Perception is the way we see or interpret ourselves, others and the events around us. Furthermore, the way we perceive or interpret an event directly determines how we feel and act. But if our perceptions are inadequate or faulty to begin with, our course of actions will be flawed and ineffective.
For example, take an occurrence such as a layoff. One person may perceive it as a threat and feel depressed, while another perceives it as an opportunity to explore a new career or pursue a dream job and therefore feel excited and energized. That is, the very same event can be perceived and experienced in very different ways and leading to different actions and outcomes. In this example about “lay-offs” it is easy to see how one’s mood and action will be very different depending on her perception and that difference will have a direct impact on the outcome of approaching job search, networking, interview process and success.
Let’s take another example: raining. Raining is a neutral phenomenon. However, each person depending on his/her experiences and memories will see it differently. For example, if you have a large house with a large garden to take care of after work each evening, you may feel excited and say, “Great. It is raining; I don’t need to water the flowers and the grass this afternoon. I can spend more time with the kids or repair the broken door in the basement”. On the other hand, if you own a house in the suburbs, the rain may mean heavier traffic and getting home late. You may feel irritated and would probably say “Damn it, not again”. You may even resent it and feel down. Yet, a third person may perceive it completely differently, he might say “Oh, it’s been raining a lot lately, I will perhaps experience a heavier traffic on the way home, but it will clear up the air pollution and we don’t have to worry about water shortage in the summer.” And he would probably feel neither excited nor irritated. So, it is very important to be aware of our perceptions as they directly influence our mood, our energy levels, our actions and their outcomes.
The good news is the way we see or perceive need not be fixed.
If the way we understand an event is ineffective we can change it. Awareness / attention is the key. To be aware means to be fully present with what is arising in this moment. Generally, we are not aware. We mostly function from an autopilot mode. Our perceptions and actions are reactive, old, repetitive and habitual. We repeat the same response over and over again not appreciating the uniqueness of each situation or person. Therefore, our lives become redundant and boring. Failing to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, we don’t relate well to our loved ones, to our colleagues, to our environment or to ourselves. We drive to work or home in a trance, generally lost in day dreaming and fantasizing all along the way. This can have many serious consequences as it only takes a split second to be involved in a car accident. Similarly, we eat without paying much attention to the taste or the quantity we consume. We stop eating only when we feel “stuffed”, having ignored our body’s message all along. Later we may pay the consequences through indigestion, obesity, and high cholesterol.
When we cultivate awareness, we can see why events and things are the way they are. We get insights into our perceptions. Once we see the inadequacies and shortcomings of our perceptions and actions we can consider new possibilities. As our perceptions shift, our actions and the outcomes are influenced positively.
How Do I Know if My Perceptions Are Inadequate Or Limiting?
Look for experiences of contraction in the body – these may be obvious or subtle. By practicing awareness you can begin to notice such experiences more often. Then immediately ask yourself, what am I feeling? What was I just thinking/imagining? What about these thoughts made me feel this way? Am I experiencing a limiting mind-habit (see previous posts)?
Chose an area that you like to bring fresh perspectives to. Perhaps an area that is mildly limiting. Then ask: Since perceptions are not fixed, how else can I choose to perceive this situation? Or bring to mind someone your really admire for their wisdom – for example a friend, a mentor … and ask “How would Marie perceive this?”. The important point is to be curious and playful.