Perception is how we process the world around us to make sense of it. We are surrounded by an infinite data source and our brains can only take in so much of that information. So we all have to take shortcuts and make assumptions to help us to cope with this.
A common way of exploring perception comes from looking at optical illusions. Look at the one below. Is the man looking at you, to the side or both?
Whilst optical illusions are a fun way of exploring perception there’s a more serious side to this too. When your perceptions are very wrong they can hold you back and even do you harm.
In the current lock-down due to the COVID-19 outbreak the behaviour of some celebrities on social media has been revealing. Some perceive that they are really having a hard time compared to others. The reality is they are very fortunate to be healthy, have a nice place to live, have plenty of food, not to be working on the front-line and so on. Those celebrities who have been whining about their problems demonstrate how self-centred they are. This crisis has given us all an insight into how they see the world and some need a big reality check.
There are many advantages to you improving the quality of your perception, so it’s closer to reality. This article will explore some ways you can do that and, if you want to, please pass these tips on to a celebrity in need!
TIP 1: Understand Beliefs
Beliefs are powerful things. They affect the way you think and behave. The better you understand them, the more you can improve the accuracy of your perception. An example the power of beliefs can be shown by looking at two effects called the Placebo Effect and the Nocebo Effect.
The Placebo Effect is a beneficial effect produced by a placebo drug or treatment such as giving someone a sugar pill instead of actual medication. If the patient gets better it is down to their positive belief in the treatment rather than the treatment itself. The Nocebo Effect is the opposite of this. When a patient believes that a treatment will make them worse and it does, it is their negative belief that has created the more negative effect than it otherwise would have.
A fascinating study from Japan about the Placebo and the Nocebo effect involved a study done by researchers on 57 high school aged boys.
“They selected these boys based on the fact that when exposed to Lacquer trees, these boys would get a severe rash, much like is common with poison ivy. They then blindfolded the boys and proceeded to brush one of their arms with the Lacquer tree leaves and the other with an innocuous leaf that would have no effect. They told them however that the arm brushed with the Lacquer tree was brushed by the harmless leaf and the one brushed by the harmless leaf they were told was brushed by the Lacquer tree leaf.
What followed was a rash developed on most of the boys arms that were brushed by the harmless leaf and the other arm that was actually brushed by the Lacquer leaf that should have caused a rash was completely fine in nearly every case.”
A rash caused by poison ivy or was it caused by the person believing it was?
So it seems that your beliefs can affect pretty much everything from physical health, mental health, motivation, resilience and relationships. It’s important that you understand that how you behave is determined by your beliefs. The good news: Your beliefs can change – but only if you want them to.
TIP 2: Question Your Beliefs
One way of beginning to change your beliefs is through self-questioning. Through doing this you can filter your beliefs and realise which ones are rational (logical, sensible) and which are irrational (illogical, daft). Your irrational ones can particularly mess you up.
First, let’s did a little deeper into irrational beliefs. Some years ago the influential psychologist Albert Ellis created a list of irrational beliefs. Here’s a list of some of the ones he identified:
· I need love and approval from those around me.
· I must avoid disapproval from any source.
· To be worth while as a person I must achieve success at whatever I do.
· I cannot allow myself to make mistakes.
· If someone rejects me, I’m not a worthwhile person.
· Things must be the way I want them to be.
· My unhappiness is caused by things that are outside my control – so there is nothing I can do to feel any better.
· I must avoid life’s difficulties, unpleasantness, and responsibilities.
· Everyone needs to depend on someone stronger than themselves.
· I shouldn’t have to feel discomfort and pain.
· Every problem should have an ideal solution.
Writer Mark Manson suggests:“You can’t build a better mind without challenging your own beliefs and assumptions.”
So, consider these questions:
Do you currently hold any of these beliefs? If so, which ones?
Why do you think you hold that belief?
Do you understand that it’s irrational?
In what ways does this belief cause you harm or hold you back?
Who do you know who doesn’t hold that belief?
Can you talk to them and ask them why they have a different belief?
Which of the beliefs in the list did you used to hold but you no longer believe in?
What made you change your mind?
How has eliminating that irrational belief helped you?
These questions can be regularly reviewed. That’s why I advocate having a notebook to write down questions like these and some possible answers. Talk to others about this list too and listen to their views.
Here are some other irrational beliefs I’ve come across from students:
Only well-off people can be successful.
Kids from divorced families can’t be good parents themselves.
People from a poor background can’t go to university.
If you experience violence it shows you’re not a worthwhile person.
You can’t be successful if you’re from a council estate.
I’ve spent a lot of time challenging my own and other people’s beliefs. Working with others, I often say to them, “That’s just a belief” and try to help them through questioning and showing examples of people who have used their background and experiences to make them mentally stronger. Remember your perception – the way you see the world and your place in it - might be flawed. Question yourself and realise that you can choose beliefs that work better for you and those around you.
You may have heard of the expression: “It has to be seen to be believed.” There’s a lot of truth in that. Seeing or experiencing something can affect your beliefs. But it also works the other way around. The musician Polly Jean Harvey wrote these lyrics: “We’re going to a place that has to be believed to be seen.”
Be open to discussing and questioning your own beliefs. Listen to others, especially those who’s beliefs seem to be helping them to be happy, balanced people. Having a fixed set of beliefs throughout your life will make it hard for you to adjust to the changes around you. You’ve got the ability to change them, which might open up a whole new world for you.
TIP 3: Be More Objective
We’re all subjective - we look at the world through our own lens. This leads to us forming opinions some of which can be very wrong. It’s hard to see them for ourselves so to improve the quality of your perception we have to look to others. By doing this you will become more objective. Having a go at these ideas takes a lot of maturity but they will help you to adopt more realistic beliefs:
Get better feedback - One way to get a better grip on reality is to get feedback from other sources. We all need honest, helpful feedback to improve the quality of our perception. Ask a friend or family member who knows you well to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re going to try this make sure you listen, take notes and ask questions. Above all, don’t interrupt, be defensive or try to justify yourself. Give yourself some time to absorb the feedback and consider how it challenges your self-perception.
Alter your perspective - Looking at something from another point of view is sometimes called re-framing. This might involve looking at something through another pair of eyes other than your own. A good way of altering your perspective is to ask a range of people how they would look at a problem, especially a problem that seems to be affecting you. Gather as wide a range of views as you can. You may find that some might not even see it as a problem. Altering your perspective can only happen if you step outside of yourself and learn how others would look at things.
Remember, everybody has their own unique perception of things. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you find out that you are holding on to some irrational beliefs. Those beliefs that give you comfort and help you cope better with life are fine to keep. But becoming conscious of those that are causing you more stress than is needed, are the ones that will be worth ditching.
· Understand Beliefs
· Question Your Beliefs
· Be More Objective
A final thought from therapist Virginia Satir:
We must not allow other people’s limited perceptions to define us.
If you are interested in more tips about studying away from school and developing your brain read these other articles.
No.1: Time Management
No.3: Note Taking
No.4: Anxiety Management
This resource was created by Andy Griffith, director of Malit in the Community.