My father is a heart surgeon.
Almost a month ago I visited him and my family in Athens, Greece where I am originally from.
During my stay, he asked me if I could accompany him to a local garage where he wanted to bring his car for a regular service.
Upon our arrival, the owner, a very skilled but not especially wealthy mechanic, greeted us with excitement and exchanged a little friendly banter with my dad.
“So tell me,” said the mechanic, “I’ve been wondering about what we both do for a living, and how much more you get paid than me…”
“Yes?” said my dad.
“Well look at this,” said the mechanic, as he worked on the big complicated BMW engine, “I check how it’s running, open it up, fix the valves, and put it all back together so it works good as new. We basically do the same job don’t we? And yet you are paid ten times what I am – how do you explain that?”
My father thought for a moment, and smiling gently, replied to the mechanic,
“Try it with the engine running.”
The mechanic smiled back to my dad and went on with his job.
Differences in perception are present constantly throughout our everyday interactions. The instance with my dad and the mechanic was picked just to illustrate how people can interpret different life experiences based on their own perception and understanding of the world.
Perception is not a static process that occurs on a specific moment in time. It is a very powerful mechanism that is being molded based on your dynamically changing experiences.
I for instance, have tasted the power of perceptual change many times during my life.
A great example is my perception towards the medical profession.
I was raised in a family where most of the members had studied medicine and since my early childhood I had developed a great respect and admiration towards medical professions. My perception was that a doctor was the most high-caliber profession one could choose.
While growing up however, despite my family’s attempts to allure me into studying medicine, I somehow decided to reject the medical trajectory.
I still considered the medical profession a high-status job but I realized that different ideas and principles associated with it, don’t really align with my beliefs and aspirations.
My perception had changed.
Perception is a very fascinating concept that always attracted my interest.
In my continuous journey to a purposeful and effectual lifestyle I consider my understanding of the power of perception, a pivotal moment in my personal development.
Most of our problems in our everyday endeavors stem from our inability to understand the power of perception and how this can affect one’s life and experiences. I like to call those problems, “problems of perception” and their typical symptoms include:
- The feeling of disappointment and being let down by others.
- Getting into disagreements and verbal fights.
- Experiencing disconnection and isolation.
- Accusing others for your own problems.
Although these problems might seem small and “normal,” they play a tremendous role in the way we manage and dissect our life experiences.
It’s not a small thing to have to deal with a lack of sync in the majority of human interactions you encounter. It can lead to frustration, anxiety, anger, lack of motivation and sometimes even depression.
And that’s the reason I decided to cover the concept of perception in this article. In our attempt to pursue a lasting effect of abundance in our lives, understanding perception can become an invaluable tool in your mental arsenal.
So buckle up and let’s get started.
Remember the infamous blue and black dress (or was it white and gold?) that tore the Internet apart, some months ago?
This was quite an interesting visual phenomenon that signifies to a huge extent the power of perception in our everyday lives.
According to Wikipedia:
“Although the dress color was confirmed to be blue and black, the image prompted discussions surrounding the matter across various platforms, with users discussing their opinions on the color and why they perceived the dress as being a certain color, while others discussed the triviality of the dispute to begin with.
Members of the fields of neuroscience and color vision provided scientific commentary on the optical illusion. The dress itself, which was identified as a product of the retailer Roman Originals, experienced a major surge in sales as a result of the meme. A 2015 study with 1,400 respondents found that 57% saw the dress as blue and black, 30% as white and gold and about 10% as blue and brown. Women and older people disproportionately saw the dress as white and gold.”
The New York Times in a recent article suggested that:
“Our perception of color depends on interpreting the amount of light in a room or scene. When cues about the ambient light are missing, people may perceive the same color in different ways.
Our eyes are able to assign fixed colors to objects under widely different lighting conditions. This ability is called color constancy. But the photograph doesn’t give many clues about the ambient light in the room. Is the background bright and the dress in shadow? Or is the whole room bright and all the colors are washed out? Different people may pick up on different visual cues in the image, which can change how they interpret and name the colors.”
Because of different processes that take place in the brain of each individual, the way we perceive things compared to others may vary significantly.
Even the slightest difference in perception that is caused by let’s say an insignificant dress, can cause debate and in some cases even arguments between individuals who just want to prove themselves right.
On a straightforward view, we directly perceive the world as it is. The way that things look, feel, smell, taste, and sound is the way that they are. We see colors, for example, because the world is colored.
Plausibly, perception is a lot more complicated than this. Though things may appear to be colored to us, our experiences of color are merely representative of the surface properties of objects; the physical property of reflecting certain wavelengths of light and the color red as we experience it are two quite different things.
In our attempt however, to justify our perceptual thinking, what we fail to recognize is that perception is quite an arbitrary concept whose definition can be subject to the individual’s sensory capabilities, personal experiences and accumulated knowledge.
Nonetheless, it is crucial to realize that perception is quite a self-centric and individualistic process. Allowing your perception to interfere with your feelings and the way you interact with others is not really a smart thing to do.
Unraveling the 3 principles of perceptual change
Stephen Covey, in his best-selling book, “The 7 habits of highly effective people,” suggests that:
“Communication is the most important skill in life. We spend most of our waking hours communicating. But consider this: You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another human being from that individual’s own frame of reference?
Comparatively few people have had any training in listening at all. And, for the most part, their training has been in the personality ethic of technique, truncated from the character base and the relationship base absolutely vital to authentic understanding of another person.
If you want to interact effectively with me, to influence me — your spouse, your child, your neighbor, your boss, your coworker, your friend — you first need to understand me.”
But how can you really try and understand another person and eventually influence them if you are constantly between the narrow boundaries that your own perception dictates?
Well you can’t actually.
This process can only be achieved by initiating a perceptual shift. A shift that will gradually disengage you from your own perception and give you the incredibly powerful ability to see the world through the eyes of others.
Below I will lay out a set of principles that characterize this perceptual change.
They are all very carefully defined but require a subtle ego disengagement in order to be understood concretely.
So stay focused.
Principle #1: There is no out there out there.
The most crucial thing to understand when we deal with outside experiences is that we don’t really respond to the world out there. We respond to our perception of the world. Perception is formed by beliefs, cultural norms, religious affiliation, genetic factors, life experience, sense of right and wrong, and so much more.
All of these factors are processed by our brain, which based on its computational power and mental capacity, will give us an idea of the world outside of us.
So in simple words, the world is an idea.
More specifically the world is your idea.
This sentence didn’t come to me organically. It was first expressed by the famous 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in his seminal work ‘The World as Will and as Representative”:
“No truth is more absolutely certain than that all that exists for knowledge and, therefore, this whole world, is only object in relation to subject, perception of a perceiver–in a word, idea. The world is idea.”
If only he knew that after almost two centuries his writings would have such a huge impact on the way that we communicate and shape our relationships.
Whenever I have an argument with my girlfriend for instance, I go crazy.
The reason this happens is because I am actually hearing my perception of her words, gestures and so forth. I am making meaning out of what she communicates based on that. This may or not match the meaning she intends to convey.
If I am offended by her, it is important to understand that I am actually offended by what I did with her words based on how I made meaning out of them. In essence, I am offended by her-in-me. Not by her, the real person. I can never experience her, the real person, directly.
In essence, I am offended by this person that I have made a part of me by the way I perceive her. In the end, I am offended by none other than myself.
In short, it is not what people do to me that causes problems for me, but what I do with people to cause myself problems.
Perceptual change in practice:
Let’s say your girlfriend, your friend, your dad, your coworker, your boss or a girl you like addresses a complaint or an idea you don’t really agree with.
X told me I lack Y.
X told me I should change Y.
X told me I am doing Y wrong.
X told me I am bad at Y.
In your own head this should be reframed to:
I had X in me telling me that I lack Y.
I had X in me telling me I should change Y.
I had X in me telling me I am doing Y wrong.
I had X in me telling me that I am bad at Y.
The power of reframing is unquestionable. This change in perception of how you see things that others address to you, instantly helps you release tension.
Without reframing, what you actually experience is not the way the person experiences himself/herself. You are experiencing your perception of the person. When you respond to the person, you are responding to your perception. You are responding to you.
There are huge benefits to understanding and communicating with this in mind. When I really get this principle, a whole new world in me opens up. Suddenly, I don’t take things personally.
I do not get offended very easily. I can listen to criticism with an open mind. I don’t take myself so seriously or believe others have power over me.
Principle #2: I am an active process.
A common fallacy when it comes to perception is that we usually act passively and not actively to the processes we experience.
We tend to victimize ourselves whenever people interact with us in a negative way:
“She made me feel so angry.”
“My father makes me feel helpless.”
“I am troubled by my past.”
In reality (in me) I am the one doing the acting. I actively create my own experience.
With Perceptual Change I express myself differently:
“I anger myself with her.”
“I make myself feel helpless when I am with my father.”
“I trouble myself with my past.”
This way of putting words together suggests that I am an active participant in my own experience. I am doing to myself as opposed to having things done to me.
The difference between “I am troubled by my past” and “I trouble myself with my past” is huge.
There is a clear lack of responsibility in the first sentence, whereas the second communicates a person that is characterized by self-reliance.
The power of self-reliance is that it gives you the ability to take action and act upon your problem. You change from the victim to the person in control.
And control is probably one of the most powerful and desired states of the human mind.
Principle #3: Everything that is happening is happening right now.
When we work with our perception and the things we experience, we think that we are experiencing a combination of past, present and future acts.
That has absolutely no meaning. There is no past, present and future. There is only now.
You are experiencing yourself in the now and past and future are just parameters that distort the idea of now.
Especially when you speak about the past and the future, you fail to understand that you do so, now.
When you say for instance:
“Tomorrow is going to be a scary day.”
“I scare myself with my thoughts about tomorrow.”
“I enjoyed fishing with my dad when was a child.”
”I enjoy myself now with thoughts of fishing with my dad when I was a child.”
So, the world I interact with is within me. I actively create it, right now. Perceptual Change makes these healing concepts a reality.
Perceptual change is a huge topic.
After experimenting with it for quite some time I came to understand that when others judge me, I am actually using my perception of them to judge myself. I also realized that what they were saying was just their perception of me, not me.
I not only got the philosophy that I create my own world, but I had the actual experience, along with others. When these principles are infused with every sentence that comes out of your mouth, it becomes your reality before long.
The radical sense of personal responsibility—and radical new freedom—will always remain with me.
Perception forms the foundation of your world. When you change the structure of your perception, you change the structure of your world.
I would like to read your own stories about how your perception has interfered with the way you handle your relationships and what you can do about it.
If you enjoyed this post, you will definitely enjoy my 30-day challenge which will help you refine your perception, enhance your self-awareness and become more socially adept and competent.
Latest posts by Andrian Iliopoulos (see all)
- In Praise of Indulgence – An Essay - September 19, 2017
- Developing Self-Awareness – The 5 Stages of Awareness Mastery - August 30, 2017
- The Truth About Stoicism and a Primer to the Teachings of the Three Major Stoics – Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius - June 29, 2017