What’s the big deal about our perception?
I’ll explain why perception matters with a little analogy. You have probably been told that seeing is believing. It implies that we can trust what we see. Oh, I know with editing and special effects we cognitively know better than to trust something we see on a screen. But what about what we see with our own eyes?
Does our perception actually affect what we see or understand about reality? New findings suggest that is it true that what we see, think, understand, hear, and decide are all affected by our perception.
So, what is perception? Perception is the process intervening between receiving the information we gather from our senses and our processing or understanding of it. You know, the things you see, feel, hear, taste, smell, and imagine. Why do I add imagine to this list? Because I believe our imagination is our sixth sense.
What we perceive with our senses is affected by more things than we realized. We do not experience reality objectively. We experience it with specific biases, that can be affected by things that seem arbitrary. Below are eight ways that our perception can be effected without us knowing it.
Different ways our perception can be affected
These six ways are not the only ways, but just an example to illustrate the point.
Things seem easier with others
Have you ever had to go to the dentist? Possibly to have a cavity filled or even a root canal? Did you have to go alone? When we have something difficult, scary, or painful we have to go through, it is often easier and less of each of those things, when we have a hand to hold while doing the thing. Having someone, especially a loved one, makes doing things easier as well.
Knowing we are going to share the experience with someone, makes the reality of the situation change. It alters our perception of what is taking place. We can experience less pain, fear, and difficulty when we have a partner.
Meaning not only that our reality can be altered by others, but how much it is changed, depends on who the others are.
Our ability and energy impact our perspective
Our ability to walk determines what we see as our path. Studies show that tired and obese people see the distance down a path as being farther. Than people who are not tired or overweight. Your interpretation of the steepness of a hill to be walked up can change. It becomes greater if you are wearing a heavy backpack.
If you have to use crutches, you will see more steps in front of a building than will someone who does not need crutches. In fact, people who have a reach extending grabber in their hand will see things as being closer than people who do not have such a device.
Feeling bad makes things seem harder
If you have ever felt sad or depressed, you know how hard it is to face the world when you’re down. But did you know that feeling down, sad, or depressed also changes your sensory perceptions? As an example, people listening to sad music tend to think a hill looks steeper. Opposed to someone listening to happy music. According to University of Virginia psychologists Dennis Proffitt and Drake Baer “Emotions . . . have the job of giving a red or green light toward approaching or avoiding objects, people, and situations, and shape perception accordingly.”
Meaning, our emotional state can change the way things appear in reality. Based on our current ability to handle the situation. When we are happy and upbeat, we are in a better mental space to handle things. Compared to being upset or sad and in a less stable state.
Our awareness of our body affects our decisions
Having a better sense of your own body and what you are experiencing makes a difference in your ability to access reality. If you are aware of your breathing and even your heartbeat, you can monitor your stress level and anxiety.
In an experiment, researchers studied hedge fund managers. The one’s that need to make quick decisions about stock trading while under intense pressure. What they discovered was interesting. The most successful traders could more accurately count their own heartbeats without touching their bodies. Even more interesting, was that their confidence in their heartbeat count accuracy did not affect their success. Although those with less confidence had more anxiety, that could ultimately affect their ability to make decisions.
Easy-to-read statements seem more true
Statements that are written in easy-to-read color schemes are considered to be truer than statements that are more difficult to read. But the crazier thing to learn about perception is that when something rhymes it is considered to be truer.
For example, “Birds of a feather, flock together” is considered to be truer than “Birds of like-kind tend to stick together.” It is easier to say, but should it seem truer? Our perception of the statement and its trueness can also be altered by the color or font it is written in- as well as if it rhymes.
I’m saying our understanding of the world is easily bent and morphed. Transfigured into what we or others need it to be for any given circumstance.
Our level of hunger changes our choices
Have you ever shopped for groceries when you are hungry? Studies show that people tend to purchase more junk food and prepackaged food when hungry. As opposed to buying less when they shop satiated. In an experiment regarding glucose and decision-making. Participants made better decisions and even delayed immediate gratification longer after having had a sugary drink. The participants who drank only a sweet drink that lacked glucose fared far worse in those two areas.
In fact, it has been shown that judges’ decisions about parole vary. Decisions that are just before lunch or at the end of the day tend to deny parole to those requesting it. This same perceptual change applies to children who eat breakfast before school. They score better on exams and even have fewer behavioral issues.
Why perception is more important than reality
As you can see our perception of what is happening or has happened. As well as our understanding of the world, is affected by many factors. It can be manipulated on purpose or just due to seemingly unrelated factors. But the way we see things is more important than what the things actually are (at least for us).
This can be illustrated by this example:
If you think a car is parked but is actually racing down the street as you begin to cross the street, you are going to be killed. This means the reality of the car speeding down the street means literally nothing to you unless you perceive it wrong. If you perceive it as a moving car, you will not step out in front of it. So the reality of the car matters very little to you unless you see or perceive it incorrectly.
Another way of thinking about it is this. If you do not see any chances for you to be successful, it does not matter that in reality there may be literally thousands of opportunities around you every day. Your perception will determine your ability to see the things around you. I cannot tell you how many times I have been sent to search the house to find my 5-year-old’s shoes. I look around everywhere and find nothing. Only to have my wife walk in and pick up the shoes, that I could not see, right off the coffee table two feet away from me, and give me “that look.”
In my defense, I had looked in the kitchen, under the dining table, in the bathroom, under the sofa, and I had even looked under the coffee table for the shoes. But in truth, I didn’t think to look on the coffee table, because I would never put shoes on the table, (because they belong on the floor).
But that is not the point, the point is that in my perception, I was quite sure the shoes were not in the house. I was positive they were at least not in the living room. I was completely unable to see the shoes that were right in front of me. My wife always jokes and says “you are so lucky it wasn’t a snake; you’d have been bitten.”
When should you shift your perception?
You should shift your perception whenever you are not seeing life in a positive way. If you cannot see the things you want, shift your perception. Do not wait until you are only able to see life as a cruddy series of events that have let you down.
There is a secret weapon that will allow you to shift your perception easily. It is by using intent. Being intentional when you do things, will change what you are able to see. Rather than saying “I don’t think I’m going to find the shoes” I now say, “I intend to find the shoes if they are in here.” I have been so pleasantly surprised to discover how much faster and easier I seem to find things I am looking for by using intention.
When you begin to live intentionally, you will see your perception of reality begin to shift and the things you want easier to find.