner or peers somehow fails to ‘measure up’ to our more-often-than-not latent and unexpressed expectations.
In such cases, perception influences the criteria by which behaviour and/or people are judged. Interestingly, what tends to happen here is that we conflate a person’s behaviour with who they are, so that the behaviour and the person become one and the same; whereas in fact a person’s behaviour is actually quite separate from their identity.
But, when was the last time you stopped to wonder the extent to which your perception is correct in a given situation and how this influences your subsequent decision-making? Given its potential impact on how we perceive our choices, it might just be worthwhile casting it more than simply a cursory glance…
How, for example, would you go about assessing your progress with a goal such as responding more effectively to stress? What for you might ‘effective’ look or feel like in your mind’s eye or as a sensation? What specific factors, in your environment that would indicate to you that you’re making progress, would you choose to focus on? The fact is that sometimes the very things we choose to focus on – which are often inherited as family-learned default patterns – aren’t always the ones that serve us best; they may not be the most useful or relevant indicators of progress we could use in a menu of other potential choices. Or, to put it another way, those deeply ingrained habits that we have often learned to rely and focus on may not be doing us a lot of good!
So, to give a concrete example, if you have the tendency to focus on what’s missing or not quite right in the overall picture of your goal as you perceive it, chances are you will tend to focus more on the negative and what’s yet to be done to make things ‘perfect’ (in order to validate your preconceived notion of what achieving your particular goal looks like), rather than focusing on the positive and what’s already been achieved.
Such a strategy may constitute your default – i.e. unconscious – preference of assessment; and granted, it is likely to have its merits on certain occasions. If it just happens to be your unconscious strategy for evaluating your overall degree of happiness in life however, it will no doubt leave you feeling just a tad deflated.
But all’s not lost! Training yourself to adjust or refocus your unconscious strategies is possible.
If you’re curious about exploring more of the effects perception has on your way of thinking, seeing, behaving and being, read check out my Perception & Beyond product!