This entry is the last in the current series of fours parts which explain the concept thinkingfit. It refers to perception. Perception has to do with how we make sense, view and interpret the reality around us; ourselves, others and the world at large. It refers to the mental pictures and preconceived ideas we form about our experiences from even before birth. Our perceptions are the “lenses” through which we observe and understand our reality.

When we initially engage with the world our perceptions are largely shaped by others; our parents, education, and society at large. They determine the “angle” from which our individual reality is observed and interpreted. Every subsequent interpretation of reality is consequently influenced by what already exists in our mental memory bank.

We all have a largely subconscious “mental suitcase” which contains beliefs and thoughts about how reality is or should be. Our perceptions are based on these. They are therefore determined by the way existing information is already organized or wired into our or neurological networks.

We literally have thousands upon thousands of ingrained perceptions which are inherently viewpoints we hold; rightly or wrongly. Examples are:

  • All people from a specific race are inferior
  • Life is without meaning
  • Children are there to fulfill my unrealized dreams
  • I am not clever enough for a specific task
  • All men abuse women
  • I will only be happy if I earn X amount of money per month
  • What others say about me is very important
  • South Africa is doomed and cannot recover from its difficulties

Imagine being at a party and using a DVD camera to capture the events. We cannot record everything simultaneously and we can only focus on one specific scene at a time. We perhaps record a couple fighting and then a few friends laughing at a joke. If we showed the part of the couple fighting to someone who was not at the party, this person’s perception of the party would possibly be that it was not a good party. Similarly, if we showed the part of the DVD where people were laughing, the person would think it was a fun party.

An accident scene will also be described differently by all bystanders. One might see the emotional pain of the victims and another will describe the equipment of the paramedics. This happens because we all tend to focus our mental spotlights on different aspects of reality.

The process of developing perceptions has a positive and a negative side. On the positive side, our perceptions prevent us from being bombarded and overloaded by all the information we are surrounded with.  By using words like “lens” and “angle” to explain what we experience at any given moment, emphasizes that our view of reality is largely limited, relative and very often incorrect.

Two psychologists, Elmar and Alice Green once wrote that “No one has ever seen the outside world. All we can be aware of is our interpretations of the electric patterns in our brain. Our only view of the world is our own internal video screen.” Thomas Edison also said that reality is so vast that we do not know one-millionth of one percent about anything.

It is necessary for us to understand that the fact that many of the perceptions we have and continuously form, are often unreliable as they are based on partial or even faulty information as well as a particular context within which we perceive. It may mean that sometimes a specific perception, in other words, the “map”, is the incorrect one with which we explore a specific “territory”. Write down one of your negative and potentially incorrect perceptions and explore answers to the questions:

  • How did you acquire this perception? Did you choose it or did others impose it upon you?
  • What would the consequences be if everyone you know held that perception?
  • What would happen if you changed your perception for the better?
  • What are steps you could take towards doing this?

Something small can make a big difference