‘Humans see what they want to see.’ Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief
Everything we experience in life is subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is based on our beliefs. Our beliefs help us make sense of the world. They influence our perceptions, and while they may be based on our ‘truths’, they’re not always based on accurate facts. For example, you may have been bitten by a dog when you were young. As a result, you may now have the belief that ‘all dogs are dangerous’. Unless you experience otherwise, you’re likely to lock this into your subconscious mind as truth. Another person may have experienced dogs as playful and friendly; as a result, they may have the belief that ‘all dogs are playful and friendly’.
Our eyes see only what our mind is willing to accept, and that will be influenced greatly by our beliefs. Beliefs are the ‘what’ and perceptions are the ‘how’ of our thinking. We have many ‘habits of perception’ where we’re programmed to interpret things in a certain way, thereby moulding our view of the world. We can have multiple beliefs and multiple perspectives, and these can be in many forms. If we have limiting beliefs then we’ll have a limited field of vision. As soon as we open our minds up to the possibility that there may be another perspective, then life takes on new meaning.
The Inner World And The Outer World
‘The outer world is a reflection of the inner world. Other people’s perception of you is a reflection of them; your response to them is an awareness of you.’ Roy T. Bennett, The Light In The Heart
We have two environments – the inner environment and the outer environment. The inner environment refers to the human body. It’s the environment within. Such as the chemicals and signals communicated throughout our body at any given time. The outer environment refers to the external environment, the world around us. How our internal environment interprets the external environment will be based on ‘what’ (beliefs) and ‘how’ (perceptions) we think.
Modern neuroscience tells us ‘we are feeling creatures that think’. What we see and hear what we sense in relation to our external environment, is absorbed through our senses. Our sensory experience influences the messages communicated by our nervous system. This communication goes to every cell in our body, as our brain creates a collage of what the present moment looks like, sounds like, feels like, tastes like and smells like. All this information is then stored in our body.
When we’re emotionally charged, we’re more likely to react to situations than to respond with reason. Our behaviour, our decisions and actions in life are based on our internal environment’s interpretation of our external environment. If our beliefs and perceptions are negative based, then we’re likely to have a negative interpretation of the world around us. If, however, they’re positive based, then we’re likely to have either a neutral or a positive interpretation.
‘Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.’ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would take the time to ask themselves ‘what else could this mean?’ Research carried out by the HeartMath Institute teaches us that ‘the mind likes to assume it ‘knows what it knows,’ but often its perceptions are just not accurate. Yet strong judgments are made all the time—every day, every hour—based on limited information.’
Eminent psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, tells us that many of our conscious thoughts are complex rationalisations for the flood of deep-seated memories and emotions that surface from the unconscious, fuelled by our instincts, reflexes and motives. We now know from modern neuroscience that it takes just 90-seconds to process an emotion.
While other people are likely to act as triggers for our own suppressed feelings and emotions (and us for theirs), it’s essential that we learn to identify those triggers and address them as they arise. Once we become aware of how we feel in relation to events happening in our environment, we are then better placed to processing our emotions and taking back self-control.
‘If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thru’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’ William Blake, The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell
It’s good to identify our beliefs and values in life, as these underpin life as we know it. It’s worth taking the time out to self-reflect and identify what limiting beliefs we carry.
It’s also worth taking the time to identify our characteristics and personality traits. The more we know about our personality – our likes and dislikes – the greater an understanding we’ll have of what sort of people we like to be around. Knowing ourselves well will help us identify our strengths and vulnerabilities. It’s also helpful to identify the areas in which we tend to be extreme or affected by others when they’re intense. For example, you may be a naturally shy and introverted person and therefore, when you see someone behaving in an extroverted way you may perceive them to be ‘outrageous’ because their characteristics clash with yours.
We naturally assume that we’ll have the same beliefs and perceptions as family and friends. While this may be true in part, in that we may have the same family values, share similar ideas, have similar points of view, share similar experiences, it’s important to note that we are all unique individuals. We should embrace and celebrate our uniqueness and respect the same for others; this is what Equality & Diversity is all about.
Becoming ‘Blissfully Aware’
Dr. Caroline Leaf, communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, tells us that we can easily override old negative patterns of thinking simply by thinking differently; this breaks the old routine. This is known as synaptic pruning – where the brain eliminates what it no longer needs. When we change our thinking we change our beliefs. When we change our beliefs we change our behaviour. When we change our behaviour we change our reality.
It helps to remember that our subconscious mind has been built over many years. It has been built on an accumulation of thoughts, memories, beliefs, experiences and emotions, not just of ours but of at least 14 generations of ancestors. Change is a process; it takes 72 hours to create a new neural connection. Fostering an attitude of gratitude, of love, care, compassion, will help you develop a positive outlook on life. Keeping a daily gratitude journal is a wonderful way of building new neural connections that support a happy, healthy outlook on life.
It’s important to note that as our perception changes, we change the messages communicated by our nervous system to every cell in our body. This is what I lovingly call ‘becoming blissfully aware’.
Be The Change You Want To Be
‘The moment you change your perception is the moment you rewrite the chemistry of your body.’ Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, Biology of Belief
Here are some simple tips to help you develop a healthier and happier perception of life and living:
- Identify your values and beliefs. List the beliefs you’d like to let go of and list those you’d like to develop.
- Identify your characteristics and personality traits. List the ones you’d like to change and the one’s you’d like to develop more. Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.
- Identify powerful positive affirmations that support your new beliefs and the characteristics and personality traits you’d like to develop. Develop a daily habit around these.
- Practice looking at things from another person’s perspective, do some research, ask the opinion of a trusted friend.
- Separate your emotions from the other person’s emotions. This helps you identify what’s ‘yours’ and what’s ‘theirs’. Take time out to self-reflect and identify where the other person was ‘playing’ out their emotions and determine what emotions were triggered in you.
- Practice stepping into a peaceful place within. Meditation or mindfulness is an excellent way of achieving this.
- Acknowledge your emotions and feelings as and when they arise and process them in the present moment. You can achieve this by applying the onesie technique to help process your feelings and emotions in the present moment.
- Keep a daily gratitude journal. Use all your senses to write emotively in relation to all the wonderful things life has to offer – past, present or future!