27 May Perception is Your Reality
Thinking is not generally highlighted as an area you can improve on or gain in expertise. We tend to see it as a realm that is very much out of our control.
Mindfulness and other disciplines such as meditation help us learn to focus on our thoughts, to manage the mind and its effects in different positive ways.
The understanding of how much the mind can adversely affect perception and make it more difficult for you to negotiate situations is something that growing numbers of people see as beneficial both personally and professionally.
To gain insight into perception, grasping the basic principles of Stoic Philosophy is vital if not an immediately obvious step.
It changes the emphasis from ‘things in our environment, affecting us adversely’ to beliefs about ‘things that happen actually affecting us’. Being conscious of the fact that you can see things in different ways is a significant first step.
Albert Ellis the psychologist , identified that human beings can have :
- Rigid ‘should or must’ beliefs-
- Flexible preferences beliefs-
Where our expectations are met in either mode, we have very little difficulty.
However, it is where they are not, that our rigid expectations in connection with should/must beliefs create an exaggerated negative effect. We also have secondary belief’s which, when triggered, seek to intensify the negative experience. We can engage in awfulizing; a term used to describe catastrophic “end of the world thinking”. There is also “low frustration tolerance” where we tell ourselves we can’t stand something that we clearly can.
What may be bad becomes terrible and what is difficult becomes seemingly impossible to live through. It may be an untidy child’s bedroom, the uncharacteristically poor round of golf or the loss of a relationship. Our view focuses on the negative only ‘cognitive distortion‘. We ignore evidence and fail to accept a more realistic view, ‘cognitive dissonance, this is how without conscious awareness of these processes, our perception begins to become altered about anything.
Emotion often thought of as feeling in isolation, also has its part to play in creating negative perception, the legacy of having parts of our brain which work as a survival mechanism, creating an internal conviction that may not be consistent with external circumstances. Automatic thinking that comes as part of anxiety assumes the most negative outcome, particular to the threat we have identified. The emotion anger this generates thinking about the transgressor as if they presented some real danger.
The brain’s most primitive functions continue to act and seek to influence our perception to help us survive. The awareness that these human processes are there to offer a benefit that is rarely relevant to the type of society we live in now is a significant step.
We also have to learn to accept that the mind is designed to tell untruths and exaggerate selectively, but that it does so with the best intentions.
The ability to discern that ‘what the mind may make possible may also be unlikely’, and that some other risk may be more likely but also seemingly more acceptable to you is the key to successfully negotiating the times we currently live in.