During a talk I delivered recently on Mindfulness, I mentioned that we perceive what we expect to perceive and as a result tend to respond in a routine and predictable way. We do not believe what we see; we see what we already believe.
As I sat in the station that evening waiting for my train home, I decided to challenge my perception of what was around me.
What struck me was how I categorised people based on my initial impressions. Even though I had little or no information about the people I was watching, I found myself (unknowingly) putting them into boxes. I was seeing what I expected to see, but of course I was not aware of it. My programming at work!
There are many reasons why we form impressions, jump to conclusions, create understandings, etc. We are after all trying to make sense of what is before us and so we extract information complementary to our beliefs, opinions, prejudices, etc and quickly make assumptions, form impressions and respond accordingly.
Is perception reality?
Perception is reality for the person perceiving, we all have different realities. Our comprehension on reality is shaped by our expectations. We could say the subconscious shapes reality; the world (with a little help from ourselves) shapes the subconscious. We construct how you choose to see the world.
Technically the glass is always full!
Even if we become aware of our programming and of information that does not fit our preconceptions, we need to be aware that as patterns of expectation are used over and over and become deeply embedded, they continue influence perceptions. A little extra challenge!
So what can we do?
- Learn to fall still and observe ourselves in the present moment without attachment to our thoughts and feelings.
- Play the noticing game – a simple process of noticing new things,
- Break a habit every day. When it becomes known we stop paying attention.
- Check in to the way we perceive what’s going on around us on a regular basis. As we know things are not always what they seem.